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Thread: Is American "idealism" healthy?

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by NoC_T View Post
    I'm not an American, but I agree as far as religion goes. Britain is a more secular society.
    Agreed. I personally think its due to the violent conflict they've seen for decades in Northern Ireland in the name of religion.
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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Smeagol View Post
    Agreed. I personally think its due to the violent conflict they've seen for decades in Northern Ireland in the name of religion.
    The shift to Secularism predates the troubles by over four centuries.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by NoC_T View Post
    The shift to Secularism predates the troubles by over four centuries.
    Correct, because the British are empirical and skeptical by nature.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    Correct, because the British are empirical and skeptical by nature.
    By custom. We also weren't single-handedly responsible for the shift, that being a product of wider European history. I'm not sure we're any more skeptical than Americans, except along purely religious lines. At least, that hasn't been my impression. In western nations, religious decline seems to be a signature feature of a country's longevity. I fully expect that we should see the same thing occurring in America, eventually.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Higgins86 View Post
    I think one of the key differences betwen ourselves and America is the concept of free speech. You believe that everyone should have the right to say what they want where as we believe that you should only speak if what you saying is worthwhile .
    Also relgion is something done in private here and it's very rare for a politician, celebrity to push an agenda based on relgious values. Where as in the US relgion is often used as a weapon or to reinforce a political point.

    so many take the freedoms we have for granted

    they have been fought and paid for many many times

    so i will defend someone's right to free speech.....to say bigoted or hateful things....because the thought of not having that freedom scares the hell out of me

    you want to burn our flag.....i sure in the hell dont like it....but i wont stop you

    in this country you have the right to protest, the right to assemble, and the right to say you think your political leaders are idiots

    you may not be right in many others eyes.....but the ability to question the authority is what makes us great in my eyes

    we need a few changes here and there.....but overall, you can keep europe and britain

    great places to visit....but i wouldnt want to live there
    “Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine.”

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by gdgyva View Post
    so many take the freedoms we have for granted

    they have been fought and paid for many many times

    so i will defend someone's right to free speech.....to say bigoted or hateful things....because the thought of not having that freedom scares the hell out of me

    you want to burn our flag.....i sure in the hell dont like it....but i wont stop you

    in this country you have the right to protest, the right to assemble, and the right to say you think your political leaders are idiots

    you may not be right in many others eyes.....but the ability to question the authority is what makes us great in my eyes

    we need a few changes here and there.....but overall, you can keep europe and britain

    great places to visit....but i wouldnt want to live there

    Whatever works for you.

    I have lived in several countries and too be honest unless your at the top of the food chain its pretty much just death and taxes.
    ‘This is not peace, it is an armistice for 20 years.’ (Ferdinand Foch. After the Treaty of Versailles, 1919).

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by NoC_T View Post
    I never noticed much difference. America and Britain seem almost mirror images of each other, the traditional transatlantic animosity notwithstanding. There's nothing like the level of insight and analysis among the majority, as that expressed in the OP. Any differences are only reflected in how such idealism is literally codified in either country. As far as that goes, we find differences, but only as far as that goes. In practice, the everyday result is one of similarity. If there's any enduring difference at all, it's in the prioritisation of religion, as is mentioned in the OP.
    This is far from being true. There are really quite a few differences between American and British mentality. What stands out to me is American optimism, or the refusal to see oneself in a bad light.

    If you go to an American bookshop, by far the biggest section is self-help and improvement. The idea that life is refinable and improvable, that there is a technique that can be learned for anything.... being a businessman, lovemaking, marriage, cooking, losing weight.... whatever it is there's an NLP way of doing it, there's an Anthony Robbins way of doing it, there's a "things they didn't teach you at Harvard" way of doing it.

    Whatever it is, there's an unbelievable sense that life is improvable, that you can be lectured at or, indeed, given a sermon at. It's the protestant base of America, that things are done by text and by works, as opposed to by submission and doctrine the way the higher European churches still believe.


    One insight in to how a culture sees itself is to look at that culture's humor.

    The American comic hero is a wisecracker who is above his material, and who is above the idiots around him. For example look at John Belucci. You know that scene in animal house where John Belucci picks up the guitar and destroys it, and waggles his eyebrows at the camera?



    Well the British comedian would want to play the folk singer. They want to play the failure. All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better and are people on whom life craps from a terrible height and a sense of dignity is constantly compromised by the world letting them down. They are Aurthor Lowe in Dad's Army, they are Basil Fawlty.

    Whereas the American hero is the smart talker, the Ben Stiller, the Eddie Murphy, whoever, they can wisecrack their way out of any situation, they win the girl, they're smarter, etc.

    In a sense, comedy is one microcosm that allows us to examine the differences between our two cultures. The Brits make a glory of failure, they celebrate it, in a way that Americans don't.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by NoC_T View Post
    By custom. We also weren't single-handedly responsible for the shift, that being a product of wider European history. I'm not sure we're any more skeptical than Americans, except along purely religious lines. At least, that hasn't been my impression. In western nations, religious decline seems to be a signature feature of a country's longevity. I fully expect that we should see the same thing occurring in America, eventually.
    Look at gdgyva's response right below your own... if fact I'll quote it because to me, it's a typical American response.



