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What Makes Americans Different Than Other People?


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Initial post: Feb 19, 2013 5:43:04 AM PST
I have explored this question with students in some of the classes I teach, and I believe it is an important one. Americans have a different set of values and priorities than the Europeans who live in countries that have contributed the bulk of immigrants that make up the population of the United States. Why is this? What shaped the American character? I have my theories, which I'll contribute in a bit, but let's get the discussion going.

One alternate theory is that Americans actually are not different. However, statistics tend to counter that, as does politics. Americans tend to be less in favor of socialism, more religious, and more violent than their modern-day counterparts in Europe.

Of course, the fabric of American society is changing, and there are more influences coming in from Asia and Latin America. But the record seems to indicate that the patterns that we see in American society were already in place by the time that the Revolutionary War happened, and at that point the only people living in the British colonies of North America were either from Western Europe or Africa, and the African slaves in the colonies did not at that time contribute a significant cultural influence to have distinctly shaped the society. Perhaps the fact that chattel slavery existed at all had an influence, but the slaves themselves did not yet (in the 1770s) contribute enough to have made a difference.

So, what makes Americans different?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:17:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2013 6:17:55 AM PST
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Posted on Feb 19, 2013 6:37:02 AM PST
OldAmazonian says:
On average, we're more apt to mistake avoirdupois for gravitas.

Posted on Feb 19, 2013 7:01:04 AM PST
Everythings about Money in America,and the American Empire is just about played out!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 8:38:22 AM PST
goblue says:
<<Javana says: Americans are more violent than Europeans because there is far more widespread gun ownership in America.>>

?? Your evidence is? I am a gun owner and I am not violent.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 8:43:31 AM PST
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Posted on Feb 19, 2013 9:25:46 AM PST
I as well am a gun owner and besides the occasional speeding ticket have nothing on my record; I am not violent by any means (unless I have to protect my family.)
Now back to the original questions. Why do people migrate to the United States, this one can be several factors but lets focus on the Legal ones shall we, our country has always been viewed as the land of the free, some people come here looking for hope and just want to make a life for their families, others just want a chance at a better life.
As to what shaped our country is the same as above, people wanted a change or chance to make their lives better at that time. People had been persecuted for religious reasons ECT...and they looked at the new world as a since of hope and freedom. America paid a very high price to break away from England, not finically but in blood. This could tribute modern day behavior as well because America was so use to the violence and bloodshed that some people to this day still believe that this is the only way, it's not by any means the only way but when that is what we had to pay to become the United States.
Finally the availability of guns is not the reason for violence as stated above I own I carry and I have never had to draw my weapon thank God. What could be the difference besides guns? We can see very well what has happened in our society people see someone do such a terrible crime but in that person's mind it's always how can I one up this person so it falls back on that persons mental state. I was always raised around weapons and taught right from wrong but some people did not have this privilege. I know I am all over the place with this post and I don't mean to be, just my opinions.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 9:27:26 AM PST
S. Kessler says:
It would be helpful to a discussion if you explained what aspects of the American personality and/or values you consider different from those of current day Europeans. Different in what way?

As an American who has extensively studied American history and culture I can agree that Americans and Europeans have key differences in those areas, in their outlooks. But it goes way beyond the single issue of violence. Way beyond.

I'd like to know what you think are the differences you perceive before I try to respond.

Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 9:35:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 19, 2013 9:36:40 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 9:58:28 AM PST
Menkaure says:
It could also be argued that Americans have more guns because we are more violent.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 10:01:53 AM PST
when ?

they have changed completely since the usa was founded

now they are just greedy lazy worthless parasites

just like all the stupid evil greedy people everywhere
there is no difference now

Posted on Feb 19, 2013 10:15:06 AM PST
IGS says:
As to the specific points

"Americans tend to be less in favor of socialism"

This is a start over make your own way county. An anathema to socialism.

"more religious"

Yes and no, but such that it is, a major portion of immigrants were running from religious persecution. That means they took their religion rather seriously.

"more violent than their modern-day counterparts in Europe"

We are not outside the spectrum. Everyday, when I step out the door, I am possessed of a fair chance of dying on the road. Vastly higher than be killed intentionally by another American. In fact 100 will die today. To address javana rather insipid point, and the finding is odd considering what you read in the news, The weird thing is if you look at the cdc numbers, since 1970's, the number of deaths per 100,000 has been going down. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/contents2010.htm

But the weirdest thing is the following, a Latino is just as likely to meet his maker from a shooting as is a white boy like me. But one of African American communities is 2.5X more likely to die in a firearm related homicide. I'd love the answer to that question. You want violence ... Mexico, Honduras, Columbia. I think that more to the point, Europe is rather the exception than the rule. I am not willing to accept a police state like China. We are essentially, with Canada, the least violent place in the Western hemisphere. I do wonder why Eastern Europe is more violent than we are.

