Monday, October 29, 2007

The Transatlantic Mystery

In which I attempt to explain the chasm between Americans and the countries of Europe, and respond to the contention that Europeans understand Americans, but not vice versa…

What began as a long comment has morphed into a post.

As a courtesy, comments should rarely exceed three or four paragraphs but, alas, that is a rule I often break as I free associate down the page. As you can see here, verbosity is the main reason we had to set up our own blog and stop hogging others’ bandwidth.

No doubt we made a number of bloggers breathe a sigh of relief when we finally sailed off on our own.



Ioshkafutz —

I think it’s more complicated than you say.

As a first generation American I sometimes feel like a participant observer in the US. But that might have been my natural inclination anyway… people who write tend to have this “observing ego” that notices without let-up.

The last two World Wars damaged Europe badly. John Derbyshire had a recent column in which he looked back on the many spinsters of his childhood in Britain. “Many” because the flower of British manhood had been obliterated and left entombed in Flanders Field.

It was the same for France and Germany, and Spain to some extent in the ’30s.

World War II was wash, rinse, repeat, but with far more damage to the infrastructure of things ancient, things which could not be restored. In fact, some of them ceased to exist even as cultural memories.

In addition, this time the Jewish brain drain, whether by oven or by emigration, left a vacuum in the European intellectual tradition that could not be recovered either.

America lost many men in that war, even though her shores were never breached. But she also had a net gain in her pool of brilliant scientists, especially the Ashkenazi Jews, because Hitler was discarding them and we were picking them up.

This great sea change (as H. Stuart Hughes called it) has had profound effects on both sides of the Atlantic. Meryl Yourish notes that Americans have done it again… American Jews, that is: Three More Jewish Nobel Prize Winners.

These were awards in the field of Economics. In fact, the percentage of American Ashkenazi Jews amongst the Nobel Prize winners in academic areas is truly astounding. Though I do think the Asian and Indian immigrants will catch up and give them a run for their money in the next generation.

The closest America ever came to bloody internecine warfare is our Civil War. Or, as some Southern ladies up until the 1940’s called it, “The Recent Unpleasantness.” The South’s dependence on slave workers and its lack of a middle class was never overcome until the advent of air conditioning. After that, industries in the Northeast began to wither because poor Southerners were willing to work for less, and didn’t believe in unions.

It was America’s first experience in outsourcing.

I don’t think America understands Europe very well. The closest we come is in the South, where bitter memory dies hard.

But I disagree that Europeans somehow understand us — that kind of hubris is what makes Americans turn away. Perhaps Europeans who have spent many years here, who have raised children here… they might, but even then it’s sketchy knowledge at best.

When a couple marries, they bring together two families who may not have much in common. The families are bound together by their children’s union, but that doesn’t make them necessarily decipherable to one another. Which is why parents are relieved when kids marry among “their own.” That’s not racist or nationalist, it’s simply the Law of Gravitas.

My mother said that when she stepped off the boat in New York City, she felt the weight of a thousand years of ghosts drop from her shoulders… but she paid a price for it in feeling alien and alone. Not understood. With her Dublin accent, Southern Americans thought she was… maybe Russian?

When I married the Baron (WASP that he is), my mother joked that it was time for something besides Irish genes in the family. That must have been hard, though: his background was British and German and French. As my mother would say “foreign.”

We have lived almost three decades where we are now. And yet a few years ago, someone told me I was nothing but an “outsider.” Actually, she used the word “foreign.” It was all I could do to keep a straight face. Though I considered our differences serious at the time, I didn’t think they were based on where I was from.

When you say of that we think of Europeans as crappy little people who still believe that God is not just big and awesome but is also in the details, I would demur:
- - - - - - - - -
Europeans appear to have given up on God altogether. The EU Constitution is a good example of that. So is the fact that the charming Danish people, so full of life and spirit, are required to support their state church but only five percent attend services or express any affiliation. But I could be wrong: perhaps there is even yet the next Søren Kierkegaard lurking in the shadows.

Not that there aren’t exceptions, but it seems to be easier to be open about one’s religious faith in the US than it is in Europe. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we’re ridiculed — we’re so simple-minded and childish for still believing in what the more sophisticated Europeans have long since left behind. Our sophisticated academics are trying to catch up in the rational disbelief department.

In the ’70s I reviewed Jacques Monod’s book Chance and Necessity. To me it seemed so thoroughly post-world wars thinking. In other words, he and his confreres were traumatized and could only say:

… man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.

Many American academics and literati buy that Continental viewpoint. But a majority of the rest of us don’t. And the more physics opens up to uncertainty, the more I understand the faith/doubt dialectic.

That is the dividing line, not America’s failure to understand Europe… on that subject we and Europeans are equally in the dark. We don’t even know what we don’t know about one another.

That is how cultures are.


BTW, I don’t really believe in the concept of “Europeans.” I see Italians, Brits, Danes, Swedish, Spanish, etc. “European” is an EUSSR concept. Even within each country, there are vast differences: the gap between Northern and Southern Italians, between London and Yorkshire, etc. And, of course, Paris as the hub of the Universe. We are all people of a particular place and it is from our experience of belonging that we derive our identity.

