The U.S. is unique in the world as it was ‘founded’ deliberately. As a result, it had to ‘establish’ its ideals and principles. A group of people had to ‘think about’ it and ‘write it down’ in a document, defining what they thought the country meant and what it should do. This, in many ways, makes its ideals a product of those people alone, and the situation that caused the ‘founding’. It makes it so that its viewpoints are somewhat ‘limited’ to that time frame and perspective. Whenever we look at the ideals and try to apply it to today we are really ‘reinterpreting’ it in the light of the ‘founding’ and the mentality of the people who created the ideals. This causes a tendency to great distortion in American political thinking. It also creates a tendency to narrow-mindedness as well, as everything is looked at from the angle of the ‘founding’.
Most countries, on the other hand, are ‘developed’ over a long period of time and find themselves a country. Much of their beliefs and ideals are things developed over generations and are often traditional. No group of people ‘thought about’ or defined what their country was about. As a result, the ideals tend to be more ‘timeless’ and malleable to new situations. Things are not compared to the situation of the ‘founding’ as there is no founding.
For various reasons the ‘founding’ of the U.S. is based in idealistic thinking. By ‘idealistic’ I mean that they have an attitude of ‘castles in the sky’ or of images of how they would like things to be (not how things are). At times, it’s almost fantasy-like, dreaming of a make-believe world. No doubt this is because the founders were thinking in such a way – an ideal world – which is what anyone would want a country to be. But, in addition to that, it also reflects the mentality of the times, which was somewhat idealistic in orientation. This, in some part, is probably a result of the fact that these political and social ideals were created by ‘armchair philosophers’. That is, they were created by people who attended the University and were educated and thought about things. As a result, they were not created as a result of experience, of the actual doing, but in the thinking about things. This gives it a ‘detached abstract’ quality not necessarily rooted in the real world.
How well do I know this as I, too, am one who thinks about things and am very much aware of how ‘detached’ and ‘idealistic’ ideas can be. I also know that ideas often do not match reality. In fact, ideas and reality often have no association at all. Over the years, I’ve learned to be very cautious about ‘ideas’ and their association with the world. I know how deceiving ‘good ideas’ can be, how they can mislead and lead us off the path. I also know how ideas can, at times, give something like a ‘high’, a feeling of elation about certain things. I know only too well . . . and I see these same things in the American mentality, seeming to come from the political perspectives.
I regularly confront this idealistic point of view. In fact, many Americans viewpoint of their country has this ‘fantasyland’ quality to it, ascribing things to it that aren’t there and making it out as some sort of a utopia (I know, I’ve been in disputes with people about it). They often speak in the perspective of ‘what-they-would-like-it-be’, not ‘how-things-really-are’. And, since this point of view is associated with the nations ‘founding’, very often it becomes a ‘it-is-true’. This creates a general attitude of a ‘fantasy-that-should-be-true’. This makes many Americans have an unrealistic point of view toward things. But, since their ‘founding’ is based on idealism, they try to make everything fit this idealistic image. This tendency I call ‘forcing the truth’. This has caused, and continues to cause, great problems and misconceptions about things. The basic problem with all this is that idealism doesn’t translate that well into reality. Even though they may like the ideal that doesn’t mean things are going to be like that.
There is an aspect of American law, believe it or not, that practically makes it a crime if the ideal doesn’t come true. This is the basis of many lawsuits in this country. It’s one of the reasons why its become so ridiculous. It’s no wonder that most of the justification is based in the ‘laws’ of the Constitution or its derivatives. The ‘ideal’ of the Constitution, though sounding good and meaning well, is only an ideal. Since its part of the ‘founding documents’, though, it is used by the legal system as a ‘legitimate argument’ . . . but it’s based in idealism! This creates a condition where the ‘ideal-must-be-true-by-law’. As a result, people are being punished because someone prevents the fantasy from coming true, that someone did not behave in a way that fit the ideal, or some other thing. It’s created a whole new form of legally justified abuse.
The idealism of the ‘founding’ of the U.S. has made a tendency to avoid realism in the U.S. In fact, for years I have continually emphasized the need to be realistic about things. This, I’ve found, seems to be a foreign concept to many Americans. To look at life realistically creates a whole other perspective than the American idealistic viewpoint can imagine. When I began to abandon idealism I found that everything changed. The whole word changed, in fact, and I could see that this idealism can border on a delusion. I also began to see that it was really like an illusion, a fantasy.
Favoring the ideal, which is an idea unfounded in life, tends to create a tendency to fanaticism and of blowing things out of proportion. I’ve watched, many times, how American blow things so far out of proportion that its ridiculous. Idealism creates an attitude of detachment in ones thoughts. The ideas are as if floating around in the air. They are generally not ‘tethered’ or grounded in any way. This makes it easy to ‘fly off’ with some ideas, going off to who knows where.
