In my life in Moscow I am almost hourly aware of living in Russia – in a culture in which I live as a foreigner. I may happen to look Russian to most – but I am almost constantly aware that I am in a foreign country, and not in “the West”, or in the USA. I personally, in fact, like this living daily awareness; being an intellectual interested in new things and the world around me…it keeps me at least slightly “awake and attentive”. But being back in America now on vacation, my consciousness of daily life is quite other – and I am convinced that this is not merely because I am an American in America.
The “reality” of mind I am going to try to merely mention, is not easy to discern and, to my mind at least, even more difficult to “name”. But after reflecting on this for several of the past years…I have decided to try. Russia, it could be said, is a “dissatisfied country”: the fact that it often evaluates itself in contrast to the USA or Western Europe, in addition to its turbulent and unsettled 20th century history, shows this. The USA in contrast, though it has a lot of internal dissatisfaction, is nonetheless a comparatively “self-satisfied” place now in time. It seems to me to sort of presume itself in the world – rather unconsciously at times – as complete and total; perhaps as the British did during the time of their former, powerful British Empire (where “the sun never set”). In contrast probably to recent foreign-born immigrants to the USA, or those participating in the many current revivals of pride and identification with family ethnic-identities in the USA…native-born “Americans” have a tendency to be not only national-provincials in their thoughts, ideas and experience, and to have limited knowledge of other countries, traditions, cultures, ways of life; but also to assume that all the world either is already pretty much like America, wants to be, or should be.
But it is not any such smug moralistic attitude which I am trying to “name” – rather it is the unconscious, mostly unconscious, “condition” of mind in America…that life here is the only reality: that “American”, that the “good ole USA” (as some say it), is a sort of social reality which could not be much other than it is, need not be much other than it is, and is the best – even the only – social reality in the entire world. “From sea to shining sea” (plus Hawaii and Alaska) – the USA, as it were, assumes that it is some sort of complete “end”, some completion in history and civilization. That most of the world’s peoples do not live, or think (is this decreasingly true?) like Americans; that there are many different histories, cultures, traditions, etc, is, in my experience, rarely noticed – at least by many native-born Americans (amongst which, by the way, an excellent example of the mentality I am trying to describe is the current US President).
The fact that most of the world is not America, and not like America (as, for example Russia, with it very different history and traditions) – is not very clear or conscious to many Americans. They sort of assume, so it seems to me, that it is “the only reality” in the world; or should be.
California, 2001 (unpublished)