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If You Really Loved Me, You’d Die For Me

Love, it has been said, is a many-splendored thing. By Andy Williams and Han Suyin, anyway, who, respectively, sang the song and wrote the book that became the 1955 feature film. 

How exactly you splendor something confused me, being unaware of any other instances of the word being employed as a verb. I consulted a (admittedly non-comprehensive) print dictionary and found only the noun definition. Further online perusal led me to a verb definition, claiming that to splendor something is to either make it splendid (really? like, this room is rather drab, what say we splendor it by festooning it with tinsel?) or to proceed with pomp or grandeur (as in, the graduates splendored across the auditorium stage?) Yeah, no. 

I'm skeptical and suspect that this is yet another case of the lexicon compilers giving in to the lackadaisical usage of the rabble. Because the title of the film became a part of the collective consciousness (why, I don't know; it was a stupid movie), they shrugged and said what the fuck, guess it's a verb now. It's laxity of this nature that is leading to the degeneration of the species. I am fine with neologisms if you find existing verbiage unequal to your descriptive needs; been known to engage in the practice myself now and again, but for fuck's sake consult a dictionary before you start tossing words around willy-nilly. 

So, love. Splendored or not, it's a thing, and no meaningless abstraction besides God ever incited so much discussion, debate, or disagreement. What is "true" love? What are the different varieties of love? Is it forever? Does it fade? Are the lesser animals capable of it? My own favorite qualifier is the ol' "I love you, but I'm not *in* love with you," which translates as "You're welcome to buy me things, but I still won't have sex with you."

I think, though, we can all agree that "love," and all the different feelings and behaviors arising from whatever we think it is, is a generally positive thing. I, for instance, love my phone. Any woman's magazine quiz would bear this out. I think about it when it's not around, I am obsessively concerned with its safety and health, I want to spend all my time with it, and I would sacrifice myself to extract it from the slavering jaws of an apex carnivore, should it somehow find itself in those unlikely straits. I am consumed with jealousy when anyone else touches it and I want it to be happy. If that's not love, I don't know what is. We are very happy together and will be right up until the moment I upgrade, but I will still recall it fondly and wish it well. 

At least I'm not referring to it as "her." I know it's a machine and I know the feelings are not reciprocated but I'll put this love up against any marriage in the world and beat it by a full furlong. 

One love I do not feel or subscribe to, either actually or conceptually, is love of country, or Patriotism. For one thing, I reject the very notion of countries. Every bit of matter in the universe is related, and I'm supposed feel superior to someone living a few hundred miles away because of an arbitrary line drawn in the sand, a different manner of communicating ideas, and a differently colored scrap of fabric fluttering over the courthouse? I don't think so. Every atom in my body was once something else, and when I am gone they will become lots of other things, and many of them were no doubt intermingled with atoms currently forming the physiology of people all over the globe. That knowledge alone is enough to convince me that borders, biases, and bigotry have no place in our enlightened age. We, and by we I mean every damn proton and electron in the universe, are all one. This does not mean you can borrow money from me, necessarily, but it does mean I recognize people as just that, not as Armenians or Canadians or Bahamians. 

I find it curious that patriotism is only invoked by the powers that be when it's time to start killing people from other countries, or convincing the youth of their own to sacrifice their lives to some nebulous, abstract concept they don't understand, employing propaganda and emotional manipulation to exploit the natural tendencies of young men bursting with hormonal triggers to fight and seek adventure. These primal urges are in place to serve the biological imperative, find a suitable mate and propagate the species. Making young people believe that their interests are best served by sacrificing themselves to the needs of a rapacious government and the corporations that control it is criminal, immoral, evil, and unjust. 

Why does "patriotism" not translate to wanting the best for your country and the people in it? If you really loved your country, would you not want there to be clean air to breathe and sufficient resources to enable the populace to exist in a condition of relative ease? Would you not want the streets to be clean and the people to be housed and clothed and fed? Is not a country composed of people? Is it defined only by borders and a flag, or is it the government you love? Is it "America" as a concept that makes your heart swell, or the manufactured history of noble action and the pursuit of happiness? Because this is, like every other claim shoved the throats of schoolchildren, a load of unmitigated bullshit, and if you really loved your country you'd be doing your best to make it more liveable for what actually makes it up, millions of strugglers and strivers trying to wrest what they can from the predatory billionaires and corporations using this country and its people as fodder to satisfy their pathological acquisitiveness. 

