Wednesday, April 27, 2011


They often say that our own culture is invisible to us. Much in the same way that egocentric people say they don't have an accent. Of course we all have accents. And of course we all have culture. We just don't think of it that way. It wasn't until I got my degree in Anthropology that I really understood how strange American culture was.

Franz Boas' once argued that culture was a system of strategies designed to solve problems unique to a people's environment. All Anthropologists define the tricky word "culture" differently. But this is, I think, the best definition. I've explained it to people, but either they don't get it, or I bore the crap out of them with it. If you've ever watched the show The Big Band Theory, I often feel I can relate to Sheldon's character--not that I'm arrogant or think of myself above others, but that I find the world and human behavior fascinating while everyone else just shrugs about it and takes it for granted. Or I bore people with my enthusiasm for social sciences.

So anyways, maybe this will bore people, but it's not like anyone follows me anyways. So here goes. Let's look at the problems unique to the American environment. The New World was big. Spain had tobacco fields in the south, and was making a killing from them. No one had found gold yet, but it seemed like a matter of time. All the different countries of Europe were scrambling to grab as much of America as they could get their hands on. Our fledgling country had won our independence from Britain, but we still had to deal with the French and British trying to grab as much of "that area above us" that would later become Canada, and the Spanish were trying to grab as much of the land below us. The Native Americans were just trying to stay alive but, quite unfortunately, would be trampled with much of their beautiful culture snuffed out along with them.

I mention the economic principle know as The Tragedy of the Commons a lot. It's a fantastic principle that applies here as well. The New Americans needed to expand and settle as fast as they could to claim land before the French, Brits, and Spanish did. How did we accomplish this? We needed a culture of consumption. If culture is a system of strategies designed to solve problems and our problem was that we weren't expanding and/or building infrastructure fast enough, then it makes sense that mass consumption would be encouraged. It's still part of our culture. We don't take what we need. We take what we can. And our culture tells us we're important based on how expensive our cars are, thus pushing us to take more and more because that's supposed to make us happy.

We're also obsessed with guns. I've heard some that complain about the Second Amendment(because they don't understand it), saying that people don't need armor piercing bullets because deers don't wear bullet proof jackets. The Second Amendment doesn't have a damn thing to do with hunting. The Second Amendment guarantees us the right to bare arms in case our government shall rise against us. Yeah, Liberals don't seem to get that. Our founding fathers hated government so much, they wanted to ensure that we would always be well enough armed that we could rise up and violently over throw our leaders if they got too tyrannical. Like no where else in the world, the gun symbolizes to an American that our government should fear us, and thus, we will always be free from Totalitarianism. The gun is freedom.

American is the most religious industrialized nation in the world. But it's interesting to note that many of our founding fathers were not Christians. In fact, the Treaty of Tripoli from 1796 states the following:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

Many of our founding fathers were Christian, but even they were careful to ensure that Christianity was never part of our government. Instead, we would adapt the idea of another very important part of American called "e pluribus unum," or "Out of many: one." Combine that with the idea of American Exceptionalism and you have another extremely important part of American culture. As a side note, Barack Obama inaccurately described the definition of American Exceptionalism(because he didn't know what it meant). It is the idea that Americans have special freedoms because we are guaranteed our freedoms and rights by God--not by politicians. Obama, when asked if he believed in the idea of American Exceptionalism answered, "Well, I'm sure people from other countries feel they're exceptional too." Yeah, sorry, but the fact he can say such horribly stupid things while "sounding smart," doesn't make them ok. He's still an idiot.

Anyways, put these two very American ideas together, and you have the idea that from all faiths, religions, and ethnicities, we Americans all have the same rights regardless of what politicians say or try and take from us. Our freedoms are more important than our government. We are a nation of the people and our government exists to serve us, not the other way around.

Consumption, guns, and God pretty much sums up American culture. I take very little. I hate guns. And I'm an Atheist. But I still very much love my country and am proud to be an American. I'm not a walking contradiction. I'm just more complicated than most people can handle.

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