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Reflections on Core Reader Part II

I had a lot of free time in Temento Samba, not having my guitar–the greatest time consumer for me next to Netflix and Youtube. In between visiting friends, I ended up reading a lot. The free time compells me to read, and I had access to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the Core Reader Part II. Both are very thought provoking, and I’ve noted various reflections prompted by the latter:

I was struck by an article, “The Values Americans Live By”, an analysis of American culture by L. Robert Kohls, Exectutive Director of the Washington International Center in 1984. In seeking to explain American culture to international visitors, he made observations from an outside perspective. He names a total of 13 values to be part of American culture: Personal control over the environment, change, time and its control, equality, individualism/privacy, self-help, competition, future orientation, action/work orientation, informality, directness/openness/honesty, practicality/efficiency and materialism/aquisitiveness.

I felt a surge of patriotism realizing that I identify strongly with many of the mentioned American values. I’m humbled by the pitfalls of some of these values, and they no longer appear universal but instead as idiosyncratic products of America’s social history. Explaining American values also makes it easy to dissect them under a critical lens, evaluating their function. It’s not about criticism, but understanding of the positive and negative nuances.

Indivdualism, authentic or otherwise, was a key theme. For example, Americans would prefer giving directions to walking a person somewhere. Part of this comes from the value of self-sufficiency, though other countries might have contrasting attitudes. American youth are familiar with the pressure to move out and become independent as soon as possible, but Senegal has different customs. Here, parents and grown children commonly share a roof, in an interdependent relationship.

The author asserts a dichotomy between Americans’ value of individualism, but a reality of collectivism. He says that “Americans take pride in crediting themselves with claiming more individualism than, in fact, they really have.” This dichotomy seems ingrained into the culture to the point of frustration, like a pent-up yearning to be more “free and different” than neighbors express themselves to be. I think this is the subject by much criticism, especially by countercultures (and the movie Easy Rider seems to exist for the sole purpose of communicating this). These countercultures emerge as a reaction to dominant values, but often get commodified into the same values. I think it could be ascribed to this dichotomy. Kohls writes that Americans frequently join groups, but believe that they’re “just a little different, just a little unique, just a little special, from other members of the same group.” People seem to fear unveiling a reality of conformity, but I think that accepting the reality of collectivism could resolve this “crisis” of ideology. Maybe shrugging at this dichotomy could alleviate some frustration. This condition could just be charateristic of modern democracy. Either way, this attempt at individualism seems consistent with our country’s democratic ideals.

Americans’ belief that “Man should control Nature, rather than the other way around” seems to have brought positive and negative outcomes. The drive to ‘shape the world’ has driven technological innovation and tremendous economic prosperity, but also environmental degradation and levels of mental illenss. Productivity and punctuality are examples. We value punctuality to the point of considering a lack of adherence to schedule as a failure. Many other countries value the development of relationships over accomplishment, and these contrasting values can explain the differing beliefs. Orienting towards productivity can be a double edged sword. Post-industrial Japan holds a similar orientation, and Karoshi (“death by overwork”) was a legitimate societal problem.

A number of people find the level of mental illness American society to be extreme, and might ascribe it to our obsession with punctuality and value of achievement. As much as Americans prefer punctuality, it could be more of a trade-off.

America strongly values egalitarianism, believing that “God views all humans alike without regard to intelligence, physical condition or economic status.” Part of this value comes from its democratic ideals and belief in economic/social mobility. The goal is for “all people [to] have an equal opportunity to succeed in life.” When the integrity of meritocracy and ease with which individuals can climb up the social ladder are called into question, the culture faces criticism. America’s history of systemic racism is a roadblock to the actualization of this value. “America is a dissenting nation,” a family-friend told me. He implied that a core value is that of questioning established values. I consider criticism and drive for social change to actually be very patriotic traits, in seeking to chisel America further out of the marble and unite it more with its core values.

This is an article I would refer to more, because it changes my view of myself and my country. Perhaps by learning these views, I can do right by them.