Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
A look at the philosophies behind two great cultures
Published on March 4, 2004 By Draginol In International

Blogs occasionally seem to have a Europe vs. United States mentality. I've seen it since the beginning of blogging. Why is that? Why is so much scorn reserved for Americans from Europeans? Why is such contempt shown for Europeans? I think I have the answer: Drastically different philosophies on life.

Europeans are focused on fairness. Americans are focused on freedom.  Europeans look at Americans as a bunch of uncultured barbarians running amok in their country and worse, through the world spreading their vulgar culture around. Americans see Europeans as a bunch of sissies whose people meekly except regulations and massive taxation in an effort to make life more "fair" for everyone.  The American response would typically be "Hey, life ain't fair!" to which the European might answer "But it should be!" And so it goes from there.

But because so many Europeans like individual Americans (and vice versa) the argument usually gets shifted to the "administrations" of the various countries.  The typical American is a nice guy right? It's not his fault that the United States is full of gun toting, capital punishment supporting, SUV driving, CO2 producing zealots. What do you expect with Bush in charge? And "Old Europe" is a mess not because of the typical Belgian or German or Frenchman, it's cynical and corrupt politicians like Chirac or Schroeder that make it seem so crummy to us.

What both fail to realize that in a democracy, the people get what they want. Sometimes it takes awhile but eventually their cultures will get a government that represents them. Some people are aghast that the United States has capital punishment. But an overwhelming majority of Americans supports capital punishment. So we elect leaders who support it. Both Kerry and Bush support capital punishment. They have to. They wouldn't get elected otherwise. But why do Americans support capital punishment? Because we're a bunch of "Cowboys"? No. It's because we believe in having a great deal of freedom in our lives but we also believe that freedom comes with a price -- personal responsibility.

Great freedom requiring personal responsibility is one of the cornerstones of American culture. And it is a relatively foreign concept to Europeans (not personal responsibility but the relationship between the two).  We pretty much allow people to do what they want here.  You can own a gun with few exceptions. There are few regulations in being an entrepreneur.  But at the same time, there are few regulations to keep a company from simply bombing on its own.  People in the United States aren't taxed very much relatively speaking. They're free to make decisions on how they want to spend the money they earn. But on the other side of the coin, they also are free to make poor choices and end up in the gutter.

I don't mean this as a criticism of Europe but Europeans have never had the kinds of freedoms Americans have. Even today. It was, after all, a big reason why so many Europeans came to the United States in the first place. The US government is formed on the basis of the federal government essentially providing a handful of essential services. It's actually the weakest central government in the industrialized world in terms of its domestic power. But Europeans have not demanded the kinds of freedoms Americans want. A European might correctly point out that too much freedom leads to chaos and anarchy. And that Europeans have chosen to pull back a bit from the brink that Americans seem so readily to jump over in order to try to create a more just society.

Remember, the French revolution cry was not freedom or death as it was in the United States. It was split amongst 3 principles: liberty, equality, fraternity. Much of "old Europe" could be described in this way. The government exists to help make things more fair -- more equal. It's not fair for some people to be incredibly rich while others are incredibly poor. A European would look at the gap between the richest Americans and the poorest Americans as evidence that the American system isn't working. An American would look at the same evidence and point out that it is working as designed. The only concern Americans would have is if the rich got rich from cheating the system in some way. Americans, generally, do not envy the rich because they believe they have a shot at being one of them if they play their cards right. And even if they don't, odds are they'll end up doing pretty well.

The descendants of Europe who live in the United States have a significantly better standard of living than anywhere else in the world. And the American system works so well that descendents from Africa have the highest standard of living of any people with African heritage in the world -- despite having been slaves only a bit over a century ago. But there's a catch (isn't there always?) The poorest Americans live pretty darn poorly compared to people in similar situations in Europe. If life were an obstacle course where 90% of the people were able to compete it and 10% didn't, the 90% in the US are rewarded far more than the 90% in Europe. But at the same time, the 10% who can't do it suffer more in the US than they do in Europe. So which path do you take?

