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American Delusions: Managing myths in the USA

The USA is a very different country, with a political and social system difficult to understand if you are from a different culture - as I discovered on my first visit. In studying the cultural and social anthropology of American society (pasts, presents, and possible futures), I am writing mainly for an audience outside the USA. However, due to US American delusions, many US citizens think they know their country, but frequently their knowledge or understanding is as poor as that of a person from a different land. (In this, US Americans are not alone: for example, how many British know Britain?)

In fact, though I am not an exile, and do not feel exiled, there is more than a little truth in:

Exile places one at an oblique angle to one's new world and makes every immigrant, willy-nilly, into an anthropologist and relativist;

Eva Hoffman, "The New Nomads" in André Aciman, Letters of Transit: Reflections on Exile, Identity, Language, and Loss (1999)

I hope to interest US Americans (people who live in the USA) in my attempts to understand their society. Note that many who live in North, Central, and South America think of themselves as Americans, so I use US American to emphasize that I mean American from the USA.

Not having lived in Britain since the late 1980s, I am at a disadvantage when remembering life in the UK (people's opinions, attitudes, and behaviours are obvious examples). Indeed, people living in the UK might think I am remembering the old country from too rosy a perspective or even (given the 1980s) too negative a perspective - for example, my ideas of English (as distinct from Scottish) education do not take into account developments after the mid 1980s. As John Steinbeck wrote about his about own country and his own experiences:

... I discovered that I did not know my own country. I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir.

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In search of America (1962)

I do, however, live in the USA of the new millenium.

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An American REALITY

[PREAMBLE] Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof:


[SECTION 1] Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States...

[SECTION 14] That hereafter no State court or court of the United States shall admit Chinese to citizenship; and all laws in conflict with this act are hereby repealed.

Chinese Exclusion Act (US Statutes at Large, 6 May 1882)

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An American MYTH

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (1883): Inscription on the Statue of Liberty, officially inaugurated in 1886.

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HTML version of the book American Delusions (each section is a separate HTML page).

PDF version of the book American Delusions (the PDF file is about 1.2M bytes).

SBook version of the book American Delusions (the SBook file is about 700K bytes). An SBook is an electronic book that uses your default browser.

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