Jul 3, 2010

My American Journey. Summer 2010. A Travel Diary - American Culture, Processed and Pasteurized

American culture is so weird. I don't know if many of its people step out of it to contemplate on its peculiarities, but I know that for *some reason* it is easier to analyze other cultures, than the one you belong to. And that is another reason why peoples should cooperate with each other, so that we point out each others' faults and just work together to fix'em and thus build an environment of positive criticism for creative mutual advancement. Instead of simply fighting over who's right and who's wrong and kill each other off like a pack of wild beasts.

So, anyway. It is very interesting that USA consists of so many different ethnic groups and peoples with a great variety of cultural backgrounds and yet all these different peoples bear this American resemblance with one another. The American life style, stereotype, mindset and those "artificially" created cultural elements that are meant to serve as unifiers and homogeneous agents. For instance, patriotism. American patriotism is well-known in the world for its idealism and almost religious-like zeal.
Children in schools cite in chorus the Declaration of Independence, the American flag is seen waving in front of every other house, put in graffiti or painting on the walls and rooftops of garages, gas stations and shops. I've seen a lot of lawns here in Staten Island, where people literally overdecorated them with flags-on-a-stick, arranging them along the fence, around tree trunks, sticking them inside flower pots, hanging them on their windows, on their cars, everywhere. American patriotism is evident all over the place, at places in just overexposed amounts. Such a zealous dedication indeed, it's almost as if they use the flags as some sort of modern form of Totem, for protection and to show that they are a loyal part of this tribe. There is nothing wrong with that, unifying elements in the form of rituals and common denotations are an integral part of every society since the dawn of human social life.

However, there are certain elements of the American patriotic doctrine that are born out of pure propaganda. Such as militarism. People here are really paranoid to terrorists (and spies), can't blame them. Though, the way their government presents these to the public is so very subjective and one-sided and this is the propaganda element. Of course, propaganda is found in the paradigm of every government around the world, but it is especially strong in USA. I've been wondering if there are a lot of Americans who actually take the time to think up the root cause for terrorist' treat in their country.
I mean, their government is waging wars in the Middle East since the end of WWII. These wars can hardly be justified, apart from the American lust for influence and oil, which are conveniently disguised behind humanistic ideals such as the fight for "freedom" and, of course, democracy. But hypocrisy is the real face of these justificators and a lot of money involved, in the gazzillions. Yeah, weapons and military technology is a huge industry in the *modern world*. And what use of it if there are no wars?! I mean, don't be ridiculous, wars are an essential part of global economy!! And America, being one of the biggest manufacturers just must and needs to be involved in military justice, otherwise it will go bankrupt. What a profound irony. Fighting for peace with guns. Such a brilliant ideal only human mind can produce.

So, my point here is, apart from the obvious, that there would have been no terrorist treats here if USA didn't waged all these wars in the Middle East. How logic is that?! For example, my country does not wage wars in the ME and we have no problems with terrorists either.
I'm sure the average American don't view things this way, though.
Sometimes the root of a complex issue is so stunningly simple, that you can't help it, but just stand rapt in awe and amazement (in front of human stupidity, which is infinite, unlike the Universe, as Einstein deducted a few decades ago).

Anyway, considering that 60% of Americans today are immigrants or children of immigrants that came with the last great wave of immigrants from the beginning of the 20th Century escaping wars, poverty, persecution and industrial slavery in Europe and other parts of the world, no wonder they hold strong to their American Dream. But, what bothers me is, is this dream still alive? It certainly was alive a century ago. People came here and they really found freedom. They found free land to settle in, freedom from the suffocative grip of the Catholic church (even though there are a lot of Catholics here today, some of them descendants of those same people who escaped it), freedom to start a fresh in a fertile land with vast resources that were open and most importantly, accessible to all who were willing to work hard for it and make a fortune. And many of those settlers did worked hard and did made fortunes. Fortunes that they couldn't have made back in Europe, where stiff class segregation and monarhic rule from the previous centuries still prevailed. And that truly was the American Dream and it was real and alive.

While I worked on Liberty Island there was an isle with books in the gift shop with memories and testimonials from those early 20th Century immigrants, that I used to open and read in a dash, pretending I was dusting them with the laser beams from my eyes. I read a lot of interesting short stories there on how immigrants traveled cramped on ships, the horrible conditions they traveled into, the uncertainty, how they left everything behind packing just the essentials or whatever little they had, their hopes, dreams and expectations about this rich land, where the streets were paved with gold and even candy fell from the sky right into your mouth whenever one wished for it. Almost like El Dorado, a land of gold, riches and endless opportunities open for all, almost mythological-like. And for the most part, all of this was true. Freedom was to be found here.

