How America Went Insane
A guide for anyone attempting to understand the strange and dangerous psychology of the United States.
In February of 2015, United States senator James Inhofe walked on to the Senate floor with a snowball, attempting to disprove climate change once and for all by showing that winter still exists. To many people, this shocking display of wilful ignorance would be grounds for dismissal, especially given that Mr. Inhofe was chair of the Senate Environment Committee at the time. Almost 2 years later Donald Trump, a billionaire with absolutely zero governmental experience and a history of unapologetic sexism and racism, was sworn in as president of the country. To anyone unfamiliar with American culture, these events seem erratic and catastrophically stupid at an almost apocalyptic level. But let’s be honest, we’re talking about a country that barely flinches at the multitude of regularly occurring school shootings, that wages war with similar indifferent consistency, and that showers money and fame on the narcissistic and talentless. So it should really come as no surprise that America is now led by a man encumbered with a fragile, massive ego and crippling lack of knowledge. But why has America, a country that supposedly represents the culmination of Western progress, gone what appears to be completely insane? And how did it get to this point?
I was born and raised in the States. I now live in Europe. As the unwilling but duly designated representative of my birth nation I am constantly asked by Europeans why such a disturbing percentage of Americans appear to be either incredibly stupid or clinically insane. With the recent election of a man who almost perfectly embodies everything wrong with America, the questions have now turned in to a rather emotional pleading for an explanation. Even if you remove the toxic politics there are still very serious questions that need to be addressed regarding American behaviour, such as:
- So, what’s with all the guns?
- Do Americans not realise that there are plenty of other countries with Freedom™?
- How can such a rich and supposedly progressive nation not provide universal healthcare and education for its citizens?
- Why is everyone so self-centred and obsessed with money?
- But still, just how the fuck did someone like Trump get elected?
I am most often asked these questions in an environment where a lengthy explanation is not possible (explaining American insanity isn’t really achievable over a cup of coffee or in a noisy bar), so the purpose here is to provide an exhaustive critique of the American psyche so that others can try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible actions of these citizens; people who blindly refer to their home as the greatest nation in the world, ever. I will state from the outset that I am lumping all Americans in to a big bowl and mixing them up to create a median archetype that I will label “The Average American”. This is both for simplicity and the fact that the notion of the Average American, due to the pervasiveness of American media, is a well-established stereotype that lends itself well to this type of psychological analysis. Clearly, it is quite a daunting task to explain the psychology of such a large and diverse nation, so I’ll start with a brief history of the U.S. for some context.
A History of Violence… and Finance
The history of the U.S.A. begins with the European invasion of the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s. There are many reasons why someone in that time period might decide to pack up and move to the “New World”, but it is commonly accepted that Europeans seeking a new life in the Americas were doing it for 1 of 2 reasons:
- The church in Europe isn’t strict enough and I seek a more puritanical version to practice.
- There is money to be made and I will exploit this land to its fullest potential.
These 2 motivations helped set the stage for the systematic extermination of the indigenous American people and drew the original blueprint for American psychology. American colonists motivated by religious fervour were completely convinced of their moral and spiritual superiority to the savage Native Americans and they never questioned their god-given right to subjugate the natives in any way they saw fit. The newly discovered land, easily stolen due to superior firepower and an unflinching willingness to kill, was given to them by their god and was theirs by divine right. This type of religious justification for subjugation and extermination is not unique to American colonialism, but when it is coupled with an abundance of fertile land and seemingly limitless high-value resources, it creates something more powerful than your basic colonialism. What it creates is an unshakeable belief in the righteousness of genocide and the dangerous and misguided notion that successful subjugation and extermination equates to moral superiority and correctness. Once the colonists developed the circular belief that their actions were inherently justified due to their success, and their success justified by their theologically sanctioned actions, the moral implications were never considered. What was known in America as Manifest Destiny (the white man’s natural and divinely ordained march to the west coast of the continent, exploiting the land and people to his liking along the way) is the natural extension of the tacit notion that “might makes right”. But, more than in any other colonial endeavour at the time, the notion became “money makes right”. And that is how America embraced the infallibility of limitless growth.
