A Fatal Self-Absorption
by Fred Reed: Helping
If I were to
speechify to a conclave of Tea Partyers, America is the free-est...the
most democratic...the best educated and most dynamic country the
world has ever known, an example to all mankind, the assembled
would hoot and hooroar and applaud in dizzy exaltation. Here is
the soul of the American approach to existence, bottomless self-admiration
devoid of knowledge or curiosity, wrapped like a psychic burrito
in the patriotism of overwrought middle-schoolers. And there are
many, many of them.
We face rule
by pajama party. Saints preserve us, someone with the foregoing
understanding may become the president of the (for a few moments
more) most powerful, erratic, and ignorant country on the planet.
Among presidential possibilities we now have Rick Perry, Michele
Bachman, Sarah Palin and, in the Great Double-Wide on Pennsylvania
Avenue, Precedent Obama political epiphytes all, fantasists,
tent-revival Christians, provincial governors, inward-looking certitudinous
naifs. The difference between Americans and Mohammed Ali is that
when he said, I am the greatest! he was.
that realism intruded its ugly head. Suppose that to the Tea People
I spoke as follows. Yes, you are right. We are most astounding
democratic. I cannot doubt it. Just to satisfy my thirst for understanding,
can you give me three ways in which America is more democratic than,
say, Japan, Germany, or Australia? More free than France, Switzerland,
or Uruguay, wherever that is?
But I am cross,
and a curmudgeon.
the best educated? Or do they just think that they are?
I submit, and could back it up with countless surveys of college
graduates, that the US is not nearly as schooled as it thinks
it is, and doesn't come close to Japan.
From the Wikipedia
on functional illiteracy, In the US, 14% of the adult population
is at the "below basic" level for prose literacy... and
22% are at that level for quantitative literacy. Only 13% of the
population is proficient in these three areas able to compare
viewpoints in two editorials; interpret a table about blood pressure,
age, and physical activity; or compute and compare the cost per
ounce of food items.
To our burgeoning
boobitry, this doesn't matter. More accurately they aren't aware
of it. They got As at USPs (university-shaped places) happy to take
their money. The boobs cannot compare themselves with people of
other nations, since they know nothing of remote places and are
insentience can bite. A work force that reads poorly and counts
on its fingers will not compete well against a work force that went
to a real grade school. (When I was a kid in West Virginia, we didn't
have shoes and counted on our toes, in base-twelve.) (OK, maybe
I made that part up.)
maybe worse America bumbles about the world like a blind
man, and doesn't know it. Its contempt for everywhere else, its
inability to conceive that maybe other peoples and places don't
want to be like America, leads to disaster after disaster. Washington
was going to invade Iraq, which with gratitude would go all democratic
and be like Massachusetts, and the other Arab nations would follow
suit, and so we would remake the Arab world according to Fox News.
this stuff. There is probably no one in France, and here I include
asylums, drains, and morgues, who could be so narcissistically stupid.
the most dynamic of countries? Time was, yes. It still is when Ivy
techies invent such things as Facebook. Otherwise, not recently,
or ever again. America breathes heavily in an economic coma while
China grows at a tad below ten percent per annum.
were utterly ignorant of history, geographically witless (they are,
actually) and vain as runway models, it would be of no importance.
What Guatemalans do doesn't matter, except perhaps to Guatemalans.
The US is another thing. A militarily aggressive America having
ho idea of how the rest of the world works, not understanding that
there is anything to understand, concerned only with matters domestic
this is not good.
It is what
we have, though. The Tea Partyers and their brethren and cistern
apparently just can't imagine what there could possibly be in those
funny little countries worth knowing about.
said (me, actually) that the Brits fought for empire, the French
for la gloire de la France, the Russians to steal watches
from the wounded, and Americans for vague moral platitudes. Exactly.
There's no need to know what you are doing, only to have good intentions,
or say that you do, or believe it when someone who wants military
contracts says it. Policies are not about results, but about feeling
good about oneself, purple mountains' majesty.
It is most
strange. The world globalizes, but American doesn't, living in surreal
isolation. People in Germany speak French and English, often better
English than Americans. The US has a lengthy border with a country
of well over 100 million, yet how many Americans speak Spanish?
But then, why should they? Hey, buncha narco-beaners drinking burros
and riding tequila.
And now Rick
Perry, governor of Texas, whose IQ suggests that his family must
have interbred with armadillos, wants to invade Mexico. (If I were
an armadillo, I'd watch who my daughters dated.) Here we have another
example of delusional Reader's Digestery, the endlessly repeated
assertion that the US has the Greatest Military Ever. Gonna whup
up on them Messicans.
Uh, yeah. In
ten years the Pentagon can't beat a few tens of thousands of peasants
armed with AKs. Nobody else's army could do it either. Thing is,
everybody else has figured out that such wars don't work too well.
And now, Mexico,
another place ignored by the national solipsism. Godawful terrain,
people intensely hostile to more American invasions, a country loaded
with American expat hostages. Another splendid military idea. To
sleep, perchance to dream....
that fifteen percent of Americans are becoming more cosmopolitan,
traveling, living and doing business abroad, while most turn ever
more inward and view the rest of the earth, if at all, as hostile
and unwashed. It's a bad time to do it. We no longer live in the
heroic age of American technology, of Elvis and the lindy-hop and
the lakepipe's roar, of Apollo Thirteen and Detroit iron and unchallenged
American supremacy. It's getting dark out there.
is author of Nekkid
in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A
Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest
book is Curmudgeing
Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit
© 2011 Fred Reed
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