Good and Bad

It's going to be ten years this August since I moved to the US and I think this is a respectable amount of time in which to begin understanding the psyche of a culture. I believe that as an essential outsider I have naturally had better tools to evaluate this culture than a person who was born and brought up within it. I have always had a reference point with which to compare, and a supremely good one at that in the form of the Indian culture. I don't mean to say that the Indian culture is perfect, or even very good, but it acts as a nice counterpoint to the American one by virtue of being fundamentally different. If I were to think about what is one thing which is great about the American culture and what is one thing that is ridiculous, what would the answer be?

I think the greatest thing about this culture is the freedom to choose and the fact that at their very hearts people here do take that as a sacred principle. This freedom is almost always dormant and hidden away but it is ultimately there. One can choose and one will not face the kind of social, economic, or political repercussions that they might in other places. On the scale of the severity of repercussions, I think the middle eastern countries, along with China and Russia, lie at the bottom, with Asian countries like India, and Latin American countries somewhere in the middle, European countries with Australia and Canada above them and ultimately a distant second to the US. It might appear that countries like Canada are better than the US in this regard but that would be a mistake in judgment as they derive their sense of freedom essentially from the British idea and the British idea is not nearly as free as the American one. One example is the existence and strict enforcement of the first amendment in the US whose analogue surprisingly doesn't exist in Britain. I think it is safe to say that the this culture, more than any other culture, respects individual freedom and tolerates dissenting opinion.

The worst thing about this culture also emerges from the freedom it provides. At the very basic level it is an obsessive inward looking tendency and I think it is made possible because the culture tolerates an infinity of narratives, some of them naturally being more supportive of a particular kind of malaise. There is an obsession with the self and the ridiculous idea that I matter and that my issues are important. I never found, and still do not find, this obsession in India nearly to the extent that I find it here. In India people are, in general, in much worse situations but they have no other option but to face life and to get on with it. But in the US I find whole industries devoted to legitimizing and feeding the issues of people with regard to their own self. I don't mean to trivialize the real issues which some people, I am sure, face but on their coattails ride entire hoards of people who obsess about their physical, economic, spiritual, and sexual well-being and who, had they been in a less prosperous country, would have merely been told to stop whining and being a general pest. I think this obsession has deeper roots. It emerges from a fundamental emptiness of meaning, of purpose, of real relationships, of the sense of one's place in this world, and, more importantly, from an intense reluctance to face the dim truth with honesty. In this instance India is a brilliant demonstration of the capital T truth, that the I doesn't matter and the world will hum along nicely enough without bothering about the I.

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