On that subject, I suggest Paul Belien’s book, A Throne in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe. Near the end, he says:

Like ‘Europe,’ that other gravy train in Brussels, Belgium has never been based on a sense of national unity. It has been held together by a political class prepared to subvert democracy to its own ends. The Belgian regime, because it could not be based on a real nation, could never tolerate a democratic form of governance. Ironically, in the early 21st century, the Belgian model, the ideal of the 20th century welfare state corporatists, came to fascinate an entirely new group of intellectuals and activists. These so-called ‘neo-Belgicists’ began to sing the praises of Belgium as the world’s first post-modern or post-national nation, unaware that they were actually applauding a post-democratic model…Belgium is characterised by an ‘identity of non-identity.’…without identity and a sense of genuine nationhood, there can also be no democracy and no morality. The neo-Belgicists, however, regard the absence of identity as the supreme morality.

Personally, I think it sounds like hell on earth.

34 comments:

atheling2 said...

Amen, Dymphna, well said. I'm going to repost a comment I made in the prior post in response to ioshkafutz's erroneous conception of America:

Lot of words and assumptions being thrown around here regarding Americans and Europeans. (And I know, Dymphna, you don’t believe that a “European” exists, but if a German, a Frenchman, a Briton and a Spaniard were in, say, the Congo among only the natives, they would associate because they have more common ground among themselves than with the natives there). Perhaps the only thing that held Europe together was the fact that they used to be Christian. Europe, after all, was once called “Christendom”. Now that Europe is no longer Christian, it seems that some concept called the “European Union” has taken its place. “By God, you WILL be European, or else!!!” It sure has created problems because it FORCES people to be or do things that they may not wish for.

Anyway, I am an American - a hybrid so to speak. I’m half white and half Asian. My father’s side of the family came to America in 1640. My mother came here after marrying my Dad as a war bride from Korea in the early 1960’s. We kids were given American names, spoke English only, celebrated holidays as Christians (as both my parents converted to Catholicism), socialized with mainly whites, and were raised to be patriotic Americans. Sure, we still ate some Korean food (love that rice and kimchi!), and my mother imposed strict rules on us girls regarding our moral conduct. I was the only teen in my class who had a 10:00 curfew on Friday and Saturday nights. When I tried to buck the system, my mother sternly said, “There is nothing good that a girl could possibly be up to when she stays out late at night!” We were also taught to respect adults, and to honor our family. To this day, I still have an ingrained sense of deference to the elderly. That’s about it regarding my Asian side. As I grew older and became better educated, I saw how corrupt Asian governments are, how there was little or no sense for the sanctity of human life or dignity (human trafficking is appalling in Asia), and how badly women were generally treated in non-Westernized Asian countries. My mother used to tell us that white men made the best husbands. Isn’t that racial discrimination? J I’m not ashamed of being half Asian, but I am very thankful that I am an American and that I live here, not in Asia.

Growing up in the tumultuous 60’s, there was still widespread racism in America. I used to be called “Jap” or “Chink” every day and it upset me a lot, mostly because I was neither Chinese nor Japanese. Some kids made fun of the different foods we ate or the way we looked. I didn’t like being socially excluded from the other kids, though I eventually learned to ignore their taunts. Children are very cruel by nature, and I don’t think it’s necessarily “taught”. I think that, like animals, we do have a sense of wanting to associate with what’s familiar or alike. Needless to say, I grew up with an acute sense of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of prejudice and isolation. I don’t think I carry a lot of resentment regarding the past; I feel quite philosophical about it. I think racism is part of human nature, although not necessarily a good part.

America has changed a great deal in the past 40 years. I can say that for the last 20 years, I have never experienced racial prejudice or bigotry from anyone in my homeland. Indeed, I am so fully integrated, that sometimes I forget that I look a little different than my peers.

So when I read ioshkafutz’s comment:

“The American political credo/religion that refuses identity, history, race, culture, believes - and for historical reasons - CAN ONLY believe in money and the law. It is wedded to some sort of manifest destiny inspired by sideral space, vast and empy... They simply cannot understand people who don't disdain the past, the continuum, and who are attached to their ways, warts and foibles... and who despite decades of deconstruction still refuse to see themselves as merely folklore..”

I have to respond and say: You couldn’t be more wrong.

You see, as GK Chesterton put it, “America is the only nation founded on a creed”. That creed is not about money or law, ioshkafutz. It’s about the inherent dignity of each individual human being which transcends skin color, language, customs, history, etc.. And each person has “unalienable rights” which cannot be trampled upon by any earthly power or authority. The United States Government has to bow to the rights of even the lowest laborer in this land.

That’s revolutionary. And that’s what makes me love my country. True, we have our many problems here. We violate those rights all the time. Currently the argument about abortion rages on, and perhaps it always will. But those weaknesses are a result of human frailty, not of flaws in the democratic principles our Founding Fathers set forth in this land. I know of no greater form of democracy than this Federal Republic in which I live. It helps that the land itself is beautiful and varied, from the gentle, rolling green hills of northeastern Pennsylvania to the rugged shoreline of Big Sur, California; we are truly rich in resources.

I’m beginning to see that this is the main difference between Europeans and Americans. While individual Europeans, like the French or the Italians may base their identity on their language, customs, food, smells, or however you want to put it, Americans’ identities are based on a PRINCIPLE. That’s why racism cannot work in America. All Americans, whether black or white, rich or poor, smart or dumb, are subject to those lofty principles of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Average Joe said...

atheling2,

It's not the "lofty principles of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" that make America unique. It's the concept of "equal protection under the law"; that law being the Constitution of the United States.

When I think about America, I don't think about "purple mountains majesty" or "Mom and apple pie".

America is the Constitution. Without it, America is just another chunk of real estate.

Subvet said...

