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In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.
Americans expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly...to revere God and be God.
As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.
Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.
Formerly a public man needed a private secretary for a barrier between himself and the public. Nowadays he has a press secretary to keep him properly in the public eye.
It is only a short step from exaggerating what we can find in the world to exaggerating our power to remake the world. Expecting more novelty than there is, more greatness than there is, and more strangeness than there is, we imagine ourselves masters of a plastic universe. But a world we can shape to our will is a shapeless world.
Knowledge is not simply another commodity. On the contrary. Knowledge is never used up. It increases by diffusion and grows by dispersion.
Modern tourist guides have helped raised tourist expectations. And they have provided the natives -- from Kaiser Wilhelm down to the villagers of Chichacestenango -- with a detailed and itemized list of what is expected of them and when. These are the up-to-date scripts for actors on the tourists stage.
Not so many years ago there was no simpler or more intelligible notion than that of going on a journey. Travel --movement through space --provided the universal metaphor for change. One of the subtle confusions --perhaps one of the secret terrors --of modern life is that we have lost this refuge. No longer do we move through space as we once did.
Of all the nations in the world, the United States was built in nobody's image. It was the land of the unexpected, of unbounded hope, of ideals, of quest for an unknown perfection. It is all the more unfitting that we should offer ourselves in images. And all the more fitting that the images which we make wittingly or unwittingly to sell America to the world should come back to haunt and curse us.
Our American past always speaks to us with two voices the voice of the past, and the voice of the present. We are always asking two quite different questions. Historians reading the words of John Winthrop usually ask, What did they mean to him Citizens ask, What do they mean to us Historians are trained to seek the original meaning all of us want to know the present meaning.
The American experience stirred mankind from discovery to exploration, from the cautious quest for what they knew (or what they thought they knew) was out there, to an enthusiastic reaching to the unknown.
The American experience stirred mankind from discovery to exploration. From the cautious quest for what they knew (or thought they knew) was out there, into an enthusiastic reaching to the unknown. These are two substantially different kinds of human enterprise.
The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life.
The modern American tourist now fills his experience with pseudo-events. He has come to expect both more strangeness and more familiarity than the world naturally offers. He has come to believe that he can have a lifetime of adventure in two weeks and all the thrills of risking his life without any real risk at all.
There was a time when the reader of an unexciting newspaper would remark, 'How dull is the world today' Nowadays he says, 'What a dull newspaper'
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