With the introduction of slavery to the American colonies to extract materials from the newly acquired land, the religious fervour translated seamlessly in to capitalist fervour. The same moral righteousness that allowed the colonists to commit genocide and steal fertile land allowed them to view anyone that could be systematically subjugated as machinery — machinery that could and should be used to expand their wealth. The exploitation of resources, both land and human, became central to the colonial way of life in America. The founding of the nation in the late 1700s was set off by the well-received notion that England was unfairly extracting wealth (in the form of taxes) from the colonists, who, due to the nature of their newly formed dogma, could not accept that everything before them was not theirs for the taking. The famous Boston Tea Party (where white colonists dressed up as Native Americans raided a ship and destroyed the shipment of tea destined for England) was to serve as a catalyst for a revolution predicated on the protection of money, wealth, and capital. The American Revolution, like most American wars, was fought over money while the marketing of the war was cleverly constructed to portray an altruistic and heroic rebellion against the oppressors of Freedom (a word that, when used by Americans, essentially means “unrestrained prosperity”).
Now that there existed a newly-formed autonomous nation with no oversight or restrictions from a foreign body, the United States was free to pursue Manifest Destiny with reckless abandon. Having just won a war for their right to reap all the benefits of their exploitative activities, the US was emblazoned with the glorious purpose that comes from military victory: utter and complete vindication. Not only had their god blessed them with the ability to exterminate the natives, take their land, and capitalise on the abundance of goods from the uniquely fertile lands, but they had proved to England and Europe that they were special and their existence as a new nation was more proof positive that their way of life was without legitimate opposition. As expansion continued under this divine mandate, the only thing that could hope to oppose the great nation was the great nation itself. This happened in the mid 1800s and was called the Civil War. Like the American Revolution before it, the Civil War was fought over money. Specifically, the right of southern land owners to treat other human beings as possessions and tools necessary to facilitate their economy. Since the northern economy did not benefit from such land labour, they were in a unique position to exert their morally superior stance in the absence of the influence of capital. The south ended up losing the war, but they claimed a bitter victory for capitalism: they proved that spilling American blood in the name of economic prosperity is not only justified at a massive scale, it is a patriotic duty.
The 20th century saw the emergence of the United States from a typically isolationist country more concerned with leveraging its newfound resources to one more involved in foreign affairs. The resources gained from genocide and exploitation of the acquired land made the US a formidable opponent in the 1st and 2nd World Wars. However, what American-written history tends to forget is that the US did not enter in to those wars until it was in the economic interests of the country. Americans love to boast that they won the wars with their superior firepower, but they never mention the fact that the US, in both wars, waited about 3 years into the conflicts to join. The US didn’t join the first world war until 1917, when US merchant ships had been continually attacked by Germany and it became clear that the US needed a seat at the table in order to help determine the outcome of global trade after the war. Similarly, in the second world war the US waited until war was effectively unavoidable and it aligned with their economic interests and desired world order. The rise of communism was of particular concern to the US, due to the fact that the very ethos of the United States centres around the accumulation and growth of capital described above. In order for the principle of Manifest Destiny to continue past its continental shores, the US needed to be sure that all resource-rich countries complied to capitalist ideals. The subsequent military interventions in Korea and Vietnam were intended to ensure that every corner of the globe was safe for the spread of capitalism, not communism. The resulting Cold War with the Soviet Union, a perceived threat from a communist country too big for even the U.S. to attempt to defeat with force, only ended once the U.S. had successfully seeded capitalist-friendly governments in as many countries as possible, which effectively cut off the USSR’s air supply. When the rest of the world is following one set of rules, it’s very hard to keep pace on the same stage with a completely different set of ideals. The failure of the Soviet state was yet another validation of the inherent supremacy of the American way of life.
Recently, American military power has become more and more transparent as a function of the economic interests of the American state, with blatant energy resource wars taking place in the Middle East. The U.S. government has become increasingly lazy in producing valid justification for its wars and the U.S. populace has become so used to a state of perpetual conflict that the outcry regarding feeble pretences for war is simply not sufficient to prevent military escalation. This is, again, due to the outlook of most Americans that their nation is inherently righteous and pure due to its success, thereby retroactively justifying any action the nation takes. Americans were easily coerced into invading Iraq despite a complete lack of verified evidence because Saddam Hussein was simply “evil”. This is the same evil government the U.S. government supported in order to weaken Iran by way of a proxy war. Both countries have a direct effect on the movement and sale of oil in the region and therefore require the U.S. to intervene in their affairs, because US profit is at stake and that is always, according to tradition, sufficient justification for America to wage war. But this still begs the question: even with a history of conflict for profit and tacit support for violent expansionism and protectionism, why are Americans so easily coerced by the rhetoric of their government?
