Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hawaii or Alaska? Why not Hawaii AND Alaska?

I read an essay recently about someone's chance encounter with Obama in Hawaii, before he anounced he was running for POTUS. I got the gist of it just fine, but the conclusion, to me, was a bit off.

My Chance Encounter with Obama in Hawaii
It was three days before the New Year in late 2006, and I was eating a burger with the traveler and writer Paul Theroux on Oahu's North Shore. Beside us in the rickety little shack was a quintessentially Hawaiian group of Chinese Americans, African Americans, semi–Southeast Asians and kids who could have been any or all of the above, waiting for the dad in the group to bring over their avocado burgers from the counter. It took Paul and me a few seconds to realize that the dad in question — who looked like a skinny teenager — was, in fact, the freshman Senator from Illinois, who was expected to enter the presidential race in the next week or two.

We couldn't help breaking in on his private moment to say hello, and Barack Obama, intruded upon in a place he'd probably come to get away from people like us, could not have been more friendly and engaged; we felt we could have talked burgers — and places and books — with him all day. But you expect that of a politician, whose livelihood depends on winning hearts. The more remarkable thing, we both felt, was that this sparkling stranger was so much like the kind of people we meet in Paris, in Hong Kong, in the Middle East: difficult to place and connected to everywhere. Like the air of his home island (not really Eastern or Western, but a vibrant mingling of the two), he spoke for the dawning global melting pot of today. [...]

The article then goes on about how last century was the "American" century, but the 21st century is the "Global" century, and America, just like it's enemies, is refusing to climb aboard the fast moving train of what the rest of the world is doing. The rest of the world, which relates to images more than ideas, is unhappy with America. Obama is the answer to this "problem".

The Author compares Alaska to Hawaii. Hawaii is the melting pot, the future. Alaska is the America of his childhood; beautiful, but too self-reliant and fortune-seeking.
[...] Barack Obama the man is sure to disappoint some of the expectations his fans have; any man would, especially in the age of the 24/7 news cycle. But the past and the future that he speaks for are precisely the ones that belong so uniquely to the new century and the 95% of humans who are our neighbors at the global burger table. It's more than possible to make your fortune in Alaska — but I'd much rather find the future in Hawaii.

Now you can read the whole thing, there are a few good phrases in there ("...a world where people communicate more with images than ideas and assumptions travel faster than truths"). Yes, I get it. But I did find it had a tone that was somewhat irritating. The implication would seem to be that we should be less self-reliant and more conformist to what the rest of the world wants.

The global burger table thing is fine. Obviously that is happening. Obama as an image, the multicultural melting pot thing, fine. But the conclusion, that we have to choose the "future" - Hawaii, not the fortune seeking past, as represented by Alaska, doesn't cut if for me.

We are clearly moving into the future; we can only go forward. And as we go forward, change will come. Globalization is coming, and it's more a question of how and when, than if. But as we move forward, and as American changes, as it inevitably will, it is my hope we build on the firm foundation of what is the best from our past and present.

I don't think American exceptionalism is something to be ashamed of, just because some folks around the globe think we need to become more like them. My voting Republican in this last election wasn't about "fortune seeking", or living in the past. It was about insuring a future that will value and bring forward the best America has to offer, not only for ourselves, but for the global burger crowd too, which we are also a part of.

Those kids around the global burger table may find themselves in need of Alaskan oil one day. Self-reliance is not a bad thing, but even Alaskans know the value of neighbors they can rely on. None of us live in a vacuum. And Alaskans, I'm told, often spend their winters in beautiful Hawaii. Hawaii and Alaska both have much to offer.

The "either-or" analogy does not ring true for me, it's too restrictive. We need the best of both worlds, or should I say, the best of all worlds. Globalization will require some conformity, some compromise, by everyone. Yet as America does it's part and conforms with it, we need to be sure we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Having a seat at the global burger table and helping pay the bill doesn't mean we need to forget who we are or where we came from, or where we would like to go from here.

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