One may ask, why have Western Europeans become so non-violent. Perhaps it is a long history of social repression and having the two largest wars in the history of the species fought on your soil, including one so violent that it was larger than all the others put together. Maybe it took all the desire for violence out of them. It is a big sociological question worth examining not bandied about by politicians.

But to get back on track. Historically, America is a country that rewards exceptionalism. That accounts for much of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 10:21:40 AM PST
goblue says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 11:03:26 AM PST
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Posted on Feb 19, 2013 11:28:01 AM PST
Jerrie Brock says:
I haven't been here for a while but I had to chime in.

Everytime I encounter this kind of question, my only answer is that we are different because America is unique. Some of our states are larger than most European nations. We are a mixture. Even compared to our neighbors to the north (Canada), which are almost all of western European descent, Catholic or Protestant religions if they declare any religion, and white. To the south, is an almost homogenous nation of Hispanic (Native American/Spanish mix) and the majority Catholic.

We have none of those traits here in the US. So nothing which applies to another country applies to America. Huge variations in value systems, heritages, in religious beliefs, in personal habits such as food, excercise, dress, beauty values, etc. We have more interactions in a day with people of different heritages than some Europeans have in a year or a lifetime. If one breaks things down regionally, by municipalities, by common heritage or culture, etc. we will find consistencies in these subgroups. There is far less gun violence and violent crime in the Northern Plains areas, such as the Dakotas, Nebraska, etc. eventhough the gun ownership per captia is higher than other areas, so it disproves the ownership vs violence connection.

In order to change the violence the culture/mindset must be changed. If inner city blacks had the standard of living they do here in some other countries, they would assume themselves well off and would not feel marginalized and likely would not be so violent. When they compare their status to nearby societies with different values and cultures, they feel cheated and chose to try to equalize the situation with violence. Detroit vs Farmington Hills.

As for socialism, we move closer to it every year. Unfortunately socialism is doomed to fail, because eventually people grow tired of supporting those who do not produce. Already many European nations are finding they must cut back the social programs or face insolvency. With the EU, they will be shortly facing the very same issues as the US as people may now move and settle freely among member nations. So those countries with generous social programs are seeing an increase in untrained and ill-equipped non-native citizens moving into their countries. Also, the availability of cheap labor moving in is cutting into their high wages and generous benefits. The rich are considering moving or investing their money elsewhere to protect it from bottomless tax demands. Until recently, every European nation was relatively, culturally homogenous.

With socialism on the rise in the US the same cracks are showing. With welfare/bailouts even to poorly managed corporations, every bad financial transaction of individuals declared the fault of anyone but themselves, and an influx of cheap labor willing to undercut the wage and benefits once fought for in the US, we too will collapse in insolvency. In five years we have become so indebted that no tax measure is capable of repairing the damage. And yet, we still have no control on spending, instead increasing social programs against a dwindling source of taxable income. There is a wider gap now between rich and poor than there has been over the last five decades. The government actions are encouraging, rather than helping that as those with money find more ways of preserving it against the continuous assaults. At the moment, America is living on borrowed time, but the debt will come due, and painfully.

Until then we remain an engima of the world, different, unique and likely to remain so until a complete world reordering, when ever that occurs.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 12:31:47 PM PST
IGS says:
Hi esteemed jerrems

good to see you back.

"We have none of those traits here in the US. "

I would rather say we have all of them. We a bit of everyone here.

"Until recently, every European nation was relatively, culturally homogenous."

Bullseye. And the thing that makes it unique here is that we have a bit of all of it.

I do think that the big economic choices will have to be made. There will have to be cuts to defense spending, social security, welfare and the biggy, something will need to be done with health care and the older among us are not going to like how that shakes out. Taxes will need to be raised. The real ugly one is social security. This is problematice because the recipients and the future recipients "paid in" which in sad fact, they did not. It was always a direct transfer from they tax payer to the elderly. There was no "trust fund" in the terms that are used in the estate planning industry. It was always a direct transfer from 6-7 taxpayers to one retiree. Now, with people living longer and few taxpayers per retiree, this will collapse. The retirement age will need to be ratcheted up incrementally until about 70-75. That's 20% of the budget right there. Then Medicare is another 20% and will have to be adjusted to a more reasonable expectation. The defense spending is another 20% (although, 20% of that is VA benefits which I can see no dishonorable way of reducing). Granted with the wars winding down, some of this will come down of its own accord. Welfare programs are also relatively expensive, although how expensive depends on who you believe, the idiots at Fox or the idiots at the NYT, neither of which are likely to be correct. And a current 6% interest payment. Hello!!!!!

