American Culture: Individualism

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When most people think about the “American culture,” images of Coca-Cola, hot dogs, baseball games, big cars and suburban mansions come to mind. But there is a deeper side to American culture than Hollywood and Disney World. Underneath the layers of TV advertising and hyper-consumerism, there is a cultural DNA that makes America what it is. Here is a brief look at several cultural “genes” that influence the way Americans think and act. Individualism

Individualism is a way of life by which a person places his or her own desires, needs, and comforts above the needs of a broader community. This does not mean that Americans have no concern for other people, but it does mean that they give high priority to their personal ambitions. This can turn in to an extreme form of selfishness, which makes good relationships almost impossible. In a classic book about American culture, called Habits of the Heart, the authors say that Americans often enter into relationships only if their own needs are met first. And if those needs aren’t satisfied, then they usually end the relationship. Perhaps this is one reason why fewer Americans are getting married.

The positive side of American individualism is that people are encouraged to express themselves in unique ways. Because the culture values individuality, Americans admire those who do something new and innovative. Perhaps this is one reason why so many technological inventions and new ideas come from the U.S. It’s certainly one reason why so many new artistic and musical movements—such as Jazz—have been born in America.

Individualism also fuels hyper-consumerism in the U.S. The best physical example of America’s individualistic consumer culture is the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is a monument to individualism, a place where you can fulfill any material desire. The shopping center has 520 stores, two full-sized indoor roller coasters, and a large saltwater aquarium with sharks, stingrays and other exotic...