AMERICAN CRAPCEPTIONALISM

Thus far I've kept the promise to myself that I would limit the Thomas Friedman style "observational" posts as I drive across the continent. One won't kill anyone though, right? And I promise I didn't interview a cabbie.

The remote parts of the Yukon and Alaska have a lot in common. The distances are vast, the landscape inspires a mixture of wonder and terror, and the people who live in the region practice a kind of self-sufficiency that seems foreign to people in urban areas. When running to the grocery store involves a seven hour round-trip drive, you tend to approach life a bit differently.

People in the region appear to share a lot of characteristics whether American or Canadian. One tangible difference in crossing the invisible line between Canada and the U.S. is immediately apparent, though. Americans have a fondness for warning onlookers to KEEP OUT of their PRIVATE PROPERTY because TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT that their Canadian self-sufficient cousins demonstrably do not share.

It makes perfect sense that the kind of person who would willingly live in such an isolated manner are, shall we say, desirous of privacy. They do not welcome uninvited guests, they do not revel in the company of others, and they willingly disengage from social institutions. Probably not big fans of the government. Alaskans, though, seem to think that someone is coming to get them in a way that Yukoners (??) do not. There's an explicit hostility on the Alaska side that isn't present in the otherwise quite similar Canadian side of the vast, empty north.

On some level this amuses me – the idea that The Government or the Illuminati or anyone else is interested in Randy's plywood shack and rusted hulk of a derelict Plymouth Valiant is almost heartbreakingly delusional but not quite to the point where it can be considered touching. I want to sit these people down and explain to them that having physically removed themselves from society by hundreds of miles of forbidding terrain in a region that experiences nine annual months of complete darkness is enough to convince people that they wish to be left alone. And the rest of us look at their hand-to-mouth existence without envy. In fact, most of us think they are crazy. Nobody is interested in removing the collection of bleached caribou bones from their yard. Of course, they'd shoot me if I tried to have this or any other conversation with them.

Is it a need to feel Important? Do they grapple with their own insignificance by imagining that the U.N. and Obama are plotting to come after them? Are they afraid of ordinary crime, like teenagers stealing things from their tanning shed? Or are they simply reveling in a persecution complex that justifies the level of misery that is their lives? The most interesting question, though, is why an invisible border filters out such attitudes as one heads east. If anything, Yukon Canadians (many of whom are Native) would seem to have more cause to be angry at the world than Alaskans who get a check from the State every year for doing nothing. But here we see the folly of applying logic to crypto-survivalists brimming with outward hostility.

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41 Responses to “AMERICAN CRAPCEPTIONALISM”

  1. Andrew Says:

    All of the people I've known who are convinced that the government is out to get them are people of whose existence the government probably isn't aware. Just pathetic.

  2. cromartie Says:

    I mean, why have a comment section when you're going to do this good of a job answering your own question:

    (They are) simply reveling in a persecution complex that justifies the level of misery that is their lives.

    This describes most of rural America, actually.

  3. Jesse Says:

    They're growing pot.

  4. Nick Says:

    I suspect that for many of them, the survivalist tendencies and fear of blue-helmeted Stormtroopers predates, not antedates, their decision to live in the absolute middle of nowhere. They didn't live out there already and become convinced that the Gummit was going to come for their fishing equipment and hunting rifle; they already thought that way, and as a result they (or their parents, for the few who were raised up there and indoctrinated into the mindset) decided to flee to Alaska, taking their fear of every other person with them, thus necessitating signs warning off intruders even in a place where nobody plans to intrude.

    Of course, a combination of normal cabin fever and whatever happens when you have nine months of darkness with only a deer carcass and the entire Ragnar Benson oeuvre to keep you company has probably driven them even further into the Alaska backcountry of the mind.

  5. Nick Says:

    Or, as Jesse suggests, they're growing pot (or manufacturing meth). Possibly all of the above.

  6. Arslan Says:

    This reminds me of vatniks: http://readrussia.com/2015/06/09/vatnost-%E2%80%93-why-the-west-cant-understand-russia/

    They think America wants their oil- America doesn't need it. They think America wants their gas- America doesn't need that either. Russia has nothing America wants.

  7. Andrew Says:

    We want their vodka in large quantities and their nesting dolls in smaller quantities. :-)

  8. Michael Says:

    Racism.

  9. Brutus Says:

    Love the phrase “crypto-survivalists brimming with outward hostility.” Some of that may be well founded, but I’ll leave that otherwise untouched.

    The persecution complex and bunker mentality are fairly logical (if somewhat paranoid and irrational) responses of a small segment of Americans whose personal radar has picked up and amplified the message that someone or another is coming to get them, steal their children, rape their women, and leave them all for dead. That background drumbeat has been part of the American psyche since the early 20th century. Accordingly, some self-isolate in a siege posture.