Adding anything to what you ladies have posted would be gilding the lily.

Nex said...

atheling2, thanks for that post, which I'm going to keep. Beautifully written and rings true.

Hope it helps improve some Europeans' understanding of this country. In my experience it's often money they use to explain anything mysterious to them about us. Sure it's easy and lazy but it works as the fulcrum for so many wild theories about the 'essence' of being an American that a post such as yours should be required reading. Nex

Lauri Olavi said...

BTW, I don’t really believe in the concept of “Europeans.” I see Italians, Brits, Danes, Swedish, Spanish, etc. “European” is an EUSSR concept.

I agree. Centuries ago, there used to be a thing called "Christendom", which had a meaning, but that is no more.

Evan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Evan said...

The LA Times has a story on a remarkable (I thought, anyway) story from the SoCal fires. There is a camp up in the mountains run by a Hasidic rabbi, obviously for the benefit of his Jewish charges. Once the fire broke out he opened it up to the firefighters, whom he fed and sheltered despite some personal risk from the encroaching flames.

Now the firefighters were curious about this exotic man and his peculiar ways, but they clearly saw him nonetheless as one of their own - an American. He too felt an obligation to the other members of his American family, despite their status as gentiles.

I am hard-pressed to imagine a scene like that in Europe - that the Hasidim could build a beautiful place like that up in the mountains and live there unmolested, functioning as just another kind of neighbor, and that these two very different communities could mix together so serenely when the situation called for it. (The article doesn't say so, but the firefighters themselves were presumably from many tribal groups.)

I know that the old-fashioned tribalism, of the European sort, is very popular on this site. But we are in fact an idea country, and that idea - that all people are entitled to the pursuit of happiness - has made it nothing short of a miracle. Europe has its own ways, and I respect that, but I very much doubt whether many Europeans (or people from anyplace else for that matter) understand the essence of the American soul.

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao Athleng2,

Imagine my surprise to see a mother thread here at the legendary GOV directed as a response to me. It's because I picked a fight between America and Europe on the thread dedicated to LGF's expulsion of GOV from their links. I tried to understand why the land of the free and the home of the brave is so squeamish...

Now Athleng you answered:

ioshkafutz:

Goodness, you really are a bitter person...

You need to sublimate that anger... ever read Oriana?

Fine, I need to sublimate. I'm stark raving mad, but it's not about me. If America's premiere anti-Islamic site can unlink from the many fine minds and questing spirits here at GOV, a place which practices near absolute freedom of thought, and I mean thoughtful thought and not echo-chamber thought... well that says something. Because Johnson is hip, he's literally jazzy, and he's got Frank Zappa quotes. He's very much American, imbued with your own God-Bless-America, e pluribus unum, spirit and for him GOV has suddenly become a crappy white-supremacy supporting, Fascio-Nazi-leaning pack of benighted fools.

He kicked GOV out... the way I was kicked out of KOS a couple of years back (though to get in a good five posts I pretended to be a foreign female, ex-Junkie who had just had an abortion... and by golly it worked!)

So obviously there's a misunderstanding. There is indeed - as Chesterton (my favorite thinker) wrote, something of a religion, a creed driving the USA, one that allows for the ex-communication not only of real zieg-heiling Nazis in jackboots, but of Dymphnas and Barons and Conservative Swedes.

As none of the people involved are fools, there's evidently a huge, whopping difference of values involved, a Weltanschaung.

Probably it's because systems, constitutions shouldn't ever become creeds in the first place. Probably it's because church and state should be separated not just on paper, but in the hearts of the citizens, even if they're all of the same faith, thereby releasing them from the need to continually state an reiterate their enormous gratitude for being Americans (intsead of simply for being alive even if on life support in an Albanian hospital) and for thinking she is the alfa and omega, when only God is... and there are dozens of nations with very similar constitutions. What it used to mean to be uniquely American was among other considerations, what Jason_Pappas said: a nation of self-reliance, independent, and proud people. America was the only country where even in the twenties, cops were often and easily the bad guys. It is cultural and community America that matters: cities, regions, states. High principles and rationalism can destroy culture. High principles and rationalism is what is sending droves of Brits out of UK. Glorious UK, wonderful God-shave-the-queen UK, which you love because their shopkeepers are so patient, their humor is so rich, UK the inventor of nonsense and fairplay, of unarmed Bobbies... and now 1 surveillance camera every 13 people UK.

I am embittered with constitutions, inalieable rights, pursuits of happiness and wow-wee freedoms. Without content, actual content, without virtue, actual virtue, it's all a lot of talk.

There is another man, a non-political man. No doubt our splendid countries have the best health care systems in the world... but if you faint out in the middle of the street, you can also factor into the healthcare system the likelihood of a perfect stranger bending down to succor you, instead of swiftly walking by to enjoy his inalieble human rights. My brother was beaten up by a motorcycle gang and left languishing on the side of the road for over half an hour before a Guatemalen immigrant woman finally stopped to help him. This and worse, happens everywhere, not just in the USA. Women get molested and raped on metros and people go on blithely reading their liberty-of-speech newspapers.

Freedom is a blank page. Real freedom is virtue. It's 9 year old kids being able to buy wine, because it's culturally nigh unto impossible that he will drink it himself, and culturally near certain that he's only buying it for his daddy. It's what makes laws and legislation unnecessary.