I’ve found that many Americans believe weird and strange things which are no doubt caused by this ‘ungrounded thinking’. In fact, I made a remark the other day that “it’s amazing how Americans are, supposedly, the best educated people in the world but yet they have more bizarre beliefs than anywhere else in the world; of government conspiracies, aliens, secret meanings in the height of the statue of liberty, and so on”. I always thought it was interesting that many of these revolve around the government, the probable source of the mentality.
Since idealism is a ‘fantasy’ it creates an illusion of happiness. There is a tendency to ‘think’ your happy and content. This creates, in many Americans, a self-congratulatory quality. I’ve even wondered if the American preoccupation with ‘being pleased’ has a lot to do with this. Since idealism is about an image which is intended to please themselves in some way, this means that a persons whole attitude would lean to one of seeking something pleasing. It would only be natural for this perspective to be extended to things in everyday life. For some people this is almost a religion.
It seems that the ‘detached’ quality of the idealism creates a sense of alienation which is so common in the U.S. To be frank, a ‘pie in the sky’ mentality is not a healthy viewpoint in my opinion. By being removed from life it does not root people in life or the real world. It makes many of us feel unsettled and uncertain. It probably even helps in making many of us stressed-out in life, which is so prevalent in the U.S.
I’ve often felt that this tendency to idealism is one reason why America so excelled in creating consumer products and machines – the stuff of fantasy. It catered, in a way, to the principles of its ‘founding’ but in a different way. As a result, turning ideas into reality was looked at highly. In fact, the success in turning ideas into reality became a matter of national pride and such a big ideal that I can still remember its emphasis when I was a kid. What this means is that the success in all this created a pride, a national pride. As a result, this made idealism have an almost ‘sacred’ character about it. It became almost holy, as even I remember. For me personally, being brought up with this point of view made me very ‘dreamy’ and ‘fantasizing’. I can remember how prized ideas were, such as “you can achieve anything”, the worship of ‘thinking positive’, and similar viewpoints. They all sound good but, as I found out, they were often very unrealistic. I also found that life does not really revolve around these things or qualities. They were just part of the ideal.
People loved the idealism, which preached possibility and such, but few acted on it I found. This is, in part, because people loved the idealism – the dreaming – not where the idealism was supposed to lead. Idealism, in a way, became like a worshipping, and that’s what a lot of people liked (though I don’t think anyone will admit to it). It gave many people something to believe. It gave hope and this, frankly, turned out to be more important than acting on the ideal. I always felt this was the best quality this idealism gave – not achievement, not products, not ideas . . . but hope.
Because idealism is ‘ungrounded’ and ‘floating in the air’ it creates a tendency to great flexibility and of ‘throwing caution to the wind’. This makes Americans do things that people in other countries wouldn’t do. This, of course, has had good and bad effects. Because they “ventured” they often got the gain from the venture, but they also got the loss of venture as well. This quality also helped to make Americans ‘think outside the box’, to go beyond what normally is done. I’ve always felt this has helped me a lot in ‘looking beyond the norm’ which I love to do. Most people in other countries will basically restrict themselves to their cultures attitudes and viewpoints. As a result, they tend to all ‘stay within the norm’, seldom straying beyond it.
Being idealistic, most Americans will only emphasis the ‘success’ they had, practically forgetting their tragedies and failures. This is because the idealistic attitude is ‘pie in the sky’, hopeful, and all about the ‘good’. This has helped to create a ‘Mr. Positive’ philosophy which seems particularly dominant in the north-east (where the original founding states are located . . . isn’t that strange?).
Idealism tends to make a world view in which the ideal is all that exists. These can become almost delusional at times. The American preoccupation with freedom as the explanation and cure for EVERYTHING is a good example of this. It’s more than just a cultural perspective, it is the ONLY and EXCLUSIVE explanation. That is about as narrow as you can get. The U.S. has a history of horrible misinterpretations as a result of this perspective as well as a warped way of looking at things. Some people are really bad though, almost delusional.
In the end, what it appears to me is that the ideational perspective created at the ‘founding’ of the U.S. has had tremendous impact on this country and its perspectives. It has not only set a pattern of thought, but this thought has grown to be ingrained in many American viewpoints. It has had both good and bad qualities (as is typical of things).
Personally, though, despite the good qualities of this idealism, I feel that an ideational perspective of life is not healthy. It’s good to be idealistic about certain things but not all of life. This, it seems, is one of the things that has helped the American lifestyle become an unhealthy one.