    The U.S. as a whole prior to WWII was more isolationist than pacifist. The Cold War and nuclear angst only heightened the sense of dread, leading to our current overweening, preemptive idiocy. The meme complex hasn’t just filtered down to a few clans huddled in the frozen north; it’s also percolated up to the highest levels of government and is used to justify the national security state and creeping fascism. ISIS is the specter now, being the latest instantiation of terrorism, though ISIS in particular is yet to touch American shores (the connection with Islam is questionable, IMO). Before that, we had lost our principal enemy (providing a handy negative identity or oppositional culture) with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why the Canadian side of the Yukon hasn’t manifested the same psychosis is a good question.

  10. Robert Says:

    I remember reading about traveling in Appalachia (back in the early XXth century). The mannerly thing to do when approaching a remote cabin was to stand well off and call out, "Hello, the house!" Walking right up on the porch and knocking on the door was ill-advised.

    There are quite a few people in the USA who seem to be eager for an excuse to shoot someone. I am glad not to know any of them.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    They're terrified that first the government will come for their snow-machines, then their guns, and then their Christian God!
    And somewhere along the line, the pot they're growing, and the meth they're making.

    And then, when everything's cleaned-up, ship in black people who are crazy enough to want to live up there – not that there would be many of them. They're smarter and more sociable than these frozen and bigoted crackers.

  12. Big Jon Says:

    A few points to ponder, well corrections maybe:
    Your sample of paranoid delusional Alaskans is biased, in that there's many more people living along the road system in Alaska than the Yukon, probably at least an order of magnitude more, so it's likely there'd be more no trespassing signs. Likely there's more crime too. You don't have to be ripped off more than once to post your property.
    As to climate, while I expect your comments are hyperbole (you could easily google it up), but there's probably only nine months of winter in extreme northern Canada and Alaska; most of the area you visited has six months or less of winter. It's only dark all day long north of the arctic circle, about 200 miles north of Fairbanks, which gets about four hours of sunlight in Dec.-Jan.(six hours if you count civil twilight that extends daylight due to refraction of the low angle sun). I could go on, but you get the point. And while I'm admittadly biased due to living in Alaska, I grew up in Chicago (go Hawks) and went to college in Macomb, so am familiar with your miserable surroundings.

  13. mwing Says:

    Yeah, but here's the thing: The Canadians are growing pot, too. Tons of it.

  14. swkellogg Says:

    The flip side of paranoia is grandiosity.

  15. postcaroline Says:

    Yukoner=correct demonym

  16. Anubis Bard Says:

    I think you should go and talk to Randy. Just take a six pick of beer and a caribou bone as a gift. That way you wouldn't have to answer your own questions.

  17. doug Says:

    Bill collectors….

  18. Skepticalist Says:

    Our side is sounding like a bunch of failed gated communities that are nowhere near as much fun as hoped. Things were supposed to be hunkydory living where it's too cold for brown people and black helicopters.

  19. schmitt trigger Says:

    The difference, me thinks, is that the Canadians are growing pot, while the Alaskans are manufacturing Meth.

    Anyone who has experienced firsthand the effects of both drugs can understand the differences in behavior.

  20. Emerson Dameron Says:

    @Nick:

    I think that's pretty close. People who move to or stay in Alaska probably skew antisocial. All they get from the rest of America is our kiddie-scaring news and talk shows, so they probably don't want to share their rugged paradise with us (even Eastern Californians and New Englanders have odd ideas about people from Los Angeles or New York) and freak out over out-of-state plates. Yukoners don't share too much of their right-libertarian baggage because they're not Americans.

  21. John Danley Says:

    Nitrous oxide, crab legs, .50 caliber handguns, moose, and bear shit.

  22. Major Kong Says:

    My friend from the Alaska Air National Guard called these folks the "Fortress Alaska" people.

  23. Rich Says:

    Too much credit given to the Canadians. Their rural West is not entirely unlike ours in terms of social outlook. The Canadians managed to elect a government that is basically Bush II without the neocons.

  24. Richard Anderson Says:

    A couple of small details regarding the diff between Canadians and us Yanks, but perhaps telling. I spent the summer of '88 driving around the North American West, fishing. (Please, be envious; it was wonderful.) After crossing from Montana into Alberta, I stopped at the first tourist-information center I came to and picked up a booklet on the province. Alberta being cow country, the booklet's cover pictured a cowboy on his horse, looking out over a herd of cattle. The difference, though, from what we would've seen in our country: this cowboy was smoking a pipe.

    The other detail: the campgrounds I visited in Canadian national forests were liberally stocked with split firewood for use by campers. In the States, that wood would surely have vanished within a day or three, skedaddled away in the backs of pickup trucks and the trunks of cars.

  25. Andrew Says:

    I drove through Saskatchewan more than 10 years ago and saw cowboy-looking men in big, shiny trucks gathered in a cafe in Swift Current, sipping tea out of dainty little china cups with their pinkies crooked just so. Very amusing.

  26. Mo Says:

    Will Richard Hofstadter please come to the courtesy desk…

    Fifty fucking years ago.

    My trip last summer through these same provinces and state produced only one puzzling contrast: no potholes on Canadian highways, even on Highway 37. Pass Customs heading for Skagway, tho, and the road looks positively diseased.

