Unquestioned assumptions in American society?
September 19, 2019 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I’m trying to create a list of unquestioned assumptions in American society. Help me add to it!

Examples of what I have in mind: If you see a headline proclaiming “30 most successful people under 30” you know that it’s probably a list of the 30 richest people or the 30 who have done the best in their careers. It will never be, in America, the 30 happiest or most humble people. Success means money and fame—that’s unquestioned. Or if an advertisement for a beauty product promises “a younger looking you!” the unquestioned assumption is that looking younger is obviously desirable.

What else should be on the list?
posted by Pater Aletheias to Society & Culture (95 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
FiveThirtyEight recently posted an excerpt from Randall Munroe's (xkcd) new book that lists some of the most one-sided questions in American opinion polling. For example, "96 percent of Americans have a positive impression of small business."
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:39 AM on September 19, 2019 [19 favorites]

There’s an assumption that success, however defined, is a manifestation of virtue. If Lebron James is a better basketball player than, say, Markelle Fultz, it’s because Lebron is also a better person, and Fultz doesn’t deserve the same respect not just as a player, but as a person.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2019 [23 favorites]

Etiquette - whether it is about what is rude vs. not rude or how you should react when someone else is rude, most people think the rules are all written down and agreed upon. In fact, these rules are always in flux and the common ones are based in affluent WASP-y culture.
posted by soelo at 8:45 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

"Organic" produce is fundamentally better than produce without that specific label, regardless of actual quality, growing conditions, etc. Similarly, food that can be described as non-GMO is superior, more healthful to consume, etc., no matter what the alternative's genetic modification(s) might be. Meanwhile, anything with "chemicals" is somehow inherently risky (though "added vitamin X" is generally okay). And a "calorie" is actually a kcal, and non-soluble fiber is generally included in the overall carb count.
posted by teremala at 8:51 AM on September 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

If you see a headline proclaiming “30 most successful people under 30” you know that it’s probably a list of the 30 richest people or the 30 who have done the best in their careers.

The assumption that to be "important" you have to have done something substantial by the time you're 30.
posted by deanc at 8:52 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's unquestioned that we shower and wash our hair every day, despite the fact that we didn't a hundred years ago, and that women shave their armpits and that our house consists of a kitchen (with a refrigerator-freezer, stove, sink, and storage space), bedroom(s), and living room/area.

A woman removing her shirt in a public area will be pointed at and possibly arrested. The movies you see on TV that have been "edited" will have all swear words and nudity cut out. We're a very prudish society.
posted by Melismata at 9:02 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Going by the assumption that these assumptions don’t necessarily have to be misguided:

- Other animals don’t have the same rights as humans, but do have the right to some level of care (and domestic animals versus zoo animals versus “raised to be food” animals may differ).

- Individuals have some rights that local, state, and federal governments cannot infringe. Local and state governments have some rights that the federal government cannot infringe. Individuals and government entities can sue each other to enforce these rights.

- Pay is determined by market forces rather than other ways of valuing (e.g. we supposedly venerate teachers but don’t pay them much).

- Buying a Home is better than renting one.
posted by sallybrown at 9:03 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

Another one:

- becoming famous or your name being well known by the public is a good thing, with the exception of crimes
posted by sallybrown at 9:04 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

If by "American society" you mean "mainstream Buzzfeed-level truisms that mostly apply to white people but are discussed as if everyone believes them", then:

That vegetarianism and veganism are modern and non-standard rather than relatively common practices dating back many centuries.

That eating tofu is a deviation from standard masculinity - whether this is bad and scary or good and aspirational is up to you.

Martin Luther King was good but Malcolm X was dubious; they represent the two poles of political engagement.

Socialism is not a common, well-established political ideology whose actual implementation varies tremendously and is hotly debated but the absolute left fringe of belief, constantly in danger of tipping over into totalitarianism

History is progressive/linear; things can reasonably be expected to get better as time passes; progress is defined by increasing visibility of technology.

Your position in life is primarily due to your (or your immediate family's) hard work, not primarily due to class, caste or history.

A house is very old indeed if it was built before about 1850. Something that dates back to 1776 is Extremely Old.

Straight men don't express physical affection for other men.

Washing machines are always accompanied by dryers; no one has an airing cupboard.

You don't eat rice for breakfast; most breakfast dishes are sweet or only moderately savory. You would never have pickles with breakfast.

Eating animal organs is non-standard and either fancy or gross. Eating rabbit is weird.

