We're in a time where the world has become very, very small as compared to the world only one hundred years ago. Then, it took weeks to cross the oceans and visit new places or move. Today, it takes hours. You can talk to a Chinese student from a cafe in Florida or debate politics with a socialist in Austria from your home in Nowhere, Mississippi. Business now crosses religions, cultures and races. Ideologies span the planet and even in to space, where rival nations plant their flags in orbit with satellites. It has become a hard choice between the idea of true equality between men and keeping alive the traditional cultural values both nations and individuals hold dear. Some nations have turned to multiculturalism. America, for the most part, has kept to its melting pot philosophy that's served it well.
The Importance of Culture
Despite the new interconnected world of spreading Western fashions and fads being seen in Syria, as well as spreading Eastern philosophies and views being spoken by the most famous of artists and stars, there is no doubt that an individual's cultural roots play a role in their lives no matter how assimilated they are to a Western or Eastern way of life. It is not hard to find evidence when you have North African Muslims in strictly secular France complaining about the government's “persecution” of their right to practice sexist customs. Nor is it difficult to find stories of those of Western upbringing who have tried to make a living in places like China or Singapore who detest the harsh, anti-democratic, anti-Western views and laws of the respective governments. Culture, as well as ideology, play a huge role in the ways people think and how they act in their home nations as well as any nation they decide to settle in.
Free to Be
In the hundred years between ocean steamers and supersonic jets, America has become more than just a nation of European immigrants as it was at the early part of the 20th century. Today, America boasts some of the largest assimilated minorities on the planet. Despite the rhetoric of those opposed to it, the War on Terror has yet to spawn a homegrown terror attack since its inception. Unlike Britain, which has had at least three Islamist attacks, both attempted and executed, since 9/11, the US has had only one known case of a homegrown cell, and that cell was of recent immigrants that may have already been trained by Al Qeada. For a country hated by many Muslim nations due to the idiot idea that the West is at war with Islam, a faction within a fraction of a minority of the Muslim population in America actually took the time to plan a terrorist attack which ended up being thwarted during the planning stage.
If America is the imperialistic, oppressive nation that it is said to be by the left and by our rivals, why is it that our populations have yet to reach out with revolutionary violence to free themselves? Why is it that in places like Spain or France or Russia that domestic ethnic terrorists strike, minorities violently riot and cultural animosities burn like bonfires, but in America the worst we have are angry letters to the editor or interest groups setting up press conferences to scream bloody murder? Its not because these groups are oppressed or bribed by the material wealth they receive for being good slaves to the capitalist state. Its because in America, these minorities are free to be who they are.
With the freedom to choose who you are, or to continue to practice who you are without political repercussion, is it no wonder that first generation immigrant families are usually struck with a schism between them and their children, who are more assimilated to American and/or Western culture? Being born into a mostly Western-rooted family, cultural assimilation was no problem because there was no assimilation needed. But I have known those from outside the Western sphere and seen the difference of their actions on the playground with their American friends on the playground and their actions when their parents came to puck them up from school. The difficulty of dealing with the wishes of your parents and that of the society you live and love is something many will never experience, but we can try to understand.
Ideological Assimilation and The War On Terror
When outsiders come to America from a non-Western state, it is believed the immigrants must give up on their culture and assimilate to the mall rats, the tight jeans, the “my kid is my friend” parenting, and so on. This is false. Those who wish for immigrants to culturally assimilate to American culture have their reasoning, but I do not believe it is required of our new American brethren. There are countless non-Western immigrants who hold to their tribal societal customs, to their non-Abrahamic religions, to their spiritual ancestries and fit right in with American society. Its not because they gave up who they were culturally, but became attuned to what it means to be an American ideologically.
By ideology, I don't mean conservative or liberal, but the overall American ideological spectrum that began with the Founders in classical liberalism and republicanism. Despite the common goal of American independence, John Adams believed in a strong federal government; Thomas Jefferson believed in a government closer to the decentralized organization under the Articles of Confederation; and Thomas Paine was a revolutionary through and through, supporting both the liberal American Revolution as well as the violent and eventually tyrannical French Revolution. In America, most of the population believes in one form or another of individual rights. While anyone can believe anything they wish without the fear of the government coming to get them, supporting ideologies like Communism, Fascism or harsh theocracies put them on the fringes of political belief and one shouldn't be surprised if there are those out there who will have an emotional response to those beliefs.
