I was born in this country and could not convince myself that Vietnamese cultural identity was worth pursuing. Having been forced by my parents to practice certain traditions that were not fully explained and seemed senseless, I decided at a young age that I would not adopt any cultural artifact without being able to understand and explain it's value. Value to whom? To myself, of course. My mind is the only one I have access to or control of.
In the year 2009, I feel more culturally American than I have ever felt at any other time in my life. Why is that? I read Atlas Shrugged back in 2007 and it sparked a long study of Reason, Egoism, and Capitalism until I could understand and explain the reasons for my philosophical views. I own my identity as a cultural American because I am devoted to the only social concept that made America possible, which incidentally is not democracy, but is Individual Rights.
Thomas Jefferson said it first:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator* with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.Atlas Shrugged was the book that put words to my American sense of life. Those words constituted a logical proof, which is the only means by which a person can understand and explain why anything is and ought to be. The proof was for American way of life as it started out and how it should have remained: Capitalism, the system of individual rights, is the only system consonant with man's nature as a rational being and the requirement that man act on his own judgment for his own benefit.
This is where I might start to lose some people. You may be the sort of person that hears the word "Captialism" and instantly thinks of commercialism and that corporations are inherently evil/amoral and you quickly dismiss any criticisms that government is anything but the defender of the people. If so, I would say that you are the sort of person that needs to read it the most. I would ask you to check your idea of what you think Capitalism is at the door before you read this book. What Rand presents will challenge your assumptions.
What is my purpose in writing this post? Partly, it is to celebrate the nation that is my home not just because it is my home but because of the central idea behind it. I am proud of American cultural identity because at its core, it is the country that best embodies the moral right to rational self-interest. It is ideology that makes a culture rich, which is why I think that defining a culture on food and traditional practice is to define a culture on non-essentials. America *is* culturally rich, and every time another country grows economically prosperous by freeing their people to act for their own gain they reaffirm this principle.
I want you to choose to read Atlas Shrugged because I think every American should be able to understand and explain what it is that made America different and great. This is not nationalistic pride we're talking about. This is national self-esteem with the full realization of all of the things that are required to achieve it. We are the first country to be based on a concept of rights enshrined in a document, to be secured by the government as our agent. If you've noticed that recent government actions do not square with that principle, it's because the principle is under attack every day by an inverted morality that tells you that sacrifice is the supreme value and the only good that you do (and thus, the only justification for your existence) is service to others.
Read the book critically - questioning EVERYTHING until it is proven - and you will gain a fully reasoned understanding the nature of self-interest, and of altruism, and what rules of society our freedom depends on and why. Beyond the philosophic and the didactic, you will also gain from reading this book a presentation of heroically self-interested characters in action, Rand's primary purpose in writing her novel. If you find that you agree with Rand's ethics and her politics, then these will become crucial fuel for your spiritual consciousness to keep your inner fire going.
* for "Creator" I substitute "nature"