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Understanding what makes America tick
April 4, 2002 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Understanding what makes America tick "The belief that America is exceptional, in the double sense that it is superior and that it is different...The United States had a mission, a manifest destiny, to change the world in its image. This conviction echoes down through American history....Other countries—France, Britain, Russia—have from time to time in their history felt a sense of mission, of carrying their civilisation to other peoples and territories. But in their cases it has been episodic and not deeply rooted—usually limited to when their power was at its zenith and usually clearly recognisable as a rationalisation for what they were doing for other reasons. In the case of the United States, it has been constant and central." [Centre of Independent Studies in Sydney via aldaily] American Exceptionalism. Mix it with sole super power status and massive military might. Should make it quite an intoxicating ride these next few years.
posted by Voyageman (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I live in America and these attitudes disgust me. I find myself dreaming of a life in Finland or Denmark, where the politics of the land seem to focus on the care of its poeples more than the killing and manipulating of other nations and their citizens. The problem is that the majority of our own people want the US to dominate the World's political scene and support our acting outside of the UN, etc. Perhaps it is because we are never prey to such outside influence ourselves that most of us do not see the way we seem to the World at large. sigh.
posted by n9 at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2002


Excellent link -- a lot to chew on here. The quote from Edmund Burke sums it up nicely, in my opinion.

Among precautions against ambition, it may not be amiss to take precaution against our own.
posted by ook at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2002


His G. K. Chesterton quote is from very near the place where he calls America "a nation with the soul of a church."

Great link.
posted by coelecanth at 12:43 PM on April 4, 2002


That is a brilliantly written lecture... thanks for the link.

Harries' placement of current events in their historical context, and his analysis based on such, is fascinating (and, yes, somewhat worrisome).
posted by gohlkus at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2002


And I often dream of living in Montreal. But, like Sweden and other very civilized places, it's a place only made possible by the United States. Of course, the locals there probably are incapable of admitting that to themselves, but hopefully some can. At least one should be able to admit that admitting such a thing would be difficult.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:12 PM on April 4, 2002


Get over yourself PP. Really.
posted by jackiemcghee at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2002


Dear god Paris, you don't ever stop do you? The US was made possible by Sweden, and every other country that contributed its people, know-how, culture and energy to America. Ever thought of that?
posted by Summer at 2:45 PM on April 4, 2002


Ever thought of that?

Of course. And nothing I wrote is inconsistent with what you wrote.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2002


Interesting link. Thanks, Voyageman.

n9: I live in America and these attitudes disgust me. I find myself dreaming of a life in Finland or Denmark

You're in luck: flights from NYC to Copenhagen or Helsinki start at $404. They speak English and you have skills that should land you a visa & job easily. Bon voyage.

The problem is that the majority of our own people want the US to dominate the World's political scene and support our acting outside of the UN, etc.

Two separate issues, but... I'd guess the majority of Americans want to be left alone, and wish the world's political crises would go away. Conquering the world causes stress and costs money; sitting quietly here in America is fun and profitable.

(I love it that the author of these sentiments works for the New York Times. Do you have to despise America to work there?)
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 2:58 PM on April 4, 2002


A buddy of mine expressed it well....

"Somebody's got to rule the world. Might as well be us."
posted by ebarker at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2002


The US was made possible by Sweden, and every other country that contributed its people

Sweden did not contribute people to the USA. The people came as individuals of thier own free will because they thought the USA was a better place then Sweden. Countrys dont contribute people or culture. Individual people do. Its an important distinction. I think Paris is saying that without the support of the USA during WWII and Cold War its very possible the political entity known as Sweden would not exist today, or exist in its present form. I have to side with Paris on this one.
posted by stbalbach at 3:08 PM on April 4, 2002


Alas, I can't get inside ParisParamus' head, but when I read something like "it's a place only made possible by the US," I interpret his remark to mean that "the ongoing security of nations like Denmark is best guaranteed through their relationship with the US."

AT least, that's what Denmark says.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:11 PM on April 4, 2002


By the way, Denmark's Foreign & Defence Policy is fascinating, well-written and delightfully candid. Typically Danish. One might summarize it as "We're actually quite skeptical about our fellow Europeans, but we've enthusiastically thrown in our lot with the Americans."

I like the Danes. Now that I think about it, they deserve better than to receive our whiners.
posted by Hieronymous Coward at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2002 [1 favorite]


I think Paris is saying that... USA during WWII and Cold War...

No, that's way too obvious for ParisPariah.

I meant that now, there's no one else with the economic, creative, social, cultural, and military (yes, military!) dynamism to support the Western World. No one to challenge Osama. To keep China in check, to have developed the Web, and so on. And yes, something approximating Osama and China would be out there even if the US didn't exist. Except it would be controling you. It's luck/chance that some of us were born in the United States, that doesn't change the fact of what it is. Even with America's warts.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:37 PM on April 4, 2002


Nations usually trip on their own hubris time and time again. It's a historical axiom.

