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Thread: Is American "idealism" healthy?

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nilly View Post
    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.
    I agree with everything you've written here.

    The irony of it all is that we (Americans) fetishize a constitution written for us over two centuries ago by then-empirical, forward-thinking Brits.

    The constitution itself was never intended to be idealized as it has been, nor were the "founding fathers" (the very term being a sort of hero worship) meant to be put up on some silly pedestal. It was meant to be an improvement on the then-failed models of government seen at the time in Europe in the New World... a prime example of empirical reasoning if ever there was one.

    The constitution was always intended to be a "living document" of sorts, was never intended nor claimed to be infallible, however and unfortunately many Americans have come to interpret it that way.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nilly View Post
    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 isn't 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 American I believe 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.

    Lol....so much for objectivity

    When did simply believing in our founding documents and their core principles equate to " fetishizing " ?

    A fetish implies corruption of the fundamental core purpose, over indulgence, a obsessive need or desire for a thing or activity.

    Unless the Constitution and the ammendments within have been corrupted ( it would no longer be a Constitution then ) then a belief alone wouldn't rise to the act of " fetishizing ".

    The Americans definiton of Freedom no more qualifies as a fetish than Britains definition of royalty.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    I agree with everything you've written here.

    The irony of it all is that we (Americans) fetishize a constitution written for us over two centuries ago by then-empirical, forward-thinking Brits.

    The constitution itself was never intended to be idealized as it has been, nor were the "founding fathers" (the very term being a sort of hero worship) meant to be put up on some silly pedestal. It was meant to be an improvement on the then-failed models of government seen at the time in Europe in the New World... a prime example of empirical reasoning if ever there was one.

    The constitution was always intended to be a "living document" of sorts, was never intended nor claimed to be infallible, however and unfortunately many Americans have come to interpret it that way.


    No, the Constitution was never meant to be a " living document ".

    If it were " living " ( changing with the times and/ or the moods based on Political manipulation ) then it would no longer be a Constitution.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fenton View Post
    Lol....so much for objectivity

    When did simply believing in our founding documents and their core principles equate to " fetishizing " ?

    A fetish implies corruption of the fundamental core purpose, over indulgence, a obsessive need or desire for a thing or activity.

    Unless the Constitution and the ammendments within have been corrupted ( it would no longer be a Constitution then ) then a belief alone wouldn't rise to the act of " fetishizing ".

    The Americans definiton of Freedom no more qualifies as a fetish than Britains definition of royalty.
    No. To have a fetish means to have an excessive and irrational commitment to or obsession with (something).

    Look it up.

    To answer your question, it becomes "fetishizing" when you hold an ideal in high esteem, such as the right to bear arms or freedom of speech, simply because "the constitution says so," rather than having your beliefs and laws be due to empirically testing out those ideals to see whether they work in the real, modern world.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fenton View Post
    No, the Constitution was never meant to be a " living document ".

    If it were " living " ( changing with the times and/ or the moods based on Political manipulation ) then it would no longer be a Constitution.
    As an empirical person, I'm not concerned with whether the constitution was intended to be a living document. I'm only concerned with whether the laws we currently have on the books are just and beneficial to the people living in America today.

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fenton View Post
    Lol....so much for objectivity

    When did simply believing in our founding documents and their core principles equate to " fetishizing " ?

    A fetish implies corruption of the fundamental core purpose, over indulgence, a obsessive need or desire for a thing or activity.

    Unless the Constitution and the ammendments within have been corrupted ( it would no longer be a Constitution then ) then a belief alone wouldn't rise to the act of " fetishizing ".

    The Americans definiton of Freedom no more qualifies as a fetish than Britains definition of royalty.
    I don't think there is a corruption, but there is a massive over indulgence in the constitution. It has come to the point where there are arguments over placements of commas to try to figure out the authors original intent. That's ridiculous. Surely we are more equipped to make decisions about our current laws and judicial procedures than people from the 18th century.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fenton View Post
    No, the Constitution was never meant to be a " living document ".

