Friday, December 19, 2008

American DNA? Why not?

The authors of the first four excerpts attempt to take it upon
themselves to define what it means to be American. Among the parts
of being an American according to them are loyalty, bravery,
determination, and allegiance. The first author defines an American
as one who leaves his/her old life and ways for a new life in
America. Crevecoeur praises the ability of Americans to make their
labor pay off easily, but notes their self-interested nature. Teddy
Roosevelt stresses Americans to be of their own separate race and
nationality, criticizing "hyphenated Americans" who call themselves
Asian-American, African-American, etc. His interest here lies in
uniting the people in his country while at the same time reminding
them of their new homeland and trying to persuade them into
forgetting their old cultures and customs.

Dr. John Gartner
describes Americans as "hypomaniac," mentioning their bravery and
willingness to risk just about everything for new opportunities in a
land completely unknown to them and thus going along with the first
author’s argument.

Roosevelt, despite the great president he was, takes his argument
here a bit too far and onto an almost nationalist perspective,
encouraging the people to forget their old countries and move onto
the growing culture in America. Gartner, along with the first
author, marvels at the bravery of an American to do just that: leave
behind his or her own ways in order to find opportunity within a new,
unknown world. Crevecoeur, on the other hand, tends to hide a
negative opinion behind some positive points. He points out that
opportunities of success in America are so much better than in other
parts of the world, where being successful is often never dreamed
of. Crevecoeur does remind the reader of Americans’ self-interested
nature and ultimately, their selfishness.

The fifth excerpt brings Gartner’s wonders of the hypomaniac,
American mind into action, suggesting there be an "American gene."
As stated by Peter Whybrow, the author of this passage, a study shows
that a certain gene has been found in Americans more than people of
any other country. Whybrow, going along with the scientists’
theories, predicts that it is this gene that provides Americans the
brave, risk-taking spirit mentioned by Gartner. He argues that the
only reason that people would be brave (and possibly crazy) enough to
leave everything behind in their homeland to come to a new, unknown
land would be because of a shared gene, and his opinion is backed up
by a scientific study.

This brought an indignant student close to tears in our class,
showing the apparent absurdity of this argument. But plug in the
scientifically-proven statistics and evidence, the well-reasoned
opinion of Whybrow, and historical fact, and we have the astounding
possibility of an actual American gene. While further research may
be needed to convince the rest of us that this isn’t just some stupid
joke to make us think about ourselves, isn’t it perfectly possible
that all the people who risked their lives to simply immigrate here
in the early 1900s, and then keep fighting on to find a place in the
confusing society of the young nation had something driving them? A
farmer who leaves behind his family, friends, and tradition to come
to America and try to find success with a plant that has less than a
50% chance of even growing has something in common with a businessman
who leaves the simple economy and environment of his country to
compete against thousands of more businessmen in America, where he
has a small sliver of a chance to make some good money. Contrast the
farmer to the farmer next door who would prefer to continue his
simple life in his own country rather than risk entering the busy,
hectic world of America.

And it doesn’t have to stop there; the
astronauts, explorers, and oceanographers of today are still looking
for a new place of their own, navigating their way through the last
known frontiers. All these people willing to risk everything for
something better could just as easily have a common gene as they
could not have it at all. Instead of asking ourselves "No way… he
can’t be serious," we can be asking ourselves "Well, why not?"

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