As an American, I've been instilled with its cultural values. So I prefer freedom to fairness. I have sympathy for those who haven't been able to make the cut in American society but I also don't want to see our freedoms further eroded in order to prop them up. I don't like the way things are in "old Europe". My views aren't shared by all Americans. But they are shared by most Americans. And vice versa in Europe. And the result of democracy in action (or representative government if you're anal retentive) is that the system is set up to reflect our values -- just like the French and Germans and Belgians and so on have governments that reflect theirs. And that's a good thing.


Comments (Page 1)
on Mar 04, 2004
Could this be why there are so few "Old Europe" allies in Iraq?
Is the instalation, or cultivation, of our democratic values a threat ?
Great post.
on Mar 04, 2004
Give me freedom to screw up or give me an anal cavity search because I must be higher than hell if I'd give up my ability to hold myself responsible for the actions I choose to make that are allowed by my representative government.

With great freedom comes great reponsibility. Many Americans feel we're responsible for people who make bad decisions and misuse their freedom. When did this occur?
What generation deci..nevermind, I think I got that answered.

People hate/fear what they do not understand..And both sides of the world stand on their borders, looking towards the other and asking "What the hell is wrong with them?"..
I just wish more people viewed things at the point Brad has made. We're DIFFERENT. There shouldn't be as many problems as a result of this, maybe even get along alot better than we do now, but differences have always been the sheer motivation for hatred and every ugly nasty thing we can come up with. Whether it's Nationalism or Racism, that's the ONLY reason why they exist. If it's different, it must be bad. BAH!

Good show at being impartial and fair, Brad. Now, where's my freedom to add a couple thousand points to my score? Oh yeah, I gotta work for it..*mutters* Where's the fancy welfare system now to support my points? BAH..
on Mar 04, 2004
Slightly cliched truism but I thought it was relevant here:

When an American loks up to the big house on the hill he thinks: "One day, I'm gonna live in a place like that."

When a European looks up to the big house on the hill he thinks: "One day, I'm gonna get that bastard."
on Mar 04, 2004
I think that the European people are even more misled, because they really seem to believe that their government's stances are based upon "morality" or equality. Most of us in the US can understand that the basis for all policy is, and pretty much should be, the security and prosperity of our private sector. Most European people I talk to seem to think their governments make these lofty stands for ethical stance alone, as if they were small towns like Andy Griffith's Mayberry.

99% of the righteous indignation for the US from European governments is based upon their trade relationship with us. Liberating Iraq lost some EU literally billions of dollars. Their backhanded concern for environmental protocols are a way of leveraging US industrial superiority. Do they see their nations as subverting the UN and other international organizations for personal gain? Nah, they see it as heartfelt activism.

It is a joke.
on Mar 04, 2004
Wow Brad, normally when you write an article such as this I shake my head and disagree with you. This time it's different. Kudos on a very well written article.
on Mar 04, 2004
Maybe the idea of European fairness comes from their history. Centuries of plague and warfare could have left them with the general idea of “we’re all in this together”. All the rebuilding and restructuring Europe went through made the rich, less rich and the poor a little better off. It could also be possible that due to the incredibly wealthy monarchs that ruled in the distant past, that the Europeans have been a little suspect of great wealth and power. Yes, I know that it does not exist today, but it existed once, maybe the thought just stayed somewhere in the back of the mind.
The U.S. on the other hand was a land that had to be “discovered” (yes, I know, Native Americans, here first, not the point). The people who went out west succeeded or failed on their own decisions, on their skills, luck and a little help from others. There was a gap between the winners and losers, especially in the gold towns. It’s possible that that idea of making it on your own formed the current ideas today. The “pulling yourself up” by your bootstraps” thinking.

Maybe.