The Mind of the Modern American
As I’ve outlined in the preceding section, America was founded on, and continually operates in, its own economic interests. This may sound mundane and obvious in the context of modern nation-building, but this has a profound effect on the national psyche when not tempered with humility or empathy. Throughout the majority of its history, the U.S. has not been invaded or been forced to make concessions on the home-front. Consequently, Americans do not understand compromise at an international level. Why would you have to compromise when you are immune to repercussions? The US government has successfully built a militarily-backed economy that both shields the average American from the reality of conflict and ensures absolute faith in capitalism as benevolent and unassailable. There is a reason why the world’s largest economy also has by far the world’s largest military. So, one would think that Americans would be very secure and react nonchalantly to any actual or perceived threat, given the vast military and economic resources they believe keep them safe. However, they have quite the opposite reaction for the following reasons:
- Americans have never properly experienced first-hand the suffering of a homeland defeat and the embarrassment of compromise, so they are culturally unprepared to understand what happens in those scenarios. This leads to irrational paranoia of any threat, no matter how factually insignificant, because there is no cultural narrative of how to handle those situations. Compare this to somewhere like Germany, where the loss of 2 World Wars, reunification with an ideologically incompatible government, and the emergence as a leader in a unified Europe have shaped a very different understanding of what it means to be a part of the international community.
- Americans, due to the history and success of their country, cannot fathom why anyone would actively fight against their way of life. Since America, and the tenets that support it — militarism and capitalism — are immutable, it makes no sense that anyone would want to attack an immutable object. It is logically absurd to them, and, by extension, frightening. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Americans displayed a surprisingly difficult time understanding why such attacks would occur (even though Al Qaeda released multiple videos and statements listing exactly why). Even today, ask 10 Americans why they were attacked that day and I guarantee you’ll get 10 different answers.
- Capitalism, in order to maintain growth (which is indisputably its primary objective), demands that as many people as possible participate. The US has created an environment where participation in the capitalist machine is tantamount to religious faith, with Americans regarding the tenets of their country as pure and divinely ordained. There exists no empathy for other ways of life because they are inherently flawed, being that they are not originating from the divine success of Manifest Destiny, and the divine can only originate from one source. Put simply, Americans believe anything non-American to be second-class.
Under these lines of conscious and unconscious reasoning, cultural conditioning, and tacit acceptance, Americans react intensely and often violently to any form of dissent or affront to their perceived national perfection. Challenge an American’s nationalism in a casual conversation and, rather than receive an inquisition in to your position, you’re surprisingly likely to be met with haughty derision in the best scenario and hysteria or potential physical aggression in the worst (I say this from direct experience). Tell the average American you’re a communist and be prepared for them to look at you as if you’ve just kicked a dog (I can’t fully corroborate this, having never kicked a dog). Most Americans can’t tell you what communism is, but they know for damn sure it’s not capitalism. And capitalism is what Americans hold in their hearts. As the comedian Chris Rock astutely proclaimed on stage: “Americans. Worship. Money.”
Rugged Financial Individualism
Faith in the tenets of the American state permits the individual to pursue whatever goals they wish in life, provided that those goals are directly in line with the aforementioned tenets. If a person wants to profit from the subjugation of others (from the slavery of old to the modern, normalised 80 hour work week) that is fine as long as the sufficient contribution to capitalism is made to make up for the moral indiscretion. But the important thing is not really how a person acquired their wealth, it is simply the fact that they have it. As the individual accumulates wealth in America, the popular notion is that they are accumulating not just money, but happiness, status, and influence, since Americans completely associate money with prosperity and virtue. It then becomes obvious to the average American that individuals with the most money are the happiest and the best at life. These wealthy individuals are viewed as courageous leaders and are often elected to public office by virtue of their wealth, the notion being that the people who prosper the most in capitalistic endeavours are by their nature the most fit to lead everyone down the path to prosperity. This allows the wealthy to manipulate the state apparatus to their advantage since, by extension of their successful commitment to capitalism, that is their right. This is why rich Americans are so seldomly sent to prison.