You can have the finest constitution in the world and you can revere your finding fathers like Saint Anthony and Mother Cabrini, but underneath it all, there is an ethos. Screw that up, lose the virtues, and even the USA, the land whose populace believes it was stroked by the Deist magic wand, can lose it (as she is losing it in her universities as we speak).

But Magic Johnson of LGF doesn't know this. His country is still young and vibrant (in the making) and lots of his people still go to church. He knows little of the self-inflicted despair of the Europeans. Sure it gets ugly here. There is no religion anymore and there's no make-believe creed with hallowed founding fathers. Europe ain't America. Great freedoms and great ideals and prohibitions against calling anyone "Chink" are all in place and have been for quite some time. Yet UK is spilling out and so too is Holland.

The answer is Christendom, Orthodoxy, Dogma... oppression. Positive love of ones culture, history, ways. And yes, there will be hooligans on your team... just as there was Stalin on the allied team against the Nazis and Fascists. Hooligans like Dymphna and the Baron.

Kafir_Kelbeh said...

@atheling2,

Sounds like you had a good Southern upbringing!

I'm much like you...I think. I was raised by a strict mom (early curfew in HS) and a military dad. Although I'm not religious anymore, I recognize where my values came from: my parents & our country's Judeo-Christian background.

There are many who claim our History is purely Secular...I was one (kinda), until I read "How the Scots Invented the Modern World." What many Secularists don't wanna remember is how intertwined our secular, political, and religious thoughts were. Many philosophers who fed into the ideals of Mason & Jefferson were folks like Locke & Hume. That connection cannot be avoided.

Mason & Jefferson gave us the greatest gift - the Bill of Rights. Those rights are inferred in most European countries, making them very tenuous in my view. I prefer my rights to be explicit, thankyouverymuch. If Alexander Hamilton had his way, we'd never have had the Bill of Rights. But Mason recognized the need and outwitted Hamilton in an argument in order for the Federalists to agree to include them. Thank you, Mason!

What's also interesting is how we are physiologically wired. According to my genius brother, who's studied this, we're really only wired to know or remember or work with 120 people. So those who talk about global this or world that don't understand themselves very well.

Besides, I love my identities - American, Texan, Oklahoman, Southern, and all those of my ancestors (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Netherlands, Czech/Bohemia, and Cherokee). This is what makes our country great - the meshing into a single identity (American) and our Constitution & Bill of Rights.

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao Kafir_kelbeh,

If I may ask, what do you love about your Czech/Bohemian background. What foods? What words? What mentalities? What fairy-tales? What's special about Bohemia and what sets it apart from Moravia?

Nyog of the Bog said...

Some fundamentals not yet touched upon so much:

1.) Class. America was fortunate in the way it came into being, in that, for the most part, immigrants were able to leave behind their social caste. Traditionally, there has been no such thing as an American Peasant. Out side of anomalies such as New Orleans, patronage has been no guarantor when old money has run out. Unfortunately, due to globalization and un checked immigration from Mexico (an oligarchy with a long established peasantry), that may be changing.

2) Scottish Enlightenment vs. Continental Romanticism. Much that separates Europe and America, is that small span of years between what I think Europeans are right in describing as our War of Independence, and The French Revolution announcing as it did, a reactionary turn away from enlightenment ideals and toward the Romantic. America by contrast retained its enlightenment principles, enshrining them in its founding documents. Its no coincidence that,Marxism, Fascism and Anarchism had made little headway in the States at least (again unfortunately), until recently.

Marian - CZ said...

ioshkafutz: If you are interested in Czechia, do not hesitate to ask the indigenous tribesman :-)

atheling2 said...

ioshkafutz:

I never said you were crazy. I said you're bitter.

Your rancor should be directed within:

Europe's woes are no one else's fault but Europeans themselves.

1. Have babies. Your countries won't surivive until you change that negative growth. Your Muslim immigrants are going to outnumber you and then bye bye Italy (or France, or Britain, etc...)

2. Stop the culture of death. Abortion, euthanasia, birth control, etc... are suicidal.

3. Grow up a little. Get off the nanny state and start to work for a living. That means that sometimes you won't have safety nets, but if your ancestors did it for centuries, can't you?

I'm perfectly aware of America's flaws, but as I stated before, it's because of human frailty. Civic virtue is important, and you're preaching to the choire regarding the problems we face. However, how about turning that harsh criticism inward and start to look at your own flaws? (I don't mean personally).

I have yet to hear you accept any responsibility for your own woes in Europe. Until you learn to take charge, you'll be crushed by the bureaucratic BS that is the EU.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 10/30/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Dymphna said...

nyog of the bog--

America has many classes but they are fluid...the underclass has grown because of govt enttitlements, but there are those who want to call them back to some sense of purpose. Thus, Bill Cosby's work with his book "Come on People" and the community action he hopes to inspire...

If we have a peasant "class" surely it is the redneck, but they are often well-off and have that wonderful Celtic capacity to laugh at themselves whilst taking their own principles quite seriously.

Your comparison between the Scottish Enlightenment and Continental Romanticism philosophies is spot-on. Do you know of any author who treats this subject in more detail? That's an idea I'd like to visit.

Marian - CZ said...

Frankly, Atheling2, a lot of current reproduction problems of Europe, Japan and other industrialized countries lies in the "consumer cult".

Quite a lot of young women do not really plan to have children, because they want to live for themselves. Sor of "Sex in the City" lifestyle. I do not think that this is exclusively Western Europe's problem - the same goes for Asian nations.

Hey, even Iran has 1,75 children per fertile woman.

