The American Way

The following is a message from a friend:

Welcome to America! This is the land of the free, and opportunities abound. But you must watch your steps at every turn. Traversing through the American landscape of expression and living is like playing chess. You have to watch your front, back, left side and right side at all times. This is a country where the attitudes of public and private institutions are largely perpetuated by the masses. Let me offer an example. When you get a loan at a bank, somewhere in the loan documents you might see the words, “Thank you. We appreciate your business. We value you as a customer.” In translation, what this really means is “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to fatten our pockets from your interest payments and should you ever miss a payment or two, you will be harshly dealt with.” People generally treat each other this way in America. True compassion for human beings is hard to find in the midst of gain and profit. By “profit” I don’t just mean monetarily but psychologically and materially as well. Your colleague may be right in what he said regarding never being rude to people even to the point of lying to hide true feelings. Our presidents of the past, particularly Ronald Reagan, best exemplify this mode of behavior. They often tell us one thing to earn our trust and then do the exact opposite.

This deceptive method of communication has a long-standing tradition in both American and English societies. In fact, it is deeply rooted in every facet of law, political discourse, and diplomacy. A very good illustration, that which is largely followed by American politicians, can be found in the The Prince, written by the Italian political theorist Nicolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli instructs that in order for a virtuous prince to obtain or secure a principality or state, he must use any means necessary to achieve his ends. He concludes that actions to protect the state are justified even if the means are deemed cruel. He advises such a prince to placate the masses through colorful speech and intentions, but do otherwise behind the scenes so as to not invite hatred. It has been rumored that this text was Adolf Hitler’s bedside companion. If true, one can only imagine how literal he took the doctrine. While taking a philosophy class in college, my professor defined diplomacy to mean learning to mask meaning. I raised my hand at once and asked, “Do you mean learning how to lie?” He said, “It’s not quite that simple, but ‘yes’, you could look at it that way.” In America, it is not possible to know the true intentions of people. Do not be fooled by their smile, eye contact, gifts and firm handshake. Honesty and trust become transitional traits, to be used to gain an advantage. I believe that when people say this is America, they are rationalizing the Machiavellian method of discourse; which is: do anything to get what you want, even by use of force, so long as you do so in a way that doesn’t invite animosity from an antagonist who thinks of you as a friend and has no knowledge of your true, or likely cruel, intentions.

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