Fantasyland Part 2 The myth of Thanksgiving

There is probably nothing accurate about this picture.

Happy Sunday everyone! Before we begin, I want to give a big thanks to everyone who responded to my last post and a big hello to my new followers. You all made me feel a bit better knowing I am not alone in my worries about our current situation.

To my fellow Americans, I hope you had a pleasant holiday weekend. Did you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast? I made plans to stay home and enjoy one of the last warm days of the season by doing yard work. I can’t remember a 70-degree (21 celsius) day in November since moving from California many moons ago. But I changed plans and headed to a good friend’s house for dinner. After all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? Spending time with those for whom you are grateful? Kinda like how the Pilgrims were grateful for the helpful Wampanoag tribe as they struggled to make ends meet in their new environment. At least this is the myth we teach our children.

The story we tell ourselves concerning the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Indians is the corner stone to the foundation of the making of America myth. Even though the Pilgrims were not Americans, and not in the least bit interested in starting a new country, the whitewashed story we tell ourselves about them bleeds into the myth of how our country was started. It is one of the first things we teach small school children about America; how early settlers tried to make peace with hostile Indians. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is historians do not know much about the first Thanksgiving other than a few lines in a letter from Edward Winslow dated Dec. 11, 1621:

..after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.  

Historians cannot be sure if the local tribe was invited to the harvest feast or if they just came around after hearing gunfire. One thing we can be certain is that the feast was not something special, nor was it as we are taught, the Pilgrim’s way of thanking the local Wampanoag tribe for teaching them how to plant and harvest in this new world If it were, Winslow would have made much ado about the feast and would have padded himself on the back for thanking the Indians for their assistance.

Speaking of new world the other persistent myth, and part of our corner stone, is the idea that the Pilgrims (who by the way called themselves “Separatists” not Pilgrims) left England for North America to peacefully practice their religion. In actuality the Separatists left England and first went to Holland, eventually settling in the city of Leiden. Winslow found that Holland afforded them “peace and liberty”. If the Separatists were only looking for religious freedom they would have stayed. But secular needs were wanting in Holland; they found it hard to make a living and harder still to identify as English, so they made out for the New World hoping for a “better and easier life”.

Unfortunately for the indigenous people the Separatists eventually found life better, though not easier. It is true that the local tribes educated them about what to plant and how to plant it, but as the first wave of Separatists thrived others followed and the fragile peace between the groups grew strained. Which leads us to the next recorded “thanksgiving”.

In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, then Governor of Plymouth, wrote: …

From that day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanks giving for subduing the Pequots and for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.

So to summarize: America celebrates a holiday tradition that was decreed to be a day of thanks by a group of British settlers in honor of a bloody victory over a group of people that included burning to death women and children.

It became an official national holiday in 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln who issued the proclamation of thanksgiving following a request from writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who asked that the day “become, permanently, an American custom and institution.” One has to wonder which part of the custom she wished to institute.

Our American tradition of taking a day to give thanks for what we have is fine. I think we can all agree that it is a good idea to at least once a year, gather friends and family around and show love with gifts food. But isn’t it time we stopped believing in the myth of Thanksgiving? We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes. We could just as easily keep the spirit of the holiday as it has evolved to mean without having to keep the myth of the first thanksgiving. If we have any hope of leaving the world of fantasyland, we must stop clinging to fantasy.

The truth is:

The Separatists wanted to be separate from the Protestant religion, not English identity.

The Separatists’ secular needs outweighed their religious needs so they left Holland for the New World.

As new settlers arrived they demanded more and more land for themselves (and you though immigration is a problem now? Imagine being indigenous back then) without a thought to the people already living on it.

In a span of a few short years the settlers went from trading with the Indians to thinking nothing of wiping out whole villages and tribes & giving “thanks” to God for allowing them their victories.

Our nation is steep in myths about who we are and were we came from. I would argue that the very reason we find ourselves living in fantasyland now is precisely because we have an abundance of stories like these. America was built on fantasy. From the stories we tell about our founding fathers to stories we now share on Facebook. It is hard for us to tell fact from fiction because so much of what we believe is based on fantasy. Let’s change that one story at a time.

Next up, the “War on Christmas, or how Fox news gets you spend more money”.

Works cited

Mayflower History.com Primary Sources A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth

Smithsonian.com Edward Winslow

 

 

America Fantasyland Part 1

Disneyland, the epitome of the American dream. If you believe hard enough and spend a lot of money, all of your dreams will come true.