And this lifestyle is mercilessly pushed by the likes of Cosmopolitan magazine.

IoshkaFutz said...

Dobry Den, Marian,

I like your word for scarecrow... Strashak... scary. I like your very sinister sounding word for bat... Netopyr... I think a dracula saying: "I want to drink your blood" - (roughly and pardon the spelling) "Chcem pit tvoj krv" is really and wonderfully scary in Czech.

I'm certain I will never learn to pronounce "Dvorak" - the r with the diacriic doodad on top of it... but I love the sound and I love the sound of all those words without vowels (strc prsc frts brts - or whatever).

I think your words for fart "prt" and burp "grg" should be internationalized.

I know that the Czechs are a bit sbabelec, but not really cowards, but brainy, good soldier Schweik people. The only czech blood I have might possibly have been on my Italian grandfather's sword - enemies in the first world war, but I love Czechia, I love the smazeny cyr, the old spa towns. I hate Prague taxicab drivers... I hate Czech coffee and think it worthy of charter flights from the pygmies so they can dip their arrows into it. I love listening to workmen saying "kurva" every seven words. I think Krushovice is one of the finest beers in the world...

I understand a Czech's love for his country, because I love Italy. But it's real love, based on something... woefully incomplete, but real. I love all the zameks and hrads with their magnificent parks... It's not airport terminal love, it's real, in the heart and belly and the taste buds.

Marian - CZ said...

Hi Ioshka,

yes, the language is definitely beautiful. BTW the Dracula citation that you give is probably Slovak, but the languages are close :-)

I like to hear about your love for the country, for I love it too.

The Czechs are not so much cowards, but rather a culture that does not respect it heroes - usually because it is forced not to by the occupier. Quite a lot of people fought in the second world war on both fronts. Unfortunately, the country is indefensible against a big and determined enemy.

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao again Atheling2,

No quarrel whatsoever. I'm not blaming America and I called it Europe's self-inflicted despair. Definitely we must look within and forget about America as some sort of country to emulate. Different history, different values.

I don't blame America at all. She is what she can only be: law and money. And tons of love for some sort of outer space Czech/Bohemian heritage dancing a tango with an equally sideral Cherokee past... absolutely real in principle, absolutely fake in the meat-and-potatoes dimension.

Kafir_Kelbeh said...

Your comparison between the Scottish Enlightenment and Continental Romanticism philosophies is spot-on. Do you know of any author who treats this subject in more detail? That's an idea I'd like to visit.


Dymphna,

Try reading "How the Scots Invented the Modern World." Very enlightening...



Speaking of which, IoshkaFutz -

As a 5th generation Czech, and voracious traveler and geneologist, I'd appreciate you not make inane assumptions about my knowledge of either History or my ancestry. I've made no assumptions about you, despite the temptations you've laid before me.

rohan said...

IoshkaFutz & Atheling2,

The posting between the two of you is an excellent example of the gulf between the U.S and Europe. As an American, I don't think IoshsaFutz understands us. I'm sure he would think the same of me if I tried to say how a European thinks. I find this amazing since America is still primarliy descended from European stock.

Henrik said...

Wow. Long post, long comments...

The question of European identity intrigues me. I got a jolt when I read Rodney Stark: "The Victory of Reason".

With a great deal of detail and fresh insights (well, as many as fit into a normal-sized paperback), he anchors European identity not in the Age of Reason / Age of Enlightenment, but a full 4 centuries further back, in and about the 12th century when the European city-states emerged as real factors, with prototype democratic structures and a strong assertion of private property, leading to an unheard upswing in trade and enterprise.

Even more radical, the Catholic church, tainted by the Galileo debacle and the Spanish Inquisition, played a major, constructive role in this. In all honesty, and to the dismay of most atheists, I consider European identity and values to be inseparable from Christianity.

There, call it 'heresy'. I call it 'historical awareness' and encourge everyone to dig in and examine the matter. The roots of Europe are, in chronological order:

- Italy
- Flanders
- Netherlands
- England

This is, in my understanding, where liberty and industry (in both physical and metaphorical senses) developed, from where it fortunately spread to many other places, not least America.

I recommend the Rodney Stark book with great pleasure. It's positive & constructive. Which is, after all, pretty nice.

Nyog of the Bog said...

-Dymphna,

Thank you for your attention to my words. Regarding Scottish Enlightenment vs. Continental Romanticism, I wish I could provide you a recommendation such writing is bound to exist, I just don't know of one.

About rednecks and class: point well taken yet I maintain that the word peasant, as when issued a few years ago by the Englishman, Chris Hitchens regarding Passion of the Christ director, Mel Gibson, remains a non-sequitur to American ears. Simply put, share cropping aside, we have no feudal past and periods of stagnation, are counted in decades, not centuries. Understand, I could write about this at length, if not well, which is why I avoided the subject of slavery and race altogether.

I would only add that it was not so long ago, that names like Sergeant York, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boon were celebrated in our popular culture. Sadly, as never before, with the phenomenon of the Bobo, we've become a snotty people. Yet I think we make poor copies of the European and speaking for my self, I always appreciated the contrast. This is not to say that Europeans are snotty but that Americans, pretending to be European are. What I took from my time in France was, "Vive La Difference!" I wish we could return to the more self confident ways of the past but I fear such common sense ways are vanishing with our parents.

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao Kafir_Kelbeh,

You said:
Besides, I love my identities - American, Texan, Oklahoman, Southern, and all those of my ancestors (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Netherlands, Czech/Bohemia, and Cherokee). This is what makes our country great - the meshing into a single identity (American) and our Constitution & Bill of Rights.