Moving out of your family home is an important marker of adulthood. Living in one town your whole life is unusual, unless it's, like, New York or something.

New York is the most exciting city in the world!

"Foreign" cuisines are only good if they are "authentic", meaning close to peasant or working class cooking as conceived in the US - if someone is from, eg, Suzhou and has a great riff on traditional Suzhou cooking, that's weird and not going to succeed. Exceptions: France, Japan, maybe Italy.

Going home for lunch is weird.

Walking as a primary form of transportation is also weird, even if you live somewhere where it's possible.

Faster is always better.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on September 19, 2019 [26 favorites]

I am an Australian that has lived in the USA midwest for the past 10 years. Things I've noticed that seem to be assumptions around here might not hold for all the USA & could just be small town USA centric so make of them what you will.

Old people don't like younger people.

If you are poor or sick you deserve it. Though in some cases sickness or disability is sometimes just God testing you because you can handle it, strangely this is never the case about poverty.

Following on from that. The assumption you believe in a God of some sort. ie saying you're not christian just has them assume you are some other religion or variant of Christianity that isn't the same as theirs & not an atheist.

If I'm a white person in the USA I'm not an immigrant.

Toilet paper has to be multiply and soft, even if it means it uses old growth forest & thousands of acres of trees a year to make.
posted by wwax at 9:07 AM on September 19, 2019 [26 favorites]

That if you're unusually friendly or direct when meeting new people, it's likely you're selling something or otherwise creating a baseline to gain some sort of financial/personal advantage.
posted by mochapickle at 9:08 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Oh: And that disabilities are always visible. If you're not using a cane/walker/wheelchair and you're not hooked up to oxygen etc., you're perfectly healthy.
posted by mochapickle at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

Old people don't like younger people.

And that extreme age segregation is normal in general - it's weird or at least notable to have friends more than a few years older or younger than you and may be viewed as shady or pathological.
posted by Frowner at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

Boys and girls, or men and women, can't just be friends.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:11 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

new = good
growth = good
posted by tavegyl at 9:11 AM on September 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

Glasses are primarily accessories, not medical devices. Choosing to use them instead of contacts or getting LASIK is a social signal of some kind, even if in fact the other options are not physically/financially possible. Having thick lenses is a choice, and not just a financial one.

Everyone wants wheelchairs, braces, crutches, and so on to be as invisible as possible. If the item is highly visible and/or functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, it must be in use because of a temporary injury/issue, rather than a routine need. It is not because other options are too expensive, require specialized fitting, are not available, or the person simply doesn't care.

Everyone wants obvious physical differences corrected to the maximum extent possible. If they haven't done so, it must not be a medical option (or maaaybe it's too expensive; they'd do it if they could). However, getting cosmetic surgery is seen as somewhat embarrassing and frivolous, even if it directly impacts quality of life.

Straighter whiter teeth are better. On everyone, even children and seniors and people getting chemo etc. If you have lots of cavities/fillings or other visible dental problems you might be a bad person, unreliable, use illegal drugs, have spent time in prison, etc. (And all of those things are also bad, and 100% your own personal fault.)
posted by teremala at 9:15 AM on September 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

This one cuts both ways: freedom of speech. When I read about its suppression in foreign country's I am angry which is based on my assumption that it is a fundamental right. When Americans claim that their right is being denied by anyone other than a government agency I am amazed that they so misunderstand the principle. Jailing journalists versus refusing to host a Holocaust denier, for example.
posted by Botanizer at 9:15 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

that good looks correlate with health
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:17 AM on September 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

Asking what you do for a living on first meeting. Someone pointed that out to me in Europe when I was very young (before I did anything for a living) - that Americans always ask what your job is right after they say "hello". I was like, huh, you're right, that's pretty weird. As I grew up and entered the workforce, I've made a game of not directly asking how someone earns their money, and instead, asking what they enjoy doing or almost any other question that actually tells me more about the person they are.
posted by annathea at 9:19 AM on September 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

"Freedom isn't free."

Aka we need to be at war overseas, fighting for our freedom (even though I am baffled by an idea that our freedom is threatened by, say, children in Yemen, but whatevs I guess) Living in a Southern, military-friendly state, I feel like I hear this one all the time.
posted by witchen at 9:19 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

You own a car, and you drive it a lot.
posted by Kwine at 9:20 AM on September 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

Health care is an individual responsibility, and employers are best suited to providing health care coverage for people.
posted by disconnect at 9:23 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

That America has "the best" of everything: healthcare, education, standard of living, etc. It just... doesn't. I am reminded of this scene often.