Imagine for a moment that you are completely ignorant of this planet and its policies, practices, and people. Consider yourself a sentient, evolved alien from a distant planet as I present this playlet in half an act. 

(Scene: Backstage at the auditorium of an institution dedicated to the process of education, acculturation, socialization, and indoctrination of the youth of a country called America. 

Players: Valedictorian, the leading male student of the institution. He has just completed a 12 year program and excelled academically, socially, and physically, proven himself able and apt in regurgitating propaganda and moving different-sized balls from one place to another, and is pleasing to look at besides. 

The Powers that Be, embodied in The General, a military chieftain charged with ensuring the safety and security of the country by murdering the occupants of other countries. He and the Valedictorian are having a private discussion following the completion ceremony.) 

General: Son, you are the best and the brightest. You represent all that is great about America. Ready to go forth and reap the benefits of living in the greatest country on earth? 

Valedictorian: I sure am, sir. Super excited. I love America! 

General: You have no idea how glad I am to hear that, young man. So do I. You live in a land of unlimitited opportunity and a person of your gifts can achieve anything at all and rise to unimaginable heights of wealth and power. 

Valedictorian: Awesome! I'm going to go drink beer and have sex. See ya!

General: Not so fast, boy. You have certain responsibilities before you can get started. You see, there are places in the world with customs and practices that are different from ours. They look different, they talk funny, and most importantly, they have things that we want. Problem is, they don't want to give us those things, and we even asked them nicely. Had the audacity to refuse and insist on being left alone to live their lives and pursue happiness on their own terms. We consider this an act of aggression and so we're assembling a team of go-getters like yourself to go over there and take what we want. 

Valedictorian: Won't there be resistance? Will it be dangerous?

General: Well, yes. In fact, you may lose your life, or a limb, or your ability to throw balls around, but there is nothing more noble you can do that die in furtherance of the goals of your country. You will be remembered as a hero and your uniform will be bedecked with brightly colored ribbons and gewgaws. Most importantly, you will have given your life or legs so that your fellow Americans can live in peace and prosperity. 

Valedictorian: All of them?

General: Certainly not. We're not communists, after all. No, only the ones that deserve it. 

Valedictorian: Who deserves it? Who decides who deserves it?

General: (chuckling) Now, now. Let's not get into that, you wouldn't and don't need to understand. What's relevant here is that you love your country, there is no love without hate, and the people you hate are these other brown sumbitches on the other side of the world being selfish with their oil, which God said rightfully belongs to the people with the most cars. C'mon, now. You'll get a shiny new gun, new clothes, discipline, structure… And if you live through it, community-college tuition. Whaddaya say, son? Sign on the dotted?

Valedictorian: I don't know… Do I hafta? I kinda had plans, parties and stuff…

General: Parties? Patriots don't *party*. Patriots *prove* their love by fighting and dying for their country. Period. You don't *hafta*, but if you refuse you had better by damn be ready to face the Almighty after your life of leisure and self-interest and explain why you let your country down when it needed you. 

Valedictorian: Yeah… No. I'm going to take a hard pass. I'll take my chances with God. I guess if those brown people show up here you can give me a call, but I'm going to let you guys work this out yourselves. Best of luck, though. Later, gator. 

General: That's later, gator, SIR.

* * *

Sounds a little silly if you pretend no previous knowledge of the absurd notion of patriotism, does it not? I would say that patriotism is in fact a perversion of the concept of love, grounded as it is in exclusion and bigotry. I am not proud to be an American, as the patriots are forever trumpeting and singing and plastering on their T-shirts, hats, and vehicles. I am an American by accident of birth, by my mother occupying a specific latitude and longitude on July 7, 1960, and as it happened, Canada was just a few miles away. Why, Mom? Why could you not pop over the border when the labor pains kicked in so I could make fun of Americans? Not that I don't, but it would be much more convincing if I were sporting a red maple leaf. 