I've heard this ear-candy all my life... I'm an Italian who grew up in America till the age of 16. I used to repeat this ear candy... and I was toilet-trained to repeat it.

"I love everybody living together" is an excellent and worthy spirit. I enjoy opening ceremonies at the Olympics too and I love the sight of all those flags outside the U.N.

It's great and proper to have high ideals. But you're confusing genes with identity. That's why I asked about what REALLY, actually and factually made you happy to add Czech/Bohemia to the list of those heritages you love. You didn't answer. If you had answered, you'd have probably listed very special things... even more and better than those I listed to my "brat" (my tribal brother) Marian.

You like the meshing and mixing of ingredients... So do I. My old lady is German. But forgive me for also loving the ingredients. And worst of all for wishing to preserve them, not in any pure sense, but in a continuum.

Tell me dear Kafir_Kelbeh, tell me about your travails in getting your Welsh heritage to blend harmoniously with the Dutch, and then the Irish with the German. Yes siree Bob, God bless America for bringing all these disparate folks together!

They came because they were poor and/or oppressed. But - dramatic pause for thought - Now half of Rotterdam's population is foreign. Quite e blend! Can we bless Rotterdam too? Can I bless Belgium for taking so many Italian coal miners in the fifties? Sure! And God Bless Germany for all the Greeks, Serbs, Croatians, Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Nigerians, Turks... A shower of infinite blessings on Canada and Australia. And moderate God blessings on the Veneto, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna regions... Though not quite San Diego yet, they too have brought in all those fine and different heritages!

Could it be, dear Kafir_Kelbeh that at least from this angle, your great pride and love for something really special and American is misplaced? Even crappy little Austria and crappy little Liechtenstein have mixed and meshed. But I wonder what makes Americans so particularly proud of it... Could it be because they were the first?

So I insist, gently and lovingly, respectfully, that you're full of baloney. Unless you actually list the very particular and unique things you love about the Welsh and Bohemians, etc... You're only loving on principle... which is fine, but it's like me loving the Maori... In a way, I do love them... just don't ask me why! And unless you can disprove to me that America is NOT really so special in taking in immigrants and making citizens out of them - well - then it's no big deal.

It's an American attitude... and my oh my, we certainly get a lot of it. This too is what happens when you confuse the system with a creed. Lots of misplaced pride.

I love America because she's so generous, because she invented jazz... and she has Bluegrass... and Idaho potatoes and the New Englanders are taciturn... and down south they make pantagruelian breakfasts. I love Yankee ingenuity... I love the spirit that got shareware going. I love Southern drawls, curt New York toughness. The things I love are pretty unique to America and even regions of America. If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to put a flower in your hair... because San Francisco is not Pittsburgh, not just a concept... It's a particular place.

Avery Bullard said...

Is America nothing more than a set of principles? Nobody loves their parents or children because of principles. It is blood that matters. The passing of one generation to another. The things you can't change. I suspect it is usually the same with nations.

Do Americans whose ancestors were on US soil before independence feel that the nation their forefathers built is merely a canvas for everybody else to draw on? This 'America is an idea' not a real nation stuff sounds like an attempt by later immigrants to justify their own presence and impact on the old Anglo-American nation.

atheling2 said...

avery bullard:

Who said that America is "not a real nation"? That's a stupid conclusion you've drawn.

I suggest that you read the writings of the Founding Fathers to get a better idea.

"an attempt by later immigrants to justify their own presence and impact on the old Anglo-American nation."

Now that's racist.

Kafir_Kelbeh said...

IoshkaFutz -

I never claimed they were "identities" to me, per se...Why do you think I put American first?

That is my only real identity, since it is the country of my birth, and as such I owe you no further explanation.

Evan said...

avery bullard:

Nobody loves their parents or children because of principles. It is blood that matters.

My "parents or children" are not the same thing as my nation. Your conflating of the two is the problem, a conflation that has not worked out all that well historically.

America is not an end, particularly not an end defined by genotype. It is a means to an end.

Avery Bullard said...

atheling2 - You are the one who believes America is just an idea. An idea is something all people on earth can subscribe to. A real nation is not a universalistic abstraction. It is real and it is particular. That doesn't mean it can't allow in limited numbers of relatively similar outsiders (or even small numbers of very different people, 'numbers being of the essence" as Enoch Powell said) who can integrate into the nation, however let us not pretend genetics plays no part in nationhood. It is not a coincidence that the closer two people are genetically the more similar their cultures will be - unless one picks up a radically different religion.

Your (atheling2) shrill cry of racism (or Islamophobia, sexism, etc) is pathetic leftism at its worst. I say at its worst because you didn't even try to respond to what I said.

Avery Bullard said...

evan - You must be American, right? I suspect you are also heavily influenced by the Ellis Island immigrant view of your country. The natural extension of the 'nation of immigrants' idea is that you should NOT restrict Muslim immigration. After all the WASPs feared the Irish and the Jews and since (at least according to the descendants of those Ellis Island immigrants) everything worked out well today's Palestinian and Egyptian Muslim immigrants are just the new Irish and Jews and the GoVers who oppose Islamic immigration are the (gulp) evil WASPs (Know Nothings!) of today! A more particular definition of nationhood would avoid all this.

