Return of the Jedediah

A Talk With 'Being America' Author Purdy

Purdy says traveling transformed his righteous notions about America's effect on the world: "I shed this romantic idea I'd definitely held before that when it goes abroad, American culture is just corrupting—that it goes into something pristine and fills it up with junk. The most surprising thing to me is how flexible people's deep self-understandings are, and how much is up for grabs. America understands the rest of the world as this place of very stable and enduring cultures—but so much is going to change one way or another in the next 20 years, there's very little that's fixed, and shifts can come very quickly."

Just as For Common Things was a lament over the lax state of the nation, Being America returns to the need for self-awareness and political engagement. Toward the end of the interview, Purdy asks rhetorically, "How many people spend hours at Congress.gov reading committee reports, then writing their congressman?" When I ask Purdy if he does that, he looks hurt. "I don't do that!" he insists.

Onion reader Jedediah Purdy: "There is no guarantee of an American future."
photo: Claudio Vazquez
Onion reader Jedediah Purdy: "There is no guarantee of an American future."

After a few seconds, he brightens up. "Did you see the Onion piece, 'Democracy Geek Votes in Normal Bi-Election'? It's about this guy who in most respects is normal, but he has a democracy problem. He doesn't just vote in the fall elections—he votes in the primaries and municipal elections. He's a good employee, but every few months he just doesn't show up on a Tuesday morning." So now we know: Jedediah Purdy reads The Onion. Which just proves his point about how swiftly people change. Maybe he even catches a Seinfeld rerun now and then.

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