4th of July

I went to the weirdest birthday party a few years ago.  It was the same as regular birthdays – a BBQ, cake, some beers.  But when it came to the presents, everything was a bit…off.  The birthday girl got nothing but #1 items – beer cozies with “#1 Hottie” on them, aprons with “#1 Student”, all that.  Thing was, she was a great girl, but not the best student.  Or the best anything, really.  But her guests seemed so enthused, we just went along with it, oohing and aahing over every brightly wrapped present that proclaimed her #1.    One of the other guests must have been a bit confused as well, because just before we cut the cake, he joked that while the birthday girl was great, she wasn’t God’s gift as her presents exclaimed.  The other guests, horrified, berated the poor man till he mumbled excuses and left the party early.  It was bizzare; as if for that one day, we were expected to have a completely blind eye to the birthday girl’s faults, or reality for that matter.

Every 4th of the July is like that for me.  Today is the birth of my home nation, but I fear for her.  The blind loyalty I see in the smallest things – facebook posts proclaiming “Happy birthday to the greatest nation in the world!” belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of national hubris.  Yes, the US is very good at many things.  We’re great at manufacturing, and entertainment.  We have a decent set of codified laws that allow for free-ish speech, and a small set of fundamental rights that some countries don’t have.  Our Olympics basketball team will probably sweep the bracket this summer.  But we’re not #1.  Not by a long shot.  We’re behind in overall education, health, and social equality.  We outspend the rest of the world on military, and we lock up more citizens per capita than every 1st world nation (and most of the 2nd world nations as well).  So, no, we’re not the best.  But that’s okay, because no country is the ‘best’ overall.  However…

If you attempt to say that today, or any other day in the US, prepared to be branded not a ‘real’ American. (Editor’s note, what is a ‘real’ American?  If you ever find an actual First Nations person, you can ask them).   The thing that I love about my adopted land of England is the pride that they take both in their land, and the pride that they take in making fun of their land.  Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News may have a set of folk who blindly follow the ‘real Ammmurican’ trope, but even Rupert’s papers here can’t quite make it stick.  His paper The Sun recently attempted to start a twitter trend of “RealBritish”, and I’d wager 75% of the tweets were people saying ‘Real British don’t read hacking rags like yours’.  It was glorious.  The Brits are well known for being ready, willing, and able to look for their own failures, and mock them.  And I love that.  If you don’t know what is wrong (or feel afraid to say what is wrong), how can you grow?  You can’t.  You stagnate intellectually, and ethically.  You get soft.  Your inability to improve leads to weakness that other countries will exploit.

You want to be great, America?  QUESTION YOURSELF.  Ask why things are done that way, and if it can be done better. Question why you think the way you do.  Question everything. What’s the worst that could happen?  I assure you, the sky will not fall.  You might actually learn something new about yourself.  You might (*gasp*!) grow.

This lack of self-awareness might be down to America’s age.  Historically, she’s only a teenager, compared to the middle aged UK, or positively geriatric Egypt or China.  And what are teenagers like?  Overall, they’re focused entirely inward, thinking themselves the center of the universe.  You can’t tell them that growing pains are necessary to live; you can’t tell them to keep their temper under control; you can’t even tell them that mistakes will be made, and they need to own up to it and get on with life.  You can’t tell them much of anything.  And doubly unfortunate for the rest of the world, the US isn’t just any teenager, she’s the hulking bully of the school, always a moment away from melting down and shoving someone in a locker.  She just won’t listen.  And while the average teenager can look back on her high school years with a cringe and a wry smile, a country can’t do that.  The decisions they make go past the doors of their homeroom, and drastically affects every other nation in the world, with sometimes devastating effects.