All nations are to some extend tribes. Small tribes that grew and mixed with relatively similar tribes. I'd say it has worked better than today's super multiethnic societies. The latter are far more unstable. Almost all the conflicts in the world are ethnic. If you think America has worked out so well then why do so many white Americans flee mostly black cities for the suburbs? Why are there such obvious voting patterns based on race and ethnicity? I mean, if everybody integrates and becomes an American surely they wouldn't be so tribal, right? Remember, it wasn't that long ago Yugoslavia was held up as an example of a country that had worked out it ethnic problems. When French historian Helen Carrere D'Encausse told American Sovietologists in the late 70s that the nationalities issue could cause the USSR (a proposition nation!) to unravel she was laughed at and ridiculed by Americans who claimed Homo Sovieticus, (like Homo americanus?) was beyond nationality issues.

America's ethnic story is far from over.

PRCalDude said...

"an attempt by later immigrants to justify their own presence and impact on the old Anglo-American nation."

Now that's racist.

Atheling,

Respectfully, I see where you're coming from being of mixed ethnicity and being subjected to persecution because of it, but we need to get away from just labeling people for stating uncomfortable things. That is for the Left.

Many are concerned that the influx of immigrants, legal and especially illegal, is so rapid that it's changing our country into Mexico, with all of its vices (and minimal virtues). There is nothing racist about that concern. In California, where I live, we have a sort of de-facto balkanization, with every race living in pretty much their own city. Yes, we're not killing one another, but it's not what I would call 'society.' It's a polyglot boarding house. As the government intends to do exactly nothing about the problem, it is a legitimate concern as to what nationality the immigrants are.

Simon de Montfort said...

I agree with you, PRCaldude, about the Balkanization of California--and much of America. Like the Balkans, there is a constant over-anxious semi-peace often shattered by spasms of tribal violence.

But when you say that government intends to do exactly nothing", the truth is in fact much worse: The 'government' ( such as it is ) intends to increase the Process and cram diversity Related BS down your throats.

In Ireland, meanwhile, over the past five years the Irish population ( Eire and the Six Counties ) increased slightly to six millions while SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND IMMIGRANTS invaded us and are here indefinately.

America since the 1840s has undergone widespread multi-mational immigration; Ireland never has. Your situation is Bad Enough; ours is Possibly Worse

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao again Kaffir_Kelbeh

You said: IoshkaFutz -

I never claimed they were "identities" to me, per se...Why do you think I put American first?

That is my only real identity, since it is the country of my birth, and as such I owe you no further explanation.

You said you loved your Bohemian/Welsh/Irish/Dutch heritage. And I asked you why. No, you don't owe me any explanations and if I was impertinent in asking you what you particularly loved about the identity of your Czech/Bohemian forebears, it was to link this type of "good" but empty and omniverous "amore" to the question at hand... certainly not to get a mysterious Kaffir_Kelbeh upset. It was to make a point about the deep and (apparently) irreconcilable differences between Europe and America... to explain why a Magic LGF Johnson, a smart and savvy guy kicked GOV one of the finest blogs on the net out of his Blog-links.

America is many great things, but first and foremost she is an idea, a creed. A place like Italy is also many great things, but constitutions, founding fathers, social creeds are not among them. They believe in God for that stuff... and the likes of Cavour and Garibaldi are only men, respected, but not venerated. I think we're on Constitution 26 and the French are on Republic number 5. As I said, there is a greater separation between Church and State here in the hearts and minds... even if paradoxically there might even be a state religion.

There are more - call them "unspiritual" type things to love here, not because we're any better, but simply because we're older... and also I might add, because our background is Catholic. I could take you from town to town and in each one of them have you taste, see, experience something unique to that place. Even little towns. The people there will consider it the best ..... (fill in the dotted line) in the whole wide world, even though they have no great love for the system or for the ancient Sicilian / Piemontese hotheads who might have forced them to join Republic 22.

They too "love" the Estonians and the Latvians and the Maori... but only because they are commanded to love their neighbor, but they wouldn't dream of loving the HERITAGE of those fine GROUPS of people, first because they don't have a clue and secondly because they love their own heritage. They would expect those other people to love their own ways as well. If those other people are democratic, more power to them, but not everything is politics / system / organization / social credo. Also because a great many of those things they love PREDATE the very notion of representative democracy and regardless, have seen emperors, kings, popes, Dukes, foreign powers, invading armies... as well as today's generally corrupt modern democratic politicians.


To understand what I mean about identity above and beyond political creed or method and need/knack for amalgamating peoples, two exercises would be useful. First try to imagine that you've been conquered by a foreign power and so your politics are out of your control, overwhelmingly so unfortunately. What besides your - in this case utterly useless - anger and rebellion over such a state of affairs would you sorely miss? The second, imagine - heaven forbid - a terrific downturn in the economy, driving many Americans to seek opportunity in foreign lands. What would you take with you? Anyone can imagine a "Big America," but the real precious or anyhow characteristic things would be those carried off and preserved in a "Little America!" Identity and culture are not only for the good times of triumph and power but also for hardship and defeat. As a partial American myself, having grown up there, I can list a great many positive American traits.

Or perhaps you might want to think of food. There are countries that have forgotten their cuisines, yet can boast of the widest range of foreign restuarants. Others instead have not only kept theirs, but continued to develop them. Frankly, though I have nothing against going out for Thai, Chinese and Indian, I prefer option two. There's love, respect, a certain orthodoxy.

Loving ones culture and wishing to preserve it is no sin. Perhaps wishing to freeze it is a sin, but wishing to keep it from being swamped, obliterated, deluged and overwhelmed is good and honest humanity.

