“American culture” is considered an oxymoron in much of Western Europe. The British think of us what the French think of the British. European socialists think we’re capitalist pigs. Atheists view us as fundamentalist nut jobs. To Islamists, we’re crusading, fornicating, homosexual Zionist infidel pornographers. The South Americans think we’re exploitative. The Japanese and Chinese think we’re lazy and stupid. Everyone believes we’re decadent. In short, American culture is an object of scorn and derision just about everywhere south of Canada and north of Australia, for our friends and enemies alike. It shouldn’t matter — a grizzly bear needn’t be concerned with the yips of Chihuahuas — but the issue becomes critical when our fellow countrymen begin to agree with our detractors.
American pride is on the wane because Americans have forgotten who we are. It’s time for a reminder. Our culture was always and remains America’s greatest strength. Bear with me.
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Imagine having a conversation with a friend in another city as if he were right in front of you. Imagine traveling faster than a cheetah and beyond the horizon without exertion. Imagine flying. Imagine flying to the moon.
These were ridiculous, fantastical notions for six millennia of civilization, considered seriously only by dreamers and madmen. Yet, today, the phone, the automobile, the plane and Apollo 11 are realities — impossible ideas, brought to life. They and thousands of other astounding, transformative inventions and marvels were brought into being by Americans. Of the innovations that have freed, fed, fertilized, protected, strengthened, cured, amplified and mobilized mankind over the past three centuries, Americans have an enormously disproportionate claim. Ever wonder why?
Could it be our intellect? Nope. We’re not smarter than other nations. Our kids’ test scores prove that. Genetic superiority? Sorry. Without a common ancestry, we can’t be a master race. Limited government? Though our federalist system is a marvel in its own right, it would be too generous to give government the credit. So why is America the birthplace for so much of mankind’s ingenuity?
Because we’re a little bit nuts.
Americans descend from men and women who looked across an endless ocean and, with uncertainty before them, everything and everyone they knew behind them, they stepped forward. In our multi-ethnic societal fabric, this is the single common thread that binds Americans together. It also separates us from the rest of the world. The vast majority of our species die not far from where they were born. There’s a reason for this. There is safety in the familiar. No matter how oppressive one’s homeland may be, there is an evolutionary incentive for people to cling to what they know. When avoiding danger, friends and enemies are equally reliable entities. Uncertainty is the greater fear. Our ancestors stepped forward into the unknown, making a choice to say goodbye to the familiar. It’s an unthinkable decision for most of humanity.
So what is in that decision? What kind of person makes it? The question is important because its answer determines our culture. What were the requisite characteristics of Americans-to-be?
They were doubtlessly courageous and optimistic. They were tough and independent. They were discontent and ambitious, curious and bold. They were unusually confident, unconventional, daring, self-reliant, free-thinking, restless risk-takers who believed in themselves to such a point that they could ignore imparted local wisdom concerning dragons and peril beyond the native ken.
Some came hundreds of years ago. Some came yesterday, but the thread remains strong and holds true. We are the dreamers and the madmen, the world’s witches, heretics and castaways. We are a nation of brave odd ducks drawn from every corner of the planet. The result is a culture that is at ease challenging authority, questioning accepted wisdom and traversing preconceived boundaries. Thoughts that would invite ridicule, exile and/or death in other countries find constituencies and enthusiasm in America. This tendency can and has led us down blind alleys, but it has also created the world’s most productive fount of innovation.
Freedom was not the cause of our nation’s unique productivity. It was the beacon that drew free-thinkers from around the world to come here in the first place. Freedom was a facilitator — the waters Americans swam in, the air they breathed — that was conducive for a naturally innovative people to innovate.
Human history is mostly a study of tyranny. Ours isn’t. American history shows a people almost manic for the cause of liberty. At our founding, our government was weak and limited because we wanted it to be. We fought two wars to preserve it. Most of us were free at the founding. We fought a civil war to liberate those who weren’t. Then we fought several more for the freedom of others. Through our example, our aid, and occasionally our might, we’ve encouraged other governments and nations to embrace and extend liberty. Through our innovation, we’ve allowed them to do more with the freedom they have.
In June 1752, Ben Franklin caught a lightning bolt with a kite. A few years later, America took on the baddest military force on the planet and won. In 1896, Henry Ford invented the Quadricycle. Eighty years after that, we landed one on Mars. In between, we beat the living shit out of the Nazis and broke the sound barrier. The day after tomorrow, we’re going to start mining asteroids.
The legacy of America can be summed up in a two-word colloquialism: “Can do.” We specialize in the preposterous. We yawn at the impossible. We’re a country of Davids who take a passing glance at Goliath and think, I could take him. That’s the cultural gift of the crazy-brave, wildly inventive seekers who arrived on our shores to pursue their version of happiness.
It may be easy to demean America. But it’s just as easy to defend her. The latter is better for mankind.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.