Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Home of the brave

As a redblooded patriotic American, I don't want to let too much time pass since my last post, since I fear it might give a negative impression of the USA, and enough other people are playing that game already.

It is true, I believe, that foreigners in general (and Poles in particular) are "tougher" than Americans. But the flip side of that coin is that America works harder than the rest of the world. This is something that I don't think most Americans themselves appreciate. No one necessarily states the case directly, but the underlying train of thought is that all the attention spent on Anna Nicole Smith's autopsy or American Idol has turned us into lazy couch potatoes. But it's just not so, as anyone who has worked in Europe for a significant period of time will tell you.

This has very interesting spiritual causes and consequences. Because of our affluence and autonomy, a typical American's aspirations for success are real and legitimate. Not all of them become reality of course, but in general they are not delusions or pipe dreams. In fact this is a significant part of our inculturation as Americans. Our culture believes in the possibility of success because so many of us as individuals believe it. And, we as individuals believe it because we live in a culture that's suffused with that belief.

That last part is so important because most of the impact is below the conscious level. It's not that we recite a creed of homage to the Donald Trump or Tony Robbins every day. Instead, over the long haul we as Americans tend find useful and productive ways to go about our business instead of wasting our energy complaining that the deck of life is stacked against us. For those of you sweating through 10 hours a day in Dilbert-style cubicle land, you should know that no matter how it looks from the inside, you are likely working harder and smarter than your counterparties overseas.

This is a substantial reason why America has the role in the world that it does. Whenever a new or previously unseen problem occurs, a person essentially has two choices. He can either avoid the problem, pretend it really isn't there, or he can concentrate his energy toward it. The ability to concentrate energy toward the problem is a substantial spiritual resource, and we as Americans are blessed to have more than our share of it. As I read history, WWII was the last major worldwide crisis that most of the civilized world mobilized together to solve a common problem. Since then, the so-called "developed" nations have largely gone in the tank while America has done its best to sort out the big ticket issues by itself. The struggle against Communism, the stagflation and sclerotic taxes of the 70s, the reform of the welfare state, all of these things fit this pattern.

And now we're in Iraq, which has of course been interpreted a thousand different ways. But perhaps the most important one is to realize that America, in fits and starts and with plenty of mistakes along the way, is rising to the challenge of engaging the Islamic world.

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