That everyone is desperate to get into America, ergo people born in America are God's chosen people.

That America is a Christian nation.

That Jesus Saves.

That the American form of Government is a democracy and that democracy is also the best.

That the majority should rule.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:28 AM on September 19, 2019 [22 favorites]

That there is a single American society that would unilaterally agree on any of these assumptions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on September 19, 2019 [28 favorites]

These are more middle-class assumptions, but that also gives them cultural heft.

The principle of caveat emptor: that it's fundamentally up to you not to get scammed. This co-exists with an awful lot of scams and scammers.

That hobbies (especially creative ones) ought to be turned into businesses. The side hustle in general: that if you spend time on something, you ought to be thinking about how to monetise that time.

Everyone wants obvious physical differences corrected to the maximum extent possible.

Americans often note that actors in British TV shows (especially women) look more "normal" than the ones in American ones. More broadly, there's a middle-class assumption towards medical care that you need to find the Right Doctor[s] for your unique circumstances, when bodies are... well, bodies.
posted by holgate at 9:36 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Blonde, Rich, Thin, Famous, Athlete.. pick any two and you are automatically a good, decent and moral person. Despite all evidence to the contrary.
posted by Ftsqg at 9:38 AM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

"Leadership and ambition" are such unquestioned supposedly positive/necessary traits for all workers.....even when you end up in a job where people clearly wanted you to just shut up and follow directions.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:42 AM on September 19, 2019 [12 favorites]

The 40-hour, 5-day workweek, with a couple of weeks vacation a year (maybe 3 weeks if your employer is really generous), and a similar schedule for school but with slightly shorter days and more vacation feels very reasonable and natural to everyone. A 6-day work or school week? Going to work every day of the week but for only 5 hours? A 30-hour workweek? A 50-hour workweek? Six weeks of vacation from work a year? A 3-day weekend every week? Abolishing the "weekend" so people don't typically have two consecutive days off? Making kids go to school every day that isn't a national holiday? A 10-hour workday with 2 hours off in the middle? A 10-hour school day? A 4-hour school day? Any of those ideas would probably strike most people as too oppressive, too generous, or somehow too impractical, unfair, unworkable, or unreasonable.
posted by Redstart at 9:43 AM on September 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

That what you see and read online accurately reflects the real world. In many important ways, it does not.
posted by jquinby at 9:53 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Opinions overrule proof, religion overrules science, and individuality is more important than the good of the group. (C.f., anti-vaxxers or Ammon Bundy.)

Strangers want to harm you or profit from you ("rip you off"), because they don't know you personally and therefore they have no obligations to you.

Farmers are virtuous because they are farmers, and also they have Special Knowledge about the land/outdoors. Same for hunters.

Everyone wants to and should have a job: anyone who doesn't work for a living is a shiftless free-loader and also A Bad Person.

Any chance of profit should be pursued ruthlessly, and anyone who claims to be willing to work for no payment has something up their sleeve.

Scientists may be factually correct about their narrowly-defined specialty, but they don't understand Blue Collar issues or religion.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

That it is good and normal to play the national anthem and God Bless America at every sporting event.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 10:06 AM on September 19, 2019 [15 favorites]

As jjsmama said, this is a great way of pointing out that the majority demographic in America is/has been white middle-class and therefore many dominant cultural assumptions are white middle-class assumptions.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

This depends on whose America you're talking about. A lot of these aren't unquestioned to my mind. If you're teaching these, you'd be better to ask people who you're engaging with what they think are unquestioned assumptions. America is not a monolith, and this seems problematic at best.

So I think that a big American truism is that there's an "American" culture against which non-standard positions are defined, and that this culture is white, male, straight, middle class, healthy, US-born citizens, etc. Even in situations where "mainstream" culture is irrelevant or non-representative, it's still coded as the norm - just like "American" food is diner food, even if most people rarely eat diner food.

I feel like this belief is widely accepted - or semi-consciously accepted - among many minoritized people, and that it also applies to class. So, for instance, as a queer person I do not expect to see queer experiences treated as normal rather than exceptional despite, like, literally being a queer person for whom they are normal. I do not expect "mainstream" media to have anything positive to say about unions or redistributive policies, no matter what actual humans think.

