Me vs Us: The Return of History

If you read nothing else today, please take time to read Gerard Vanderleun’s stunning and brilliant essay, The Return of History. Send it to everyone you know and stick it in your harddrive. He puts its better and more lucidly than anyone could: the “vacation from history” is over, the “me-like-fun” era is over, and it is once again – as before in America, in all of her greatests eras – “us-time.”

It’s difficult to excerpt something this rich, but a little taste:

N THE DAYS AFTER THE TOWERS FELL, in the ash that covered the Brooklyn street where I lived at that time, in the smoke that rose for months from that spot across the river, when rising up in the skyscraper I worked in, or riding deep beneath the river in the subway, or passing the thousand small shrines of puddled candle wax below the walls with the hundreds of photographs of “The Missing,” it was not too much to say that you could feel the doors of history open all about you.
[...]
With the end of the Soviet Union in a whimper and not a bang brighter than the sun on earth, history was officially over. The moment even got its own book, “The End of History,” which stimulated an argument that even more than the book emphasized that history was over.

Most sensible people liked it that way. In fact, a lot of people really liked it that way. Because if history for the world was over, these people could get on making the history that really mattered to them: The History of Me.

More and more throughout the 90s “History” was “out,” and “Me” was in. “Me,” “Having My Space,” “How to Be Your Own Best Friend,” “Me, Myself, I,” were hallmarks of that self-besotted age. The History of Me was huge in the 90s and rolled right through the millennium. It even had a Customized President to preside over those years; the Most Me President ever. A perfect man for the time and one who, in the end, did not disappoint in choosing “Me” over “Country.” How could he do otherwise? It was the option his constituency of Many-Million-Mes elected him to select. I know because I was into Me then and I voted for him because, well, because he seemed to be “just like me.” It was a sad day when “Me” couldn’t run for a third term, but The Party of Me offered up “Mini-Me” and a lot of Mes turned out for him too.

Unlike millions of miffed Mini-Mes, I wasn’t too upset when he didn’t get in after stamping his feet and holding his breath. I suppose I should have. It was what all the really intense Mini-Mes were doing. But I’d already started to become disgusted with all the Me-ness that had been going around so long and this tantrum of the Mini-Mes just made me not want to hang around them. After all, we were well beyond the End of History by this point, so what did it matter?

Then on one bright and unusually fine New York September morning History came back with a vengeance we’d never seen before in the history of America. It came back and it stayed and stayed and stayed. The doors of history swung open again and we were all propelled through them into… what?

Do yourself a favor and read it all!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • BobinMD

    EXCELLENT

  • BobinMD

    EXCELLENT

  • Joseph

    Well, as a practical matter and relying on evidence such as the picture of John Kerry a little down the roll, I would say that the transformation was actually one from “me” to “us vs. THEM!”

    “Me” has one distinct advantage. It allows you to define yourself by something other than what and whom you dislike.

  • Joseph

    Well, as a practical matter and relying on evidence such as the picture of John Kerry a little down the roll, I would say that the transformation was actually one from “me” to “us vs. THEM!”

    “Me” has one distinct advantage. It allows you to define yourself by something other than what and whom you dislike.

  • TheAnchoress

    “Me” has one distinct advantage. It allows you to define yourself by something other than what and whom you dislike.

    Really. I don’t recall the “me” president and his misses ever doing anything more than defining themselves by who and what they hated. In fact, they still do it.

    Ah, well…we’re not going to get anywhere on this thread, so that’s all I’ll say.

  • TheAnchoress

    “Me” has one distinct advantage. It allows you to define yourself by something other than what and whom you dislike.

    Really. I don’t recall the “me” president and his misses ever doing anything more than defining themselves by who and what they hated. In fact, they still do it.

    Ah, well…we’re not going to get anywhere on this thread, so that’s all I’ll say.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    It was a great post.

    As for the ‘me’ theme, well, I’m reminded of two images of couples dancing.

    Whatever you thought of the Reagans, there was no question that they loved each other. When they danced, there was no camera and no one else was there.

    When that other couple danced- on cue and properly positioned for the media, who just ‘happened by,’ well…let’s just say they were more aware of their surroundings than the Reagans.

  • Sigmund Carl and Alfred

    It was a great post.

    As for the ‘me’ theme, well, I’m reminded of two images of couples dancing.

    Whatever you thought of the Reagans, there was no question that they loved each other. When they danced, there was no camera and no one else was there.

    When that other couple danced- on cue and properly positioned for the media, who just ‘happened by,’ well…let’s just say they were more aware of their surroundings than the Reagans.

  • Joseph

    I didn’t say “me” [any of the "mes"] couldn’t choose to, but that they didn’t need to. Anybody can define themselves a set of enemies anytime they like.

    Define yourself as the tribe of “us”, and, of logical necessity, everybody else must be THEM. There is no need for “me” to regard everybody else as anything but everybody else, in all their bewildering diversity and variety.

    The problem with “us” is that there is no reasonable way to argue that you, Gerard Vanderleun, and John Kerry are part of the same “us”.

