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I think I finally understand America.

I had an epiphany the other day.  One of those moments where I simultaneously feel dumb because I suspect everybody else already knew the answer, but also proud because it finally clicked in my head.  It's put things in perspective for me and really got me to understand my country and my roots.

Alright.  Ready?  Here it goes:

Americans like power fantasies because capitalism is an anti-resignation religion.

It's hard for me to choose the right words here since I never studied philosophy all that closely, so all the things I'm thinking have probably been rigorously discussed with more academic terms.  If you were a Philosophy major, please bear with me.  And feel free to post some corrections in the comments.

Start with something like Buddhism, or at least the idea of dukkha. Life is a constant state of change and dissatisfaction.  Our dissatisfaction is tied mainly to the belief that we have control over our fate; we struggle to prevent or redirect change, and it just makes us frustrated and depressed.  But if you come to accept that most things are beyond your control, you recognize your limits and focus on the things that you actually can change.  Resigning yourself to the world sounds depressing at first, but it frees you from an unrealistic burden and actually ends up making life easier.

Problem is, capitalism doesn't accept that.  The whole point of capitalism is that everything is under your control.  Don't like being poor?  Well, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and work harder.  The only reason you suffer is because you're not trying hard enough to change your fate.  This is the underlying philosophy behind every American thing ever.

Enter the power fantasy.  A movie like Taken is successful because it's about an American (a British-accented American, sure, but still a goddamn American) to whom an unspeakable tragedy is about to befall, and instead of accepting it and finding a way to move on, he pulls a well of strength out of nowhere and fights back against the mysterious bad guys.  We don't want to believe that the real way to handle tragedy is to accept the things we cannot change.  Our religion tells us that there's no reason to accept it, because we have guns. We can fight and win.

This is why there are no American movies where the hero realizes he can't win a war.  There are no American superhero movies where the villain's scheme works and the hero only wins by rebuilding after the fact.

I heard once that American culture is becoming infantilized.  People are allowed to cling to childish stories and instant gratification and so forth, and so we're allowing ourselves to get away with being big babies.

I don't know if that's totally accurate.  I think it's just an offshoot of the power fantasy - we don't accept that things have to change if we don't want them to, so we struggle and try to find ways to make Batman deep and mysterious so we can have permission to keep watching him when we're in our forties.

All of American culture is rooted in anti-resignation.  Whether we refuse to resign ourselves to maturity, poverty, war, depression, health, struggle, or anything else, it's just that same "let's get to work and everything will be fine" spirit.  I get it now, guys.  We're all just afraid to let go.

I'm not condemning the movies, mind you.  I like 'em as much as the next guy.  I just feel like the world makes a little more sense now.

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