Hawai‘i Turns 50, Theroux Stays Misanthropic

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Hawai‘i becoming the 50th state, Paul Theroux in the New York Times expresses his fondness for its natural attractions and misanthropy toward its people—just as he does when he writes about anywhere else.

Back then, as the newest star on the flag, Hawaii was a thinly populated place, with most of the people living in Honolulu and predominantly young — the state’s average age was among the youngest in the nation. Its soul was Polynesian, but its popular culture and its institutions were Small Town U.S.A., with drive-in eateries, carhops and a passion for Elvis (a frequent visitor) and for high school sports; on every island the social highlight of the year was the senior prom….

Other plantation lands have become bungaloid subdivisions or luxury housing or golf courses. Some children of the plantation workers have become doctors and lawyers, or construction workers and caddies. And an immense number have become politicians — each island has its own local government — which may account for its reputation for political buffoonery and philistinism. Public intellectuals do not exist; public debate is rare, except on issues that transgress religious dogma. Hawaii is noted for its multitude of contentious God-botherers….

Some of this seems either dysfunctional or annoying, and yet there are compensations. All my life I have thought, Give me sunshine. Hawaii has the balmiest weather in the world, and its balance of wind and water gives it perfect feng shui. No beach is private: all of the shoreline must be accessible to the casual beachgoer or fisherman or opihi-picker. And since people’s faults are often their virtues when looked at a different way, the aversion to self-promotion is often a welcome humility; the lack of confrontation or hustle is a rare thing in a hyperactive world. Islanders are instinctively territorial, but bound by rules, so privacy matters and so does politeness and good will.

Although many of its birds and flora have been wiped out by humans or alien species, Hawaii’s other Edenic attributes are just about indestructible. I keep telling myself that no one can taint the orchidaceous air, or flatten the gigantic sea cliffs, or still the great waves, or obliterate the rainbows.

The comment thread offers fewer mahalos than auwes.

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Filed under democracy, Hawai'i, U.S.

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