They answer should be apparent to everyone who has ever had a checkbook or credit card in their hands --- unless they are a spineless politician. I simply don't want your great grand kids paying for my retirement, whenever that is. Curious that they are fighting about 1/3 of the budget and too gutless to address the other 2/3rds that is going to matter!

Posted on Feb 19, 2013 4:42:25 PM PST
Wulfwig Fox says:
I've only recently finished reading the most excellent

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America

so I'm reluctant about identifying a common trait in all Americans.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:26:27 PM PST
Javana says: "The *statistics* bear out there is more violence in America, and that is certainly to do with the greater prevalence of guns."

My reply: This is a fallacious way to look at statistics. Canadians own as many guns per person as Americans, and yet violence in Canada is dramatically less. The reason that Americans are violent comes first and before any consideration of gun ownership.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:29:02 PM PST
Michael J. Mason says: "Everythings about Money in America,and the American Empire is just about played out!"

My reply: The mighty dollar is part of it, I believe, but I don't think it explains everything. There certainly are other countries which worships mammon just as much as the United States, but that do not have the same characteristics as Americans.

Why are Americans so religious? Is that because of the worship of money? I seriously doubt it. But materialism does play a large part of the makeup of the American character, and it should not be ignored.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:30:12 PM PST
S. Kessler says: "It would be helpful to a discussion if you explained what aspects of the American personality and/or values you consider different from those of current day Europeans. Different in what way?"

My reply: I thought I did. Here's the recap from the o.p.:
'Americans tend to be less in favor of socialism, more religious, and more violent than their modern-day counterparts in Europe.'

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:38:30 PM PST
S. Kessler says: "As an American who has extensively studied American history and culture I can agree that Americans and Europeans have key differences in those areas, in their outlooks. But it goes way beyond the single issue of violence. Way beyond. I'd like to know what you think are the differences you perceive before I try to respond."

My reply: I would love to hear your take on it, Kessler, and please feel free to share. As a note, I will be heavily moderating this discussion - so if anyone starts being naughty, I'll give them a reminder to be nice. So please feel safe in providing ideas here - I certainly am not trying to set people up, but rather I wanted to provide a space for people to think about this without my own theories tainting the outcome. But I'll go ahead and get into it.

I agree that the issue of violence is only one single example, but it is (in my opinion) a very important clue to unlocking the puzzle If you follow the violence, it will lead you to the roots of this difference.

If you have studied the American Revolution, you'll most likely come away with the conclusion that the American colonists were already "American" by the time they declared independence from Britain. The differences that we see between Americans and Western Europeans already were significantly present in the society by the outset of the Revolution.

So, this must mean that whatever influences shaped the development of the American character must have taken place during the Colonial Period (1620-1776). And to figure this out, we need to look at EXACTLY was settling the American colonies at that time - who were they, and which of them were the ones who contributed the most to the shaping of the American character?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:39:33 PM PST
Javana says: "Whatever your personal position, guns do spell violence! In Europe, gun ownership is way down and there are far, far, fewer deaths from gun violence than in America."

My reply: Javana, you're barking up the wrong tree here. Guns have nothing to do with it, per se: They're a symptom, not a cause.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:41:51 PM PST
andthehorseirodeinontoo? says: "now they are just greedy lazy worthless parasites"

My reply: Horse. I am going to be moderating this thread, and so you should know that this sort of posting will not be welcome here.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:45:40 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2013 12:17:03 AM PST
jpl says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 19, 2013 6:46:03 PM PST
IGS says: ""Americans tend to be less in favor of socialism" This is a start over make your own way county. An anathema to socialism."

My reply: The same could be said about Canada, but Canadians embrace many aspects of socialism, and Americans don't. Why? What makes Canada different than the US?

IGS says: ""more violent than their modern-day counterparts in Europe" We are essentially, with Canada, the least violent place in the Western hemisphere."

My reply: I'm not sure where you get that from, since the US is statistically by far much more violent than Canada in every measure and in every area of violence measured.
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Discussion in:  History forum
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Initial post:  Feb 19, 2013
Latest post:  Feb 22, 2013

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