    "so many take the freedoms we have for granted

    they have been fought and paid for many many times

    so i will defend someone's right to free speech.....to say bigoted or hateful things....because the thought of not having that freedom scares the hell out of me

    you want to burn our flag.....i sure in the hell dont like it....but i wont stop you

    in this country you have the right to protest, the right to assemble, and the right to say you think your political leaders are idiots

    you may not be right in many others eyes.....but the ability to question the authority is what makes us great in my eyes

    we need a few changes here and there.....but overall, you can keep europe and britain

    great places to visit....but i wouldn't want to live there"




    Essentially, he's taking the ideal of "freedom" and fetishizing it in a way that wouldn't happen across the pond.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morality Games View Post
    Holy crap. That's the first obscure philosophical post that I've seen in years that might actually be good.

    While there's a kernel of idealism, most American idealism is actually frustration. We have a pioneering culture that teaches we need to pursue our self interests with aggression and energy. The world -- and everything and everyone in it -- is a tool for the individual to uses to advance themselves. When the realities of living in a democracy where everyone has a voice in their government forces people to acknowledge limitations to this self interest, they sink into resentful ideologies that empower them (in their imaginations, not in reality) to overcome the opposition. People use the word "republic" when they are threatened with the possibility something they don't like will happen to them while disregarding the actual meaning of what a republic is supposed to be.

    It's really more of a self-centered pragmatism than idealism. Americans believe strongly in the things that seem to work for us on a personal level, no matter how surreal or implausible they sound or the large scale consequences.
    While I think there is some truth to what you are saying, I think it's often hard to see oneself clearly and so it's better to see one's culture through the eyes of a foreigner.

    The idealism I'm talking about extends throughout American culture but, for this purpose, let's focus on the constitution.

    In Britain, being an empirical country, they would say "because XYZ is good and just, we should codify it in to law and let that be that."

    In America, being an idealistic people, we say "because XYZ is in the constitution, therefore it must be good."

    That, to me, is a backward way of doing things but a very American way of doing things nonetheless.

  10. #20
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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    I am heading to Europe in two weeks, and was just thinking about how America and Britain differ.

    America, it strikes me, is much more old fashioned than Britain. Britain is a very Republican place.

    They believe in the sovereignty of one’s own self and one’s own opinion, and believe that one man is as good as the next… that all men are equal. It’s a very British way of looking at things.

    America, conversely, has a class system. We believe in the primacy of money and of hierarchies and…. most interestingly….. we actually believe in BELIEVING IN THINGS.



    And here is the main point of my post, and probably the biggest difference between cultures…



    Unlike Americans, Brits are a very skeptical people. If you wanted to define the English character in a more intellectual way, I would say that they are “empirical.”

    Britain’s greatest gift to Europe and to the intellectual thrust of the last 500 years has been empiricism. It’s how Newton beat Pascal... how he was right. The French are rationalists, Brits are not, and in fact they distrust rationalism and superstition as being two wings of the same heresy.

    That’s also why Britain has an established church in which no-one believes… because their empirical nature leads them to test things.

    In America, we have almost a religious idea about liberty. One could say that we fetishize the ideal of liberty.

    In fact, we have this tendency with other things as well. We fetishize the right to bear arms without really testing it.

    The Brits have a more “let’s test it. Does that work?” Attitude. In America, on the other hand, everything rises and falls by the constitution and the ideals it imparts.

    It follows then that in America, freedom of speech becomes more important than justice because freedom of speech is fetishized in the constitution. To a Brit, that idea is preposterous. To a Brit, being just to people is the first end of a state, in other words, the most important function of a state is to be a just state. Not for it to be a free state, but freedom is a good means of achieving a just state.

    In other words, freedom of speech is a concept, and justice is concrete.

    So my question to you…. do you think the idealistic nature of Americans is as the empiricism of our counterparts across the pond, or is our sense of idealism simply the sign of a young, perhaps naive state that hasn’t quite figured it all out yet?

    Personally, I believe the Brits have it right. Would like to hear your thoughts.
    I do agree that the British are far more skeptical, both in terms of ideals and in day to day life. Brits are skeptical of partisanship, leading to the main political parties being more closely grouped than over here. Brits are skeptical of other people, particularly in the south (try striking up a conversation on the tube). This is often viewed as the Brits simply don't care about politics, it is a much smaller debate in the UK than it is in the US.

    This contributes to a major difference (one that I think typifies the relationship between the two countries) between Britain and America and that is the lack of a British constitution. There is no single codified document that defines the government and the rights of the people and I don't think any Brits particularly clamour for one. You mentioned a fetishization of certain ideals, I do think that this stems from a fetishization of the constitution and the ideals it upholds. Now don't get me wrong, I think the founding fathers were absolute geezers but I don't believe that the constitution is the infallible document some people would have me believe. In my opinion the love for the constitution and its ideals is exactly what leads to the fetishization of the ideals of liberty or the second amendment, without any empiricism behind it. Plenty of the ideals in the constitution are noble and fantastic, the document was undoubtedly lightyears ahead of its time, but I think it's pretty clear that a constitution is no longer necessary for people to have liberty and pursue happiness. As you mention in the OP, in England there is a level of empiricism that leads to 'testing' of ideals, while in America there is a deference to the constitution, to the point where there are court cases decided by specific interpretations of the words written down.

    P.S. That all said, Britain most definitely does have a class system, one that is far more deep rooted than America's. There is a massive 'old boys' network. 19 prime ministers went to the same school, Eton. This network doesn't stop at politics however, it extends (mainly in London) through to finance, law, technology and a whole host of other industries. It's actually one of the main reasons I left England for the United States.

    EDIT: And I see while I was writing this you made basically the exact same point in the post above. I agree wholeheartedly.
    Last edited by Nilly; 07-22-14 at 06:49 PM.
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