Americans behaving badly

I felt irrationally sad yesterday when my friend Tom (aka., “The Blogfodder”) sent news that — after successfully hitchhiking across Europe and Canada — the hitchBOT had been “murdered by America.” According to The New Yorker,

The child-size robot, named hitchBOT, was recovered by its creators in Philadelphia last night after it was irreparably damaged just two weeks into a cross-country trip from Massachusetts to San Francisco. The robot — adorned with a digital smile, an extended thumb, and a sign that declared “San Francisco or bust” — was built as part of a social experiment to study the interactions between humans and robots. …

Though previous good Samaritans around the world had taken hitchBOT to a wedding, a comic convention, a Red Sox game, and even a trip out on the ocean, someone in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, ripped off its head and arms and left it for dead on the side of the road. HitchBOT’s creators had hoped to spare the robot’s young adoring fans from seeing the crime scene, but the image has surfaced on Twitter:

Image via

Why would anyone destroy something so whimsical and innocent? My guess is that a couple of ignorant kids happened across the robot and — unaware of its origin or purpose — dismembered it just for fun.

The incident reminded me of another story about “destruction as fun” I’d read over the weekend: A man in Texas had to be airlifted to a hospital after one of three bullets he fired at an armadillo ricocheted off the animal’s bony armor, and struck him in the jaw.

“What drove the man to shoot at the critter? He told authorities he had seen the animal previously on the highway, which — for reasons unexplained — prompted him to draw his weapon and pull the trigger.”

I felt sick that someone would shoot an animal for no particular reason, and wondered whether it was illegal. Perhaps the police would even file charges? Nope. Investigator Bill Smith of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said, “I really think if they’re going to shoot at varmints and whatnot, maybe use a shotgun … with a spread pattern with a lot less range.” Wow.

Then there’s the story of the dentist and the lion. I can’t add anything to the Internet firestorm that’s already exploded — except for my opinion about why this incident has hit such a nerve: It’s one of the most egregious examples of an American behaving badly. Talk about callous bloodlust and a sociopathic sense of entitlement.

Next time I leave the U.S., I’ll again face the inevitable questions: Why are Americans so destructive? Why do Americans love killing? My culture seems increasingly foreign to my friends, increasingly hard to understand.

I’ll have no answers for these questions, of course, because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why anyone would smash a robot, shoot at an armadillo, or behead a lion and call it “fun.”

But even if I can’t explain any of this, I hope I’ll at least be able to provide some proof and reassurance that not all Americans behave this badly.


  1. Well stated. The outrage over the event if the lion is cumulative of all the little but sad examples that seem to surface over and over about Americans behaving badly. I was first made painfully aware when I was a kid traveling throughout Europe on a study tour–I too often felt the need to say, “But we are not all like that!” The worst example from my trip pales in comparison to all the mean examples in the news lately. I had to apologize for loud obnoxious Americans taking pictures of themselves filling a little bottle with water as a souvenir from the holy water in St. Peters in Rome.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • And thank YOU for being such an excellent ambassador for the people of the U.S., Patti! (“Ambassador Patti.” Kind of has a ring to it, doesn’t it? 🙂

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing that Facebook post, Fiona. I agree that it’s the best-reasoned (and most succinct) analysis I’ve read yet. My hope is that all of this discussion may help a few would-be aggressors think twice about committing a violent or senselessly destructive act. Thank you for your comment!