So, happy birthday, United States of America.  I hope you have a great day.  Eat some cake, enjoy the fireworks.  Don’t get stupid.  And tomorrow, when you finish sleeping off the hangover from the booze cruise, give just a brief second to ask to yourself:  “Am I really getting ridiculous?  Can I stop it?  Can I turn this around?”.  Because many of us believe you can, America.  But we can’t help you till you recognize you need help.  Quit it with the ridiculous patriotic memes.  Kill the rhetoric.  Acknowledge that even the people who don’t think the way you do are still ‘real’ Americans.  Get your damn head out of your ass, or you’re not going to see the end of adolescence.  In short –

Grow up, America.

10 thoughts on “4th of July

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  5. James

    I think the teenager analogy, though quite attractive, is one that can be stretched too far. However even a country as large and diverse as the US has certain national characteristics, and like every character trait they are both a strength and a weakness. It’s just unfortunate that right now the poison pouring out of the extreme right wing media in the US seems to have brought out the worst side of the American character. America has always had a weakness for demagogues, but as with the previous ones, this too will pass, and the other side of the coin, the best aspects of the American character (for which I have unreserved admiration) will reassert itself again. They simply cannot go on with this madness much longer, it’s already several galaxies beyond self parody.

    And there is nothing for us Brits to feel smug about. When our empire was at its height, we behaved with exactly the same kind of arrogance and condescension to the rest of the world. I don’t see a lot of difference between the nonsensical rhetoric about American exceptionalism, and it’s unique mission in the world, and the notions we used to have embodied in the phrase “God is an Englishman”.

    Lastly any country that produced my hero, Groucho Marx, has to have a huge amount going for it.

    • Shea

      There are two competing theories – in the business world, there is the concept of national culture (the Hofstede cultural difference model, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turners, etc), that can chart a country’s ‘personality’ if you like, and make certain very basic assumptions on the people within the country as a result. For instance, if you think of a German, you may think punctual, efficient, and staid. An Australian may be gregarious and laid back. These are not tropes, but rather a commonality/average of the whole. And precisely as you say, if one small element of the dimensions can be pushed to the extreme, it can go from good (a sense of independence) to very bad (extreme hubris). That’s where the pendulum comes in – when a country has such, for lack of a better word, hormonal imbalance, the pendulum swing is so much bigger than it would be normally. So we go from extreme to extreme, seemingly without pause for any type of reflection.

      The “God is an Englishmen” point is well made, but at the very least, Brits can look back and say “wow, we were imperialist bastards”. In the US, textbooks still teach that the Pilgrims were wonderful people who gave the savages a decent Christian God (and leave out the part about them killing off entire tribes and such). We are unable to admit defeat, and that blind spot to mistake making is what will undo us, ultimately.

      (And remember, Groucho Marx’s best line was “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” How true in this context!) 😉

      • Eric Burrows

        I can see clearly what you mean. The old English Empire is a good example of this. We gave them certain education and some a means of democratic government at the same time exploiting their wealth, using force and treating them as third class citizens and none of this raising the living standards of the poor in English society. The Empire was used solely by the rich and for the rich and only after the 2nd world war did living standards rise for the masses. This after the dissolution of the Empire.

        • Shea

          Exactly. But at the very least, Britain ‘got over it’, and admitted at least in part that it made a mistake. The US has yet to make a reflection and admit its part in some major atrocities over the years. I hope one day they can, but I doubt it.

          • Eric Burrows

            Britain did take part in acouple recently but won’t admit that. At least the establishment won’t. I think that majority of British people do. Maybe in the far future when maybe America is in decline (it seems all great powers do) there may be a general understanding when looking back.

  6. Eric Burrows

    I think you are about right in your post. It has taken the UK and most of Europe (I say most) centuries to grow up and stop feuding . I think the middle east is going through this phase now and it might take 300 years the same as for us. Ireland is still a tricky point People must have the ability to laugh at themselves as well as see their good points. And religion as always is a nasty stumbling block. Why don’t people believe that if there is a god He must be for everyone, not some narrow focal point of their own making.

    Eric Burrows

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