IG
on Mar 04, 2004
America does offer more oppertunity and I think your point is valid, in America_you can go for it, achieve beyond your wildest dreams, it's true_ my sister used to say, " if the mind can conceive it the body can achieve it" and she flew in her educational pursuits as a single mum, later career for the State.
My son's there, now in my home town.

vive le differance_Euroland is just different, things are becoming more americanized here, Entrepreneur-ism is really encouraged_in the last decade I've seen this rural, agri-area really shift since EU money's been pumped in. I can't really defend the whole of the EU, honest_ I'd be a fool to try at this stage. I live in a rural/ touristy area on a big river_Westerschelder. DOW is across the canal_the major employer.
A federale...Untined States of Euroland??? It's not cohesive_we all speak different languages, atleast the money is the same now. I mean how can a fed. be built like this??? I ask the same question myself.
Don't forget the Dutch built New York City, traded it later for Suri name_ and gave you slaves_ we're all in it together,I believe. Thick as thieves. English, French_built america and tried to wipe-out the natives.
Maybe the land was cursed.
My problem with America is the treaties that made me feel secure,once, against the unthinkable_are gone. The US has broken every int'L treaty that pertains to the hunger to dominate_ defying and marginalizing the UN and it's decisions, war, war crimes court , international crimes, Kyoto_ they have broken the trust_ I thought would ensure us all, "peace" reduction of arms_elimaination of nukes, protection of the air we breath.

Pie in the sky, now. That's my worry, as a Mom and a contributing member of society, Brad Wardell, a nuclear war_with me in between the super power and the rest of us.
It's a 4 day drive to Iraq_too close for comfort.
Sorry_if I've offended you by trying to raise awareness to bigger problems than clans and tribal feuds.
But Yeah, in America_
there is unbounded oppertunity, genuine good people, beauitful sceneray_ if everything works out for ya. Falling between the cracks can be a choice, but it often not and that's my socialistic point of view.
Good One Mr. Wardell.

on Mar 04, 2004
I believe a lot of the animosity you see in Europe and elsewhere is jealousy pure and simple.
When I was a kid I went to a French school for a few years. Except for a couple memorable people
including one teacher none of them were openly hostile and anti american. The teacher was in a quandary
because I was usually number 1 in the class. Justice.

Something about internet "disembodied" conversations causes a lot of hostility.. I think it is the lack of cues
that are present in face to face conversation: tone body language etc.....
Jealousy is alive and well here too. I stopped telling people I was an MD for that very reason, nobody handles
it in a neutral fashion. There is immediately a reaction usually negative.
on Mar 04, 2004
Inquiry: MD. Medical Doctor?

Clueless.

IG
on Mar 04, 2004
That was a very insiteful piece Brad, and i agree with you whole heartedly.

Its the cultural differences in this world that makes it an interesting place, and you have just succesfully pointed out that Americans are generally individualistic, and not to step on any toes here, but a degree of Arrogance/Confidence is a character trait of American's

I look at it as this - The Head of Govenrment in Europe represent's everyone - even the poor, whereas the Government in the US (or Australia to an extent) are just C.E.O's looking for the best possible business deals to build the Economy.

That isn't to say the Europeans aren't interested in in the business sector of the economy, its just blatently obvious that they dont hold in the same esteem or importance as the pure capitalist money making environment in the States. Its funny, a hybrid of the two attitudes would be perfect - and i think thats close to what we have in Australia!

Its also important not to pidgeon hole all the cultures in Europe... The individual govenrments in Europe aren't as alike as the picture you are painting here, but for the sake of this argument, it mostly holds true.

BAM!!!
on Mar 04, 2004
A very well conceived, well written peice, Brad. Good job.
Perhaps the best insights into cultural differences that I have ever seen in print.
on Mar 04, 2004
Very good post Brad, I agree. Damn I'm tired of being "bashed" for being an American, trying to help other countries realise their potential, and being acused of forcing our beliefs on them. I'm almost to the point of being an "Isolationist".
on Mar 05, 2004
Another interesting fact I used in a class last term, but have lost the exact numbers, the long and the short of it is, in every country that is not the USA, it takes nearly 5-10 times longer for a person who has started a failed company to start another, if ever. I'll try and find the stat.

Cheers
on Mar 05, 2004
This is an article that I can agree with. I just wish that those of us who are Americans but wanted to be Europeans could trade places with Europeans who wanted to be Americans. But it doesn't work that way.
on Mar 05, 2004
Good article! It was well written and balanced. I usually don't agree with your view, but I liked this one.