Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Opiate of Exceptionalism

I quote from an opinion piece in the New York Times:

IMAGINE a presidential candidate who spoke with blunt honesty about American problems, dwelling on measures by which the United States lags its economic peers. 
What might this mythical candidate talk about on the stump? He might vow to turn around the dismal statistics on child poverty, declaring it an outrage that of the 35 most economically advanced countries, the United States ranks 34th, edging out only Romania. He might take on educational achievement, noting that this country comes in only 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, and at the other end of the scale, 14th in the percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds with a higher education. He might hammer on infant mortality, where the United States ranks worse than 48 other countries and territories, or point out that, contrary to fervent popular belief, the United States trails most of Europe, Australia and Canada in social mobility. 
The candidate might try to stir up his audience by flipping a familiar campaign trope: America is indeed No. 1, he might declare — in locking its citizens up, with an incarceration rate far higher than that of the likes of Russia, Cuba, Iran or China; in obesity, easily outweighing second-place Mexico and with nearly 10 times the rate of Japan; in energy use per person, with double the consumption of prosperous Germany.

One of the problems of use of opiates is that their habitues are passive. If we believe the United States is the best of all possible countries, then we may be passive about our very real problems.

Thinking about this election campaign, I suspect the problem we have is that a lot of people are indeed doing very well, and too many of those don't want to extend a helping hand to those of us who need it. Worse, the unwillingness to extend a hand to "the other" is based on prejudice.

No comments: