Born and bred in the US, I believe that American individualism is a central pillar of society. Of course, it may mean slightly different things to different people. But generally, it is the idea that with minimal government intervention, people are free to pursue their dreams. I as a human being am free as long as I’m self-sufficient, and this is central to our value system in the US. Moreover, I am my own person, meaning I am unique, autonomous and responsible for the consequences of my own acts. Therefore, my life is centred around myself rather than my family or community, which may sound egotistical or a bit selfish. And it is this individualism that allows remarkable American innovation and growth, from science to technology to the economy.. But the fact is that the individualism that prevails in American culture does not hinder us from also serving our society, with a multitude of factors bridging the two concepts, including tradition, shared experiences and religion. America and Europe couldn’t be more different.
That individualism that characterizes the US can’t be found in Europe. European society, while valuing the individual-ness factor, moulds individuals into a cohesive collective. The “group” is a central aspect of what Europe is today. As a society, Europeans have decided that the group is better off when everyone in society has a chance to compete, while leaving nobody behind. In general, European countries, in contrast with the US, Europe offer citizens access to an education, healthcare, transportation services, social benefits.. A true level playing field! Society has indeed decided that it is only as strong as the least well-off citizens within it.
But there’s more, including some unthinkable differences that set us apart from our European ancestors.
Public Spaces- A Distinguishing Factor
It’s easy to routinely spend Sunday mornings at your local coffee shop. But sometimes, all you want is to be in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In contrast with cities in the US, cities in Europe offer a ton of public spaces to roam around. You don’t have to share rare green spaces with a ton of other people. You don’t need to possess a car or any means of transportation- public transport will take you anywhere. And, just as importantly, you don’t need to pay fees or spend any money. This is hardly the case in the US, with more and more people realizing that modern life is taking a huge toll on their mental and physical health. Unfortunately, there’s a real dearth of natural spaces within city centers for people to wander about and reconnect with mother nature.
More Regulation- from Apples and Bananas, to GDPR, Privacy, Facebook and Tech
Regulation is a centrepiece of European institutions. Sometimes too much regulation is just too bureaucratic for no apparent gain, at least that’s the attitude in the US. But regulation has achieved so much already to justify its existence. Quality standards are a boon to civilization. Anyway, the US and Europe don’t see eye to eye on such matters. While in the US, your lifestyle is largely dependent on your socio-economic standing, the same can’t be said for European societies. Citizens in Germany or France- of all social and economic standings- access clean sanitary water. Moreover, medicine is not a joke in Europe, with EU institutions authorizing medications only upon establishment of safety parameters- long after the same meds might have been introduced in the US. The same goes for supplements we consume on a daily basis, many of which would make it onto American store shelves but not European ones. No wonder Europe boasts the highest life expectancies despite many of its member countries only recently joining the club, but quickly learning to adhere to higher standards. Remember Flint, Michigan’s water scandal? That would never happen in France, Germany, Italy, or Czech Republic.
Of course, there’s a silly side to the story as well, with apples and bananas receiving a fair share of regulation as well. A banana produced in Western Europe should have almost exact characteristics and dimensions as that produced in Poland or an EU country in Central Europe. Yes, we’re talking length, width, color, taste.. Now this is excessive!
Europe enjoys a healthy relationship with capitalism. Education and healthcare are red lines. Citizens’ data and privacy online are respected. Not all aspects of life are easily commercialized in the name of profits, shareholders and corporations.
Culturally, people have not abandoned their taste for original culture and authenticity. Take local theatres for instance. In Prague, Czech Republic, people go to local theatres rather than watch Hollywood productions in cinemas. Yes, go watch a local movie in France, Lithuania or Austria. You’ll be lucky if there were subtitles, but the point is to be conscious of locals’ need for true, sincere voice away from Hollywood’s taste for more sex, more violence, and advanced visuals. Humanity is well alive and conscious in Europe.
The Sick Men of Europe
Europe is not perfect, but there’s much to learn from the “sick men of Europe”. We have a society that provides for its weakest individuals, irrespective of their personal circumstances or struggles. It’s also a society that prioritizes nature and provides green escapes within city centers. Moreover, people seek authenticity, rather than accept to be pawns or passive victims of complex corporate marketing schemes persistently fixated on targeting your ever-thinner wallets. Institutions, meanwhile, work to provide quality services in return for taxpayer money. True, you can’t make it to a million dollars as fast and simple as you can in the US. But there’s much more than money, and Europe can provide the simple life that we all want deep down.
If you’re interested, check out our other article about how the Ukraine crises is key to resolving conflicts in Iran, then Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon here.