Kim H. Veltman

American Visions of Convergence

January 2005

Appendix 2. Diversity or Sameness? Reflections on Differences between Europe and the United States.

To understand why America, like Goethe, has two guiding spirits (zwei Seele in einer Brust) and to understand why Europe and America have very distinct approaches to the world, requires a detour into history and psychology. We shall begin with notions of law to explore how a psychology of the “good guy, initially associated with the American West, shaped American definitions of difference, values and law into something very different than European worldviews. Understanding these differences and their consequences will help us to understand the deeper roots of what US citizens sometimes perceived as simple anti-American sentiments. They will also cast light on the immensity of the problems that have been set in motion by a small group of individuals acting in the name of a great nation.

Psychology of the Good Guy The East Coast of the United States saw itself as building on the great traditions of Greco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian law, with a strong influence from the Anglo-Saxon tradion. It was not always so in the all too often Wild West. This inspired a whole genre of cowboy movies. It also focused attention on a particular kind of hero, epitomized in figures such as the Lone Ranger or Zorro: where individuals, claiming to work for the right, took the law into their own hands, and sometimes killed and destroyed, without regard for local authorities and jurisdictions. If one was the good guy, the end justified the means. In the often chaotic climate of those times, order was above the law. In time, such cowboys moved to the cities where a new kind of urban cowboy emerged with names such as Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Spiderwoman and Catwoman. They began as comic strip figures and then moved to television programmes and later the film screens. In recent years, such television heroes have more modern equipment and trendier names such as Knight Rider and Airwolf. Although the names changed, the basic attitude of the semilawless days of the Wild West prevailed. There was a notion that might is right. Gradually this attitude spread throughout the country. Even at Harvard, a recent study suggested that countries with the most money made the most progress and hence implied that might is right.

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