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Culture Politics & Society Travel

A place called home

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Photo by Wells Baum

My dad couldn’t wait to leave Youngstown, Ohio growing up. There was a vast world out there he wanted to explore. He preferred to exit a place he couldn’t change in exchange for one where he could find more creative stimulation and meet different folks.

It didn’t take long for his away to feel like home, as was the case with my own upbringing. After my family moved from Dallas to New York, ‘Big D’ felt small and insular in retrospect. However, it was only upon visiting Youngstown to see my grandmother years ago that I witnessed a more parochial side of America.


In big cities, you’re just another unknown. In small towns, you can’t even hide; your family reputation precedes you from the coffee shop to the church. Being a somebody instills the false notion that everything is going to be ok because your relatives and neighbors share similar interests. But like-mindedness traps people into fitting in without questioning the status quo.

I understood why my Dad felt the urge to leave his hometown to seek new challenges. As Tocqueville observed, “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”

But small towns like Orange City, Iowa are proving to be more elastic. Locals who left town in search of big city dreams are returning and bringing their changed perspectives with them. That doesn’t mean traditional values are withering, but it does mean that the provincial can come to tolerate ethnic and religious disparities without isolating the other. It’s worth noting that cities carry their own biases; in gentrified cities like San Francisco, the homeless sleep in newspapers just outside the homes or billionaires.

Democracies are supposed to be noisy, pluralistic places that progress through open dialogue. While the internet accelerated communication and appeared to knock down borders, it also led people back into tribes. The only way to salvage openness is to experience the world beyond your original birth place (urban or rural) and then come back with an appreciation for discussing differences face to face.

A tolerance for dialogue and discomfort makes territories on a map more arbitrary than they already appear.

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American selfie.
American selfie.
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Culture Life & Philosophy

How Coffee Fueled the Civil War

mark-daynes-34771.jpg

Coffee did not win the war – Union material resources and manpower played a much, much bigger role than the quality of its Java – but it might say something about the victors. From one perspective, coffee was emblematic of the new Northern order of fast-paced wage labor, a hurried, business-minded, industrializing nation of strivers.

America’s Civil War didn’t just lead to the philosophy of pragmatism. It also resulted in an obsession with coffee.

Read How Coffee Fueled the Civil War

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You can count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

Winston Churchill
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We Aren’t the World

“American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

Get weird or go home. Normal is boring.

Via Seth’s Blog

In the words of the philosopher Dr. Seuss, “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Weirdness, Americanness.

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art-dacity: The Middle class is not global.  The Rise of the Global Super-Rich
art-dacity: The Middle class is not global.  The Rise of the Global Super-Rich
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Culture

America, the Remix

Creativity generates culture.

The primary reason the United States is the world’s cultural hegemon is because it has a diverse population in which to mash unique ideas.

Combine this recipe on top of plentiful tools for experimentation, production and distribution supported by established marketing practices to help spread the word. Taken together, these elements are what political scientist Joseph Nye coined American soft power.

Global culture and American culture are often considered the same thing.

From music to business, America is constantly pushing new stuff in which people assimilate. Even imports into America like Psy’s “Gangnam Style” get recasted as American and spit back out into the world. What is Korean pop is also American pop. America is the remix nation.

But even remixes get stodgy; the hodgepodge won’t last forever unless America’s traditional economic and military powers remain.