    If it were " living " ( changing with the times and/ or the moods based on Political manipulation ) then it would no longer be a Constitution.
    Exactly the problem. The constitution was drafted in a completely different era to what we live in now. As visionary as some of the founding fathers were, society is changing exponentially. In 1990 it would be impossible to predict what the 21st century looks like, never mind 1790. I am not saying that the constitution is irrelevant, many parts of it will be just as applicable in another 300 years time, but deference to an outdated document in matters of importance is lazy in comparison with actually reasoning out what is for the best in the now.

    The constitution shouldn't be a reason in and of itself to do something. The principles on which the constitution stand on, and the ideals for which it stand for, should be examined and reexamined to ensure that it is just for society as it is now, not as it was 300 years ago.
    "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" - JFK

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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    As an empirical person, I'm not concerned with whether the constitution was intended to be a living document. I'm only concerned with whether the laws we currently have on the books are just and beneficial to the people living in America today.

    Yours or anyone elses concern is irrelevant.

    The letter of the law does not change nor should it change based on the subjective inference of one individual.

    Again, it would no longer be a Constitution if it could be molded and manipulated based on the whims of one individual.

    Its no longer a Constitution if it cant withstand the attacks of men who not only misunderstand it but either knowingly or unkowningly seek to change it based on their perceptions of right or wrong.

    Words do not change. Their meaning does not change.

    . What changes are how people percieve those words, their inferences change based on personal experiences and or motivations good or bad.

    What you fail to comprehend is thats exactly why our Constitution or ANY Constitution is drafted.

    Its why the ammendment process spelled out in the Constitution is so tedious and difficult.

    And its why its anything but a living breathing document.
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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Grimm View Post
    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.
    The Charge of The Light Brigade - YouTube

    Good example of us making glory a failure as you put it.
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    Re: Is American "idealism" healthy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Fenton View Post
    Lol....so much for objectivity

    When did simply believing in our founding documents and their core principles equate to " fetishizing " ?

    A fetish implies corruption of the fundamental core purpose, over indulgence, a obsessive need or desire for a thing or activity.

    Unless the Constitution and the ammendments within have been corrupted ( it would no longer be a Constitution then ) then a belief alone wouldn't rise to the act of " fetishizing ".

    The Americans definiton of Freedom no more qualifies as a fetish than Britains definition of royalty.

    Except when we outgrew our Royal family we removed them from power and then reinstated them in a completely different role. I actually think that our Royal family is a great example of how we the British adjust to the times but still hang on to tradition.
    ‘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 Fenton View Post
    Yours or anyone elses concern is irrelevant.

    The letter of the law does not change nor should it change based on the subjective inference of one individual.

    Again, it would no longer be a Constitution if it could be molded and manipulated based on the whims of one individual.

    Its no longer a Constitution if it cant withstand the attacks of men who not only misunderstand it but either knowingly or unkowningly seek to change it based on their perceptions of right or wrong.

    Words do not change. Their meaning does not change.

    . What changes are how people percieve those words, their inferences change based on personal experiences and or motivations good or bad.

    What you fail to comprehend is thats exactly why our Constitution or ANY Constitution is drafted.

    Its why the ammendment process spelled out in the Constitution is so tedious and difficult.

    And its why its anything but a living breathing document.

    So the words of the constitution are more important than the needs and desires of the people it rules? That, my friend, is fetishization at its finest.

    The constitution exists to serve the public interest, not the other way around.


    Now.... here's an etymology lesson for you: Words DO indeed change meanings all the time.

    Now.... here's an American History lesson for you: The constitution was drafted about 5 years after the revolutionary war because the new nation had no legal identity of its own upon which to base a legal system. They needed an identity separate from British Common Law since they had just won a war of independence against the crown.

    Now... here's a civics/mathematics lesson for you: The amendment process is much more difficult today than it was in 1788 because back then, there were only 13 states and today there are 50.

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