Another truism would be "working class, queer, BIPOC, female [etc] views are non-standard and while they may sometimes be represented in 'mainstream' culture, that is not the norm". There is no powerful pro-labor media outlet, there is no national media outlet that is substantially BIPOC and consistently reflects BIPOC experiences, etc.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

Elderly people don't have physical relationships; as a corollary, only young people are interested in sex.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:15 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

A lot of these are being suggested satirically, but I hope people will take jj's.mama's point seriously. 38% of the population are nonwhite and/or Hispanic.

If you think about what's unquestioned in American society and come up with something about white Americans, that isn't a clever joke, it's erasure.
posted by zompist at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

The opinions of famous people are ipso facto worth listening to, even though those celebrities have no training or background in the issue at hand.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

The assumption that cars have a greater right to be on the road than bicyclists is untrue both legally and morally.
posted by exogenous at 10:24 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Universal suffrage is a good thing.

Free public education exists and is a worthy goal.
posted by teremala at 10:27 AM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

the most pervasive current and exhausting US assumption i'm personally entangled with on a daily basis is that all people from south and central america speak spanish as their first and probably only language.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

oh, and that native americans "don't exist anymore"
posted by poffin boffin at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

That you should stay in school and not do drugs.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:37 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Running a government is just like running a business.

The private sector is inherently better and more efficient than the public sector.

Tax revenue is 'taxpayer money', not public money.

Systemic and structural problems can (and should) be solved through individual action.
posted by theory at 10:39 AM on September 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

that it’s reasonable to own a gun and that guns = freedom

that it’s normal to have multiple jobs just to survive, but no healthcare

that being fat means you are a bad person

that people in prison are bad, rather than marginalized and impoverished

that it’s more okay to show genocide and sexual assault on television than a loving same-sex couple
posted by bile and syntax at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

The assumption that "artisanal" is better, like closer to humanness. There are a number of variations of the cartoon: two people are looking at a sign "Artisanal [something bad, like "beheadings"]" and one exclaims "Ooooh! Artisanal!"

Another one is that air conditioning is a human right, and that Europeans can't know it because Europe is colder.
posted by Namlit at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

People being alive is preferable to them being dead, and suicide is regrettable, even if the person was unhappy.

To a lesser extent, the same is true of marriage - I think this is less universal, but people are rarely congratulated on divorces/breakups unless the relationship was especially bad.

Cannibalism is also seen as quite bad.
posted by wattle at 11:24 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Compulsory education, child labor laws, and minimum ages for drinking, smoking and driving are good and important. Not having any of those laws would be unthinkable.
posted by Redstart at 11:38 AM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Minimum ages for sexual consent, too.
posted by Melismata at 11:39 AM on September 19, 2019

I think people are listing things they think lots of other people believe that they don't actually believe themselves. That means it's not universal or unquestioned. The very person posting questions them.

I think these are universal and unquestioned (and I believe them, too, though I'm not american):
Death is bad.
Being smart is good (not necessarily that it's better than being other things, but it's good).
You get things by buying them with money.
Happiness is a life goal.
It's wrong to kill. (honestly, I don't think this one is universal, but it feels so unequestioned *to me/by me* that I feel compelled to list it.)
Seek improvement/progress.
Feelings (love/affection/liking/enjoyment) are the basis of person (i.e. non-professional) relationships.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

 oh, and that native americans "don't exist anymore"

in addition, Native Americans represent the epitome of self-reliance, bravery, honour, environmental stewardship … and are all (rather conveniently) dead. Any contemporary Native American opinions can't possibly be valid because of the whole being-dead thing. (adapted from a point made in Thomas King's The Inconvenient Indian)
posted by scruss at 11:41 AM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

People should (and usually do) marry for love and not for any other practical reason. People should choose their own spouses; parents should not arrange marriages for their children.
posted by Redstart at 11:52 AM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

That joining the military is serving your country and joining a demonstration is not.
posted by rodlymight at 11:55 AM on September 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

If you have a cat or a dog, it's normal for it to have a name, live in your house, and maybe even sleep in your bed. If your pet dies, it's normal to bury your pet in a marked grave or have your pet cremated.

It's normal for a driveway and garage to be prominent features in the front of a home.

Most people should want to go to college. Going to college betters people's lives and gives them more opportunity. A bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for most jobs with career growth opportunity, outside of the trades.

It's important for people to maintain good relationships with their parents, siblings, and children. As a corollary, moving out of your parents' home is a rite of adulthood.

If you're out at a bar and you want to pay for your friends' drinks as well as your own, you buy a bucket or pitcher.

It's rude to ask someone how much money they make. It's normal not to know how much money your parents, coworkers, and friends make.

