The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Thanksgiving

November 27, 2008

Rob Farley Scott Lemieux (sorry, Scott):

Somehow, this doesn’t seem like the right time for a chipper Thanksgiving greeting…

The terror attack on Mumbai certainly sucks the cheer out of Thanksgiving.

In fact, almost every Thanksgiving something terrible is happening somewhere in the world, whether headline grabbing or not. For over ten years, to take but two examples, it has been a pretty good bet that unspeakably awful (and probably non-headline grabbing) events are taking place in the Congo or the Sudan.

This is probably an inevitable consequence of a globalized world. It isn’t so much that death, terror, pain, and misery aren’t part of the landscape on any given Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Ramadan, or whatever), but that it is easier for people not experiencing them to know about them.

One way of proceeding, then, is to say, in essence, “bad things are always happening; if I change my routine or feel guilty about having a good time, then I’d always be miserable. So just shield them out as so much noise and get on with it.” And that’s not totally unreasonable. I’d say it’s nothing more than a very human mechanism for survival, one all of us deploy nearly every day.

But I think there’s an alternative. Many religious holidays call upon us to pay attention to the plight of others, and to do what we can to adjust our daily lives in light of it. Thanksgiving, like many other national holidays, usually asks us to do that at a local level. Perhaps the “CNN effect” requires the trans-nationalization of national holidays.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.