I believe its this ideological assimilation that creates the extra stability that other nations do not find with their extra-cultural minorities. Whereas in Britain, where the view is that not only must we respect Islamist views (something that should be up to the individual), but accommodate them, creates an overt form of self-isolation by those adhering Islamism because their ironic disdain of the nation that gives them the freedom to practice their xenophobia. Though, accommodation does not always end up with self-isolation, the policy of accommodation of views that are anathema to that of the prevailing ideology and culture, especially if that culture and ideology embrace individual rights, will no doubt create cultural schisms like the ones seen in the United Kingdom. And, of course, during a time of war against an enemy that exposes these schisms for political gain, any true conflict between the resident's cultural and ideological values and that of the nation he/she resides in will eventually create homegrown agents of the enemy that will be poised to strike deeper and harder than any foreign born enemy agent ever could and be more likely to succeed.
American Culture: The Very Important Individual
There is much to admire and much to dislike about American culture. Entire floors of book stores and libraries have books dedicated to the deconstruction and explanation of American culture and its flaws from a thousand different theories from a million different people, all assuming they are correct. I will add to this, and I will concede that I am not a trained sociologist nor did I really pay attention in my high school sociology class, so I am probably not as astute as others in their research and use of terminology, but I do believe my observations are accurate and worthy of consideration.
Firstly, the most important observation I have made about American culture is its very particular notion that each individual is not only important, but extremely important in comparison to the whole of the people and the nation. This isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to standing up for wrongs inflicted by governments or by other people, but it does come with a price when the goal is neither moral or legal, but material. The vast and bloated social safety net enacted over fifty years ago in response to the Great Depression as mutated in to something that exposed this quirk of American life.
Before the creation of the modern American welfare state, the American worker was mostly on its own. The rugged individualist persona talked about by conservatives was a reality back then. The farmer settling the Wild West; the railroad worker having to deal with workplace accidents as well as the occasional Apache raid; the independent business man having to build up his empire from scratch in a town no bigger than most football stadiums. Until Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and its expansion by Lydon Johnson's Great Society, the our culture was based somewhat on community and a lot on the hard determination of the individual to succeed.
Today, decades after the foundations of economic dependency were laid, the individualism persists, but in a culture now changed by that encouraged dependency and it goes well beyond simply being on the dole. Having the government at your back no matter what happens to you or what you do to yourself creates a underlying lethargy not only economically, for those who do not wish to excel at their job, but it also encourages protest against difficult education. The parents that were pushed to learn Latin, algebra and know every Founder and their views in middle school have children who don't know any Latin, are failing basic math and can't describe what federalism is in college.
Decades ago, kids were smacked across the knuckles for speaking out in class, or failed a class for not having proper grammar on an essay. Today, kids are more likely to swear at or threaten their teacher than to simply talk back, and grammar has become secondary to the ability of the student to “try”. It is hard to teach proper math, English and so on when a teacher is trying to not only instruct the child, but make sure the student doesn't feel bad when they can't get down the difference between there, their and they're in the twelfth grade. Its no worry, though, because the government will back you up if you can't find well-paying job due to your less-than-stellar marks, or your inability to pay your car payments or mortgage on time. Its about how well you tried and about how you feel about yourself. Its about being comfortable in your material life, despite that you didn't try, were badly taught or you just don't really care. You are simply that important to society that society must sacrifice treasure and time to keep you afloat in a world already hard enough without a few monkeys on the back of those who contribute.
Despite the self-defeating aspect of self-importance when coupled with dependency, Americans are some of the most productive and inventive people on the planet due because the self-importance being properly focused. It does not matter if you are black or white, Christian or Hindu, Hutu or Uzbek, if your faculties are well enough to come up with an invention or a system which people want to use or enact, you can and will be paid for it handsomely if you play your cards right. From inventors to computer programmers to evangelical preachers on television who require cash for miracles, each one has worked hard in some capacity to get where they are, even if to some their profession or conduct seems disingenuous. In a individualist culture, it doesn't really matter, as long as you're not breaking the law.
American Culture: Confidence, Humility and Endurance
One of the aspects of American culture that really angers the anti-American, anti-Western factions is that Americans who believe in American exceptionalism are very confident in that view, despite countless naysayers attempting to refute it. These people, myself included, have ample evidence of the righteousness of this belief (American supremacy countless economic, military and human rights categories) and do not believe a nation should feel sorry for its success, the American nation or any other. Nationalism, despite the proselytizing of the left, is not bad on its face, but its simply the extent and the intent of the promotion of nationalism that decides what exactly that confidence will produce.
In lieu of the benefits of national and cultural confidence, too much of it ends up harming both the national psyche as well as international image when things start going wrong. Every nation reaches out for greatness and every nation falls upon its own aspirations. It is the way of things and of human nature, individually and collectively. It is up to the citizenry, if give the tools to change their society, to bring back their people from whatever brink ambition has brought them to. Due to the tyrannical structure of many grand nations, such attempts were in vain. From the destruction of Alexander's pan-continental empire after his death to the drastic and sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, history is filled with the stories of men and peoples confident in themselves and their grand schemes, but ending up introverted and chaotic.