Most highways have billboards.
posted by capricorn at 11:56 AM on September 19, 2019 [12 favorites]

Buying or selling body organs or children is wrong and should always remain completely illegal.
posted by Redstart at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Death is bad.

Oooh, this is a good one. US society has a gazillion traditions and taboos about death. Some good examples of unquestioned death-related assumptions are:
-Death is the end of a person's existence on earth. They may continue to exist in some other form (angel/ghost) depending on your religious beliefs, but for all practical person a dead person is gone.
-People spend a lot of time thinking about their legacies after death and how they would want to be remembered. The idea of being forgotten after death is troubling.
-Wishing death on someone is one of the worst and most evil curses. Speaking ill of a dead relative or member of one's community, or even verbally admitting that you are not sad that they died, is a bad thing to do.
-When talking about a loved one, we avoid saying they are dead. They have "passed [away]" or "are no longer with us".
-Human remains should be marked with gravestones and buried in graveyards where they will remain forever; if remains are cremated, a marked grave is still typical. These graveyards are spaces of quiet contemplation. Unless there is a serious extenuating circumstance (e.g. town is going to be flooded) it would be unthinkable to move, remove, or de-identify the grave of a buried human. It's very sad if someone's grave is forgotten. Cleaning a neglected gravestone is the altruistic act of a kind person.
posted by capricorn at 12:10 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Crime can be deterred through adequate punishment. Severe punishment can prevent serious crimes.

More education is better (a high school degree is better than no degree; an associate's is better than high school; a bachelor's degree is better than an associate's; a graduate degree is better than a bachelor's degree; a doctorate... etc. etc.)

STEM skills are superior to arts/humanities skills and STEM degree holders had to work harder/are more intelligent.
posted by castlebravo at 12:11 PM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

(Promise I won't threadsit anymore after this.)

Large portions = unfussy/casual restaurant.
Small portions = fancy/snooty restaurant.
posted by capricorn at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

That if a fat person gets thinner, it is something to be complimented (no awareness of physical or mental health impacts on body weight).
That if a person is fat, they are unhealthy.
That being unhealthy is somehow immoral.
That if a person is fat, they are lazy.
That if a person is fat, they are poor.
That fat people do not have sex.
That disabled people do not have sex.
That poor people are somehow immoral or undeserving of human rights.
That fat people are somehow immoral or undeserving of human rights.
That it is possible for a fat person to become thin if they just do the right things.
That people with mental health disorders are potentially violent or dangerous to others.
That if a woman is pregnant, she should be congratulated.
That people should solve their problems by themselves, not as part of a community of care and support.
That people who follow a mainstream religion are more moral.
That people who follow non-mainstream religions or no religion are not able to be moral.
posted by matildaben at 12:17 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

That growing up wealthy and white — rather than any intellectual ability — guarantees you your "spot" at the school (university) of your choice. Consequently, any affirmative action measures are seen as fundamentally unfair.

That prices in the store don't include tax and that it's totally normal to have a pocket full of futile tiny coins.

That paying taxes is a burden rather than a shared responsibility.

That people in service industries are happy to have the opportunity to serve you.

That food service workers should be paid less than a living wage and need to survive on tips.

That you have to smile.

That because everyone drives, a driver's license/driving licence is a universal form of ID.

That you own a house and enjoy gardening.

That you can kill someone with a car and it's always an accident that will have few consequences for the driver.

That you can drive to work/the shops and park nearby for free.

That taking transit once you're older than high school age is weird.

That school buses are a thing, and having your kids walk to school is child abuse.

That male circumcision is normal.

That cycling to get anywhere is even weirder than taking transit.

That there is one - or more - car(s) per adult in the house. And you can park all of them in the drive or on the street for free.

That you have options in restaurant food.

That ice water — and at least 25% ice by volume — is a right in restaurants, and it arrives without asking

That coffee and soft drinks have free refills.

That everyone with an accent doesn't live near here.

That you go to church on Sunday, or at least feel bad for a few minutes every Sunday about not going.

That politics is a spectator sport.

That it's okay that the schools on this side of the street are great but the ones on that side are not.

That you have to submit your own income tax return every year.

That corruption is really bad but hey you know that sometimes a right word to the right person or a check/cheque to the right person to make something happen is not really bribery.

That the most valued part of a university is its athletics program.

That you respect the military.

That everyone should look busy. If they're not, they should be available for making money for you.

That free shipping happens, and that every online retailer in the world will ship to you.

That if you sell anything online, overseas shipping is weird and not worth the bother.

That having an opinion is preferable to not.