A convenient byproduct of this exalted view of the rich is that the poor are seen as people with personal failings, rather than as victims of a system that is built by the rich to sustain the rich. This economic playing field, in which the poor must participate, is tilted in favour of the rich but indemnified from malfeasance by virtue of the collective and unflinching faith in capitalism as the road to prosperity. Only personal failings can be responsible for their unfortunate position, since the American economic system is, by default, perfect and divine. This attitude exists in many Western capitalist democracies, but in America there is a tragic twist: poor Americans revere wealth with such unthinking affection that the wealthy are rarely held accountable for their actions and, more importantly, most non-wealthy Americans fully believe that they will be rich one day. This faith in the latter point is crucial to understanding the mind of the average American. Such is their strident faith in capitalism that they end up believing that rich people should be able to circumvent law and morality because they hope that they too will one day reap the benefits of those allowances, since it is inevitable, according to their faith, that they will find salvation via wealth. It is one of the most important myths that shapes American culture and it is completely out of line with the reality.
There have been studies showing that Americans, while constantly extolling their own individualism, are statistically some of the most obedient people in the world. This is not surprising given that Americans consider their country and their way of life to be the best that humanity has to offer, so compliance is a necessary skill for maintaining the status quo and perpetuating the American myths they hold so dear. Modern Americans are consequently ill-equipped to effectively protest their government or the corporations that influence government policy. We see this in current protests against the Trump administration taking the form of purposeful solicitation of companies who have been bold enough to indirectly criticise the administration (direct criticism or condemnation of government policy from corporations rarely happens in America because they run the risk of losing revenue by not maintaining the status quo and potentially alienating customers, which is obviously a big no-no in capitalist America). The belief is that buying products or services from companies that provide an ethical stance is like purchasing stock in morality itself, since in America the moral landscape is decided by the needs of the economy (as shown in the history of the country). Consequently, protest with any measurable impact must now take place in the realm of consumerism, since Americans are required to participate in the capitalist model that is the primary pillar of the nation. The irony is obvious, especially when you look at the propaganda from the Bush administration after the September 11th attacks, which unashamedly requested citizens to combat terrorism by going out and consuming. Choosing not to consume in a society fuelled by consumerism has become practically equivalent to treason and such people are ostracised from society.
The well-oiled machine of capitalism has kept Americans obedient and subservient to consumerism, locked in a system that rewards compliance with ever greater means to live a sedentary existence, thereby perpetuating the cycle. It should be clear why America consistently rates among the highest (if not the highest) in national obesity rates. But this culture of consumerist compliance has another, more amusing (if not a bit sad) side effect.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
Americans are renowned the world over for being, well… a bit stupid. This may sound a bit harsh, but it is quite confusing to non-Americans why a country that produces such successful businesses, scientific breakthroughs, and top-notch universities turns out such a staggering amount of seemingly clueless individuals. The reasons for this unique brand of ignorance are three-fold, as explained below:
- First, Americans typically do not travel outside of America. Given that you’re living in The Greatest Country on Earth and you have beaches in California and Florida, skiing in Colorado and Utah, and geographical wonders like the Grand Canyon and the Cascades, why would you choose to vacation anywhere but in your beloved home country? And why subject yourself to foreign languages and cultures when your own cultural hegemony has dictated that they are by nature inferior? Only about 45% of Americans actually own a passport (even fewer have actually used it), so this perpetuates a vicious cycle of ignorance where lack of exposure to other cultures creates an information and empathy deficit that makes Americans so susceptible to an “us versus them” mentality. Most Americans do not see this as a problem, or even realise the problem exists.
- Second, Americans tend to avoid difficult situations where they lack control. Since America was founded on cultural hegemony and financial liberalism, modern Americans are not used to being in a position where opposing ideals may be posited or consumer convenience impeded. In addition to the lack of travel incentive explained previously, traveling abroad and interacting with different cultures are experiences that most Americans are unprepared to handle without intense discomfort or aggression. In fact, Americans are so predisposed to avoiding difficult situations and the harsh realities of life that they readily prescribe themselves medication to deal with any psychological ailment. Xanax, Prozac, and other common psychoactive drugs are designed to ease the burden of a society that equates difficulty with a lack of success, and a lack of success with decreased happiness.
