Dismembering the Remembered Country

If you set out to take a country apart …

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… to break it down, dismantle it, unravel it … a whole country—how would you go about doing that?

First, you’d have to understand exactly what constitutes a country, wouldn’t you? What are its separate components, what are the linkages and relationships between those components, how are they connected and how do they work together. What makes the whole thing tick.

In my imagination, it wouldn’t be so different from stripping a car down—engine, drive train, interior and all—perhaps with the intention of reassembling it later, as someone who restores vintage cars would do. You would realize that the air filter, the fan belt and the radiator must be removed before you can dig in deep and pull the block. You would understand that the entire dash must come out before you can disconnect the electronics. Before you can get at the brake pads, the tires have to come off. Etcetera.

But I think it safe to assume that if it’s a country being dismantled rather than a car, the intention isn’t to reassemble it later. At least, not so that it would be recognizable as the same entity it was before the dismantling began. No, singling out all the components of a country for removal would be more like you were stripping the car down for the purpose of selling off all those separate parts for profit, don’t you think? Like what goes on in a chop-shop operation, rather than a vintage car restoration. Especially if the car was stolen from its rightful owners in the first place.

So, again, what constitutes a country? What components are so integral to the whole that, as they are removed one by one, the whole becomes less and less a country?

I think we can forget the concept of “country” you find in parades and campaign speeches and rousing, über-patriotic hoop-de-dos. You know, the “God&Country” type affairs, where the “country” amounts to little more than flopping a flag around like doing so is something significant, holding your hand devoutly over your heart like everyone else, and listening to preachers and politicians drone on about how great the country is, in spite of all those other people who are always talking shit about different parts of it.

Frankly, I doubt you find thoughtful enough people at such affairs with any depth of understanding of their country, other than what the preachers and politicians tell them—that they’re special for no other reason than they live in it.

No, I’m asking after those distinct elements that make a country different from a vast herd of gnus on the Serengeti, a swarm of locusts eating its way across a landscape, or a floating raft of seaweed drifting aimlessly around the southern seas.

I think it’s reasonable to start with the literal country. The square-footage between the borders. The earth, wind and water that all fit together into a livable space. The chassis, as it were, into which everything else must fit and function. You just can’t have a country, not the way I see it, without some space to set it on, can you? Seriously, can you think of one country in the world, ever, that didn’t have a location? A spot of its own?

Then, you add all the living stuff. The flora and fauna. The worms and fish and birds and herbivores and carnivores, the forests and deserts and grasslands and swamps, all the biota that makes a particular location distinctive from other locations. Many people, if not most, would consider the biomatter—be it bees, boars or birch trees—an essential element to a proper country. This would account for the United States, as just one example, being represented on coins and t-shirts and NASCAR decals with the image of a bald eagle, as opposed to … say … an elephant. Or a kangaroo. It’s not that the people of the United States, by and large, have anything against elephants and kangaroos. But Americans—perhaps not all, but many—feel a kinship with the eagle. The bison. The griz in Montana and the gator in Florida. Because we are all natives, yes? All naturally born to this particular 3,800,000-square miles of earth, wind and water.

Now we pour on the people, along with everything that goes with them. The society in which we soak. The culture with which we cloak ourselves. Our neighbors, our townsfolk and statefolk and countryfolk. But even here, we mustn’t lump them all together like a big goulash of indistinguishable humanoids.

Yes, it is true that it’s often difficult to tell one _______________ (fill in blank) from another. I, myself, have a damn hard time seeing any difference in one Republican politician from any other Republican politician, given that I am by nature a man who recognizes individuals by the noises they make. And honestly, Republican politicians all sound alike to me.

Still, it is important, if we want our country to function even semi-smoothly, that we don’t confuse … for instance … old people with children. Or poor people with rich people. Perfectly healthy people with infirm people. Even women with men, on any level beyond the obvious. They all are basically the same, yes, all these categories of people. But each category has its own characteristics. It’s own distinctive needs, its own gifts, its own shortcomings. Its own particular strengths, it’s own particular vulnerabilities.

And just as any country—specifically, any decent, civilized and advanced country—would take certain pains to protect its endangered flora and fauna … just as such a country would take certain measures to preserve and keep livable the very land we live on … just as it would take certain precautions to ensure the wind stays breathable, the water stays drinkable, and the soil stays un-poisoned—that country would take certain measures to meet the needs, incorporate the gifts and accommodate the shortcomings, of all those separate categories of its human beings.

It becomes even more necessary when categories go Venn-y and cross with one another—e.g., when a segment of the old people population coincides with the category of poor people. Same with children people, when they are also poor people. A decent, civilized, advanced country would recognize the need for a little extra effort to preserve and protect those extra vulnerable citizens, would it not? Say, to make sure that the old, infirm and poor citizens of that country get fed now and then. At the very least.

Now remember, I’m speaking here of decent, civilized and advanced countries. Such countries would recognize instinctively that it is incumbent upon the country itself to spread as much liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness as is reasonably possible. Such countries would recognize instinctively that to do otherwise—to focus their education systems on the benefit of one demographic at the expense of another, or to call access to health care a “privilege” for some and not a “right” for all—would be hateful, immoral and inhuman. Such countries would recognize instinctively that to call itself a proper country, it’s separate components … each and every one of them … are equal in value and as worthy of having its basic needs attended to as any other.

Seriously, what is the fucking point of having a country, if it doesn’t respond to every component that, combined with the other components, makes it a country?

For instance, were a country’s budget director to publically and unashamedly declare that “no results” had been found which would justify continuing to subsidize meals for poor children and poor old people … as happened last week this country’s capitol … we have to ask whether that country is worth the honor of being called a “country” anymore.

(And what kind of “results” were they looking for anyway?—other than poor children and poor old folks having some food in their bellies, that is.)

No, I propose that such a country would no longer be a country at all. Any so-called “country” that would abandon those constituents who are unable, for one reason or another, to influence policy and to produce results beneficial to the policy makers—and those constituents would include everything from poor people, old and young, to flora and fauna and to the very earth on which we depend for our existence—that such a country no longer deserves to call itself a “country” …

… anymore than an illegal chop shop deserves to call itself a legitimate automobile repair garage …

… or a cannibal deserves to call himself a surgeon.

So then, in answer to the question from the first sentence of this post—If you set out to take a country apart, how would you go about doing that?

Simple. Pay attention to the news, and learn. Someone is showing us how it’s done as we speak.

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