Did American society hit its apex before we were born, or have we been force-fed a moderately skewed version of our greatness? Where is this fabled Land of Opportunity when over one-third of our children live in poverty? Something isn’t quite right in the United States. While no country or society is perfect, I’ve observed that some countries simply do things better than we do. The central purpose of this thread is to present some alternate systems from around the world to serve as examples for how effective we could be.
First, a caveat: in the argument that follows, some would say that I’m being unfair to the good ol’ U.S. of A. It’s true that as an American, I’ve enjoyed opportunities that will never be afforded to the vast majority of people in the world. I recognize this and concede that I am eternally grateful for the medical, economic, educational, and other infrastructural blessings which have allowed me to become who I am. It would be a disservice to future generations, however, if I were to sit idly by after traveling the world for several years and rest on the laurels of these privileges.
I believe that the United States has a moral responsibility to be an even better country given its vast wealth, technology, diversity, and above all, the character of most Americans. We strive to be good people. We want to work hard. We want to have careers in which we can help those in need. For all these reasons and more, we have a moral obligation to be a better country. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but we have a recent history of being a short-sighted, self-serving aggressor who nearly eliminated the Native Americans; enslaved Africans in the name of economic progress and false racial inferiority; installed countless dictatorships in the Americas and the Middle East; and continues to be ruled by a corporate- and politically-minded oligarchy rather than a true democracy. The darker side of our past (and present) is beyond the scope of this essay, but I highly recommend Howard Zinn’s bestseller “A People’s History of the United States” for those who are interested.
Here’s what I’ve observed to be the greatest disparities between what I was taught to believe and what I’ve since learned about our country:
- We pay lip service to the importance of education while our children are placed in crumbling public schools or luxurious private facilities depending on the income level of their parents.
- We drum up patriotism for international conflicts despite mass international condemnation of our aggression.
- We hold military bases in over 130 countries despite our declining influence around the world, the dying gasps of our propagandizing megaphone of democracy, freedom, and the oft-repeated obligation to “protect American interests.”
- We assert that we favor women’s rights despite the underrepresentation of the Second Sex in business and government, and their overrepresentation in the media’s voyeuristic eye and sexualized exploitation.
- We pretend to value the health of our citizens while we skewer the Affordable Care Act either as not going far enough to help the needy and uninsured or as a socialist abomination riddled with illusory “death panels” and anti-American values.
- We express a vehement anti-drug attitude while American doctors prescribe enough opiates (e.g., Vicodin) to keep every single American medicated 24-hours per day.
- We profess that we are an economic example to the world when there are Americans working full-time who struggle to escape poverty and have to rely on a shrinking number of public services.
- We publicly maintain that we have a fair justice system when people are given different legal fates for the same crimes based on the color of their skin and the price of their lawyers.
- We pay our educators, artists, and social workers a tiny fraction of what we pay our most shameless lawyers, investment bankers, and entertainers.
- We assert to protect the mothers of our children and yet we are the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave or a viable system of childcare.
- We continually stress the importance of the economy and paying down the national debt while our garages swell with electronics, furniture, and other perfectly good items we throw into storage after upgrading to keep up with the Joneses.
- We are brought up believing in the importance of individuality, and yet we constantly judge ourselves according to a flawed social barometer.
- We are raised with an assumption in a meritocracy, and yet those with the wealth and preexisting social connections are continually rewarded.
In sum, we masquerade as a Land of Opportunity despite the fact that some countries do things much better than we do.
I’d like to make two more notes before I begin: I advise you to travel, and to travel widely. Once you learn to approach people on a platform of human commonality rather than difference, the world becomes a better place. Sure, there are a few assholes everywhere, but after living long-term on four different continents and traveling to 40+ counties, I’ve truly begun to appreciate this shared fate we have as humans, despite the manufactured conflicts and petty xenophobia we have pumped into us based on largely arbitrary national boundaries. Traveling is the absolute best thing a person can do to truly educate oneself. In my opinion, the top-tier universities have nothing on a person who observes the world voraciously first-hand with an open heart and an open mind.
Lastly, who am I to give an entire country advice on how to run things more effectively? You’ve got me there. I’m simply a concerned citizen trying to open people’s eyes. I derived these ideas from my own observations, and I’m thankful for those countless researchers, policy-makers, and formidable intellects I’ll be summoning to support my ideas.
Thank you for being so interested.