That confidence means intelligence.

That advertising is true. You do deserve that snack!

That the rest of the world loves American tourists. Or Mickey Mouse.

That the rest of the world doesn't respect women's rights and husbands freely beat their wives (but did you see that Aunt Cathy must've walked into a door again while Uncle Ted was hung over?).

That technology solves everything.

That “we”'re the good guys. Always the good guys, with God on our side.

That tomorrow will be better than today.
posted by scruss at 12:27 PM on September 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

Wealthy people are wealthy because they're smart.
posted by holborne at 12:33 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

These statements might be hard to read, but I truly believe that they underpin our culture:

Men are smarter than women and exist to be heard
Women are dumber than men and exist to be seen
Deeper voices correlate with intelligence
Men deserve more physical space and access to claim more of other people's time than women

In men, height correlates with value
In women, conventional attractiveness correlates with value
Fat or disabled people are less valuable
Disabled people are not sexual

We live in a meritocracy
People deserve the level of wealth and success they attain

Extroverts are better than introverts
Early risers are better than night owls
Verbal skills matter more than most other kinds of intelligence
Likeability is more important than goodness

Light coloured hair and eyes are more attractive than dark coloured hair and eyes
White people are better parents than people of other races (tiger moms or welfare queens)
Black and Latinx people are loud, crass, gluttonous, hypersexual, aggressive, and lazy
Asian men are asexual, and smart but boring
Asian women are beautiful and submissive
White women deserve protection
White men are the pinnacle of humanity

Your own family is more important than anyone else's family

Our own intentions matter more than their impact on others
The impact others have on us matters more than their intentions
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

It's perfectly OK to ask newlyweds and new parents about their future reproductive intentions.

In general, most Americans perceive pregnancy as public interest. It's perfectly to OK to ask absolute strangers who may be pregnant multiple personal, intrusive questions about:

- Whether they are pregnant
- When the baby is due
- Whether they have any other children
- Whether they're married and for how long
- What type of delivery they intend
- How they feel about being pregnant
- Their physical and mental health in general
- Whether they're having/whether they would prefer a boy or a girl
posted by mochapickle at 1:03 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

That direct communication is uniformly better than indirect communication.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:04 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Extroversion is preferable to introversion. Extroverts make for better leaders.

Outside of the high levels of the craft, creative work is not worth paying (or paying much) for.

Capitalism is natural, good, and best.
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 1:12 PM on September 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

The first thing that came to mind for me is Mefi's own zompist's American culture list, although it's a bit out of date.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:20 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

That being independent is always better than being dependent.

Never asking anyone for help is normal and good.

It's up to an individual person to decide most aspects of his or her own life: where to live, what work to do, whom to marry.
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:32 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Even if they may not want to have children at specific times, women will always want to have children at some point in their lives.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:42 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

The ever-pernicious assumption:
If you work hard, you will get ahead.
The only way to get ahead is through hard work.

This has been, and always will be, a lie.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:43 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

That if you tell someone to “make themselves at home” then they will make them selves at home. My Irish husband doesn’t know how to
Make himself at home in someone else’s (American) house and ends up going thirsty or hungry and he thinks The host doesn’t know how to host properly and are rude. I think (as an American) he should have asked or found what he needed as he has been welcomed to do so and the point is to enjoy company.
posted by catspajammies at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

That street smarts are better than book smarts
posted by EatMyHat at 2:06 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Cars = freedom, walking and public transit are for poor people.

Related: it is undesirable to live someplace with both homes and businesses - they should be segregated to the point where it is not possible to walk to a store and buy a pint of milk.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:13 PM on September 19, 2019

Also related: speeding is no big deal, in fact exceeding the legal speed limit is absolutely required on certain roads to the point where you're the asshole if you don't do it, and speed cameras/traps are only ever money-making schemes. Meanwhile, car crashes are the leading cause of death for American children and one of the leading causes of death for all Americans.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:15 PM on September 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'm quoting Gil Garcetti here after Nicole Brown Simpson's murder: "If women murdered men at the rate that men murder women, it would be declared a national emergency."

Also, Gwen Adshead, an expert on violent crime: "The largest group of people who are the victims of violent acts are children under the age of six, and these crimes are rarely officially documented or reported."
posted by effluvia at 2:23 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

In written decriptions of crime , if the perp's race isn't mentioned that ususally means they're White. If the victim's race isn't mentioned (or alluded to by indicating hair or eye color, or skin tone) that usually means they're not White. Both of these conditions are often defeated by the canny use of mug shots and yearbook photos.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

That for a product which is offered in several sizes/quantities, the larger size/quantity is cheaper than if you bought multiple items of the smaller size/quantity that added up to the size/quantity of the larger one.
posted by matildaben at 4:10 PM on September 19, 2019

A 'person', 'animal' or 'plant' is a discrete unit of aliveness.

