Saturday, December 3, 2011


Occasionally I’m going to “shake the stick” and tap the top of my flying helmet, passing control to a literary wingman. The following is from Budd Davisson’s “Air Bum” blog of November 2007. Considering the recent Thanksgiving holiday, it’s entirely suitable for this month’s Rant—in fact, for any month.

Circa 1997, when I got on-line, I found myself pulling cyber G’s with some Europeans over a variety of subjects, but especially the nature of America. (The reason they typed in English instead of German or Russian never occurred to them.) Eventually it was clear that there was no point arguing with some Euros because they were immune to facts and logic. Finally I disengaged with the summary, “Now I know why my ancestors came here in the 1630s—to get away from people like you!”

There’s a quote attributed to frontier scout Kit Carson (neck and neck with Jed Smith as the most man on the North American continent) about the nature of American settlers: “The cowards never started and the weak died on the way.” He could have been speaking of the Pilgrims or several generations that followed.

The point to be made is that we hear American politicians insist that we need to be more like the rest of the world. That is, of course, total batguano, because we did not get to be America by imitating anyone else. Quite the opposite: the founders and pioneers chose to leave behind the world they knew and risk all merely for the opportunity to start anew at risk of everything, often including their lives. So the next time anyone tells you that America needs to resemble the rest of the world, ask yourself one question: why does the rest of the world want to come here?

Over to Budd….

Years ago I ran into an old copy of Science Newsletter mixed in with other out-of-date magazines in a doctor’s lobby. A weekly publication, its purpose in life was to keep us up on what had happened in science that week. In this issue, a feature article described a study that seemingly proved risk takers to have discernibly different DNA making them a slightly different species from the rest of us. That got me thinking about America: weren’t we settled by a bunch of radical risk takers and does that explain something about our national character?

Those first boat loads of people who set off for America had no idea what they were getting into. What they did know was that America was pure wilderness and to get there they’d have to spend two months or so bobbing around in the Atlantic Ocean in a tiny boat. That’s a helluva risk, wouldn’t you say? No one would take that trip who wasn’t a risk taker. So, if you extend that thought, that means the breeding stock upon which much of America is based had a different DNA so we had no choice but to be a nation of risk takers?

Now, let’s take the above just a little further. When we were a string bean country that was clinging to the eastern seaboard, everything on the other side of the Appalachians, especially places like Kentucky, were looked at as if they were on the other side of the moon. In fact, the Indians (who we had yet to recognize as Native Americans) had lots of spook stories about the region around Kentucky. Still, colonists began pushing west, many lining up behind the likes of Daniel Boone, to wend their way through mountain passes and hostile natives to “go where no man had gone before.” It could clearly be said that those who left the security of the East Coast were more willing to take risks than those who they were leaving behind who have already been proven to be risk takers. Does this say something about the differences between peoples in various parts of the country?

The West has an image of daring do and it’s not entirely because of the movies. To this day, The West represents a hostile environment with the only difference between then and now, being that no one is shooting arrows at the residents any more. Even today, parts of The West literally dare man to try to do something with it and so he has. Not that Las Vegas or Phoenix are the pinnacle of anything, but considering where they are located, certainly no one would have attempted a settlement there who was afraid of risk.

Everything about the Old West challenged man and it weeded out those who weren’t strong and ready to match its challenges. Isn’t that the way we still see The West versus The East? One group is a little rough around the edges and more insular, but definitely ready to take on all comers while the other is more sedate, more group-oriented and less likely to have grease under their fingernails. One isn’t better than the other, but I do think this is part of the reason East and West don’t always get along.

So, if you put any faith in the DNA theory of risk, what we apparently have is a nation of born risk takers that range from your everyday risk taker in the East to hair-on-fire risk takers in the west. Yeah, I’d say that’s about right, wouldn’t you?