Evan said...

I suspect you are also heavily influenced by the Ellis Island immigrant view of your country.

What has "influenced" me is of course logically irrelevant.

As you may or may not know, Ellis Island was actually part of a much longer historical process - the rule, not the exception. We long had open borders until the early 1920s. (No one cared a whit about Mexican immigration into the US for work, which was almost always temporary, until FDR established Social Security, which increased the resentment of "them" ripping "us" off.) There is nothing that can be said in the way of fanatical hysteria about immigration now that wasn't said then. Having said that...


The natural extension of the 'nation of immigrants' idea is that you should NOT restrict Muslim immigration.

That depends. If the society is set up to subsidize tribal separation (which our current multicultural industry does) and has an extensive welfare state (which our society and, I presume, yours do), then the selection process for immigration works badly. I do not take a tribalistically determinative view of immigration - we can only allow in our kind and not the riffraff. But I freely concede that immigration into America here and now is not problem-free - not because of genetic reasons, but because of political decisions taken. And I also freely concede that in a probabilistic sense certain kinds of immigrants are more likely to bring in certain sorts of undesirable behaviors. But other knowledge about the immigrants, I think, is often far more informative than mere tribal identity. To focus only on a historically evanescent notion of tribal identity in thinking about immigration is a rather poor exercise in information theory.

If the immigration process works against the historical self-selection that meant that the people who came here were the people who wanted to be in America the way it was, that's a problem. But that's a political question, not a genetic/cultural one.

I'd say it has worked better than today's super multiethnic societies. The latter are far more unstable. Almost all the conflicts in the world are ethnic. If you think America has worked out so well then why do so many white Americans flee mostly black cities for the suburbs? Why are there such obvious voting patterns based on race and ethnicity?

I'd say you're wrong. I generally have sympathy to your sort of sociobiological approach to when people do or don't get along, but you don't take it as far as you should. Tribal identity is infinitely flexible; what looks to you like an ethnically pure society looks to the people who live in it like something very different. People always find ways to differentiate themselves in ways that outsiders find mystifying. Sunni vs. Shiite, Protestant vs. Catholic, Japanese vs. Koreans, Scotch vs. English, all these differences are important to people in these societies, and baffling to the foreign observer. So if the outsider's notion of tribal differences do not exist in a particular society, the people who actually live in it will invent new ones. That is how we are.

This suggests that the tendency to partition ourselves into tribes is universal, but how we draw the lines is arbitrary. You obsess about certain tribal identities associated with lines on a map or arbitrary racial types, and suppose that they are determinative. They are not.

The task at hand is not taking this arbitrary notion of where the tribal lines are, and writing them into law. No matter how nostalgic people are for the good old mono-ethnic days, lines will be drawn even if we go back to them. The key task rather is to figure out ways to make people cooperate instead of fight across these lines. We do that by and large in this country.

If you think America has worked out so well then why do so many white Americans flee mostly black cities for the suburbs? Why are there such obvious voting patterns based on race and ethnicity? I mean, if everybody integrates and becomes an American surely they wouldn't be so tribal, right?

First, I think America is working out so well because I pay attention, and compare what we have to what I see elsewhere - measuring such things as the level of economic and social integration of immigrants (especially in the second generation), the lack of public backlash (illegal immigration aside) to them (no candidate has won a national election in my lifetime with an anti-immigrant platform), its continued attractiveness to high-skilled people who might, if your nightmarish sketch is correct, expect nothing but discrimination, hostility, etc. These folks can write their own ticket, but keep coming here. (America draws about 50% of the world's skilled immigrants, the EU about 5%. EU immigration tilts heavily unskilled.)

The unknowing outsider casts the glass as half empty. But I think it is half full. Americans live apart (although much less than they used to, as you would know if you knew us well), but they work together productively on the job, intermarry, do all kinds of the sort of crazy cultural intermingling that seems to trouble you so. Suburbs are often not exclusively white; they contain Hindus, Hispanics, mixed Chinese-white couples and all kinds of other surprising residents. All sorts of people flee the cities for the suburbs when they become parents, because the suburbs give you more space, have better public schools, and have a host of other attractive characteristics. Many of them (including - gasp! - whites) move back to the city when the nest is empty.

I don't mean to be a Pollyanna; my head is not in the sand about ethnic conflict, which I have spent years researching. But your dire predictions are not matched by the reality. And the kind of tribal determinism you appear to subscribe to is the kind of thing that hastens ethnoreligious conflict, not prevents it.

Why are there such obvious voting patterns based on race and ethnicity?

I dunno. Why are there such obvious voting patterns based on income, or occupation, or the number of children a person has? A better question is why you focus only on this particular kind of voting difference.

People get along here. Not without exception, and not as well as they could in an ideal world. But they get along in ways the outsider simply cannot fathom, even though the current tide of immigration, in conjunction with the welfare state and modern multiculturalism, undoubtedly raises issues of concern.

All nations are to some extend tribes.

This is just false. Migration, cultural intermingling, intermarriage and the like are actually the norm whenever transportation technology has allowed it (sometimes via conquest). There is hardly a large nation or empire in history that was not multiethnic and/or multireligious. No sooner did Europeans establish their empires than the subjects and the colonizers alike began to mix both at home and in the hinterlands.

Your take is a very foreign (and historically cramped) view of things, thus proving the basic point I originally sought to make before the conversation got sidetracked, which is that many foreigners (and Europeans in particular) simply do not get America.