An Understanding of the Roots of American Culture

… just not necessarily mine.

The core came from Christian western Europe with the settlers. It was refined and influenced by the unique circumstances, environment, etc., they encountered here. It was greatly influenced by the aforementioned pioneer spirit. Also, by other groups of people, the Indians who were already here, the slaves brought from Africa, etc.

It was molded by the challenges of “taming a continent,” as I once read — masterfully illustrated, to me, by George Caleb Bingham’s painting of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap – the different terrains, range of climate and temperature, etc. (I was pretty young when I read this, so don’t remember the source, but it said houses up north were given steep roofs to shed snow while houses in the South were given lower/flatter roofs with wide overhangs and/or deep porches for shade, and often with an open dogtrot to catch breezes).

These challenges enhanced the division of labor between men and women, although other cultures also had a similar divisions. Men explored, hunted, cleared land and built, women birthed children and cared for them, grew and prepared food, spun and weaved and sewed. Tradesmen, merchants, shippers, etc., followed the pioneer explorer and settlers into newly opened areas and created first trading posts, then small settlments, which grew into small towns, and some into cities.

Navigable rivers influenced settlement areas (and served as communication arteries), as did terrain and fertility of the soil; for example, there weren’t wide-ranging, midwestern-style farms or huge plantations in Appalachia. The plains of the west where buffalo herds once lived were adaptable o raising domestic herds (sheep, cattle).

It is my belief that the influence of Christianity enhances man’s God-given ability to explore and invent, and the population of that area of North America that would become the USA proved creatively inventive in meeting the challenges of making the land habitable and starting trade. Although it is taboo to say so, Christian Europe also influenced the notions of government in the New World, and this is one reason it is difficult to transplant western style democracy onto cultures such as Iraq, so that our “nation building” in such places is pretty much doomed to failure. (Due to character limits on comments, I will have to continue this thought in another comment.)

My answers to you are of necessity very rudimentary and piecemeal. My notions about such things were developed over my lifetime, from many different sources. I could not name them all for you. Some of the information was likely mistaken, some of it filtered through my own perceptions. But believe the information my concept of American culture is, on the whole, valid — regardless of the hideous cackles of ridicule it might provoke in my critics.

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6 thoughts on “An Understanding of the Roots of American Culture

  1. >> women birthed children

    I long for those days. No, seriously the difficulties of democratic government in places like the Middle East is an age old debate. I don’t throw stones at people who disagree, but though I’m a religious man myself I don’t share this religious/cultural view of the grounds of citizenship. I look at radical Islam, as do many others, as a political totalitarian movement with a thin veneer of religious covering as a disguise. But the political view that the main difference between us and other nations is religious and/or cultural rather than political is widespread on the left and right. Because of this, though I disagree with it, this view on its own isn’t extreme whatever other beliefs this person may have.

      • I think there’s been poor leadership in having a conversation about the differences between Islam and Islamism, and then even the different shades of Islamism. I have a hard time blaming people for not knowing the difference, when there hasn’t been much of conversation about it from most quarters of our society. That said, I think it’s gotten somewhat better in the last couple of years maybe, but this a decade past 9/11.

  2. I found a couple of aspects of this passage particularly interesting.

    First is the notion of staticness in culture. The contributors to the creation of the American culture all seem to have arrived by 1776 in this authors opinion. Change seems only to have come through the encounter with the natural environment.

    Second, is the curious fact that if the United States had a unified culture in the early 19th Century from which we have fallen away from after the 1960s, it was a uniquely violent and divisive culture. Since the author of the selection counts blacks, Native Americans, and white settlers as contributors to American culture, it should recalled that whites enslaved blacks and that whites and Native Americans waged a low intensity conflict against each other for more than a century. It is also notable that from 1861 to 1865 members of this alleged American culture slaughtered each other by the hundreds of thousands.

  3. This is one mixed-up ode. We have this:

    “It was greatly influenced by the aforementioned pioneer spirit. Also, by other groups of people, the Indians who were already here,..”

    Then we have these:

    “It was molded by the challenges of “taming a continent,” as I once read — masterfully illustrated, to me, by George Caleb Bingham’s painting of Daniel Boone leading settlers through the Cumberland Gap … Tradesmen, merchants, shippers, etc., followed the pioneer explorer and settlers into newly opened areas and created first trading posts, then small settlements, which grew into small towns, and some into cities. … The plains of the west where buffalo herds once lived were adaptable to raising domestic herds (sheep, cattle).”

    I’m baffled by the “influence” of the ones “who were already here”, because it looks like their “influence” was to get the hell out of the way.

  4. Of course, the notion of a unified American culture was less challenged by anything immigrants or “leftists” did and more challenged by the North/South and White/Black divides of the long-time native born.

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