- Lastly, Americans are easily programmed. Since, due to the 2 points above, they are wilfully ignorant of the world around them and surround themselves with the safety of their cultural and economic primacy, Americans are very susceptible to nationalist rhetoric and similar forms of cultism. It should not come as any surprise that the most famous cults come from America (Scientology, the Manson Family, Westboro Baptist, and Branch Dividians, to name just a few) because the average American is essentially starved of meaningful interaction with the world and welcomes superlative world views and narratives with open arms, the most successful one being the myth of the American Dream (which is essentially just the cult of capitalism).
The combination of these factors can lead to the Americans we’ve all seen on TV and sometimes encountered in our travels in the US: the aggressive idiot. At a certain point in the vicious cycle of American ignorance, a great number of Americans become proud of their ignorance and wear it as a badge of honour. They believe their ignorance is a right and that right is held sacred and secured by American dominance. This is a similar attitude to war veterans who believe true masculinity can only be achieved through warfare. Like many coping mechanisms, their trauma is turned in to an asset that allows them to lord their trauma over others, defining it as a purity test that must be passed. Subjecting the world to American stupidity has become one of America’s most recognisable cultural contributions, but nothing comes close to its unassailable leadership as the most self-indulgent, self-involved, and narcissistic nation on earth.
If You’re Not First, You’re Last
While intense nationalism, morally flexible wealth attainment, and a culture of ignorance have come to typify the foreigner’s view of the average American, no psychosis is more actively visible and more starkly contrasted with the rest of the world than American insecurity. Americans possess a pathological need to see themselves as the best, the fastest, the first, and the greatest. Men present themselves as macho caricatures, fetishising the military, constantly equating the quality of their character to their physical and financial prowess, talking loudly and aggressively, and insulting any endeavours that do not actively support a hyper-masculine and singular ideal. American men spend millions of dollars every year on guns, boner pills, baldness cures, and anabolic steroids. American women are even more defined by their appearance, pandering to impossible feminine ideals solicited by magazines and movies, most of which are designed to present the male as inherently more powerful and successful by juxtaposition. They get plastic surgery, inject botulism in to their faces, accept less pay, and make other concessions to fit in to a society dominated by insecure males who project on to women their version of what women should be. This massive and pervasive insecurity stems from the progression of several factors:
- A patriarchal society predicated on the accumulation of wealth praises the men that obtain the most. They are the best at life and deserve the most praise and reward.
- Since happiness and prosperity are the tacitly understood results of wealth accumulation, the conventional wisdom in America is that a successful man should achieve the most at all masculine endeavours. The notion being that if I, as a man, have lots of muscles then I am good at being manly, and therefore, by association with masculine ideals, good at earning money.
- Accumulation, achievement, and the drive to be the best supplants any more moderate or open-minded definition of masculinity and becomes the accepted philosophy. This is why males embracing hyper-masculine ideals are so antagonistic towards non-heterosexual forms of sexuality — they represent a direct conflict to the perceived model of success and dominance.
- Qualities such as empathy and inquisitiveness and anything regarded as feminine are consequently defined as detrimental to the ability to achieve. Therefore, a hyper-masculine single-mindedness is determined by society to be a prerequisite for success.
- Completing the cycle, simply presenting yourself in the masculine ideal is an allusion to success. [See Donald Trump’s handshake videos for a graphic representation of the result of this cycle.]
Essentially, Americans reason that masculine/aggressive men can attain the most/best things, so therefore a hyper-masculine attitude will help you attain those things. This is why American men are so insecure. Any perceived affront to their masculinity is a direct attack on their ability to be successful. And nothing is more important to American males than their earning potential. Consequently, anything non-masculine is derided or relegated to the world of women, who are viewed as naturally inferior and objects of conquest.
The best and most recent example of American male insecurity came during the 2016 Presidential Election, where the first serious female contender for the presidency was subjected to a level of gender-centric abuse and ridicule simply not seen in other modern democratic states. Male insecurity in the face of potential female power was in high gear and constant references to the candidate as “bitch” and frequent questioning of her ability to perform presidential duties played in to her opponent’s huge, masculine hands. It speaks volumes that the first real female presidential candidate in America had to be the spouse of a former president, then a state senator, and then Secretary of State only to lose to a man with absolutely zero governmental experience. Americans can’t deal with a woman as president because, to them, that would symbolise non-masculine weakness and Americans have predicated the assurance of their prosperity on aggression and violence. Violence that, as we shall see in the next section, plays a crucial role in American identity.
