T Nation

What Is America?

First off, this is not an “anti-America” post nor is it strictly “pro-America”. For our purposes America is defined geographically as the nation of the United States of America including the territories under its control.

I wanted to start this post because on other threads posters make arguments about America with a preconcieved notion about what America is; what it means to be American, etc. These notions are not always understood by our international friends, or by me, for that matter.

I also wanted to see if there is one defining sentiment that marks America as unique as a nation. Are there unique values? Is there a core “American philosphy”?

My belief is thus:

America is a nation, first and foremost, that was founded on the ideas of freedom of thought, equality of worth, and liberty. This has profound implications in that these ideas have allowed it to become a center of cultural diversity, develop its academic integrity, and grow the wealthiest “middle class” on the planet.

I believe the theme of America’s entire history to be centered around these concepts–and this is what makes us unique.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
America is a nation, first and foremost, that was founded on the ideas of freedom of thought,
[/quote]

Ok, except for that by definition thought is free. We haven’t yet devised the means to peer into men’s secret thoughts. We do better than freedom of thought, and assert freedom of expression.

All men are not equal. All men are not “worth” the same amount. I don’t know what worth even means in this context… how much a man would fetch on the slave market in Algiers?
No, all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and those are the rights that a government ignores at its own peril.

Yes.

The eventual development of cultural diversity, academic integrity, and a wealthy middle class does not establish them as foundational or otherwise necessary principles of American life or mores. With the exception of the wealthy middle class, it establishes them as epiphenomena at best. Cultural diversity is a new idea and not necessarily a good one.

[quota]
I believe the theme of America’s entire history to be centered around these concepts–and this is what makes us unique.[/quote]

The fact that we’re located at a particular geographical point and have a different historical situation from any other nation makes us unique; as it does France, Germany, or whichever other cultural/national/ethnic group you’d like to name.

There is nothing I can say here about this great nation that hasn’t been explained by Alexis De Tocqueville with greater eloquence. The Founders were men of rare character and vision; true Statesmen.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
America is a nation, first and foremost, that was founded on the ideas of freedom of thought,

Ok, except for that by definition thought is free. We haven’t yet devised the means to peer into men’s secret thoughts. We do better than freedom of thought, and assert freedom of expression.
[/quote]

Ask the Chineese how they feel about Fulon Gong. Thought might be free by definition but its expression is not inherently free…that is correct. When thoughts are not allowed to be expressed openly, they by virtue of the fact, are no longer free. There is no difference between freedom of expresson and outright freedom of thought.

Who has more “value”, me or you? Does monetary value give you more worth in the context of your liberties? Does your intelligence give you more worth?

Worth is how much something is valued–in this case I meant it intrinsically. You are pretending to not understand. I give you credit for being good at argument strictly for argument’s sake.

No, but these are central themes to the uniquely American struggle. You cannot remove these concepts from any angle of American history.

Cultural diversity, although a “new idea” is not new. We are just now learning how to live within the context of a non-unique American culture–strictly my opinion.

I will not argue the “goodness” of cultural diversity other than to state that it is helping to break down the walls of “Americentricism”.

This last bit sounds as if read straight from an American high-school history text.

So in regard to what you have written America is not unique–aside from its geography?

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
There is no difference between freedom of expresson and outright freedom of thought.
[/quote]

The Founders didn’t say “freedom of thought.” They said what they meant: free speech, free press. “Freedom of thought” is abstract and virtually impossible to legislate.

I am not arguing for argument’s sake. All men are not “worth” the same amount, however you’d like to define worth. All men are endowed with the same inalienable rights. Worth has nothing to do with it.

Perhaps in the last fifty years or so. We used to at least pretend that we had a reasonably homogeneous culture.

Why would you say that academic freedom is a “central theme?”

You praise America with one hand, and beat it with the other. “Helping” to break down the walls of “Americentricism” means to destroy American identity and thus the struggle that you just praised.

Do you have any point in that comment, or are you just trying to insult my writing style?

[quote]
So in regard to what you have written America is not unique–aside from its geography?[/quote]

I didn’t say that. I said that uniqueness isn’t unique.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
The Founders didn’t say “freedom of thought.” They said what they meant: free speech, free press. “Freedom of thought” is abstract and virtually impossible to legislate.
[/quote]

Yes, I am arguing from a purely philosophical perspective. I am essentially generalizing on what the founders wrote–by the way, they based their political philosophy on Locke’s, Hume’s, and Hobbes’ ideas–so in that regard it isn’t entirely unique. They talk about freedom of expression–but the idea is way more general than that. Freedom of expression cannot exist without freedom of though. They cannot garantee freedom of thought because, as you say, by definition it is already “free”. They can, however, make provisions to protect freedom of expression. We cannot legislate thought but we can legislate action but thought always trancends action.

