AT THE 100TH MERIDIAN: THE TRAGICALLY HIP MEET FREDERICK JACKSON TURNER’S FRONTIER THESIS HEAD ON IN A POSTMODERN CONFRONTATION WHICH MAY ULTIMATELY DETERMINE WHO WILL ‘TRUMP’ WHOM IN THE END GAME OF CORE-PERIPHERY PARADIGM SHIFTING.
I was just coming home this afternoon from the local LCBO, which in this part of Canada stands for ‘Liquor Control Board of Ontario’, another one of our ubiquitous state-sanctioned monopolies (or thereabouts), on the sale of wine and spirits in this neck of the woods. I ventured into that vicinity not so much to procure any sort of alcoholic libations, as I am now abstinent from such things for over eighteen years, but rather to procure some empty boxes to begin the laborious process of packing up my worldly possessions once again and heading off to another part of Canada to pursue my education.
On the way home with my booty neatly folded flat in my boot, I was listening to my favourite Classic Rock radio station, and they played one of my favourite songs from one of my favourite Canadian bands: ‘At the hundredth Meridian’ by the Tragically Hip, a band out of Kingston, ON. Their lyrical content has always been both lauded and criticized for being overtly nebulous on many counts, but I now feel compelled to give my take on this song’s lyrics, especially as it relates to the current state of Trump-era postmodern Pax-Americana civilization.
The song is essentially, in my opinion, a socio-cultural and socio-economic commentary and critique of the American Frontier Thesis and creation mythology or creation theology which was originally spoken and written about in Frederick Jackson Turner’s seminal writings entitled ‘The Frontier in American History’, which first appeared in print in 1908. Turner essentially posits that the notion, process and continuing outcome of core-periphery expansion, both on a physical and metaphysical level of the American Frontier, as it was originally settled in the Lower Forty Eight States during colonial times, is the crucial and defining element which has shaped the American notion and consciousness regarding its attitudes towards liberty, freedom and democracy. Essentially, what Turner argues is that true American liberty, freedom and democracy is created, nurtured and re-creates itself on an ongoing, core-periphery basis on the frontier, by America having access to a continuously and perpetually-expanding frontier, both physically and metaphysically, where America and her citizens can dwell and be truly free to create their society and their institutions and institutional framework free of such institutional forms of tyranny as the secular state, with its inherent tendency towards accretion of administrative and juridico-legal and legislative/executive command and control imperatives and regulatory frameworks.
Turner argues further that said fundamental frontier liberty and freedom is often fashioned at the will of the frontiersman, who is free to improvise in the creation of his institutional frame of reference, in lieu of an established law and order or legislative/juridico-legal fiat environment, with the time-honoured instruments of coercion through the use of firearms, to make laws and break laws as he sees fit, until such time as the secular state impedes upon his improvisational methods of the exercise of his ‘liberty’ through its very own time-honoured instrument of establishing a covenant or social contract, as Rousseau would put it, whereby man’s unfettered exercise of his liberty and freedom is partially surrendered to the secular state, in exchange for the guarantee of certain provisions of law, order, and civil security and protection from the random violence of the ‘mob rules’ mentality of the frontier.
This is where it gets tricky, and where The Tragically Hip come into the picture. The opening ‘salvo’ so to speak of the song says ‘Me debunk an American myth, and take my life in my hands?/Where the Great Plains begin, at the hundredth meridian, where the Great Plains begin.’ Essentially the Great Plains in American history are part of the mythical theory of western colonial expansion in the 1870s, which essentially consolidated America’s control over the Lower Forty Eight States and set the stage for her continued expansion, which had already begun before that, into other parts of the world, such as the Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
What the Hip are trying to point out in their metaphorical analysis of the American Frontier experience, I believe, is the current unsustainable nature of the core-periphery method of development of the frontier-like form of expansionism at the demographic level, but especially at the metaphysical level, as it relates to the current state of socio-cultural, socio-economic, and moral and spiritual decrepitude of American society. This, the songwriters express through a part of the song wherein they say ‘A generation so much dumber than its parents, came crashing through the window.’ It’s as if the singer of the song was explicitly intimating that from an intergenerational point of view, that American society, far from being able to continuously create and re-create itself at the physical and metaphysical level through this much-vaunted creation mythology and theology of liberty, freedom and democracy thriving on the frontier, it rather seems to imply that America is instead degenerating as opposed to re-generating itself.
One can see this all over America, as well as in Canada. We see declining standards of living, deconstruction and dismemberment of government entitlements to public services such as health care, education and social services, in favour of an increasingly neoliberal ideology of letting people fend for themselves and be supposedly ‘personally responsible’ for their own outcomes, unencumbered by supposedly ‘oppressive and tyrannical’ initiatives such as government funded and administered and delivered services in the realm of health, education, and social services. What this appears to be creating is an ever-increasing environment which, ironically enough is beginning to resemble once again the free-for-all of the original frontier environment, with an increasing number of individuals being totally cut off from any form of government assistance, including welfare, public housing, medication, health services, and are increasingly being pushed out into the streets to fend for themselves, many of whom are taking matters into their own hands, because they essentially are desperate and have nothing to lose by brandishing a weapon and attacking somebody or something and potentially killing dozens of people.
This only increases our need to spend money on increased measures for law enforcement, security, jails, courts, surveillance equipment, crowd control measures, firearms, tasers, lawyers, soldiers, and spying on our own people to clamp down on an increasingly pervasive and insidious network of countercultural networks of oppositional groups such as anarchists, anti-capitalist agitators, anti-authoritarian types, etc. So essentially we now find ourselves with an overcrowded domestic ‘frontier’, both demographically-speaking, as well as ideologically and socio-culturally, which is in socio-economic decline as well as moral decrepitude with record rates of poverty, obesity, mental health problems, structural unemployment, addictions, domestic violence, gambling, pornography, etc.
America’s ability to re-create and replenish its wellspring of ideological purity regarding its own creation mythology and creation theology based on its almost pathologically hagiographied obsession with its frontier origins and the relation of said origins with its fundamental notions of liberty, freedom and democracy, seems to have hit a structurally construed and embedded snag in the foundational precepts upon which its much-vaunted civilization is predicated. Any civilization which has ever existed which has been founded, flourished, then fallen, has always been structurally imbued with the seeds of its own eventual and ultimately, inevitable demise. One only has to examine the Pantheon of civilizations such as ancient Sumeria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Egypt, China, The Indus Valley, Easter Island, The British, French, Spanish and Portugese Empires. All contained at their inception, the structural elements which inevitably contributed to their ultimate demise.
Such is the case with America as well. They say that Pride always comes before a fall. I don’t know if the current President will be able to ‘Trump’ that axiom, or if he will get ‘Trumped up’ on charges resulting from elements within his own personal character and that of his country, as it increasingly grapples with its own mortality in the face of growing fiscal woes and cries from an increasingly vocal and militant international community of nations and individuals, both at home and abroad, who have grown both weary and hostile towards a nation, its government and its people, whom they view to a greater or lesser extent, with a mixture of admiration, envy, contempt, anger, and mythical sense of residual hope for a better world.
Strange how a quick jaunt to the Liquor Store can elicit such musings!