Hey, Joe America, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand?
One of the hardest things for people outside of the U.S. to understand is America’s strange and unhealthy relationship with guns. American ignorance can be dismissed as the result of a society fallen victim to the siren song of consumerism, but the American passion for guns, and the resulting death toll, is a complete mystery for most non-Americans. The way in which Americans refer to their “arsenals” and their pedestrian acceptance that they may need to murder someone during the course of their day are, to the average European, like something out of a testosterone-filled Hollywood action film. A lot of non-Americans have trouble believing the actual extent of the American gun problem when they see the numbers. However, America has a very real gun problem and there are a combination of several core beliefs that come together to create a psychological environment that allows the second constitutional amendment to enjoy almost religious status among many Americans.
First, Americans are selfish as a cultural default. What the individual wants is what’s important, not the needs or wellbeing of the community (unlike when Americans rally behind the flag of nationalism when there is a perceived existential threat to their security). The reason for this innate selfishness comes from a national history of financial individualism motivated by the economic prosperity promised by cultural initiatives such as Manifest Destiny. The individual has always been encouraged to exploit and consume to obtain their own singular happiness (“the pursuit of happiness” as written in the Declaration of Independence — I don’t think I need to connect too many dots here…). One of the main reasons Americans have such a hard time supporting liberal government policy, such as social welfare or universal healthcare, is because they believe that their money should only benefit the individual, not anyone else. They believe society is built around the needs of the individual and anyone looking to benefit from the communal advantages of modern society is essentially stealing from the individuals. They believe this while at the same time reaping all the benefits of community. The modern term co-opted for this type of cognitive dissonance is “entitlement”, and Americans take their entitlement very seriously, while at the same time failing to even realise that they exhibit such contradictory selfishness.
Secondly, the cult of individualism and entitlement leads to a fear of having your individual gains and assets removed from your control. Americans live in constant fear of theft and assault, and not without reason. In a country where the attainment of assets and wealth are the very definition of prosperity, and with a national history that ethically allows for morally ambiguous methods to obtain said prosperity, Americans are rather justifiably wary of the motives of their fellow countrymen. In a rather ironic twist, Americans have embraced the absurd notion that success and prosperity are a zero-sum game, even though capitalism is predicated on infinite growth, and thus live in perpetual fear that someone else is after their piece of the finite pie. A prime example of this hypocritical rhetoric is the average American’s view on taxation: Americans pay one of the lowest tax rates in the modern Western world but believe they pay one of the highest. Additionally, Americans are vehemently opposed to higher taxes because they cannot conceive of a scenario where money being taken from them is a good thing, even if there is tangible evidence that it benefits their community. Their dogma is such that anything taken from them and repurposed for the greater good is an affront to their prosperity and liberty. Check out Libertarianism on Wikipedia to read up on this Americanised brand of individual self-interest.
The next ingredient in the mix is the uniquely American notion of the heroic and special individual. Americans are consistently told from a very early age: “You are special and you can do anything.” Disregarding the fact that this statement is by all statistical indicators untrue, it is very important psychological conditioning to understand. Since Americans see themselves and their country as the most valuable entities on the planet, it makes perfect sense to the average American that their personal power is not only a right, but divinely ordained by the perfection and power of American superiority. Put on any US action film and watch as the main hero kills without accountability to protect what is rightfully his under the guise of being the underdog (seriously, I challenge you to find a popular action film that does not have this blueprint). This standard action film cliche justifies the horrific violence and renders it both necessary and practical.
This leads to the final and most important ingredient in American gun psychology: Violence. Solves. Problems. As stated previously, America was founded on violent conflict and continues to exert its influence through violent means via the world’s largest military. America’s success is tied directly to its use of violence throughout its history and Americans are provided with military propaganda on a consistent and massive scale. Hollywood glamourises violence and the military. Air Force jets fly over the Super Bowl and military personnel always present the national flag before every major sporting event. Consequently, Americans see violence as an intrinsic part of modern society that directly benefits their way of life.
