2009-01-24

At Least I Know I'm Free

Packing today, to head off to California for a couple of weeks for work. This time, it took about 20 minutes. I suspect that at this point, I could probably stow some clothes under a desk over there and get away with it.

Two weeks per quarter doesn't sound like an awful lot, but when I do some rudimentary maths, that's one sixth of the time. I've had ample opportunity (to the point where I've had an office 'reserved' for me) to spend more, or most, or all of my time there. I've not really wanted to, for a number of reasons. A lot of these reasons started to go away last tuesday, but are still quite a ways away from being gone.

It's very fashionable to make fun of America these days, especially in the last few years. They've done some monumentally dumb shit in the recent, and not-so-recent past, which means it's easy to draw attention to its failings. I wouldn't be proud to be American right now. However, I'm similarly unproud to be Irish. We've spent the last 30 years or so, by all accounts, sitting back and taking it from some of the most openly corrupt individuals that have ever been put in charge of a country. However, bigger picture, there's a lot to be proud of. We have one of the best reputations in the world. My Irish passport means I'm welcome pretty much anywhere. Same can't really be said of a US passport right now.

What I'm trying to get at here, is that in my extensive time spent in the states, I've come to experience firsthand what I would class as the collective attitude of americans. This applies to most people I've met or ran into, and is common to lefty, righty, religious, non-religious. It boils down to this:
  • You Can Do Whatever You Want If you Want It Hard Enough


Case in point. Check this shit out. You don't get the idea to pull that off overnight, and you don't do it without being a fucking crazy person. Much as you can scoff at some of the nutty things Americans get up to, another effect of the general nuttiness is the above. There is a collective consciousness that dictates that You Can Do Whatever You Want. If you want to build a freaking space shuttle that can blast through the atmosphere, fly around in space, and then come back and land safely, you'll get it done if you want it enough.

When I say that this applies in a few ways, of course, I mean that it also applies to fat, lazy people who want to watch Oprah. Fat, lazy people exist everywhere, of course. It's just that the lifestyle is an awful lot easier to lead there.

The reason why I like the American way of life is because there is equal focus on self-discovery/self-improvement, and taking one for the team. It's a country that's been prosperous for long enough that people have started realising that the self is as important as the material. Ireland's been quite prosperous for about 10 years now, and we never really got past the "More more more for me and fuck the sick and needy" stage. I reckon that would come in time.

Of course, my crackpot theory on this is that it may be partially genetic. Studies suggest that there may be genetic traits that encourage aggression, individuality, adventurousness, and the like. The vast majority of Americans are descended from people who chose to move half-way across the world to seek out a new life, to leave everything they knew behind and sink or swim. This is weakened a little nowadays, since if I wanted to I could move halfway across the world in a few days and come back if I wanted to, so I don't have to be quite so batshit insane.

A crazy person I admire, Spike Milligan, once said "Blessed are the Cracked, for they let in the Light". Crazy people are essential. They make it so space shuttles, gold rushes, nuclear power, moon landings, and the crazy shit that advances humanity in bigger leaps and bounds, because that shit is insane.

Of course, I'm talking on a macrosocietal scale here. I'm not implying that all americans I've met are charmingly insane (or even charming). I am saying that it's a society infinitely more conducive to doing insane shit because you believe you can.

Also, you can't get good fondue in Dublin, whereas you can here. Fuck yeah. Italics.

5 comments:

  1. That's the thing about Americans - no sense of futility.

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  2. I thought it was humility? Or reality?

    Truly, American is the land of the -ism not the -ity.

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  3. Abe Lincoln said "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing", which I think nicely sums up the Yankee mindset.

    In Ireland we tend to follow a "sit back and let it happen / complain about it later in the pub" mentality coupled with a "who does he think he is / getting above his station" begrudgery towards the inspired (or cracked...) which gets us nowhere.

    Also, there's a hell of a lot more room in the states to go completely batshit crazy without accidentally bumping into one of your mother's friends or something, probably doesn't hurt things.

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  4. Good well written piece.

    I'm also frequently appalled by Irish people's consumerism and embrace of what I call "The Irish Dream" - the Celtic Tiger attitude that you should be able to have anything you want. A good side of this is that it has raised Irish people's expectations about what life will deliver (compare the aspirations of youth today with yer auntie's).

    But I think Americans are like that too. Americans don't like the idea of self-denial (e.g. Kyoto Treaty - "But I don't want to have to drive my car less"). And the flipside of the independent streak is that if you fail at life, there's nothing to catch you - witness homelessness, black poverty, urban decay.

    What do you think? Is there really a balance between the self and taking one for the team?

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  5. Like I said, I strongly hope that stuff like Kyoto was an aberration, although a lot of the time thinking big means big mistakes.

    I think there is a balance, and pride in what you do is something you really don't get a lot at home. I've talked to people who work in retail or work in the food industry in America that are -happy- to do so, who like doing it, and would be happy to do it as a career. The same thing would be anathema to an Irish person, where service industry is seen as a gateway job. Being subservient to someone isn't in our bones.

    I honestly don't understand people who work jobs they hate, and complain about their jobs. If you are not clever enough, better yourself. Work toward something. Be master of your own destiny. Be proud of what you get up to, because otherwise what the fuck are you at.

    That's kind of what I'm getting at with the self. You don't have to be the boss, or important, to be a good person who feels good about themselves.

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