I humbly disagree. If we are speaking in intrinsic terms there is no measurement with which to assign a value to worth–therefore, all men are equal in terms of their worth or value. Therefore, we are all afforded the same rights at birth.

I believe “academic integrity” to be a theme because our entire progression as a valid culture and nation stems from our uniquely learned knowledge and humanities. I do not necessarily mean collegiate academics, though, because of our country’s underlying principles we attracted some of the greatest minds from around the world who also helped to develop us as a super-power.

Well, Americentricsm to me is bad. It is bad because it narrows our world perspective. We can have a healthy identity without exagerating our role in the world. We are an important nation but Americentricism essentially attempts to answers the question, are we the most important, affirmatively. There really is no measurement to answer that question for any nation.

No, there was no insult intended, just that you sound like a history teacher, whether you believe what you wrote or not.

[quote]
I didn’t say that. I said that uniqueness isn’t unique.[/quote]

This is a pretty useless argument because it cannot be invalidated:

a != a;

to prove this we must show that all a in some set A are not equal to itself.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
I didn’t say that. I said that uniqueness isn’t unique.

This is a pretty useless argument because it cannot be invalidated:

a != a;

to prove this we must show that all a in some set A are not equal to itself. [/quote]

Incorrect. “Uniqueness” is not equivalent to “unique.” Uniqueness is the quality of being unique, which quality need not necessarily possess itself as a quality.

All you have to do is show that there is at least one other member of the set that possesses the property of uniqueness, and you have established that uniqueness is not unique.

Ze greatest country in ze world and ze universe! Period.

What ze fuck? Ze moderator didn’t let me express my opinion about zat issue. I said America is ze greatest country in ze world and ze universe. Period.

I am a french blue collar so sorry for my accent! But i can use ze internet!

[quote]nephorm wrote:
Incorrect. “Uniqueness” is not equivalent to “unique.” Uniqueness is the quality of being unique, which quality need not necessarily possess itself as a quality.

[/quote]
Hmmmm…not sure I agree with you.

How does an object possess a quality such a “redness” with out itself being “red”? Keeping in mind there are only 8 crayons in my box…

[quote]Franck wrote:
What ze fuck?
[/quote]

Indeed!

Where are all my uber-cons and libs at…?

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Hmmmm…not sure I agree with you.

How does an object possess a quality such a “redness” with out itself being “red”? Keeping in mind there are only 8 crayons in my box…
[/quote]

Again, you’re confusing what I have said. I did not say that a being possesses redness yet is not red. I said that redness itself is not red, which makes perfect sense. The quality of being red is not itself a substance, but rather a description of an accident, and is therefore not subject to accidents itself.

And you’re being silly, obviously, because by your argument we’d have to say that only one thing can be unique.
But if you really want to argue it, “redness” is not the essence but rather an accidental quality. Nothing “is”
red, strictly, because red is not itself a substance. The quality of being red is not red itself, it is a
description of an accident of the substance.

But we can do even better (and more clearly) by breaking down the definition of uniqueness and unique.
Unique is to be different from any other thing. So when a ball is unique, it is different from all other balls, and it does not belong to any other species of beings in which there might be found a duplicate.
Uniqueness is the state of being, or the quality of, being different from any other thing. Now, it is obvious that one may have two unique balls, each one different from all other balls and all other instances of species or classes that might be. Each will, therefore, possess the quality of uniqueness - of being different to all other beings - and yet the quality of uniqueness is not, itself, unique. That is, it is possessed by two distinct beings.

Strictly speaking, we needn’t even distinguish between uniqueness and unique, insofar as they are both words to describe a being without actually existing themselves. My earlier statement that “Uniqueness is not unique” can be read as “The event of a being having the accident of uniqueness does not itself have the accident of uniqueness,” or “There exist more than one being which have the accident of uniqueness.”

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:

I also wanted to see if there is one defining sentiment that marks America as unique as a nation. Are there unique values? Is there a core “American philosphy”?[/quote]

I think yes - and I think a core value is Independence.

[quote]My belief is thus:

America is a nation, first and foremost, that was founded on the ideas of freedom of thought, equality of worth, and liberty. [/quote]

Generally pretty decent, but this “equality of worth” is decidedly non-egalitarian in a way that many people presume. And “liberty”, as awesome as it is, has many qualifiers: the Founders echoed the belief that there is a direct ratio between the level of general freedom and the level of virtue and responsibility. That is quite an unpopular view these days, but it is still distinctly American.

Not really - cultural diversity doesn’t add to a sense of Americanism, it takes away from it. Far from your position, the opposite is true - people of all ethnicities and backgrounds can unite under a set of ideas they hold dear, and the old notions of tribalism are cast aside. Multiethnic? Yes. Multicultural? No, not American.