Non-animal life is incapable of meaningfully suffering.
posted by wattle at 4:15 PM on September 19, 2019

It is normal for all land to be owned, and for most things and most species of animals to be owned. "That isn't yours" is a perfectly normal reason to tell a child to leave something alone; we instill the value of individual ownership over collectivism immediately.

Competition is necessary and good. We race each other when learning physical fitness. We compete for the top mark in the class, no matter how high the entire class scores. We try to push "competing" businesses out of our market. You know you've succeeded when someone else has failed in competition with you.
posted by sadmadglad at 6:17 PM on September 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Public transportation is for poor people, disabled people, and/or criminals, so it's OK for it to be underfunded and inadequate.

If you have a visible disability, you have an obligation to get a parking pass, to help your friends get the good parking spaces. (This is also a massive pet peeve of mine.)

If you don't drink (and are of drinking age), it's due to a concrete reason: either medical, or cultural, or religious - rather than just not liking alcohol.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:18 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


If you are disabled, and wear/use some sort of device for it, it should be hidden from view to the best of your ability, and be bland looking as possible. Same with external assistive devices, like crutches, canes, wheelchairs, etc. If you're using a cane that's aesthetically pleasing, for instance, you're using it as an affection, and you don't actually need it for mobility. Or, you're not taking your disability seriously enough. Because how dare you have equipment that looks fun, esp. as an adult.

People get wigged *out* whenever I wear shorts, thus showing off my two part AFO ankle brace, and using forearm crutches that are brightly colored and repaired with lime green duct tape.
posted by spinifex23 at 6:25 PM on September 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

That if you are highly intelligent you cannot also have empathy or Emotional Intelligence
posted by EatMyHat at 7:15 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

People who own dogs (man's best friend) are better than people who own cats (crazy cat lady)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:16 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Freedom is a real, clearly defined thing that America excels in, exemplifies, and promulgates—something we can only really get here and which any of us would willingly die for.

There is another ill-defined thing called The American Dream, the pursuit of which is presumed.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:22 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

That when you visit the USA, you want to abandon your own country because America is better than everywhere else.

As an Aussie visiting the USA, I am amused and annoyed by how often Americans use the word ‘freedom’ (what is this ‘freedom’ when most people are wage enslaved, forced to be employed in order to have health care, can rape n assault with impunity, suffer ‘at will’ employment, barely have holidays, still venerate confederate flags, and (one of) the largest prison populations in the world)

See also, veneration of the USA flag. In song, in universal placement everywhere for no real reason (unlike most other flag waving countries which display the flag more ceremoniously.

That people in the US military are what gives the country its value and values, not the workers (who die on the job with more frequency)

That indigenous people are erased or romanticised, their languages and culture absent from the American concept of nationhood (unless in shitty football/hockey whatever teams’ logos) There is no ceremonial welcome or acknowledgment of Country whenever there’s a meeting in state, local or community groups.

That everything should taste like sugar or fat
posted by honey-barbara at 7:30 PM on September 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think these are universal and unquestioned (and I believe them, too, though I'm not american):
Being smart is good (not necessarily that it's better than being other things, but it's good).

I don't think 'being smart is good' is universal and unquestioned - people will say that, but they get awfully defensive awfully quick when presented with the reality that someone might be smarter than them.

It seems to be quite OK in some circles to brag about money, athleticism, etc etc, but if someone brags about [or even mentions] being smart, pile-on the put-downs.

See: Any metafilter thread were Mensa is mentioned.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Universal suffrage: Everyone except convicted felons have the right to vote.

In fact roughly 22% of the US population (who have never been convicted of a felony) are denied the vote by law. The justification for denying this demographic of people the vote is the same as was used to deny women and black people the vote in the period before those two groups ultimately achieved it: that they are too stupid or too easily influenced, or don't actually want to vote, or it's too impractical for them to get to the polling stations and anyway, they never had the vote before so it would break an important tradition when other people represent their interests ably in any case.


