Webb begins by explaining that innovation means different things across the Atlantic. That, in Europe and in America, the term itself connotes different meanings, different feelings. The understanding of it is taken in a cultural and social context.
In the New World it is a wholly positive word; it connotes the life-force itself. It speaks of what drives human beings to achieve. It suggests the conquering of disease and ignorance. It is at the core of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.Of Europe, however, he says:
But innovation per se? Let us get back to you on that; let us see how it really turns out, this innovation of yours. Let us wonder out loud whether change is really necessary or whether in fact the old ways of doing things, stretching back to feudal times, are the best ways.I began to see what he was getting at, and in my American brain a truth rang loud and clear: sometimes you must take that first blind step away from your comfortable past and toward your unknown future.
Webb continued, drawing (amusingly) on his own "European" past (though most Brits will tell you they loathe to be considered European). A bit of this English snobbery came out:
David Brooks, one of America's finest political commentators, suggested years ago that his countryfolk lived life in the future tense. That imperative to succeed, to see innovation as the core of the way things should be, is an American phenomenon. We Europeans live life at least partly in the past tense. We are fearful and careworn: experience tells us, we say, that this might not work. Americans, sans experience of anything much, reckon it might and reckon as well that it is worth giving it a go. Whatever it is.I objected - "we have experience!" I thought defensively. But I caught myself and considered, and he's right. We've had wars, but not like Europeans have had wars; we've suffered terrorism, but not like Europeans have; we've had a busy couple hundred years, but they've had a busy couple thousand. It's not that we don't have experience, it's that our collection of it has, admittedly, a lot of catching up to do. That doesn't mean our limited experience is worth less, but only that it is just that - limited.
In the end, Webb even linked the American belief in innovation to our "weird religiosity." While Europeans are content with the empty, passive traditions of their old churches, Americans demand results: "in fact it merely represents, it seems to me, a truth about the [American] nation: the search for God is not just a search in the lazy passive European way: it is a search with an end in sight." And in a strange way, this touched me. My search for meaning in life has always been, and continues to be, almost frantic - every night I fall asleep with an unspoken hope that I can wake again in the morning and continue where I left off, even if I know full well that I may never reach any conclusion. That hunger will never be satiated, and I prefer it that way. If this frenetic, seeking hope is what is meant by innovation, then so be it. It makes me proud to be an American.
And to make a last little jab at the British (I just can't help it) - one commented, "The author is obviously misinformed. We Europeans are always and have always been at the forefront of innovation. We are just incredibly modest about it. A recent study by a Japanese University concluded that over 40% of all modern inventions were invented in Northern Europe with a large majority originating from the UK." The projected population of Europe for last year was about 800 million, whereas the American population is only 300 million. This makes the European "40% of all innovations" a bit piddly, considering all those people... not only that, it completely ignores the fact that many of those inventions were by Europeans who had moved to the US. And having to tell yourself that you're being modest only proves you're not.