I tried to figure an appropriate forum for this but its not quite a GQ and not quite a request for Café Society book recommendations. If it’s in the wrong forum … apologies.
I’m trying to “get” America.
America, Americans and Americana.
I find myself increasingly frustrated that I am unable to find an authoritative or knowledgeable source of the kind of information that I seek and so do I turn to the fighters of ignorance.
I’ve been reading Fear’s Empire by Ben Roper, Bush In Babylon by Tariq Ali and An Alliance At Risk by Laurent Cochen Tanugi . Diverse and too modern all of them, all flawed, all missing the point. (not their point , my one)
I have my own ideas, I see what is interpreted as naiveté by most is not the product of a failed education system (as is widely suggested and propounded by the authors above) but rather the product of a different and new mindset.
There seems to be at the core of an American an idealism and belief that makes up for what it lacks in the sort of historical grounding other nations place so much stock in by being almost fundamentalist in the fervour with which it is held. It is this idealism and belief in the very *goodness * of America which will see mothers wave their sons off to war , voyaging to places heretofore unheard of to fight evil.
This origin of the belief in this essence of goodness is what I’m chasing.
So often this is seen as a nouveaux imperialism, all the global policing yadda yadda , but you cannot put it down to that when you sit at the bar in Charlotte’s airport and chance to overhear two veteran’s talking. I suspect I could ask these men who Archduke Ferdinand was and to be met with at best blank stares and have my exit serenaded with muttering about the effeminate nature of pseudo intellectual euro trash. But can I feel in anyway superior? Men like these were there in the war that ensued following that incident.
A Californian girlfriend told me once how offended she felt when I mentioned wanting to visit Vietnam. She told me that she would never go and that even now has a hard time buying Vietnamese or Korean produce. I thought this the height of hypocrisy and gross sentimentalism. It was later that I learned what being in Vietnam had done to her father and consequently. In all the sensationalism of the movies etc. it is so easy to forget that men in their late 40’s and 50’s were there. It is that recent.
These are just two of the so so many stories like this which all point to the fact that there seems to be an utterly admirable collective pride and unshakable belief in the U.S of A in the U.S of A and yet it is something that seems to require no justification. There is no rational basis for it.
Let me rephrase, there seems no general awareness of the rational basis for it.
So how can I quantify and understand (and indeed sign up) ?
So the more I know the more I expose my own lack of understanding of just what the American Psyche is.
I’ve tried hard to find writings on this and the best I can come up with is the work of Emerson.
It was there I found a useful section which kind of explains what I am looking for.
In Novelist and Realist he writes “I wish to speak with respect of all persons, but sometimes I must pinch myself to keep awake, and reserve the due decorum. They melt so fast into each other, that they are like grass and trees, and it needs an effort to treat them as individuals. ….” He goes on in quite uncomplimentary fashion about the differences between these “uninspired” “conveniences” and “divine” men such as his own good self. Regardless of that …
That struck a cord because it is exactly the Grass and the Trees that I am trying to understand. What makes an American tick? I have proved I do not have the skill time and again when trying to talk to the people I have met. I cannot make what I am asking understood.
So perhaps someone can point me in the direction of something that will help me understand americas past and the development of the psyche that is encountered in the grass and trees ?