Re: FW: an ex-Yugoslavian's view of USA

From: Neal Blaikie (
Date: Sun Feb 11 2001 - 14:25:09 MST wrote:

> The question that arises for me is whether the second part of the passage
> quoted above contains an honest criticism of high-trust civil societies.
> Without a doubt, there is a high level of conformity in thought and behavior
> in the US and other such cultures. Conformity to VALUES of respect for the
> autonomy of others is good, but reflexive conformity to IDEAS is inimical to
> the proper functioning of a free society. The challenge, so far as I am
> concerned, is how to encourage the one without the other. This is obviously
> possible in theory: "Meta-values" of tolerance and polite skepticism serve to
> curb the tendency that high-trust societies may have to fall into shallow
> channels of "group-think". In practice, this task is obviously difficult.
> We see in all high-trust societies (I'm thinking of the US, England, Germany,
> Scandinavia and Japan) a significant propensity for the great majority of
> people to accept a "standard model" of how their lives should be lived
> without any question or deep understanding of how that set of behaviors has
> come to be or why they might or might not be the best way they could live
> their lives.
> The irony is that because high-trust cultures with functioning civil
> societies provide a comfortable basic level of "social security", people who
> grow up in such cultures are more able to simply accept the status quo as a
> "proper" basis for life (to use that galling English adjective that sums up
> so many unquestioned assumptions) and never develop the habits of mind that
> come from deep questioning of the world around them. This breeds complacency
> and, ultimately, a kind of chauvinism that is inimical to the very kinds of
> progress that made those societies possible in the first place. More
> abstractly, there seems to be an inherent paradox in our current cultural
> scene, where healthy skepticism about social issues has led to the paralysis
> of post-modernist subjectivism, which is itself incompatible with many of the
> basic functions of trust and civility. All of which has brought me over the
> years that I have considered these questions to the conclusion that only by
> returning to the root values of the Enlightenment can we balance both the
> good that comes from trust with the need for on-going skepticism.

Wow, what an excellent analysis. I couldn't agree with you more. I've been
grappling with these ideas for many years. Having now lived in three out of four
corners of the US (Florida, Connecticut, and now California), I am upon
reflection amazed at how differently trust and complacency are manifested in
different regions, but also by how they do seem to go hand in hand. I now live
in a small town in south-central CA, and people here are, for the most part,
open, trusting, friendly, kind and extremely complacent. This baffles me,
because the ability to have trust in my immediate social group (with skeptical
alertness) has always been one of the things that has allowed me to examine the
world more critically. Having the same kind of "social security" that allows
others to accept the status quo has given me the freedom to question it. And
it's not like I grew up in a household of skeptics. Quite the opposite. My
father was a career military man who retired from the service and immediately
became a career civil servant at a Naval base. I was raised in an environment
where not only was the status quo not questioned, but the concept of a status
quo could not even be recognized or articulated. It simply wasn't a part of
reality. Why I turned out to be such a trouble maker is beyond my comprehension!

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