As a Brit living in the US, I find often find myself struggling to come to terms with the national psyche. On the one hand, I am enormously impressed with America – its dynamic and incredibly innovative culture, the brashness of its citizens, and an unrelenting belief in itself as a force for good in the world. On the other hand, I cannot for the life of me understand its brutishness, its willingness to ignore the plight of so many of its citizens, and its obsession with violence. I’m reading Matt Taibbi’s book ‘Spanking the Donkey’, and was struck by this incredibly insightful comment:
I believe America’s greatest problem is its incivility, its intolerance to new ideas, its remorseless hatred of weakness and failure, and the willingness of its individual citizens to submerge their individual cowardice within the vicious commerce-driven standards of our national self image.
Taibbi is a self confessed cynic, so spends little time talking about the positives of American culture, but I think he’s on to something with his assessment. There are many things Americans should be proud of when reflecting on their country and culture, but in order to create a more tolerant and progressive society, it needs to take a hard look at itself in order to change.
Europe spent the first half of the 20th century brutalizing itself to an unparalleled degree in human history. After almost destroying itself, a far more tolerant and progressive way of living emerged. The US has yet to go through a similar transformation, but as its capacity to damage itself accelerates, so too do the incentives to change.
One hopes, at least.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.