“Why would a nation become imperial?,” Steven asked me. “I mean, why would you want to take that on?”
The conversation had been on Japan leading up to World War II. The question was important. Why would a nation conquer dissimilar nations? Why accept that burden and risk?
My answer, which I’ve grown more fond of as time’s passed, was something like this: Imperial people view everything as a fixed pie.
More importantly, if you view the world as fixed, you’re right.
If an acre of land produces enough food for a family of four, what do Mom and Dad do when baby number three is on the way?
If they live in an imperial, fixed-pie world, they have to get more land—or get rid of one of the kids. But if they believe in innovation, ingenuity, and initiation, a whole new world of opportunity arises. They can find ways to produce more from their single acre. They can sell products or services to farmers with a surplus of food. They can form an exchange with several farmers, merchants, and artisans.
Whatever path they choose, the little farmers don’t have to take up arms and annex a quarter of their neighbor’s one acre.
What made America (even when it was still Terra Nova) unique was our diehard belief that we can grow the pie bigger. We realize that doing so means hard work, painful mental focus, trial and error, and risk. That’s why we do it. The pilgrims set sail for the New World to seek something greater, not to avoid something. They believed in growing the pie, and their behavior after arriving proves it.
When we see examples of fixed-pie thinking, such as the union vandals destroying Madison, Wisconsin, we see how dangerous and destructive that archaic thinking can be. The fixed-pie mentality makes every moment of life a fight to the finish for survival.
But our view makes life an endless opportunity to grow, secure, bond, and create.
I like the American view better, don’t you?