The reason Americans cling so tightly to their guns is not due to more headline-friendly psychology such as fetishism or masculine inadequacy, although those factors certainly help. Americans love their guns because they grew up in a country where guns represent independence, prosperity, and the ability to solve problems. If you take away the guns and the associated mythical benefits of gun ownership, this would, to the mind of an American, be as cataclysmic as taking away their money, land, or means of subsistence.
The Existential Threat of Americanism
It may sound to certain readers that I am decidedly anti-capitalist and a vegan tree-hugger in Birkenstocks, crying while listening to whale song as I write this. While I’m not a fan of certain current strains of capitalism that have taken root in countries like the U.S.A., I do not believe that capitalism as a concept is inherently flawed. The problem with capitalism arises when it is embraced as pure idealism rather than a tempered and regulated method for building trust between individuals, communities, and nations. Much of the current period of international peace and relative stability can be attributed to the economic inter-dependence of nations provided by capitalist principles. The problem in America is that these principles have mutated in to what is essentially religious dogma and are embraced with unquestioning fervour. This type of thinking (or unthinking, as the case may be) can lead to absurd and irrational results:
Americans are more likely to deny climate change because it is at odds with the dogmatic notions that growth is always good and resources must always be exploited for profit.
Americans imprison more of their citizens than any other country in the history of civilisation, while at the same time announcing themselves proudly as The Land of the Free.
Americans tend to be intensely nationalistic, believing with absolute certainty in the infallibility of their country — but only insofar as it benefits their own individual wellbeing.
Americans, even though their country was founded on puritanical principles, are morally malleable when it is within their financial interests.
My assessment of the typical American here is indeed quite critical, but it should be said that the way in which Americans see the world is not without benefit. In their fiendish quest for wealth and fame they have, while keeping the torch of Manifest Destiny burning, proceeded with pioneering spirit to push forward modern Western progress. For better or worse, American ingenuity and hegemony have resulted in fantastic technical progress, medical breakthroughs, and cultural phenomenon. The rabid hordes of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, seeking limitless wealth and slowly working themselves to death for it, allow the rest of the world to reap the benefits of pivotal technologies such as the Internet and the iPhone. There is a certain amount of respect we must show for the berserkers who are first in to battle.
However, we need to be cautious with our praise and the mentalities it may condone. American cultural hegemony allows for an efficient method of cultural contagion — and American media is readily available almost everywhere in the world. This creates a global platform for American propaganda, through which it can easily perpetuate itself, leading to cultural whitewashing and suffocation of alternative lifestyles. And American-style capitalism, enforced by the military and by trade regulations written by the victors, ensures that every corner of the globe is properly prepared to receive the American way of life, adopt its form of capitalism, and learn its myths of exceptionalism and altruism.
Most people, when confronted with existential decisions, are pretty lazy. If someone offers them comfort and security for the relatively low price of conformity then they will typically take that deal. The unique threat of modern Americanism is that its ideals are both contagious and shamelessly, unaccountably enforced. Americanism flourishes under the pacification of alternatives, be those alternative ideas, cultures, fuels, or economic regulation. As we continue to see the American model of unthinking capitalist idealism being adopted in the UK and many European states and it is important for people to understand the hypocrisy and danger of the American precedent. We can clearly see the co-opting of American-style rhetoric and dogma in the UK, where nationalism, financial protectionism, and xenophobia have resulted in Brexit. And as right-wing movements in Europe gain momentum we need to be especially wary of the influence of American corporate fascism, pride-in-ignorance, and violence-as-solution. American idealism and hegemony cannot be allowed to proliferate without healthy criticism of its tenets and an understanding of the potential consequences. Otherwise, we may end up with a world full of Americanised ignorance and aggression. A world where our worth and morality are decided with dollars and compliance is enforced at gunpoint. A world where dissent and difference are unpatriotic and everyone must prove their purity through their 80-hour work week.
The looming threat of America is that it presupposes that there is only one correct way to live, and those who do not comply will be forcefully subjugated or left to wither and die. I guess it should come as no surprise, if one looks at the history of humanity, that a nation founded by immigrants seeking cultural and financial liberty should become the greatest enforcers of cultural and financial hegemony.