The Paradoxical Patriot | Teen Ink

The Paradoxical Patriot

October 15, 2007
By Anonymous

America could’ve been my worst enemy. I’ve lived in three radically dissimilar states, and if I had been a little less careful, those regions could’ve created a monster. I could’ve turned out to be a bored, sheltered chain store addict who spent all her time at the local McDonalds wishing for something bigger (Indiana). I could’ve been a dazed and confused ski bum whose extreme fondness for pot made for a talent wasted apathy in everything else (Colorado). Or, I could have been the private school city kid paradox—people seemingly more “worldly” than their provincial neighbors, but really the most asleep to the real world out of anyone (Chicago). Thankfully, I was born into a family that instilled in me the values that enabled me to turn these regional weaknesses into personal strength, but without that guidance, I could’ve easily slipped the other way. The lines of America are fine—rich with contradictions and inconsistencies.

As Americans we have the indulgence of shaping our lives through self interest. In Hector St. Jean De Crevecoeur’s “What is American”, he explores the good and pure side of self interest. He states, “Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, self interest; can it want a stronger allurement?”. The prospect of working solely for yourself and reaping the benefits gives Americans a feeling of contentment and spirited independence; we can make our lives as successful as our self interest motivates us to. Though De Crevecoeur’s observation is seemingly positive, he unintentionally alludes to the dangerous side of a nation whose citizens are in charge of their own efforts. The allurement of a society that enables you to be self motivated can lead to self interest being grossly misinterpreted. While pure self interest is associated with valuing industry and having vigor for learning, American citizens can twist self interest into generating materialism and apathy, morphing self interest into selfishness. De Crevecoeur lauds, “We [Americans] are all animated with the spirit of industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself”. De Crevecoeur fails to mention the handful of Americans whose definition of success does not include hard work, instead valuing indolence, or desiring the wealth that usually comes from industry, but skipping the working hard part. America embodies self interest, but not so perfectly as De Crevecoeur describes; within self interest is the subdivision of selfishness and misdirected motives. Already in the midst of America’s obsession with college acceptances, I have already experienced the American balance board of motivation by self interest...or, it can be argued, the other underlying motivation factors that are not nearly as untainted and moral as De Crevecoeur described. The line is so fine between the positive and negative self interest that it’s hard to tell (especially when it’s additionally hidden under stacks of monster Fiske college guidebooks and SAT tutor packets) whether prospective students are motivated by a genuine desire to deepen their education, or rather a selfish desire to be attend somewhere prestigious? College counseling offices and their strong tendency to recommend that students choose the university with more prestige combined with students’ big headedness associated with the tip top Ivies suggests that reputation trumps genuine curiosity and hunger for learning. I have frequently heard of students who are strongly urged by counselors and parents to choose colleges with big names, instead of one that is less prestigious but offers more individual opportunity to that specific student. These decisions are made from the tainted side of self interest, made impure with greed and placing too much significance on what others think, instead of focusing on your own self interest, which is what will ultimately make you happy.
Americans take most of our constitutional rights for granted, though we use our right to the Pursuit of Happiness with vigor. I have no problem with the latter. Life should be as happy as possible, and America undoubtedly gives you bountiful resources to be happy, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons. The Pursuit of Happiness is interpreted by some Americans as extreme hedonism. When I lived in Colorado, I was immersed in the ski bum culture—a division of extreme hedonists, people who live their lives shutting out anything that isn’t easy or doesn’t provide them with instant happiness. A constant supply of drugs and pride in intellectual apathy is a prerequisite, disregarding their talents to be in a constant daze of “happiness”. The other extreme of hedonism goes in the opposite direction; workers who work too hard and don’t take a moment to breathe and enjoy what America has to offer aside from financial success. Both extremes are in such a numbed nature that their supposed happiness will leave them feeling anything but. True happiness, the Pursuit of Happiness that our forefathers referred to, is achieved through a balance of hard work and then the rewards and relaxation one gets in result of that work. The ideal American balance of work and play, temperance and hedonism is expressed by De Crevecoeur when he describes the typical American landscape. “If he travels through our rural districts he views not the hostile castle, and the haughty mansion, contrasted with the clay built hut and miserable cabin…A pleasing uniformity of decent competence appears throughout our habitations”. Even though looking at the disproportion in the highest and lowest incomes in Chicago or any other major city would suggest otherwise, the spirit of De Crevecoeur’s quote is still very evident in American culture, at least in the citizens that combine work and play to create a Pursuit that leaves them feeling very happy indeed.
If the morals and values of the citizens of America stretch across such a vast scale, how does our nation balance between liberty and order? De Crevecoeur says, “We have no princes for whom we toil, starve and bleed: we are the most perfect society now existing in the world.” We don’t have princes to work for because we work for ourselves, but that can be dangerous. If De Crevecoeur meant we are perfect because we are free, then I agree. If he meant every American was inherently good and moral, then I do not. The amount of liberty the American government grants citizens means our forefathers had an unfaltering faith in the American people as a whole. Back then, Americans gave them considerable more reason to think so, with their simplistic, modest, and largely politically involved and educated lives. The faith in American’s public morality was the foundation on which the new republic was built—the creation of a stage play was deemed a “foolish gratification” and caused the public to worry if their public morality was in jeopardy. I can only imagine what our forefathers would say if they saw our nation today; I don’t think they would’ve had nearly as much faith in public decency. One of my recent goals has been to become more educated in current events. I turned on the TV after a day at work and flipped to CNN instead of “Entertainment Tonight”, but they seemed to be one and the same. The entire hour on the news channel was dedicated solely to Lindsay Lohan’s recent drunk driving and cocaine possession incident. Not to say ban all lighter, more entertainment based aspects of our culture, but citizens need to focus on a deeper understanding of important national and international issues in order to maintain a successful and meaningful liberty, instead of the oppressed, tyrannical order our forefathers were determined to avoid. With increased freedom comes more responsibility, which we, as American citizens, need to recognize and take care of.
America’s paradoxes and contradictions are what each individual decides to make of them; they can either hurt or help you. Either way, America undoubtedly provides the ideal environment in which its citizens are free, and they can make of that what their self interest enables them to. De Crevecoeur says, “Europe contains hardly any other distinctions but lords and tenants; this fair country alone is settled by freeholders”. America’s regionalism presents the ultimate American paradox—despite our huge regional and moral diversity, we are somehow fueled by an all encompassing unity, which is evident in the “share of national pride” most every American seems to feel when reflecting on their country. When individual morals are kept in check, America can be your biggest mentor and ally—we can keep it that way by maintaining public morality through balancing our inconsistencies.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Oct. 16 2008 at 11:59 pm
So true. I love it, keep it up!