    “Us” has some very distinct limits and they are hardly congruent with the entire American population of responsible citizenry.

    Of course, I do notice that “us” is inclined to argue that they, in fact, do constitute an overwhelming majority of the American population, or the adult and responsible population, or the loyal and patriotic population.

    And this despite all evidence from popular vote totals in Presidential elections, repeated polls by responsible polling organizations, and so forth.

    THEM, of course, make their numbers appear to be so many by controlling all but a handful of the dozens of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and electronic media outlets. These amplifiers are very efficient at making the 500,000 or so of THEM look like millions more.

    Speaking personally, I have belonged to no man’s tribe since the day I was born. Three-quarters of my mind and heart was locked away even from my family, who now have left for good, and all my various sets of friends have dissolved away like last January’s snow.

    I will leave the world as I entered it–naked and alone. And, I might add, with no regrets about that fact.

    For everybody else, in all their diversity and complexity, is a far greater gift from life than membership in any communal meeting of minds and views.

    And constant warfare on the boundaries of the tribal territory is a bore.

  • Joseph

    I didn’t say “me” [any of the "mes"] couldn’t choose to, but that they didn’t need to. Anybody can define themselves a set of enemies anytime they like.

    Define yourself as the tribe of “us”, and, of logical necessity, everybody else must be THEM. There is no need for “me” to regard everybody else as anything but everybody else, in all their bewildering diversity and variety.

    The problem with “us” is that there is no reasonable way to argue that you, Gerard Vanderleun, and John Kerry are part of the same “us”.

    “Us” has some very distinct limits and they are hardly congruent with the entire American population of responsible citizenry.

    Of course, I do notice that “us” is inclined to argue that they, in fact, do constitute an overwhelming majority of the American population, or the adult and responsible population, or the loyal and patriotic population.

    And this despite all evidence from popular vote totals in Presidential elections, repeated polls by responsible polling organizations, and so forth.

    THEM, of course, make their numbers appear to be so many by controlling all but a handful of the dozens of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and electronic media outlets. These amplifiers are very efficient at making the 500,000 or so of THEM look like millions more.

    Speaking personally, I have belonged to no man’s tribe since the day I was born. Three-quarters of my mind and heart was locked away even from my family, who now have left for good, and all my various sets of friends have dissolved away like last January’s snow.

    I will leave the world as I entered it–naked and alone. And, I might add, with no regrets about that fact.

    For everybody else, in all their diversity and complexity, is a far greater gift from life than membership in any communal meeting of minds and views.

    And constant warfare on the boundaries of the tribal territory is a bore.

  • smmtheory

    Working on patching that wall, eh Joseph?

  • smmtheory

    Working on patching that wall, eh Joseph?

  • newton

    Give it up, Joseph… Your dog don’t hunt.

  • newton

    Give it up, Joseph… Your dog don’t hunt.

  • igout

    It sure is an interesting time to be an American; whether all we me-s like it or not, the rest of the world is very clear there’s an ‘us’, and for the most part they’re not us’s friends. Everybody likes to see the Alpha go down, even if the next one will be infinitely worse.
    Folks, start praying we have 1/10 the guts and steadfastness the people who made this country had. We going to need it.

  • igout

    It sure is an interesting time to be an American; whether all we me-s like it or not, the rest of the world is very clear there’s an ‘us’, and for the most part they’re not us’s friends. Everybody likes to see the Alpha go down, even if the next one will be infinitely worse.
    Folks, start praying we have 1/10 the guts and steadfastness the people who made this country had. We going to need it.

  • Jean

    Me? I don’t give a crap about 9/11 because it didn’t happen to me. It happened in NYC, and that city is far from here. It’s full of people who don’t think like me or care about me, so why should I care? Katrina? Didn’t reach here, so I won’t donate any money or time to it. It doesn’t concern me. Lay-offs? As long as I’ve got my job, I’m fine.
    .
    That’s what “me” is really all about.
    .
    However, when “me” becomes “us” – that’s when I can treat others as more than commodities. When I begin to identify with others and be concerned about them, that’s when I’m most myself.
    .
    By the way, I’ve wondered why the rugged individuals who don’t need a sense of community seem to be the ones so addicted to the Internet. What purpose does a fake community serve?

  • Jean

    Me? I don’t give a crap about 9/11 because it didn’t happen to me. It happened in NYC, and that city is far from here. It’s full of people who don’t think like me or care about me, so why should I care? Katrina? Didn’t reach here, so I won’t donate any money or time to it. It doesn’t concern me. Lay-offs? As long as I’ve got my job, I’m fine.
    .
    That’s what “me” is really all about.
    .
    However, when “me” becomes “us” – that’s when I can treat others as more than commodities. When I begin to identify with others and be concerned about them, that’s when I’m most myself.
    .
    By the way, I’ve wondered why the rugged individuals who don’t need a sense of community seem to be the ones so addicted to the Internet. What purpose does a fake community serve?

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