Good god. Has it really been just over a year since Donald J Dumbass was elect president? How are you holding up? I haven’t handled it well and it shows. To quote Hamlet, “I have of late lost all my mirth”. I’ve lost the passion to blog, to read, and to some extend I’ve been far to slow to move past the last election.

Looking back to November 8th, 2016, it is clear to me now that I’ve spend the last year going through the five stages of grief. At first I denied it, (oh he’ll never take office-he looks as stunned as the rest of us), then I felt anger, to the point of rage when he was finally sworn in, and then on to a long bout of depression as I watched him make a mockery of the office of the Presidency and everything it stands for. Worse yet, watching as Congress defends his shredding of our Constitution and the principals on which is was written.

The last stage of grief, according to Elisabeth Kubler Ross, is acceptance. No, I am not there yet; I can’t bring myself to say his name and the title President in the same sentence, but I can say I am starting to accept the fact that millions of Americans voted for him. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out why.

Like many of my fellow liberal Americas I know people who did in fact not only vote for him, but did so not out of a sense of irony or sadistic glee, but because they honestly fell for his bullshit. And not just his bullshit, but also the bullshit being flung around by social media and the sharing of said bullshit. No, seriously, how do you fall for a guy who on one hand says, “I’ll hire the smartest people” and on the other says, “I am your voice, I alone can fix it”. Fix what?? The guy filed for bankruptcy four times! How do you lose money owning a casino?? Damn, I may still be in the anger stage. Moving on.

My questions of why expanded beyond wanting to know why so many people I know and respect (and millions I don’t know) fell for his con. But not just his con; cons and hoaxes in general. Truth be told, I’ve been asking myself for quite a while now, “is America becoming dumber”? Long time followers know this is a topic I hit on once in a while. In 2014 I reviewed a book titled “Idiot America” in which I talked about the dumbing down of America. Who knew two years later millions of voters would prove me right?

I made some connections between our decline in good judgment and religious like idolization of all things connect to consumerism that seems to be paving the way for a dumber America. Whether we are talking about materialism (I’ll feel better, look better, be better, if only I had X) or how we greedily consume our news and “information” without an ounce of critical thinking. How did we become the nation whose mantra seems to now be, “It feels right, so it must be true”?

I wish I could say after careful study of our culture I came to a solid answer; that my months in hiding have given me insight to what is wrong with our country, but I have to give credit to a book I recently picked up. Kurt Andersen’s book, “Fantasyland How America Went Haywire” put a lot of things in perspective and helped me connect the dots. I can’t say it’s a great book (although I do recommend it) as Andersen does tend to veers off into weedy thinking, and expresses some personal opinions in order to make a view seem like fact. Ironically this is the very thing his book argues is wrong with America. Yet some of his simplest statements are powerful truths and should be recognized as such.

America was created by people resistant to reality checks and convinced they had special access to the truth, a place founded to enact grand fantasies. (p.72)

Andersen begins his book with the European explores who risked their lives (and reputations) for the promises of golden mountains waiting to be plundered, and the mystical Fountain of Youth. He then quickly moves to the Puritans with their idea of a religious utopia; setting the stage for a history of people who are resistant to reality checks, even as reality hits back. There were not mountains of gold, or flowing waters of eternal youth. There was no religious utopia; instead, to the Puritans utter shock, there were “pagan savages” everywhere they looked.

One would have thought that the Puritans would’ve had the good sense to go home as so many had done when it was discovered there was no easy spoils to be had, but no. They believed they could convert the savages, and when that didn’t work later generations set out to annihilate them, firmly believing it was their God given right to do so.

Andersen’s book pulls the veil off the myth of American exceptionalism and exposes the truth of how we became fantasyland. How today we’d rather listen to our gut or a conspiracist, rather than a medical doctor. How our political views are shaped by labels rather than ideas. Why being offended now allows us the “right” to protest and boycott free speech and opposing views. And so much more.

Andersen may not have gotten everything right; his bias against religion shows loud and clear and clouds some of his thinking about what is found strictly in America and what is not. Yet he gets enough right that his book is a jumping-off point for cultural self-reflection and deep discussion. So much so, that in the coming weeks it will be the focus of my posts. We will look at various stops on our journey to fantasyland. It is my hope that in time we begin to reflect on what came before and how it has shaped our understanding of who we are now and what improvements we can make so that Fantasyland doesn’t turn into Nightmareland.