- Dániel Csuja
Top US Export: Faith
The major US export is faith. This statement might seem a little contradictory at first sight for a country that invests all its capacity to maintain its economic and political power, but by connecting the rational economy with the irrational faith, we can realize that both are rooted in our human behavior and the two seemingly distant concepts are in fact closely interacting with each other.
The birth of religion
In our everyday lives, we don’t even comprehend the long evolution behind our fundamental skills. The first species with a nervous system were born about 500 million years ago, the first mammals around 200 million years ago, and the Homo sapiens sapiens appeared apr. 2-300 thousand years ago. We don’t sense that our human functioning is so complicated and sensitive because millions of years of evolution underlies the traits that automatically fall into our lap at birth. It is such an enormous development that we can hardly comprehend our own qualities and feelings, and in the few decades we are given, we don’t understand why we do what we do, or why we are capable of experiencing certain emotions. However, throughout our history, we have been unceasingly trying to understand our intricate personalities, our behavioral patterns, and our human relationships.
Our brains have evolved in a way that we can intuitively and effortlessly interpret facial expressions with relatively good accuracy in milliseconds, but we can only solve an equation (in the case of normal human beings) by means of deliberate, serial thinking. We analyze behavioral patterns, from which we then outline a relationship system, and create a story based on them. We want to construct stories in some way, and art is the imprint of this: drama, film, music, paintings, and so on, are all the results of these. Some works of art express a human reality so profound that we are willing to repeat and talk about them for centuries/millennia. Why this is so important? Because a religion is a collection of these stories. We analyze our behaviors and draw lessons from them, from which we can create a religion. This was necessary because life, and humans, are all chaos and complication, but the abstraction drawn from our human behavior could represent, in the form of a deity, the patterns that ensured the survival of a society through culture. Some religions could have a tremendous impact on people, producing states of consciousness that could motivate people to do the most terrible and the most wonderful things. On the one hand, this could be, for example, launching a holy war in the name of God, or, on the other hand, creating a stunning work of art in the pursuit of wholeness or helping the poor.
Although there are religious communities, most of the people no longer live in a traditional religious context. We no longer feel the need to pray at the ring of the noon bell or organize our days around the 6 o’clock mass. However, religion has been successful for thousands of years in making people feel coherency in life and in motivating people to make an effort to achieve something despite extreme circumstances (cold winters, dark nights, epidemics). The question then arises, if religion had been so effective for thousands of years, would social change alone have caused people’s capacity for faith to disappear?
The role of faith in human functioning
People are in a desperate search of those things onto which they can project their faith, even their worship. It’s important that there should be some performance behind the adored thing, but the very interesting thing about human condition is that we can act like the future was already happening in the present, so we can also believe in things that only show potential for a brighter future. We believe in athletes; in fact, it is essential for us to be fans of them. We believe in stars, talents, our destination, academics, politicians, institutions, some CEOs and their companies, their brands, their products, etc. We are desperately hoping to believe in love. We want to project all our hopes into the relationship, which makes us see a golden person in our partner and think that everything will be better again. I go further, we also believe in lottery. Why does this game with no chance of winning exist? It’s because it takes an incredible little amount of money and energy to buy the faith that gives us a weekly hope that after the current lottery draw, our lives will change, and everything will finally be all right. The point is that through faith, we could experience the feeling of moving from our current situation to a desired state. Football superstar Lionel Messi, for example, gives us the experience that there is a chance to do miracles in a profession through hard work, and as a result, we adore him. Seeing Messi sparks the imagination of many young people about how cool it might be to be a footballer, but by the same logic, a high-profile professional or teacher can have an impact on many people’s careers.
Faith and value judgement
We can channel enormous energies in the direction of experiencing a sense of value. To bring a simple example, we can invest an incredible amount of money and energy in a renovation to create something valuable. However, even in the case of such a material value creation, the joy is between us and the renovation, so it is completely relative and intangible. Thus, one may be able to enjoy a new piece of furniture, while another may still have an unfulfilled desire even after the third renovation. At first glance, this might not seem to have much to do with economics, but since the belief in the new value is not in the product or the material itself, but rather in the relationship between the product and the user, we are therefore willing to pay twice as much for an overhyped product. It doesn’t matter to us whether what is thought to be valuable is visible or invisible, the point is that we need to have an ideal to believe in, and thus we are able to demonstrate our value judgement towards something.
The role of faith in the economy
We can run amazing economic and legal institutions based on trust and faith. Although there are legal contracts, anything can be written on paper in abstract legal terms that would not be compulsory for everyone to respect. Thus, the real assurance behind contracts is that both parties trust in each other. There are cases when, despite the sanctions, it is worth for one actor to break the agreements, so there has to be some trust in the other party when the contract is concluded. An excellent example of how anything can be written on paper is the 1997 Russian-Ukrainian Friendship Treaty. Under this treaty, the two countries guaranteed each other the inviolability of their territorial integrity. Despite this, Russia – ignoring the agreements – occupied the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and is waging a continuous war of attrition in eastern Ukraine. In 2019 the contract ended de jure. That shows what the paper and the signature are worth.
Relationship between America and faith
“Never Bet Against America”. “The American Dream”. “The Best Country in the World”. “Our Beautiful Flag”. Just a few world-famous sayings that have no explicit economic impact, so what’s the point? As you can see, America is all about maintaining its economic and political power, so why should it produce such cultural phrases? As we have touched on above, to deem something valuable, you have to inspire faith in it, you have to believe that it can give you hope. Therefore, dry economic facts do not make us think of something as valuable, we need to demonstrate its value culturally. Film, music, fashion, adoration of sports, and patriotism can all inspire faith in America. One of the most effective cultural products of the US is Hollywood, which has been very successful in bringing the American ideal to the cinemas of the world: a typical Hollywood action movie is about a few competent individuals working hard together to solve a complicated problem, and throughout the plot they communicate in a self-assertive way that they can do it, they believe in each other, in the project, and in their competence.
Cultural phrases are much more widespread and engraved in people’s memories more deeply, than dry and boring economic jargon. Although the four slogans mentioned above are quite punchy, one stands out among the rest of the mottos that can be associated with America:
In God We Trust
What does this slogan mean, why it is on the dollar?
The role of God is a concept onto which we can project faith, trust, and hope. The God-role is the concept that aggregates those behaviors of human beings which can lead us to success, to life eternal. Faith, inter alia, is a tool of motivation to achieve a desired state from a current situation. Furthermore, if we pay attention to something with deep belief, we can demonstrate what we hold to be valuable. Yet, why should such intangible concepts be important to an economic power? Because America’s biggest export is the dollar, and a piece of paper can only be valuable because we believe that everyone else will accept it, because that currency can represent a country’s performance. America exists as a superpower as long as the dollar exists, so it is very important for them that the rest of the world believe in the concept that they are trying to demonstrate to the world. However, we can believe in a country as long as it can show potential for success in its future performance. Since we can act like the future was real, therefore the future prospects of something can determine the value attached to it at the moment. Hence, as our expectations and assumptions about America weaken, our faith in it in the present is shaken.