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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Re: From Drinking Songs to Pet Theories

I was reading a post by a friend of mine from high school, Michael Rogers, and was really struck by it. In a small nutshell, the post is about the lack of unity and community amongst people in American society, with one example of unity being drinking songs (personally, I think that's a great example).

Read his post here

I completely agree with what Michael said in his post - Americans are not very unified. Our society has become so individualistic that it is pretty difficult to have true community with people outside your immediate social circles.

I felt this way the entire time I was in China - I felt as if I had been missing something my whole life and I found it in China. Part of that missing something was the community in Chinese society. It's a truly indescribable feeling within - when you're at a restaurant by yourself in China, people you don't know might ask you to join them - sure yeah, probably because I'm a foreigner, but if they see their friends on the street, they do the same. People playing chess together on the streets, doing Taichi or other martial arts/dances in groups on the street - there's an energy and spirit within a community-based society that America just doesn't have, and it's America's loss.

There's a variety of reasons America seems wired for individualism. Here's my opinion. I've got a few big reasons, or "pet theories" (thanks Michael) about why I think America's so individualistic.

1. City planning/use of space - most of America's cities are really big in terms of area. We have so much space that we put stuff way too far apart and it's impossible to take a bike or walk anywhere outside of major cities like LA, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, etc. Chinese cities are jam-packed together and people are always visible on the street selling food/clothes/trinkets etc. or just walking. People are just around each other more often in China, and that gives people the opportunity to create a community.

2. No public transit - everyone has their own personal car. This seems like a weird reason, but I've had some interesting conversations with strangers in a taxi or on the subway in America and in China. People  bored on a subway car or taxi have a chance to talk to each other.

3. Social stigmas - In the American south, alcohol has a kind of stigma attached to it because of people's religious affiliations. This is something Michael touched on in his post. I've had some good conversations in bars in America and in China. Bars are a good place to go have a drink alone or to meet people, if you want.

4. Technology/media - the iPod, iPhone, laptops, TV, magazines, etc. draw us away from the world around us and get us focused on these little spheres of information and make us completely forget the fact that there are people all around us who have their own stories and their own lives that, in reality, are probably more intrinsically more interesting than Kristen Stewart's. These things are finding their way into Chinese society, especially in big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou. The traditional culture of China is dying among young people today because all they care about it having an iPad or seeing what shows are on TV or what the NBA is up to. It's a serious problem

5. History- our entire country was born out of the spirit of "F**k you, we're gonna break away [from England's tyrannical government] and run this country ourselves!!!" Individuality is in our blood. That's just the way it is.

6. Childhood Shaping - from the time Americans are babies, they are asked to make individualistic choices. "What color do you want your room?", "Where/what do you want to eat?", kids are given their own bedrooms as children, and the list goes on. "My parents raised me to be an individual" is a pretty common phrase in American society.

7. Money-driven society.

Michael wrote this in his post, and I think it's written very well:

 "It’s not about beer and it’s not exactly about drinking songs. It’s about the cultural traditions that unite people."

Yes - I agree completely.

But the thing is that America hasn't been around long enough to have developed a lot of cultural traditions. Cultural traditions are born out generations and generations and generations of practices. It's only been a couple hundred years - look at China's rich cultural traditions - it took them 5000 years to do that! Give America some time - we'll get there eventually.

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  1. Great post! I like the conversation we have going here ... definitely worth having.

  2. Yeah, and it's a hard one to have as well - when you start pointing out problems in American society, people automatically start assuming you're unpatriotic or a communist or something. It's nice to know someone else shares my sentiments!

  3. "Give America some time - we'll get there eventually." is good for you to believe in that, i dont, USA is a money driven country, money and power.
    Remember that URSSR was also a power, is fall was swift.


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