The U.S. isn't any different. The world will continue to exist whether the U.S. is here or not. The nation state will probably soon be eliminated by the corporate state anyway.

Me? I'ma U.S. citizen am I'm not going anywhere. I'm ParisParamus's worst nightmare fifth columnist :)
posted by mark13 at 5:25 PM on April 4, 2002


Other countries—France, Britain, Russia—have from time to time in their history felt a sense of mission, of carrying their civilisation to other peoples and territories. But in their cases it has been episodic and not deeply rooted—usually limited to when their power was at its zenith and usually clearly recognisable as a rationalisation for what they were doing for other reasons. In the case of the United States, it has been constant and central

The United States is still a vey young country. We've been at the "zenith of our power" since the industrial revolution, and the time before that was the buildup to the zenith. The thing uses extremely long historical frames of reference for other countries, but is limited in what it has available about the United States. Don't worry, we'll have our downtime too, before the end of the world.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 5:34 PM on April 4, 2002


Take another thing that we ‘know’ about America: that it is a ‘young country’, usually with the connotation that it is immature and naïve in its ways...

The fact is, though, that the United states is an older country than Germany, Italy, and a dozen other European states, not to speak of Latin America, Africa, and most of Asia [...some swiss-ignoring stuff elided here...] Consider that during the time that this supposedly young country has existed, France, that epitome of European sophistication, has gone through five different republics, two emperors, two monarchies, and a puppet regime.
posted by coelecanth at 6:19 PM on April 4, 2002


Sorry Paris. With respect to the US and Canada, the two nations are too deeply intertwined and interdependent to allow such a shallow statement. However, your statement sums up nicely the distaste people from other lands often feel when faced with America's perception of its own importance.

If it makes you feel so good to think that you are part of what makes the free world possible, consider that post Sept 11 you have fewer freedoms of movement and criticism without harassment than are enjoyed in your so called dependent countries. I wonder why.
posted by holycola at 6:47 PM on April 4, 2002


sorry...but this has to done....
"i dont know what makes us tick but what ever it is is driving me crazy"
posted by ShawnString at 6:56 PM on April 4, 2002


However, your statement sums up nicely the distaste people from other lands often feel when faced with America's perception of its own importance.

There's two issues. The arrogance/proviciality of Americans generally. That's valid, and embarassing. But it doesn't negate the reality that America is the Main Cultural Event. It's where extraterrestrials would go first (whatever their aim). Does that matter? It's just interesting. It doesn't make me feel good--its au hazard that I'm here. In my 20's, I went into debt to be in Europe because I was disillusioned with this place.

Fewer freedoms, etc. What's the basis of that? I don't think it's true by any stretch of the imagination. There's still a broader spectrum of freedom of expression here than anywhere else. Even if it is, unfortnuately, concentrated on the Right. And on the superficial.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2002


There's still a broader spectrum of freedom of expression here than anywhere else. Even if it is, unfortnuately, concentrated on the Right. And on the superficial.

Take out the malarkey:

There's still a broader spectrum of freedom of expression here than anywhere else. Even if it is, unfortnuately, concentrated on... the superficial.

that's one of the most moving statements I've ever read on Metafilter.
posted by Ty Webb at 7:22 PM on April 4, 2002


I don't disagree with the proposition as restated. But that still leaves a good deal of room for minority non-superficiality.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:42 PM on April 4, 2002


heh - he said globalisation.

Not to worry - the vast, heaving belly of American culture digests and assimilates all. uuurp.
posted by groundhog at 6:45 AM on April 5, 2002


to have developed the Web, and so on.

Damn, I thought the Web was developed by a Brit in Switzerland, but I didn't have the benefit of PainfulPontificator's revisionary wisdom. Colour me amazed.
posted by riviera at 6:56 AM on April 5, 2002


I agree with Paris Paramus that there's no contradiction. A Portuguese philosopher, Agostinho da Silva, once said Brazil was Portugal set free. Well, I think America is Europe set free. There really is no point in pretending one is better than the other. They make up the West and the West, excuse my political incorrectness, is very, very good. Take the America out of Europe or the Europe out of America and what do you have left? Boredom, parochialism, incest, feudalism, sweaty peasants and fat landlords listening to "Greensleeves" on the feckin' tinhorn and lute.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:29 AM on April 5, 2002 [1 favorite]


Here's uber-relevant for ya: Switzerland, the Net & America in one go!
When I was in Geneva, I did room security for a seminar on the future of the world-wide-web. There was some guy from Washington coming out with a loud of Uncle Sam bullcrap, stuff like:
'If the Founding Fathers could have anticipated the advent of the internet, I don't think they would have been able to come up with a better democratising force for the world.'
Unfortunately, throughout his proselytising, he considered 'American consumer-culture' and 'democracy' to be synonymous. Cultural relativism seems to be an alien concept to a lot (but not all!) of Americans.
posted by RokkitNite at 7:34 AM on April 5, 2002


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