“He’s Kyrgyz, but he thinks like an American.” Today, while travelling around Bishkek, the greenest city in the former Soviet Union, a Kyrgyz friend confided that about another Kyrgyz friend. I’ve heard that idea in many countries. It’s always said by a native of the other country speaking of a fellow citizen. People all across Eastern Europe and Africa contend there is a unique and positive American mentality that they really admire.
To them, thinking and acting like an American is being free to think and say what you feel. Not inhibited by typical norms, free from traditional modes of thought.
Here in Bishkek is the American University of Central Asia. The Kyrgyz tell me that kids who go to that university develop a unique attitude they call an American mentality. They are more free in thought, word and deed. They aren’t so limited in the possibilities they will consider. The sky’s the limit for those with the American mentality. They aren’t bound by the dictates of blind tradition. This spills over into work and technology and resulted in the famed American ingenuity which propelled us to the moon and to the top of technology and science worldwide in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
This is what the Kyrgyz tell me. And I’ve heard heard the same sentiments in most of the 37 countries I’ve worked in.
If you don’t travel much outside America, you might not even realize you have a particular way of looking at the world that is not shared by many in other countries. Maybe, as far as you are concerned, the way you look at the world is the way everyone does.
What people outside America don’t realize is how much American freedom and innovation have been weakened from inside. Americans in America are no longer free to speak their minds on many topics. You must toe the politically correct line or be shouted down on social media. And its true on both the left and the right. Each side has a plethora of sacred cows which must be revered and punching bags which must be hit.
Innovation and pursuit of truth is castigated today in America if it conflicts with the party line.
My Kyrgyz friends don’t realize how far the America of today has moved from the America they admire so much. Americans don’t either. They are like the frog in the pot of water which is gradually being heated up. They don’t realize they are being cooked.
Sadly, Americans are cooking themselves. As far as many Americans today are concerned, the way they look at the world is the way everyone does, or maybe should. They believe: if you don’t look at the world the way we do, then you are just wrong.
That’s the root of the tribalism endemic in the US today. We don’t give credence to other ways of looking at the world. It’s my way or the highway. “I know the truth and don’t you dare question it” is the attitude of the hardline party activists who are being boiled alive in the peculiar atmosphere of America.
That mentality is present in all tribal peoples. Many American Indian tribes viewed other tribes as not really human. That’s taking the tribal mentality to the extreme. Some self-righteous Americans seem to be getting close to that these days.
The mistakes some American leaders made in the past are an outgrowth of this self-righteousness, coupled with greed. Vietnam, the banking crisis, the second Iraq war are all examples. Some activists and politicians are so inflamed by those mistakes that they suppress the qualities which make America admired around the world. Openness, freedom, pursuit of truth, and ingenuity can be misapplied and result in horrible harm. But retreating into tribes does not solve anything.
America, not too long ago, had progressed beyond the tribe. We knew there was much to learn and we felt free to explore and learn it. We could talk with those who disagreed with us. Now there are certain beliefs that just can’t be questioned.
The American mentality so admired by people in other countries is increasingly absent in Americans. The orthodoxy in American education means our children grow up knowing many topics are just off limits. Any attempt to discuss them is shouted down. They are the elephants in the room that everyone tries to ignore. We do not explore anything which contradicts the current politically correct positions of our tribe.
When will Americans wake up and realize they are losing what made America great? The American attitude so many admire is in danger of disappearing.