We Europeans

It’s some 15 years now that I began to get the feeling that the good ol’ USA had lost its way. More recently, that feeling has taken hold of lots of people over here.

The great American public seems to have little time any longer for rational thinking. You can say the same thing about lots of other constituencies in the world, but the American version is special. There seems to be no middle ground for public opinion in ‘Middle America’, it is totally polarised. “You are either for us or against us.” You feel that commonsense has been hijacked.

The statements that come to us through the media are worrying enough, but then there’s what the opinion polls have told us:

Only 39% of Americans accept evolution as fact (Gallup, 2010).

17% of Americans expect the world to end in their lifetime (Newsweek, 2004).

84% of West Michiganders believe in angels (Wirthlin, 2000).

12% think Noah was married to Joan of Arc (Gallup, 2007).

American fundamentalism is sometimes as frightening as Islamic fundamentalism – and now the Tea Party is calling for a “religious revival”!

It seems that, between the great concepts of democracy, free enterprise and “peace and freedom” on the one hand and the emotional trivia, frivolities, cheerleading and ‘high fives’ of everyday life on the other, there is absolutely nothing going on in the minds of average white Americans. Are they brainwashed?

I’m also left with the feeling that many Americans are running scared – scared of Islam, scared of losing their jobs and houses, scared of peer pressure, and scared of opinions that don’t equate with their own (one formed in the days of a bountiful nature, self-reliance and exhortations to “go west, young man.”).

Consider some of the things that people say about the US business world:

As subordinates, Americans transform themselves into risk-averse order-takers who temper their comments, shy away from conflict, and readily defer to their bosses’ power and authority… They fear embarrassment, disagreement, and negative consequences” (American Susan Davidson of Beyond Borders Inc.).

People are afraid to say honestly what’s on their mind. They aren’t as straightforward as in Europe.” (Finnish employee, Delta Air Lines).

If you don’t say that something is great or that there’s been a dramatic improvement, then you leave people with the impression that they are doing a poor job.” (French project manager, Hewlett-Packard).

For me, this last comment puts the finger on the weakest spot in the American psyche: the tendency to hype everything. Hysteria and fear make perfect bedfellows.

This is sad, as the Americans I grew up with were among the most open-minded and rational people in the world. But they were, after all, living outside the pressure cooker of US society.

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  1. I think there is a lot of confusion in the minds of Americans. I am no expert, but I don’t think the realities and ideals come very closely together.

    For example, I was recently having a conversation with an American friend about civil liberties and the actions of a ‘big brother’ government – something which the US seems to be mastering. I made fun of the idea of the ‘Land of the Free’ when so many people are in prison.

    As our conversation progressed, we started to delve deeper into the concept. During the writing of the constitution – which my friend tells me is where the Land of the Free comes from – we reckoned that very few people were actually free.

    African slaves? Not free.
    Native Indians? Under attack, so not free.
    Women? No vote, rights or voice it seems, so not free.
    The poor? Possibly free but probably living a miserable existence.

    So we found ourselves concluding that the ‘free’ were wealthy, land owning, white men.

    So to answer your question, “Are they brainwashed?” I am inclined to agree that they might be.

  2. Richard quotes a range of domestic US opinions which are disconcerting, but does not mention the most recent poll suggesting that a large number of Americans believe that their President was born overseas and is a Muslim.

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