Black Friday – America’s Disgrace

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Black Friday is a good example of what’s wrong with this country: egocentrism. The belief that everything revolves around you and what you want, regardless of the larger picture and those around you. This self-centeredness is most often found in young children, who are so mentally undeveloped they can’t understand objectivity or others’ perspectives. Most people grow out of these viewpoints as their capacity for logic and critical thinking grow, yet some adults remain stuck in this schema. I highly suspect the proportion of adults who retain this toddler-esque view of the world is higher in the United States. Here’s a few examples of egocentrism often observed in America…

1) If something doesn’t directly affect us, it is to be ignored or derided. Racism is dead since you don’t experience it and anyone who says otherwise is just “playing the race card” or “being politically correct”. Gays don’t need to use the word “marriage” because it just upsets other people and the equal, but separate, term “civil union” is just as good. Also, those people protesting or rioting over at location “X” are just overreacting or behaving poorly; after all, nothing like that happens around my neighborhood.

2) If something does affect us negatively, it’s automatically the worst thing and deserving of vitriol and activism… regardless of its larger consequences. Socialized medicine forces us to pay for others; why should I be forced to contribute to the greater good if I’ll never need it? Speed traps are “government overreach” and there to create revenue; it doesn’t matter if I was the one who chose to drive 15+ mph over the speed limit. Moderation of my online comments is a flagrant “violation of the First Amendment”; I don’t care if my comments were construed as “hate speech”, they’re my opinions and therefore valid.

3) If something seems like a deal or we have to have it, we buy it. It doesn’t matter our priorities, our economic capabilities, our needs… it’s our wants that drive us. The latest PlayStation or iPhone requires time and money, even as we complain a lack of funds for gas or car troubles and struggling to make ends meet. Also, the second someone brings attention to this conflict, there is no critical thought… the individual who dared comment becomes the target of derision and vitriol.

It’s this extreme Individualism that makes Americans looked upon with disdain by much of the world. Individualism is fine and a hallmark of Western Civilization, but there can be a point where it’s taken too far. We look at ourselves, our wants, our biased opinions, and believe in themselves as absolute truths. This sort of thinking is what that makes the general populace so easily manipulated by politicians and their corporate allies. It is also, ironically, rather opposite of what Thanksgiving, the day before Black Friday, was all about.

Remember this during these holidays and shopping extravaganzas… critical thinking starts with the self. Make sure you’re not falling trap to being the “Self-Centered American” first, and then work outwards from there. Think about the larger picture, don’t become focused solely on how you’re affected, and prioritize needs over wants. Become an example to family and friends, in the hopes they might follow. Even more importantly, though, become a role model and teach your children… and maybe the next generation won’t be as egocentric as we are today.

Europe versus America: Differences in Prejudicial Thinking?

(This originated from a discussion question in an online classes, but I figured I’d share my response. The professor and students were discussing racism and emotional or cognitive responses to certain situations. A few people noted how visits to Europe did not reveal the same divides. Interracial or multicultural unions or mingling were much more accepted, and a few people wanted to know why.

Please bear with my response and try not to be too critical; I am not a historian, I am not a sociologist, and I don’t claim that my answer is supported by peer-reviewed articles or college degrees. What I based my response on is simplifications of human history blended down into a few paragraphs. If there is a glaring error in my logic and deduction, feel free to note that. Otherwise, please read this as something posted in layman’s terms.)

In Europe, before the Dark Ages, the Roman Empire could be considered a true melting pot. Certainly there was prejudice and division; certain cultures remained in their own parts of the city, others were made subject to the ruler(s) of the time, and the “pure-blooded” Romans likely held more power. However, slavery was not necessarily based on racial appearance or ethnicity but just as easily on social or economic status. There were individuals from a wide variety of cultures working in the same jobs, including Spanish and Jewish merchants, German and Greek soldiers, etc. Exposure to individuals from all over the “civilized world” could breed a grudging respect if not outright camaraderie depending on the people and the situation. Thus, from the beginning of the major European civilizations one might say that Europe was already on the way to handling racial prejudice.

Even after the Dark Ages, with the rise of Medieval and Renaissance eras, the countries had a tendency to blend. There were wars and divisions, but royalty married each other, merchants from across the world visited major cities, and cultures blurred at the borders between kingdoms. Taking a look at locations like Belgium or Switzerland and one can see how these countries were composed of a number of kingdoms that blended the cultures of the surrounding larger powers. Servitude certainly existed (in the form of serfs), but once more this was just as likely to be caused by social or economic status as it was by ethnicity. The main bigotry that we recognize today occurred less because of events in Europe but more as Europeans began to “colonize” the rest of the world. As these “civilized” cultures began to expand and take over from the “savages”, there was rampant enslavement and killing of indigenous African, American, and Australian peoples. Stereotype would lead to prejudice which would lead to bigotry, all in the name of civilization. Still, inside Europe? Individuals of other races or cultures still interacted with respect, whether through being a local (similar language and dress) or being a wealthy/educated visitor (as with ambassadors and royalty).

Now, let’s take a look at America.  By the time the English settlers started moving in, the continent had already been rife with slavery and genocide, thanks to the Spanish, French, and Dutch. Then you add into this that the Puritans followed a religious path that lent itself toward superiority and an “us vs them” mentality. You have thus created a social and mental breeding ground for stereotype and bigotry. Yes, other cultures would eventually settle and blend in, but each time they did there was conflict and prejudice. Irish, Scots, and Welsh? Yep. Germanic and Nordic settlers during the western expansion? Certainly. Chinese and other Asian setters? Definitely. Spanish Mexicans? Let’s not forget the conflicts over Texas and the southwest. Each time Americans came face to face with a new culture, they immediately jumped on an “us vs them” bandwagon, only grudgingly accepting them after generations or when a new threat arose. Whereas European cultures were constantly exposed to each other through trade, war, and multicultural cities in a 10 million square mile plot of land, American “cultures” purposefully closed themselves off from each other in a 24 million square mile plot of land.

To summarize, although both Europe and North America have had conflicts that can breed stereotype and prejudice, Europe has been a “melting pot” since the Roman times. America, on the other hand, started out as a land of divisions since the first European settlers started interacting with the indigenous peoples. It’s almost as if the “us vs them” policy of the first settlers has continued into modern mentality. There are still old prejudices based in historical conflicts (slavery, religious differences, etc.) and even when the races do come together it becomes an “America vs Everyone Else” idea. Is there hope for this country? Maybe… but I think we may always be a bit behind other parts of the world when it comes to tearing down old walls. After all, “progression” is such a dirty word in the current socio-political environment…