  2. The great irony about that vile dentist behaving so badly is that many outraged by Cecil’s killing have registered their own anger with the most vile and violent vitriol imaginable. The common denominator on both sides is a sense of self righteous entitlement to do or say anything we want. Yuck all around. 😝

    • I couldn’t agree more, Cindy: Decrying this guy’s monstrous act has turned many more people into monsters themselves. Yuck all around. 🙂

      • I saw on the news last night that the garage door at his home in Florida was spray painted and bloody pigs feet were tossed in the driveway..I’m just ready to get an unlisted # and move into a cave somewhere in Montana..I mean people are increasingly nuts these days. 😨

        • It does seem as if the Internet has helped unleash the inner vigilante in a lot of people, doesn’t it? If you find a nice duplex cave, let me know. I’ll split the cave-rent with you. 🙂

          • HAHAHA!!! That’s too funny..a duplex cave! 😂 I TOTALLY agree about the internet..I was reading comments on a CNN article last night and the verbal assaults were truly shocking! I had to wonder why CNN doesn’t monitor that stuff…I also had to wonder if these people put on ties/dresses and go to work in the morning..and if so, where? Reallllly scary.

          • Yes! These people who threaten to behead the dentist’s children have children of their own and wear nicely pressed shirts and ties to work! I’ve been thinking about this a lot can can’t decide whether (a) these people are all bluster and not really scary because they would never act on their horrible words, or (b) most of the “nice” people I know are actually murderous sociopaths who only reveal their true selves online. Tough to say.

          • All I know is I just cannot imagine myself saying or typing stuff that is so foul..don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, but to talk about beheading..or to spray paint someone’s property..I mean who does that? It freaks me out…AHHHH. 😨 That’s it, I’m measuring my sofa for the cave…

  3. Well done, an excellent post.

    I think most nations have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be ashamed of in almost equal measure.

    A couple of weeks ago, President Obama was interviewed by Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America correspondent. It was a remarkable interview, one I listened to with great interest but one I doubt was aired over the US networks. It was a wide ranging interview and your President, who I admire enormously, was calm, eloquent and wise in his responses to the questions he was asked. The most impressive part of the interview for me was when the President said, without being asked, that the single most disappointing thing for him in his Presidency was that he has been unable to persuade Congress to change the gun laws. There was a passion in his voice as he said it, which I think says a lot about him and perhaps even more about the his opponents.

    As for your dentist …

    In my former business career I travelled the world extensively and when I started out I was given a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten. Someone much wiser than me told me that, “when you travel abroad you are an ambassador for your company and for your country”.

    Dentists take note!

    • I shall have to look for the interview you describe — because I don’t think it was aired in the States, but I do think it merits a post of its own (or so I tell myself almost every day when I hear about a new shooting). As for being ambassadors for our companies and nations when we travel: That’s excellent advice for most of us … except, sadly, for these monied types who think their wealth or social status somehow exempts them from moral behavior and observing the law. But I’d better stop before I work myself into a full lather again. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Des.

    • Maybe the next version of this hitchhiking robot will come armed with a taser. Or maybe the rest of the robots are just quietly making note of this incident and filing it away for future reference — for a day when they’ll each have to decide whether they continue to obey and serve humans, or whether they rebel against our species and take us out. (*Ahem.* Sorry. Clearly, my husband’s sci-fi reading habits have been rubbing off on me. 🙂

  4. I think perhaps it is a result of the independent founding spirit of modern America, that there seem to be so many different American stereotypes. Amongst my U.S. friends, I can identify an unlikely jumble of hat-tipping Mormon westerners, liberal east coast intellectuals, nature-loving Californians, enterprising north-westerners, spiritual Texans and, oh, the odd weird mid-westerner… 😉 Hey, I even a friend from Arkansas!

    The common bond is that they are all decent people in their various ways, extraordinarily polite to foreigners like me, interested in my country and a pleasure to know. So whenever I hear another story like this, I remind myself that there are many other American stories to be told, most of them much more positive.

    But I’m certainly feeling a surge of schadenfreude for that red-neck shooting himself in the jaw. Ha.

    • What a wonderful little Field Guide to Americans you’ve written, DB — I think you’ve summed us up quite well (especially the odd weird mid-westerner, *ahem*). I do hope others will be as well-reasoned as you and remember that the occasional bad American is the aberration, rather than the norm.
      PS: I share your schadenfreude. Und auch dein Nebelwerfer. 😀

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