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.


IMDB score is inflated

Like the ongoing inflation, the rating score on IMDB is inflated. The movies with a rating of 7 or above are tedious and boring. Honestly, the 2012 movie Lincoln, which has a rating of 7.6, is unbearable to watch. After the first twenty minutes, I just quit. On the other hand, some movies are underrated. For example, Identity Thief is a good road trip comedy, but it is only rated 5.3. My experience is that any comedy with a rating of 5 or above is worth watching if you just want to relax and have some fun time.

Nicolas Cage and Jim Carrey, as your fan, I hope you can keep making good movies.


Tenants of the United States, Unite

Why do tenants have to sign a whole year’s lease instead of at shorter intervals, such a three months and half a year?

Isn’t it the tyranny of capitalism when the weaker side has to accept what the rich side dictates? With the burden of financial pressure, freedom and democracy becomes a convenient tool to become freedom of exploitation and dominance of plutocracy.



$24 Huffy Bike was stolen

On Sunday, my son and I went to the library. My son rode his Huffy bicycle which was recently bought from a thrifty shop for $24 dollars. He enjoyed riding it very much, because it had pedal brakes and two pegs in the rear wheel, two things he didn’t have in all the bikes he owned previously. Besides, the pedal brakes make it easier to do ‘drifting’, which further delighted my son.

Against repeated advice of my wife, we didn’t have any intention to lock it. I theorized to my son that nobody in the US would steal a kid’s bike, because it would appear so despicable and low-life to do so. It can’t happen in America!

However, my romanticism about USA was shattered when we stepped out of the library and noticed that the bike was gone for good. The immediate lesson I drew is: things can happen in the US and any notion to idealize it is bound to be shattered by the hard realities and dark side of human nature. If there is an opportunity for an immediate profit with impunity, many people will do that, including stealing a kid’s bike.

Today we went to the library and reported this to the security service. To our surprise, the security person said they probably had the thief on tape because there is a security camera directing at the bike rack. The library security service filled out a form and called the campus police. A policeman came within 2 or 3 minutes, and asked in thorough detail about what have happened and took detailed notes. I didn’t expect that for such a trivial matter, the policeman took it so seriously.

The officer promised to retrieve the security camera footage and got back to me. Hope the bike can be found, although the chances are very slim. Yet the police office did impressive me with his professionalism and attention to the case. I am sure my son is also impressed.


Misc USA

Capitalism and freedom explained in one minute

The following is a comment made by Gabe at Engadget. I like the incisive insights, so I gleefully copied it here:

Constant conflicts (economic or warfare) is necessary to maintain stability in our society. Capitalism necessarily expands to avoid collapse. It’s what Joseph Tainter called a “runaway train”.

The amount of attention given to, dogmatization of, and religious adherence to the idea of “freedom” might as well be philosophical slavery – anything that does not conform to an arbitrary set of criteria that defines “freedom” is automatically “evil” and rejected, regardless of any practical benefits it may have.

Knowing half of the truth and thinking you know the whole is far worse than knowing nothing at all. We can at least acknowledge and deal with our ignorance in the second case, whereas in the first case we become so secure in our biased perception of the truth it “becomes” the truth.

Who is Joseph Tainter

From wikipedia:

A professor in anthropology. His best-known work is The Collapse of Complex Societies. This 1988 book examines the collapse of Maya and Chacoan civilizations, and the Roman Empire, in terms of network theory, energy economics and complexity theory. Tainter argues that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity reach a point of diminishing marginal returns.

My take

Hope I can know more about Dr. Tainter’s theory. I would question his theory by asking this question: can a study of three civilizations be enough to prove the correlation between the burden of complexities and the collapse of a society? How would this theory be applied to the longest sustained civilization in China?

China USA

What is a civil society

The civil society, from my understanding, is a society in which citizens have the necessary resources and effective constitutional protection to fully exert their civil rights and fulfill their civil duties. This includes, but not limited to, the formation of ‘sectors’ or organizations for the citizenship related functions.

Citizens don’t not necessarily need collective or collaborated activities to maintain and expand their citizenship. As long as there is a binding social contract between the citizen and the authority, and a impartial arbitrary system to settle the disputes between the two parties, that society can be called a civil society.

Some comparable terms to civil society are slavery society and medieval society, in which there were no citizens and citizenship.


Obama will Become the Next President

It is not wise to predict the future, but I will predict anyway…

I am pretty certain that Barack Obama will win the presidential election and become the next President of the U.S. Why?

  1. The mid-term election in 2006 showed that voters did not like the War in Iraq, and Democrats took over the majority of the Congress mainly because of their anti-war position.
  2. The general people of the U.S. are now facing a very high gas price due to the unprecedented surge of oil price. This will affect the voters’ attitude toward the oil tycoons and Bush administration.
  3. U.S. economy is in a recession and a bad economy usually means the doom of the incumbent party in the presidential election.
  4. McCain still followed his old hawkish republican route, claiming this is ‘dangerous world’ and America needs more military power to defend itself. Well, he will see how many voters actually buy this talk. Even if he wants to play the role as a tough guy, I doubt there will be resources available for military expansion, with a costly war going on in Iraq.
  5. Yes, Obama is black, and the undercurrent of racism in American society will still cast a shadow on his historic campaign. But he presented himself not as a member of the disadvantaged black community, but as ‘Obama for America’. This will more or less avoid a racial election. No doubt more blacks will vote for him, but in the meantime, his campaign strategy as a reformer and change-bringer eased the racial negatives.

In summary, McCain will lose because of its hawkish, war-mongering stance which is no more convincing to the population at large. In contrast, Obama will win the election because his promise to bring ‘changes’ and his focus on domestic concerns and issues hungering for attention.


Top Programs in Hospitality (Hotel) Management

This is a list I copied somewhere on the Internet. I have forgotten the link to the original page, and it is by no means authoritative. Just take it as a reference link when you are searching schools for hospitality industry.

  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Cornell University
  • University of Houston
  • Florida International University
  • Florida State University
  • Michigan State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Central Florida
  • Cal Poly Pomona
  • Purdue University
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Washington State University
  • Ashland University
  • Bethune-Cookman College
  • University at Buffalo – The State University of New York
  • California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
  • Delaware State University (Not University of Delaware?)
  • Georgia State University
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  • Iowa State University
  • Kansas State University
  • Kent State University
  • Mercyhurst College
  • Missouri State University
  • New York City College of Technology