No, I am proud of my accomplishments and those of the people I love, and the people I love are my friends and family, and in a more general way all the peoples of the earth. I don't love borders or governments or politicians, and I'd say the very best thing I could consider them as is a necessary evil. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go splendor off into the gloaming and pretend I'm in Manitoba.

3 Comments

  1. lauracooskey June 8, 2020

    I’m sorry to burst the grammatical pride bubble you blew up here, but “Love is a many-splendored thing” is not using “splendor” as a verb–it’s a noun here, just as in your familiar acquaintance with it. If not, the authors of the phrase would have used an adverb (e.g., “Love is an oft-splendored thing” or “a variously splendored…”) rather than an adjective before “splendored.” The usage is similar to saying a discussion is multi-faceted (“facet” being a noun) or a room is walnut-panelled, or a plot layered or multi-layered–it possesses layers (nouns), the room features walnut panels, the discussion has facets… and love enjoys splendors. Many of them.
    (I’m humble enough to consider that i may be wrong… maybe there’s some rule involving gerunds or progressive tenses or participles which renders a noun a verb when used as an adjective… so please fill me in, using layman’s language, if you have a solid argument for why you think “splendored” should be seen as a verb in your example.)
    But i didn’t yet get to reading about those attractions, as the zeal which excited your lazy use of the F-word twice in condemning lax mutilators of written English moved me to correct you and request that you stand down in your battle with non-existent grammatical enemies. Please write about the proliferation of unnecessary commas lately. It’s like this: I, keep reading, things full, of commas which, have no use. I suspect, it may be a result, of the coronavirus. What else? But, maybe, it’s just a response, to the over-use of hyphens, which… don’t get me started on the redundant hyphens. Or the exclamation marks!
    I will try reading the rest of this, and will try not to proofread unless upset by misplaced frustration on your part.

  2. lauracooskey June 8, 2020

    Well, Flynn Washburne, thank you for writing this. I agree with what i glean as your main point: people who claim to love their countries and are ready to respond to the call to die for them are in seriously dysfunctional relationships, and could benefit from some counseling regarding their boundaries. Not the fences between nations or corporate markets, but the more important boundaries between their own values and sense of personhood vs. the wishes of those who want to use their bodies, minds, blood, etc., to further their own selfish agendas. Love, in this case, would be a many-cursed thing. Or to use that as a verb: a justly cursed thing.
    As many people have recently pointed out, there is a big difference between patriotism–the true love of country which seeks the highest good for it as part of the greatest good for all–and nationalism, which has the chauvinistic, militaristic angle. I do love my country, but i recognize that that’s not because it’s better than anywhere else, it’s just that it’s my own familiar country–it’s my home, and my friends and family live here. I’d much sooner fight war than fight in a war.
    Thank you.

  3. Volt Voort June 11, 2020

    Hello, Flynn. My OED, 2nd Edition, in 20 volumes, which I keep in 3 old whiskey crates in a murky room, reveals the following to me: in addition to ‘splendour’ as a noun, it lists transitive and intransitive verb definitions, as follows.
    1 intr. To move with splendour. 1853. T. Parker, Theism (1865) 116. “When a star with fiery hair came splendouring through the night, it filled medieval astronomers with amazement.”
    2. trans. To invest with splendour. a 1867, A. Smith Life Drama I 49 Poems (1901) 3 ” ‘Tis not for me To Fling a Poem, like a comet, out, Far-splendouring the sleepy realms of night.”
    These usages strike me as peculiar, but there you are.
    As you know, English is malleable and labile; if a critical mass of folks use a word incorrectly for a lengthy-enough period, that usage very well may come to be considered standard. An example would be ‘flounder,’ smuggled over from the piscatory realm to displace ‘founder.’
    I think we’re seeing a similar process with ‘nonplussed,’ usually employed by those who wish to seem more erudite than they are to mean the opposite of what it in fact does mean.
    Regards.

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