Then, in the following decades of the early 20th Century a cultural spur flourished in New York, beginning with the underground Jazz societies in the 30s and leading to the Hippies in the 60s, which were to influence the common culture of the entire western world and change it forever. Before the hippies, societies still adhered to the strict, religious morals and behavioral codes, freedom of individuality, fashion and so on were unthinkable. An amazing cultural change and evolution even, that few people appreciate today, especially the young, taking it for granted. But in the meanwhile, amids the cultural revolution, other, more subtle trends evolved that had their roots in these same exploitatory methods of the industrial revolution that the immigrants ran away from. Thus, sometime in the 70s or so, the Corporations officially took over. Thinking about all this, Corporative rule and Communism are not that different really. Both exploit the masses via imposing delusive ideals of elusive freedoms.

Communism tells people they are all equal in opportunity, that all wealth is equally shared and possessed by all individuals in equal parts and that every individual must work for this common wealth, so that it never gets depleted and there is always enough for all. But, in reality, the wealth those common people worked for was by no means shared equally and the workers got 10% of it, while the remaining was distributed among the political *elite*, who, more or less, operated on monarhic principles. The same principles the Bolshevik claimed to overthrow after their revolution in Russia in the 1917. All the inspirational slogans about freedom and equality were just that, slogans, empty words deprived of practical manifestation. Propaganda was the most powerful tool of communism, and it has always been the most powerful tool of every self-righteous ideology.
Corporations, on the other hand, are a creation of democracy, or to this part of it designated as Capitalism. It was thought to be the total opposite of the strictly government-owned and controlled economy of communism or so thought the public outside the corporations. The corporations tell people they are free to choose (from whatever choices they are given), free to take (loans), free to speak (as long as it is not against the doctrine) and free to pay their bills. Corporations are probably the greatest manipulators and exploitators of American society today. And the truth is that the freedoms and opportunities immigrants had a 100 years ago are no longer available to their descendants. Things have changed. A lot.

Still, USA remains a land of great economic wealth and opportunity, but for the majority of people these freedoms and opportunities are reduced to very narrow step-by-step, system guided procedures starting with College/University and a student loan for it. Then, having a lot of money hanging on your neck, the fresh grad is eager to find a job and pour his/hers resources into the economy in return to financial tender to their loan. Then, another loan follows, this time for a house. A place to call home, to create a family of their own. By this time, the individual is desperate to keep his/her job, or the system will turn really evil should you miss a payment or two. And from then on, until the rest of their lives, it is basically paying mortgage and paying your bills. And enjoying your freedom in between.
And even though this doesn't sound that bad, after all, what else is the meaning of human life anyway?! There are a lot of very corrupt elements in this system. For instance, the wild ups and downs of real estate prices and interest rates. These fluctuations are not only abnormal and unjustified, they are unhealthy. Also unwealthy for the majority of Americans apart form this top 10% that have shares in the corporations.

The American system is a very sophisticated and complex one indeed and I have yet to delve in it and understand its inner workings, but its faults are apparent even to the ignorant observer, like myself. I believe that the time has come for a new economy to be synthesized, one that will include all the good from the old ones from the 20th Century and will preferably exclude their faults. Also, I think that we should update our criteria for ideals, for example, militaristic concepts proclaiming that serving in the army is a most high quality of humane acquisitions to be admired and respected. I mean, come on, such primitive concepts, born out of plain propaganda still being held current by modern, supposedly more aware and sensible humans? It is just not right.
And this is the biggest fault in Star Wars universe as well. That advanced civilizations will still produce weapons and wage wars. No. War and aggression are traits of the primitive mind and they will be absent in advanced civilizations. However, how can we humans know that, when we observe the Universe from our mere subjective point of view and think that whatever aspirations our hardwired instincts have are surely all universally present in all levels of civilizations throughout the cosmos. Oh, well, we are yet to evolve and realize a lot of truths ahead.

Ah, American society, such a peculiar phenomenon indeed. Despite all the opportunities here, I do think that its freedoms are corrupt and the American Dream is just not the same as it has been a century ago, or even 60 years ago. I will refrain from proclaiming it dead, unlike Nietzsche who felt no second thoughts on proclaiming the God dead a century and a half ago. And this is mostly because the economic system is by far more entangled and complex than the *stand-alone* Divine. That is, at times, the secrets of God seem far more accessible to the mind than the inner workings of economy. And this is mostly because the keys to the former are in your Self, while the nostrum to the latter is somewhere out there. If you know what I mean.