2120 Hindsight: The Most Important Contribution by the U.S.

01Feb08

The United States retained its predominant role in the world for a period of about one complete lifetime — that is, from about 1945 to about 2015.  Many of the things for which its people prided itself were cultural in nature.

Examples include innovative forms of music and literature.  The general themes of isolation, distrust, confusion, and loneliness characteristic of much American culture appeared in, for instance, an often inward-looking musical preoccupation with failed romantic relationships.  Those themes were also evident in a concept of lodging in which each family would live alone, separated from its neighbors in sometimes extreme ways (e.g., locked doors, barricades, and even the use of deadly force against intruders).  As a third example, those isolationist cultural themes manifested themselves in American concepts of “government” and “economics,” both of which referred to various aspects of a uniquely confused and wasteful (albeit well-intended) approach to social steering.

Although these sorts of cultural achievements seem idiosyncratic and terrible to us now, they did address felt needs experienced by people living in that country at that time.  As such, they are best understood and appreciated for the elements of rationality that did exist in them, under the circumstances in which they came about.  Nonetheless, among the many ways in which the U.S. influenced the world, it seems clear at this point that the most important one was its spread of the English language throughout the world.

That language originated, of course, in England.  As such, it was not a unique American invention, and was not necessarily the first thing in which a typical American of the period might have taken pride.  Americans were much more likely to talk about their political ideals, many of which drew upon concepts of freedom compatible with the isolation and extreme individuality just mentioned.

An American of the 20th century would tend to consider those American ideals eternal and valuable to all.  Such a person would not ordinarily admit that the various “rights” (i.e., freedoms) were fluctuating, negotiated, contingent, potentially dangerous, or anything of the sort.  This American stance often alienated people from other cultures, who did not or would not embrace American hyperindividualism and therefore did not place the same premium upon the American “rights.”
Thus, while the ideals certainly were thought-provoking and influential, they were not ultimately very enduring or useful across cultures.  In any case, the ideals tended to be based upon the work of European (especially English) thinkers.  Thus, it was the language that America took throughout the world, that facilitated American power, and that proved to be that society’s most enduring contribution to global peace and prosperity.

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