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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Think Like a Real American

I've made a conscious effort to lay off blogging on politics for a while.

I figure with all the ideological clashing and anxiety, it helps to get back to basics. My undergraduate degree is in philosophy. I went to Rutgers, which then had, and continues to have, one of the best philosophy programs in the country. 

What does that mean now? 

Not much. But a few things stuck.  One was a disdain for ideology, which includes periodically checking myself for my own ideological rigidity. And I think there is something about this clearing of the cobwebs that is downright American.

One of the best observers of American culture ever was Alexis de Toqueville, a French aristocrat  who visited the young United States for two years in the 1830s and in 1835 published his classic Democracy in America.  His words from 1835 described a new nation full of bold, enterprising spirits trying to prove to the world that common people could actually govern themselves:

"I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States... Nevertheless it is easy to perceive that almost all the inhabitants of the United States conduct their understanding in the same manner, and govern it by the same rules; that is to say, that without ever having taken the trouble to define the rules of a philosophical method, they are in possession of one, common to the whole people:

To evade the bondage of system and habit, of family maxims, class opinions, and, in some degree, of national prejudices;

To accept tradition only as a means of information, and existing facts only as a lesson used in doing otherwise, and doing better;

To seek the reason of things for one’s self, and in one’s self alone;

To tend to results without being bound to means, and to aim at the substance through the form;

– such are the principal characteristics of what I shall call the philosophical method of the Americans.

[In] most of the operations of the mind, each American appeals to the individual exercise of his own understanding alone."

We have alot of troubles in this nation, and in our hearts I think we all know they can be mostly remedied (along with the new ones that will inevitably crop up to replace them) if we look at them as problems to be solved, rather than points to chalk up on an ideological scoreboard. 

So maybe, as Toqueville suggested, the most American philosophy is no philosophy at all.

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