[ExI] Prudes, Protestants, Progress, and Profit

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri May 23 04:41:44 UTC 2008

PJ writes

> On Tue, May 20, 2008 at 5:36 PM, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>> Ah, once again a carefully phrased subject line---my
>> "Prudes, Protestants, Progress, and Profit"---has been
>> hijacked to talk about something entirely different!
>> I wanted criticism concerning the idea that the West's
>> relative dismissal of fun (i.e. frivolity, playfulness,
>> uninhibited conduct, sexual activity, etc.)---think
>> Amish farmer or Puritan---may correlate with the
>> greater technical progress of the West, and its
>> domination (1600-2012) of the world.

PJ very nicely describes the roots of *American*
high-minded disdain for fun.  Now I do have to
take time here to emphasize that I really do mean
*HIGH_MINDED*. All you have to consider is
the rather horrid extravagances of "fun" as depicted
on all too common prole-driven TV (and other
revolting aspects of American mass culture). So
there is certainly no "low-minded" disdain for fun here.

(We still confer, even in bad movies for example,
grudging respect and admiration for highly intelligent
people, who're often the protagonists in even the
most popular movies. Things could be worse.)

But my main question of interest is still:  Could it
be that American *and* European (let's not forget
where the Puritans and Mr. Calvin and so on
really originated) has contributed to European/
American world economic and military domination.
*That* is the key question---for it seriously posits
that a certain prudishness and seriousness is an
historical ESS. 

>> Unfortunately, no takers, so far.  I would even like
>> criticism of my (somewhat admittedly ignorant)
>> claim that the West truly is this way. In one post
>> I read later, PJ did discourse on Puritanism as an
>> alternative explanation or description of American
>> "hypocrisy" (I think that she was right on).
> Thanks for the shout out, but I suspect there's no
> conspiracy of silence.  I think I'm just the lone
> American Studies scholar of the bunch.

Well, perhaps the most eloquent one as regards the origin
of American puritanism.

I've not quoted all your nice explanations and comments
here (see PJ's original post), but for a tiny teaser at the
very bottom. 

Instead, I'll take advantage of the opportunity to ask another
question, specifically about American development. Someone
told me that the nice new little book "The Island at the Center
of the World" complains that early New York didn't have
its deserved effect on American development, that instead
it was John Adams and the Puritans who were so influential
in the formation of American culture, or tendencies, whatever.
Whatever the veracity of my interlocutor, I declaimed on the
idea that "demographics is destiny", pointing out that in the
amazing decade 1630-1640 England---due to a religious
fluctuation---disgorged tens of *thousands* of people to New
England and a rather similar number (?) to the Virginia area.

Well, okay, but did the northern Puritanism actually win
out? Or did the nearly or approximately equal number of 
southerners do equally well in having the most influence
on the culture America was to have? 


P.S. I do know that a huge number of Scots-Irish, real proles
and lower class by any modern measure, later on certainly
influenced the south, giving rise to "hillbillies" and so on,
not that I have anything against them, my own dear 
grandmother having been pure Scots-Irish, having many
typical, I think, loveable characteristics of same.

> To answer your "no fun" question is rather easy and connected to my
> previous answer on Puritans.  Ask first, who came to America and why?
> And who stayed behind in the Old World and why?
> First group: the religious...

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