Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I ended up in an unexpected argument yesterday about the results of a recent Rasmussen poll that asked its respondents to predict the world ranking of the United States by the end of the 21st Century. The poll results seemed to show that Americans are pessimistic about the long-term status of this country, that our “best” days are now behind us.
I’m not here to argue the legitimacy of this poll or that of Rasmussen polls in general, which I know have a reputation for asking questions and massaging answers such that liberals end up painted in a bad light. Indeed, one of the major points of this poll is that Republicans were more likely to view the glass half-empty, which conservatives touted as a reaction to the Obama administration (which is apparently already so disastrous that it will be destroying the country for somewhere between 80-90 years after he leaves office), and which liberals were trumpeting as a sign that Republicans were more cynical of the nation than they otherwise claim in pro-America rallies…that at heart, they expect America to fail.
And it was at this last point of the debate when I felt myself lifted out of the crossfire, deposited on some observation deck, watching it turn absurd. One side said the other side wanted the country to fail, and the other side said that they didn’t want the country to fail, but neither side could explain to me how the speculation of the survey–that America might not be #1 at the end of the 21st Century–constituted failure.
It’s not that I don’t believe in competition and winners. I am, after all, a sports fan, and appreciate the benefits of competition as a motivating force.
But I get wary of the idea that a nation’s success is tied to its arbitrary ranking as the most powerful, or most wealthy. I don’t think it does good things for our society to be so focused on “most” and “best” — in such a mode I think we also see the growth of nationalist fervor and the sort of hyper-capitalist mentality that leads simultaneously to mind-blowing profits and horrifying pain. I see a populace so obsessed with being King of the Mountain that it never bothers to look at the integrity of the Mountain it is King of.
In the minds of these respondents, what constitutes that number-one ranking? Is it the ability to assert one’s political will on our allies, is it the stability of the dollar? Is it the capacity to at any time and in any environment commit troops to the task of kicking ass? Why are these the things we value? Why does their cultivation give us the honorific of being Number One?
We’re still a young country. A teenage boy of a country, still making teenage boy mistakes, still skateboarding without a helmet because it messes with our hair, wearing our scars as stories to impress people instead of reminders of a behavior that harmed us. We are invincible and cannot die, and everything that happened to us is somebody else’s fault. We seek to be Number One because being Number One is where it’s at, because second place is the first to lose. Unlike every other nation that was ever Number One, we will never sell out, never surrender; we know how to do this so that the rock and roll will never end.
I wonder if part of this is fear. Knowing who we stepped on to get where we are and fearing to meet them again on the way down, fearing the other foot wearing our rightful shoe.
I don’t quite understand it. I understand it but don’t see why it’s such a top priority for us. This might be something that’s wrong with me.
At the end of the 21st Century I’d rather have a nation with universal health care, a high standard of education, honest business regulation, and a sensible foreign policy that ranks a few slots below number one.
There is a difference between being the best and being one’s best.