Unlike Alexander's imperial court or Russia's esoteric council of party members, the American nation has been humble enough to examine itself and its action. With that we are able to prevent the worst of its own nationalism from enveloping the individualism and decentralized nature of the nation. Through the most despotic of times in our history: Abraham Lincoln's abuses of power and suspension of habeas corpus; Woodrow Wilson's idealist society of national unity at the cost of freedom; Franklin D. Roosevelt's fascistic New Deal and the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans, not to mention the inhuman eugenic experiments performed on black soldiers. In the face of every instance of despotism and abuse, despite what good it ended up aiding (Union victory, defeat of the Central Powers, defeat of the Axis powers), our nation did not hold that those powers accrued and those wrongs wrought were in line with what America stood for. Despite the black times we endure and despite the harsh lessons we learn from our mistakes, the pride and confidence of an American does not come from just the tribal instinct we all have, but from the knowledge of the horrors we endured and inflicted, and that we are still free in the face of it.
American Culture: The Gods of Modernity and the Fetish of Action
There is no doubt of the change in American culture since the mid-20th century. The exponential explosion of technological innovation, the massive birthrate just after the Second World War and the welfare/nanny state set down from decades of leadership of the Progressives, shifted both ideology and cultural views of the new “Baby Boomers”. When the previous generation dealt with over a decade of economic hardship and political uncertainty, the new generation was born into the excesses bought with the blood of soldiers and workers during wartime. Cars, radios, new-fangled television sets; all things now abundant when even steel and gold were scarce less than a decade before. Growing up in such economic exceptionalism would affect any culture, American or not.
During the violent years of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the heating up of Cold War hostilities across the planet, the Boomers, now young, idealistic and in college, took it upon themselves to attempt to share the wealth and enlightenment they inherited from their parents. The previous generation, according to the militant offspring of the Greatest Generation, were greedy, vile and heartless people doomed to narrow views on the world outside. The theories of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim and other such stalwarts of socialized society professed the love of the worker and the need to strike back at the established capitalist system so that those on the bottom could climb their way to the top together, as one unified movement of oppressed people. No doubt, the Boomers were right to take to the streets and take on a war fighting of a Soviet-backed movement that used terrorists and mass murder to kowtow a unsure and frightened peasant population. No doubt that every American soldier who fought willingly was a horrid baby killer and every black man drafted was just being enslaved once again by the privileged white aristocracy lead by that fascist warmonger Lydon B Johnson (and with more irony, it is LBJ that expanded the New Deal to include massive social programs like Social Security, which Boomers now want to cash in on).
Of course, I mock the Boomers and the hollow communist revolution they wished to create. Their beliefs at the time deserve to be mocked and their intentions deserve to be rejected without guilt. America's darker and less justified actions throughout history up to the 1960s are well known. The Trail of Tears, institutional slavery and racism, imperialist ventures in the Western Hemisphere and countless coups and counter-coups against rival client nations; all was known, criticized, analyzed and proselytized. Yet, it was not known as well, at least to those supporting a vast, leftist shift, the crimes of the nations they supported: USSR, China, Cuba, North Vietnam. The Gulags of Russia, the cultural and economic revolutions in China that cost tens of millions of lives, the jailing of homosexuals and the murdering of dissents in Cuba, the corralling and murdering of non-communist intellectuals in North Vietnam; all this was known from the mouths of those who escaped the inhuman suffering, but apparently, the revolution in America did not need the lessons of the revolution from elsewhere. The extreme view by the militant Boomers had of the American lifestyle of the 1960s would soon change from communist anti-materialism to religious worship of all things prosperous. But, the politics of collectivism and the euphoria of revolutionary fervor would not leave so easiily.
Fast forward to today. The Boomers are now starting to reach the age of retirement and more now than ever do we here the calls of the self-importance I described before, but wrapped in a veil of collective aid. The comparison of today's government induced economic recession to their parent's legendary economic desperation is laughable if compared literally, let alone as an analogy, but the Boomers who hold to the philosophy of governmental paternalism cannot fathom a world in which the government remains action-less in the face of people landing on hard times, even if their ideas of how to help ended up harming the economy. In the afterglow of the victory over fascism and the New Deal era, the common knowledge passed down by historians and enamored economists was that the New Deal was national and economic salvation. While government investment in infrastructure and targeted aid programs are not necessarily bad and do, in fact, stimulate economic growth in some areas, the blind experimentation of FDR's “brain trust” touched on everything from forced inflation to nationalizing all utilities to jumping on and off of the gold standard. The experimentation lasted until the threat of Germany and Italy became the obsession of FDR and the economy became secondary. Ironically, the country's industrial war footing (and the fact that at the end of World War II all other major nations were decimated) pulled the United States out of the Great Depression. It is from this reading of history that the current leadership of the nation and the loudest voices of the paternal citizenry cry out for action. Action alone is not worthy of consideration if the action is not backed by sound reasons why it should be enacted, yet we are told from those who lived the Depression as children and those who promote the welfare state that inaction is akin to slitting our throats.
