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The Divided States of America

My first impression of America was that Americans are a very tolerant people. There is such diversity here that being different is considered normal. Of course, freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right and was the basis for people of various origins and persuasions to move here. The country is also considered both economically and politically free. But is the United States really the land of the free?

A lot of Europeans emigrated to America to be free from the religious persecution they suffered at home. Indeed, the number and variety of Christian churches is impressive in the US. Religion seems to maintain its relevance to many Americans unlike in Europe where the church is dying off such is the increase in secularism. Of course, the Christian message has been spun and made to seem cool to maintain appeal. Regardless of Americans' true beliefs it seems that people enjoy the sense of community associated with the church. It is this sense of community and harmony that led many of the early churches to migrate to less populous parts of the country. The Mormon religion migrated west to the Great Salt Lake to re-establish its church so as to avoid persecution. This was the biggest movement of a people ever across the US at that time. However, it is interesting to note that the state of Utah is not the most tolerant of places nowadays. It is staunchly conservative and such is the strangle-hold of the Mormon church in parts that there is a huge amount of resistance to liberal ideals. So much so that liberals feel persecuted to the degree that the Mormons once did and at some point feel the need to move out of state to practice their own beliefs in peace. The point is that America is a deeply hypocritical society.

Such hypocrisy is most evident at a political level. People are usually either Republican or Democrat. Very rarely do you hear people who try to explain their political beliefs as being something different. However, the largest vote in America is from the people who choose not to vote. Naturally, some of the 45% of the electorate who normally don't vote may be out of town at the time, but this percentage mostly indicates the amount of people in the US who feel that their point of view is not really represented on a national stage. This leaves the Democrats and Republicans to determine the agenda and that is always one of not too much change. If change does occur it is usually at the behest of lobby groups who have a very real vested economic interest in the budgetary or legislative decision-making process. The more time you spend watching the Bill Mahers (Democrat) and Bill O'Reillys (Republican) of this world the more you realise that the arguments repeat and that they are being championed by people who are already rich and thus, don't really care. Politics should never be the prevail of simply the monied class, it is supposed to represent both the rich, the poor and everyone in between. Thus, one quickly realises that the US political system is deeply flawed. Both Democrats and Republicans create noise to engineer a perfectly balanced stalemate. The emphasis is on prolonging the debate for as long as possible so that no decision is ever taken. This facilitates both sides of the political divide (even if there is no divide in US politics) who do well regardless of who is in power. They both purposely add noise to the debate as the last thing either party wants is a decision and thus, real change. My guess is that an impotent Obama has come to the same conclusion. As long as the status quo is maintained the less chance there is of the the under-represented ever being represented. In this context what Martin Luther King achieved for American society is incredible. But then, he was assassinated. So much for freedom of expression, it says it all really.

Financial freedom is what unites all Americans; pretty much everybody is consumed by the idea of striking it rich. Indeed the legacy of the gold rush remains in the psyche of Americans. What I find deeply troubling is that so few people question the plentiful barriers to riches that are an epidemic part of US society. There are always examples of people who worked hard and rose from rags to riches, however, there are also loads of people who worked hard and were never going to be given the chance to make it. Americans seem to focus more on the ones who made it as opposed to the ones who never had the chance. Even the forgotten homeless person who has access to very limited social services gambles his beggings on lottery tickets. In this way he too keeps alive the American dream of becoming rich. Of course, money is both a desirable and finite resource. As it is in relatively short supply there is huge pressure on people to protect their access to it and prevent others from acquiring it. Because money is so prized, an increase in wealth is also an increase in station. To display this wealth one needs to engage in the consumption of expensive goods that are beyond the scope of the majority. Thus, it is possible for someone to experience an increase in their standard and cost of living without any real increase in their wealth. The only way to bypass this is to borrow money. However, credit creates the perception of wealth whereas savings are real wealth. The indebtedness of Americans and their addiction to credit is staggering. The super rich have been incredibly successful in promoting credit growth to fuel consumption of their goods. The result is that most Americans are under a spell and become enslaved to either the bank they must repay their loans to or the power of marketers promoting even more consumption. Only in America is it possible to graduate from college as a 23 year old and have student loans the size of a mortgage. It is incredible that a society allows young people to take on such a massive debt burden but it does so to promote slavery under the guise of economic freedom. Students begin working straight away to pay down their debt. There is little chance for them to imagine a world without this debt and so long as they are in some form of debt they will struggle to experience the world and free their minds. Indeed, everywhere you look Americans are working hard. Whether you work 80 hours a week on Wall Street or 80 hours each week trying to keep down two low-skilled jobs to put food on your family's table, everybody is slaving away. Americans are rewarded with a measly amount of vacation days. US corporations have somehow engineered a scenario where there is never the possibility to clock off for long enough to catch your breath, think clearly, realise how enslaved you are and thereby revolt.

Even when it comes to marriage Americans are divided. 50% of American marriages end in divorce. The person you marry first is the one with whom you start a family. However, the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life is the person you meet after you divorce. Parents divide the week so that each parent can see their kids and kids divide their loyalties. The concept of family appears almost transient. Since kids typically move out for college, parents do not really expect their children to be around once they become adults. The result is that kids assume a real sense of personal responsibility from a very young age. They learn from marital break-up that they can't rely on their parents but parents also force children to stand on their own two feet by either working or leaving home to go to college. The result is that Americans can experience a great sense of separation and seek to shore up this loss of family in their friendships. It is for this reason that sub-cultures and communities such as the church thrive in America; people are desperate for friends and a sense of belonging.

The reason America appears to be a tolerant country is that it is geographically large enough to tolerate diversity. It is not uncommon for humans to want to live amongst their own and it is this tendency that can be seen in the very contrasting vibes and values of all the different towns and cities across the US. The innate transience of Americans causes them to seek out communities where they fit in and it is amongst their own type that they will settle. People from California, New England, the deep South and indeed the mountain states are all very different. However, the personality of each particular landscape is what attracts people. Certainly, there are some small-town Americans who have no desire to ever leave Smallville. However, there are plenty of people who flock to New York to try their luck, or to California for its liberalism or to Colorado for its balance. The point is that Americans are blessed with the space to move. Most Europeans can move freely within the European Union but not without experiencing strong language and cultural barriers. It is this vast space that affords Americans the appearance of being a tolerant and free nation. If America didn't have such geographical largesse the country would undoubtedly be in a constant state of civil war. This is because such divided beliefs and opinions would be forced to co-habit too small a space that people just wouldn't be able to get along. Let there be no mistake, there are very deep divisions within the supposedly 'United' States of America.

mind how you go


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Reader Comments (1)

Well done! I'm certain you are a philosopher now.

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Luke
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