America is one of very few countries where slavery is enshrined in the constitution. Making someone a slave, and owning a slave is not illegal. You just have to meet a few conditions and there is no bar.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:53 PM on September 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

that any easy laugh line you might hear on a sitcom is an unquestioned assumption.

that if most people assume something, nobody else in the same society has ever questioned it.

that belief is the same thing as assumption.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:46 PM on September 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would say, think about the veneration of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a starting point. The founding documents.
posted by bluebird at 12:31 AM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

If a daytime event is catered, there will be coffee there.
posted by rollick at 4:25 AM on September 20, 2019

It is perfectly normal and acceptable to physically torture children and teenagers in the name of obtaining straight, white teeth.
posted by tectressa at 5:25 AM on September 20, 2019

I think that this question gets at something important that needs to be articulated more precisely in order to shed more light on the answers - something I suggest that we call an inverse open secret.

To get at what I mean: When I was growing up, it was common knowledge that sexual abuse was widespread within the church, particularly but not exclusively the Catholic church and far right protestant denominations. This was a truism that appeared in books, movies, comics, fanzines, etc. It was something that was widely but not "officially" known - you would never expect a "serious" "respectable" person with power to admit that it was true, you would never expect to bring it up in polite conversation, you would never, ever expect that anything would be done about it. Just saying the truth would be a tremendously radical, political act that would mark you as an outsider, bad-mannered, delusional, etc.

Now, today, thanks to people who did not accept this as the way of the world, that knowledge has moved from being "unofficial" to being widely known even if debated or controversial.

My point being that there's spoken and unspoken knowledge, official and unofficial knowledge, respectable and unrespectable knowledge - and that the officialness or respectability of something does not map onto its truth. "Open secrets" are unspeakable knowledge.

So I want to suggest that this question is generating a lot of answers that are reverse open secrets - things that are widely held to be "respectable" and "official" but that are not in fact widely believed to be true*. With reverse open secrets, most people most of the time argue as though history/research/their experience/surveys/whatever are special pleading that must be argued for against a powerful norm. It's special pleading to say that things should be accessible, even though huge numbers of people have or will have some kind of disability at some point in their lives.

As with open secrets, this is a psychological thing that serves power - when I was little, we assumed that the Church was always going to be more powerful and that "respectable" people would never suffer it to be challenged, that "respectable" people were a monolith who hated us and loved priests and pastors. Similarly, many of us often fall into the assumption that these American truisms are strong, popular and unchallenged, that "respectable" opinion is unassailable, that we approach from a position of weakness and abjection instead of from a position of justice and strength.

These truisms are naturalized as "respectable" opinion instead of being seen as ideology. After all, if you actually pressed people on the issue, who would say that they consciously definitely believed that white straight men were superior by virtue of being white straight men? People with the ideology of white supremacy, that's who. "Truisms" are used to paper over actual, political divisions in society, just as "it's not respectable to criticize the priest" was used as a way to paper over abuse and exploitation by the church when I was growing up. If it's unspeakable or a truism, you can't fight it - it's just what is. If it's a conscious set of political beliefs, you can.

*Some answers really are just accepted wisdom - "if a daytime event is catered, there will be coffee", for instance, or "The constitution in its original form must be used to determine contemporary politics".
posted by Frowner at 6:25 AM on September 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

That the sidewalk outside of your home or business is not your responsibility to clean as needed.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:15 PM on September 20, 2019

You could always be doing more/better and working harder/faster than you are now.

The past doesn't matter. There's no point in thinking or learning about it.

The government is automatically bad at everything except war, at which it is automatically great.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:07 PM on September 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

The past doesn't matter. There's no point in thinking or learning about it.

This isn't exactly so. There is The Past, which is a particular and somewhat sacrosanct received narrative of The Past* and if you don't learn that narrative of the past then your arguments about the present are somewhat invalidated.

* this actually varies on a state-by-state basis
posted by holgate at 7:41 PM on September 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

That kids say the pledge of allegiance in school every morning.

That people around you may have guns and might shoot you.
posted by starfishprime at 1:52 PM on September 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

White people are better parents than people of other races

the single most common and popular unquestioned idea in White America is that there is a separate welfare/support system for non-white or non-citizens and that they get things for free that White Americans don't.
posted by The Whelk at 9:53 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The American Constitution and form of Government is superior to all others, even if you don't know any other systems.

The Founding Fathers were visionary geniuses rather than rich slave owners.

It is wrong to give help to bad people even if by doing so you prevent a greater evil.

American technology and infrastructure is the best in the world, and everyone else marvels at our smartphones instead of laughing at our poor signal coverage and antiquated payment systems.
posted by benzenedream at 11:21 PM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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