Alas, action is narrowly defined in this age of modernity. Its apparently a sin to subtract the standard of living at all, even if it would mean the future stability of our economy and our society. In the debates on what to do with the worsening economy, restraint and discipline were seen as mantras and dogma by the cult of action while broad, rash action to a creeping crisis was deemed pragmatic and heroic. In an apparent offering to the gods of modernity, the American people and their leadership offered astronomical amounts of treasure (treasure based on credit and/or created out of thin air) to prevent any need to commit to true sacrifice and banking on the hope that this investment will pay off and that they will have not to explain to their children why each of them owes over one hundred thousand dollars to the nation's debtors. Its quite a gamble, and its one that isn't surprising for a generation that was born into excess, rebelled against such excess, then re-embraced it with the stipulation that it never disappear no matter the consequences.
I spent all my hardy development years in Canada, but I can say with confidence that I experienced most of the same things a normal, city-based teen would experience in any modest American city. Canadian culture, aside from the extra sprinkling of paternalism lent from Canada's British imperial legacy, is very much influenced by the media broadcasted from the neighbor from the south. A good chunk of Canadian shows are direct spin-offs of American shows: Canadian Idol, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Canadian Edition, etc. There isn't much on Canadian television, or Canadian news media for that matter, that isn't made by Americans, about Americans or influenced by Americans.
As I grew up, you could feel the near infinite room for creativity and discovery. Our world was one of interconnectivity with cell phones and computers. We had near unlimited capability to expand our horizons in a short period of time, yet with all that we had you could feel the utter aloneness glowing from computer screens and online diaries. With the new inventions and gadgets that make our lives as fast and as easy as possible, we have not found the miracle that also gives us the ability to step back from the snowballing amount of tasks heading straight toward us as we push more on to ourselves.
Like the Boomers, we have been born into a time of abundance. iPhones, Sidekicks, internet on planes, entire movies streamed to your phone, books downloaded, directions computed; we live in a world where your entire day and night for a year can be recorded and stored in your pocket. Our cars vary from gas guzzling, yet extremely safe SUVs to hybrid electric sedans to cars that run on clean burning natural gas. Our news is twenty-four hours to your TV, your phone or your computer. Blogs now take precedent over the soapbox. The internet ins the next level of political organization and debate. Our generation is at the forefront of major social and cultural change in this country.
We must not give in to the easy preachings of the paternal Boomer's self-indulgent faux altruism or the sad cynicism and loneliness of our own experiences with society and modern culture. Its pretty corny to say, but we must look back past the Boomers to those who gave birth to them: the Depression surviving Greatest Generation. Whatever you may say about their ideology, their politically incorrect ways, their God-fearing nature, that generation of Americans dealt with real tragedy and triumph on a scale we should never wish to see. But, because we may not want to experience their hardship, it does not mean we cannot take the lessons of frugality, determination and sacrifice. We cannot believe, as the the unsuspecting Boomers believed, that our standard of living will simply be there for us no matter what and that if there's a threat to our lawns, our music players or to our material wealth, the government will back us up and keep us there.
The future of this nation relies on the generations beyond the one in charge. Those generations ahead of us rely on us to make sure they have the tools and the materials to continue the American way of life and the liberties afforded to us by the blood and toil of past generations. To keep our way of life we cannot sacrifice principles for materials, we cannot accommodate tyranny for an image of correctness, we cannot give in to the howling of know-nothings just because we don't like the sound they make. If you take the time, you will know American culture's bounties and busts If you take a look, you will know the grand history and the dark times. If you try, you'll be able to see where we went wrong and where we went right. America's greatness does not rest upon its racial make up, nor does it depend on the religion of its population or the balance of its cultural diversity or any other aspect the left theorizes about. It is because we believe in the importance of the individual and have buried it so deep inside out national being that we can have some of the largest, conflicting, yet most peaceful cultures on the planet. America's greatness rests upon the idea that its liberty-loving society is the greatest in the world because of the adherence to the rights and liberties of all men no matter their culture.
Anyone can be an American, just as long as they believe in freedom.
Eugen Joseph Weber, The Hollow Years - At Amazon, Eugen Joseph Weber, *The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s*.
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