In response to a post I put up on my blog asking the question ‘What does it mean to be an American?’, immediately many themes jumped up and presented themselves through the comments that followed. What also jumped up was a combative tone that made itself apparent in a nasty exchange between respondents. People like to brawl on the Internet. You see it on fB all the time. Politics always manages to shove its way to the front of our public discourse in a tone that reflects a serious dissatisfaction. Here is a string of comments in response to that post:
Respondent 1: America is a place of hopes, but don’t you think that people coming into this country should live by America’s rules and not have all these new rules to suit them? Our country’s rules should not be changed for them. Americans don’t go to other countries and get rules changed to suit there needs. Try going to China or Russia and see what happens.
Respondent 2: I agree completely. And make no mistake, under no circumstances should we change the American rules or laws for anyone.
Respondent 3: Rules changed with the discovery of America, Independence Day, the Civil War, freedom of slavery and now actual freedom of religion. Our laws are not changing, they are being added. You hear incorrect information on media outlets; it is always best to read the actual laws and you will see that our rules are not being changed, just making them fair for ALL.
Respondent 4: America…represents the promise of Individualism… and the Freedom to act upon the resources of individual intellect, ability, drive, determination, innovation and invention. Under the Left…that promise is sublimated to Collectivism…and what the individual can do for the Hive. What it once meant to BE an American….has been whored to the disqualifying ideology which says that all of those attributes of our individuality are owed to everyone. **** you Hillary and Bernie… One of you belongs in prison…the other of you doesn’t belong on these shores.And both of you are Sophomorically, Intellectually bankrupt.
Respondent 1 to Respondent4: No one, in my experience, who thinks they’re as smart as u think u are, is in reality anywhere near that smart.
Respondent 4 to Respondent 1: BnP?..doesn’t matter what you may happen to think?…I have the acknowledgement of the academic community, specifically regarding that reality… and having an ego doesn’t set aside that reality. So?…you…are back to square one.
Respondent 1: Being abusive and arrogant is no excuse for being able to find common ground, and persuade others to your point. It’s intellectually lazy to simply browbeat and condescend to “inferiors”. What’s really impressive, is the ability to use logic and humility to lead men.
Respondent 5: Here we go….. Entitlement!
Respondent 4: I am PURPOSELY abusive and arrogant me luv! It’s precisely owing to the facade of social nicety…which has lead to the unthethered and retiring intellectual climate in this Country… in which the Hillary’s, Bernie’s, Trump’s and Carson’s could EVER find Political purchase within the minds of our electorate to begin with. So?..NO!..I have no more patience left.. after 40+ years of hearing the justification and seeing the results. And Humility!?…. is for SLAVES…either to a god figure…or to the god of State. No ****ing more!
I’ve added the asterisks.
Yesterday, I travelled to Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, MA to discuss all this with my friend Jolyn who teaches a course there on the topic of what it means to be an American. Jolyn uses American literature and American history as the course reading material. I will post some of what she had to say in an upcoming video, but for now it is safe to say that I came away with more questions after her answers to the ones I’ve already asked. The first is: Have we as American’s been sold a bill of goods that leads us to have unreasonable expectations? The second is: When those expectations are not met, what happens?
For example, I posed a question to my oldest friend Lee whom I have known from grade school when I travelled to Connecticut last Saturday and discussed this issue with him over dinner. Lee is a very successful businessman and a wonderful father and husband. He has met one interpretation of the American dream by doing better than his father economically. He has done much better as a father than his dad, and also values his own children’s success not in dollars but in happiness. But if American’s continue to interpret the idea of doing better than their parents in dollar terms where does that end? That was my question to him. He had no immediate answer but to tell me the things he does for children are to support them in whatever it is they need to be happy. He understands that his love is more important than his money.
Remember the pursuit of happiness? We can’t just expect to continue doing better than our parents in economic terms in this country because, if we do, where does that end? Is the nature of the respondents’ exchange I’ve included above a result of anger over unfulfilled expectations, and, if so , what are those unfulfilled expectations and why do they registered with such anger?
So, my next big questions are: have we evolved as Americans to measure happiness too much in dollar terms and not enough in human terms? What has that done to us if true? Are we just angry now as a country? Disappointed and bitter? The spin off questions are: what do we really want for our children, and can we redefine the meaning of happiness that has been perhaps misdefined in our national vocabulary?
Hill On wheels will hit the road on Friday looking for answers to those questions!
Bash Bish Falls, MA