Cultural diversity is meaningless buzz-phrase and stands for nothing in particular that America - united by a set of ideas, not skin color or pedigree - holds dear.

This is a bizarre addition, but I suspect you added it because you are an academic. America’s academic integrity is important, but our current state of “integrity” is embarrassingly low.

I think “opportunity and freedom to pursue an education” is a better concept within Americanism.

Absolultey agreed on this one. The strength of America is its educated middle class, who are hard-working, bright, tolerant, suspicious of elites, and quite independent-minded.

I would rework some the concepts slightly, and I would add the value of a jealous spirit of wanting to protect those values when others would have them replaced with something else. America has always had a martial spirit to defend the values it prizes from the clutches of the tyrannical world it pried those freedoms away from

Well, in theory anyway. Modern generations seem to think liberty is an entitlement and grows naturally like crabgrass.

[quote]nephorm wrote:
But we can do even better (and more clearly) by breaking down the definition of uniqueness and unique.
Unique is to be different from any other thing. So when a ball is unique, it is different from all other balls, and it does not belong to any other species of beings in which there might be found a duplicate.
Uniqueness is the state of being, or the quality of, being different from any other thing. Now, it is obvious that one may have two unique balls, each one different from all other balls and all other instances of species or classes that might be. Each will, therefore, possess the quality of uniqueness - of being different to all other beings - and yet the quality of uniqueness is not, itself, unique. That is, it is possessed by two distinct beings.
[/quote]

Ok. This makes sense to me, now.

…develop its academic integrity…

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:

This is a bizarre addition, but I suspect you added it because you are an academic. America’s academic integrity is important, but our current state of “integrity” is embarrassingly low.

I think “opportunity and freedom to pursue an education” is a better concept within Americanism.
[/quote]
Yes I agree. Our integrity needs some work to get back to the state it was 2 to 3 decades ago. The problem is, I believe, with the current state of scholarship within primary education in this country and the tightening restrictions on internationals coming to this country for an education–for the obvious reasons.

The reason I believe it to be important to developing a core American ideology, not being primarily egotistical, but realizing it is fundamental role in our economy. Technology and innovation are the driving forces of an expanding economy in my mind. Being an agrarian society is nice but it doesn’t necessarily make people from the other side of the globe want to come here to learn and be a part of the “revolution”, so to speak.

Sadly, I wish more Americans would engage in the science and engineering programs instead of the ubiquitous business schools. But when it comes down to it the average American coming out of high-school cannot compete with their Indian or Asian counterparts in either math or science. It makes the disparity in our primary school curriculum very apparent…but that is a discussion for another thread.

"To the glory of mankind there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of MONEY…and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means a country of Reason, Justice, Freedom, Production, Achievement.

For the first time, Man’s mind and Money were set free — and there were no fortunes-by-conquest but only fortunes by work. And instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being — the self-made man: the American Industrialist."
— Atlas Shrugged
(Ayn Rand)

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
"To the glory of mankind there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of MONEY…and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means a country of Reason, Justice, Freedom, Production, Achievement.

For the first time, Man’s mind and Money were set free — and there were no fortunes-by-conquest but only fortunes by work. And instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being — the self-made man: the American Industrialist."
— Atlas Shrugged
(Ayn Rand)[/quote]

But what sets the money in an “American industrialit’s” hand versus a Canadian’s apart? Is there a defining attribute to the “American industrialist” that doesn’t exist anywhere else? Or do you believe that Rand is suggesting that it is the amount of money in the “American Industrialist’s” hand verses his counterpart?

This strikes me as a “chicken or the egg” argument in terms of what influences what?

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Headhunter wrote:
"To the glory of mankind there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of MONEY…and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means a country of Reason, Justice, Freedom, Production, Achievement.

For the first time, Man’s mind and Money were set free — and there were no fortunes-by-conquest but only fortunes by work. And instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being — the self-made man: the American Industrialist."
— Atlas Shrugged
(Ayn Rand)

But what sets the money in an “American industrialit’s” hand versus a Canadian’s apart? Is there a defining attribute to the “American industrialist” that doesn’t exist anywhere else? Or do you believe that Rand is suggesting that it is the amount of money in the “American Industrialist’s” hand verses his counterpart?

This strikes me as a “chicken or the egg” argument in terms of what influences what?[/quote]

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would say, because it precedes all the others, that they invented the phrase ‘to MAKE money’…Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be CREATED, before it can be looted or mooched.”

“When men cease to deal with one another by trade, then men become the tools of men.”

“Blood, whips, and guns…or dollars. Take your choice. There is NO other. And your time is running out.”

Atlas Shrugged (from memory).