I read a very interesting article that I thought was worth sharing. You can find it here. But I wanted to add a little more to it and thought it would be worth sharing on my blog in addition Facebook which is probably where most of my blog hits come from.
Here are a couple of excerpts that caught my eye if you don’t have time to read the whole thing:
Any theory of being American must explain one salient and striking fact: cruelty. America is the most cruel nation among its peers — even among most poor countries today. It is something like a new Rome. It has little, if any, functioning healthcare, education, transport, media, no safety nets, no stability, security. The middle class is collapsing, and life expectancy is falling.Young people die for a lack of insulin they cannot crowdfund. Elderly middle-class people live and die in their cars. Kids massacre each other in schools — when they’re not self-medicating the pain of it all away. The combination of these pathologies happens nowhere else — not a single place — in the world. Not even Pakistan, Costa Rica, or Rwanda. Hence, the world is aghast daily at the depths of American cruelty — yet somehow, they seem bottomless.
(Of course I don’t mean that all Americans are cruel. I just mean that in the same way we say countries have attitude, dispositions, that there’s such a thing as a French or German national attitude or disposition, so, too there is an American one. Nor do I mean America is “the most cruel society in the world”. Can we really ever judge that? But it is uniquely cruel — a kind of special example — in weird, needless, and singular ways.)
And this passage:
When we noted that the despised of England hated the newly arrived despised of France hated the newly arrived despised of Germany and so on, not to mentions natives, blacks, and Asians, in an endless vicious circle, we are also saying: America was learning to be cruel, by forever constructing greater heirachies to seize the fruits of a Promised Land. But greater hierarchies require greater cruelty to climb up, too. And the irony is that all this is what the despised came to America to escape.
(I’ll add peripheral point. The despised, when coming to a Promised Land, are the least likely, perversely, though we might not immediately think so, to want to share it — because they, at last, have something that they feel is theirs. Today’s servant wants to be tomorrow’s master. Today’s peasant wants to be tomorrow’s landlord. Today’s victim aspires to be tomorrow’s oppressor.)
The author’s thesis is that America was built on this idea of punching down the next wave of settlers in order for those who were despised in their country of origin to raise themselves up the hierarchical chain. In essence by punishing and being cruel to others you win. And this attitude is uniquely American.
This attitude towards immigration has been noted by many others, but in this essay it goes a step further to basically saying that our attitude towards the next wave of immigrants is the country’s defining personality characteristic that pervades many areas of policy. He makes a compelling case, at least it’s worth thinking about.
I think there are some other things that I would add as being important to this historical narrative and that’s:
1. Before America even became a country the first people to be punched down were the natives. So we are even from the very first people who arrived on shore built out of cruelty. Throw slavery into the mix and you have some scary beginnings in terms of values.
2. Maybe we are to some degree a Christian nation. The idea that punishing people is good for them is a very puritanical one, borne from the old testament. We see it today in our justice system. There isn’t a strong desire to raise each other up or to forgive, only to punish.
The irony of course, as the article points out, is that so many have to come to this country for the same reason. To escape oppression and have opportunity that they didn’t have where they came from. And rather than embracing what we have in common and reaching out with a helping hand, we instead want to become the oppressors and have the privileges we didn’t have where we came from.
I know many people have already turned the corner from this attitude, but it sure seems we have a long way to go.