The mechanization and standardization of American life

When I am reading the little and old book called America in Perspective, which collects over 30 essays written by foreigners to describe American way of life. The excerpt written by Richard Muller-Freienfels offered very penetrative insights by characterize as a country of mechanization and standardization. Although it was published in 1927, the descriptions are still exactly true in today’s America. I couldn’t help but dogear the page and jog down his insights as follows:

In a purely external sense, the mechanization of life is conditioned by the size of the country… A vast network of railways covers the land; the telegraph and the telephone, both largely American inventions, have reached a high degree of development… Above all, the motor-car is not a luxury, but an article of everyday utility, which is obvious from the shabby conditions of most of the cars one sees… In the eyes of the American all these things have a positive value… This general mechanization of life is, of course, due to the co-operation of a number of factors. The lack of domestic servants, which I shall presently consider as a social factor, has of necessity resulted in the mechanization, even in the home, of many tasks which in Europe are performed by human labor.Everyone who has visited the United States will be able to recall similar characteristics, all of which go to prove the same thing, namely, that the whole of life has been mechanized in a far greater degree than with us.. the prevalence of practical thinking, of the concentration of the intellect on the practical, useful, and efficient, and the obverse of this attitude is the repression and suppression of all that is merely agreeable, emotional, and irrational in the personality. This rationality, as a form of thinking and willing, expresses itself in constructions and instruments and machines which impress the purposeful will of humanity, with the aid of the inorganic forces of Nature, on the outer world. The machine is above all the typical creation and manifestation of the utilitarian and practical reason. It is pure practicality, embodied rationality.

The mathematization and technicalization of life is connected inextricably with a further trait of Americanism–with the typicalization, or, to use the American expression, the standardization of life. Nowadays one may also call this Fordization, since Mr. Ford is regarded a peculiarly representative of his country. Standardization is a consequence of mass-production, mathematization, and mechanization, for it implies the unlimited mass-production — for the most part by mechanical means — of a definite type of product … At all events, an observant eye will note the conspicuous appearance of the same features everywhere, in spite of obvious differences. This typification will be seen in the most prominent features as well as in the least conspicuous.

In every sizable town, there is a WalMart, Home Depot and Blockbuster. A visit to McDonald’s will show you the array of devices and equipment which makes fast food delivery even faster. It appears to me that for every problem, there is a technical solution and for every illness, there is a magic pill for it.

One unifying character of American society, which encompasses all the characteristics in this dazzling diversity in this country, is the inherent belief individualistic capitalism. Everyone is a business and you need to run it as you do with a business. You make personal choices and accept consequences. No one, even the parents, cannot run the business for the child, because they cannot face the liabilities of infringing upon another individual’s business. The consecration of individual capitalism began as early as when the egg is fertilized. As to the question of how closely this celebration of individual enterprise is related to the fundamental changes of Christian belief system, I am not so sure. But I know it does have a connection and has manifested itself ever since the first English immigrant steps on the new continent.

I hope to write a book on this topic one day.

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