American cult of equality, Humanities

In the twentieth century the United States developed what was perhaps the ?rst mass society, but the American cult of equality and individualism prevented Americans from analysing their mass society in realistic terms. Often they treated it as if it were simply an in?nite aggregation of Main Streets in Zenith, Ohio (Potter 1968: 136).

This brings me back at last to the three interrelated myths I mentioned earlier: of the essential ‘Europeanness' of the usa; American ‘exceptionalism'; and the inherent ‘goodness' of America. A more realistic view is that the development of the American state-society has its peculiar mix of ingredients but also great similarities to the processes that have unfolded in many other countries, and that none has more than its fair share of moral virtue.

Each of the myths, however, is sustained by the current dominant power position of the usa in the world. At the beginning of European settlement, thinking of the potential of the supposed wilderness, John Locke remarked ‘Thus in the beginning, all the World was America' (1960 [1690]: Second Treatise, Sec 49). Since then, America's vast achievements in technology, science, government and culture have helped to transform the world, very often for the better. At times it seems that in the end, too, all the world will be America.

Yet in humanity as whole there are many people who view that prospect with trepidation. It may at least be thought that Americans need to take a more critical view of themselves and their society. But their affectively highly charged We-images of themselves and their country - products, once again of its success and power - make that very dif?cult. Even the very many American citizens who feel some unease at the role played by the usa in the world, and who have some access to outsiders' they-images of America, often ?nd it emotionally dif?cult to accept others' criticisms. The situation is not without danger. America's reaction to the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington now known as ‘9/11' can be understood in terms of Tom Scheff's (1994) con-cept of ‘shame-rage spirals'. The attacks were intended above all as a national

humiliation, which duly triggered rage, which in turn triggered wild fantasy-based aggression. The problem is that American power in the world has probably now passed its peak, and the usa is likely to face further national humiliations over the following decades, with consequent risk of further episodes of irresponsible behaviour. Will the world have to learn to manage the danger posed to it by an enraged usa, and, if so, how?

Posted Date: 4/26/2013 3:55:08 AM | Location : United States

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