    Ketchup potato chips, anyone?

  27. Andrew Says:

    My favorite Canadian potato chip used to be dill pickle, because you couldn't get them in the US. Now that you can, my favorite Canadian potato chip is all-dressed.

  28. The Pale Scot Says:

    Have you met Alaskan denizen Chief Wright?

    But Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln…

  29. Skippper Says:

    It's all just fear. These people are terrified. And this is their response. The sum total of right-wing rhetoric, whether it's coming from politicians, Fox News, the Tea Party, survivalist newsletters, whatever, is fear. have you ever heard anything uplifting, positive, constructive, enlightening? No, it's just fear.

    The gays are coming for your kids and want to destroy your marraige. The blacks want your women. The blacks are taking over the country. Obama is a Kenyan Muslim coming for your guns. Mexicans are lazy and don't want to work and so they're stealing your jobs. ISIS is hiding behind a tree in your front yard. Buy gold because the currency is no good.

    That's it. 24/7/365. Without getting too much into neuroscience, it's a fact that it's possible to overload the brain with fear. When that happens, it interferes with the process of rational thought. Fox News and the right-wing propagandists know this right well. That's why they do it.

  30. Big Jon Says:

    Well I seldom reply to blog postings, but now I've done it twice. Skipper's comment is so full of unfounded generalizations and hyperbole, it's amazing. How much time have you spent in Ak? Little I suspect. While there are enclaves of christian right wing extremists, I doubt it's any worse than in any rural area of the pacific northwest. I've never had a white supremacy sticker stuck on my windshield like my friend did when he visited Idaho. While I don't like to see No Trespassing signs, there good reasons to post them:
    –In Alaska, you have the right to cross private land to hunt, fish, survey, or other legal purposes without getting permission unless the land is posted. We've had people hunting on our property many times, never once asking if it's all right. We also had people cutting trees and trapping without permission until my wife posted the trail.
    –There's no garbage collection outside city limits, so people have to drive 10-15 miles to a maintained dumping site. For some, it's much easier to drive up an unmarked drive way or trail and dump there. It's happened to us.
    –While it doesn't stop a thief, a warning sign is about all you can do if you've been ripped off and the state troopers are too busy to even come out to investigate. And if the thieves do get caught, it's usually teenagers who don't get punished, then do it again.
    So yeah, there are some paranoid right wingers up here, but there's a lot of good people who'd give you the shirt off their back, drive an extra mile, or do what ever it takes to help out someone in need. Get real and find out some things before postulating psuedo-psychological nonsense.

  31. sluggo Says:

    We have seen the enemy and he is us………

    The US locks more people per capita than any other country, that makes us the worst people on earth.

    Either we have vastly many more criminals, or we lock up vastly more innocent people than any other country.

    Pick your poison.

  32. Andrew Says:

    Probably a bit of both. We do have a much higher homicide rate than any country in western Europe. Fewer guns in circulation would probably lower that at least somewhat, unless you believe in American exceptionalism, which I do not. Ending the war on drugs would help a great deal. Putting criminals who pose less of a risk (due to their age and/or the nonviolent nature of their offenses) under an alternative form of supervision, such as an ankle monitor, would probably bring us down to near-civilized levels.

  33. Skipper Says:

    Big Jon just dumped a load of bullshit on someone else's property. That's why people pit up No Tresspassing signs.

  34. Andrew Says:

    I'm not sure whether I agree with Big Jon or not, having never been to Alaska, but since he lives there, maybe his point of view is worth considering.

  35. Eau Says:

    @BigJon: Your comments seem sensible. Got a theory on why the posting/signing seems concentrated on the US side o the border?

  36. Andrew Says:

    This site says the Yukon has no civil trespassing law:

    http://www.yukon-news.com/news/security-firm-pushes-for-trespassing-laws/

  37. democommie Says:

    According to this:

    http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/2013%20Rate%20and%20Rank%20of%20Crime%20and%20Imprisonment%20by%20US%20States.html

    The murder rate in Alaska, in 2013, was 4.6/100K–the same as California, which has such non-wilderness areas as LA, SanFran and the like where all of the drug-addled, free-sexin, homoislamist hordes are killin' whites like there's no tomorrow–or maybe they're not.

    As regards AK's overall mental state; 2 words. Sarah Palin.

  38. Gino Herron Says:

    Look out, mama, there's a white boat comin' up the river,
    With a big, red beacon and a flag and a man on the rail.

    A seven-hour trip for groceries, I hope, means these morons don't participate in community activities like voting. If that assumption's true, who gives a shit about them, other than for anthropological reasons? Carrion-feeding animals need nourishment, and carrion's where they're headed. Rural Americans with chips on their shoulders. Who knew? I thought you were trying to get away to see something exotic. I can find these attitudes 25 miles out of town in a single-wide next to the Pit River.

  39. spirilis Says:

    The Americans are to stupid to realize that the sign tells THEN you're there.

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