Border Disorder

The Old World Order Will Rise Again, Right Here On The Arizona/Mexico Line.

By Jeff Smith

THOSE OF YOU who, like yr. fthfl. correspondent, loathed, feared and inveighed against NAFTA while there yet was time to can all that foolishness and save the world as we have come to know it, might spend a few bucks on the current issue of Atlantic Monthly and take a peek into the apocalypse-not-quite-now.

Smith Robert Kaplan, one of those eastern establishment press types who split their time between the triple-distilled elixir of the First World, as exemplified by uptown Manhattan, and the moldy dregs of the Third World (the Black Hole of Calcutta leaps to mind) wandered through town a couple of years ago, searching for a window on the future. He took a bus from Mexico City to Nogales, whence he made his way to Tucson, where he rented a car and meandered around the footsies, the barrios, the halls of academe, and finally down to my house in the weeds and to some hole-in-the-wall radio studio where Emil Franzi and John C. Scott were breathing hard into the mikes.

The result is 19 pages of ruminative prose on the subject of the new American destiny, which, Kaplan tells us, no longer will be manifested latitudinally, but henceforth on longitudinal lines. As in Calgary to Tucson to Los Mochis. Yeehah.

Kaplan is famous for having spent way more time in parts of the world where you can't drink the water. He paints a grim landscape of urban Mexico where the air is foul with diesel fumes and bodily effluvium, the sidewalks are congested with garbage, and violent young men carry sidearms and cell phones, keeping the Mexican economy vibrant with the buzz of drugs and money.

Drug-running is the alpha and omega of Mexican capitalism and federalism, and that nation's link to our own nation, via the mechanism of drug-consumption. Thus, the "transnationalism" that Kaplan posits as the future of the American West, and Mexico and western Canada along with it, is a brave new world founded on crime and corrosive chemicals, ingested for purposes of recreational suicide.

Not a pretty picture, and one must wonder why Kaplan would paint it and Atlantic Monthly would print it. The inevitable assumption is that they believe in it.

What they believe, as evidenced by the article, is that Mexico, for all its squalor at the heavily weighted bottom of the food chain, and corruption at the obscenely wealthy, sparsely populated top, is still a more cohesive, healthy, family-oriented society than ours in Los Estados Unidos. Here in the American West, using Tucson as exemplar, we are clinging to an outmoded myth and model Kaplan calls "individualism." Watch this usage: We used to say "individuality" and pronounce it with pride. Now it has become an ism, not unlike the fundamentalist logism "secular humanism," and it is a term of not-very-subtle derision.

I know, because Kaplan, a bright, earnest and seemingly honest man, found his way to my hideout in rural Santa Cruz County, and pronounced me "the last frontiersman" and my ecological niche "the heart of American loneliness." I guess he didn't notice the satellite dish out behind the garage.

But Kaplan was employing me to make a point, which seems to be that we of the American West are unfriendly and isolated from our neighbors, while at the same time linked to the nation and the world by modern technological toys...

...and to the slums of Mexico City (and presumably the hockey rinks of Alberta) by transnational economic interests.

I can buy the transnational economic interest thesis: That's why I raised such alarms over NAFTA. I could plainly see that the big boys and girls who make money with six or nine zeroes behind it love the notion of no tariffs, tax-breaks, labor forces from starving, Third World underclasses. I could just as plainly see that there's nothing in NAFTA for me, or for anyone who works for hourly wages. On either side of the border.

But Kaplan extrapolates this high-level, greed-driven zeal for global economies; and the human tide of Latin-Americans bearing down on our borders like a tsunami, and postulates a future in which we're all one big (doesn't matter if we're happy) family.

Communal till hell won't have it, because in a future of runaway population, Polynesian poverty, and social conventions dictated from above by a rarified, international economic and governmental elite, "individualism" simply won't fit in.

Damn. Just when I find myself on the endangered species list, I've gone and pissed off the greenies.

Not to worry, though: Dogs are going to chase cats, no matter what Atlantic Monthly believes or wishes. Serbs and Croats who used to get together to barbecue kielbasa are going to enjoy one too many beers and go after each other with spatulas. Those other isms--provincialism, nationalism, tribalism--are as immutable in human character as individualism.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Your conclusions as to whether sameness or change predominate depend entirely on when the questions are asked and answered. TW

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