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Sep 12 2010

On being number 11

I’m working from my phone, just got to South Carolina, haven’t got internet, so forgive any wonky formatting.

I just read a piece by Thomas L. Friedman about a “Newsweek” article that ranks the US as the eleventh best country to live. I wonder sometimes if the rest of the world gets bored of us always trying to be first. Some people would say something like well done america for being so high on the list or that’s impressive considering some of the great other countries in the world.

He argues that the reason america sucks (being eleventh would probably lead us to kill ourselves if we had japan’s sense of honor) is because our students aren’t motivated and everyone wants to get rich quick – he seems to think this is an american problem not a human one, for some reason. And he argues that the greatest generation was better, and they were better because they had a better attitude and wanted to make sacrifices.  Obsession with being the greatest and number one in everything doesn’t make his ranking of things americans do that are bloody stupid for some reason.

According to Newsweek, it looks like we lag further behind on health and quality of life than we do on education, in absolute terms if not in ranking. Five years difference in average healthy life span isn’t small potatoes. And I call bullshit that the greatest generation had better attitudes. They had a very specific set of circumstances to deal with, and we have a much different one, but anyone arguing that they had better quality of life, healthcare, lifespan, or education is just being ridiculous.

Look at the other top countries and tell me how a country that values independence, freedom, diversity and size can compete with little, rich, homogenous countries? I think we should be amazed that a country with so many immigrants from countries that are much lower on the list is even competing at all.

I’m not saying that there aren’t things, particularly within education and healthcare, that need to be fixed, but I think blaming it on the wrong attitude is a completely shallow and curmugeonly way of looking at what is in fact a very complicated problem because of economy, scale, and a varied population. If he’s got a problem with selfish attitudes destroying america, I’d love to see any evidence that that is true.

3 comments

  1. 1
    tsactuo

    Thomas Friedman is really hit-or-miss. When he hits, he really hits it out of the park. When he misses, his stuff either infuriating or embarrassing to read. On the other hand, it makes reading Friedman kind of exciting, because you never know which it’s going to be when you see a new article or interview of his.

    There are a myriad of reasons this country is in the state it is, and to properly cite them all it’d make not one but a series of books. When and if someone does research and write such an socio-eco-political epic, they’ll be up for a Pulitzer or Nobel… or they’ll be lynched. Or both. I’m pretty sure it’s a book very few will want to read, if it’s truthful, objective.

  2. 2
    givesgoodemail

    The problem with making the “we are too selfish” claim against American culture is that American culture has been infiltrating into other cultures ever since we abandoned the isolationist attitudes that were prevalent until the onset of WWII. Save for the speech and signs, it’s becoming difficult to tell many countries from America now.

    If American culture is a selfish one, every other culture in the world (save the isolated ones such as North Korea) is suffering from the same thing.

  3. 3
    JP

    I think I actively make myself more stupid when I read Newsweek or Thomas Friedman, so I stopped doing that.

    And with respect to America, American has basically functioned as World Leader of the West since WWII (although it was immediately challenged by the Soviet Untion). If history is any guide, we should be leaving the World Power stage and entering the deligitimation stage, where the countries of the world respond less and less to U.S. “World Leadership” and U.S. culture in general.

    If you compare and contrast the First Gulf War with the most recent Iraq war and now Afghanistan, you can see the transition from World Leader to the stage we are now entering, that of delegitimation.

    And internally, we get to deal with the fact that we are now in a Crisis Era/K-Cycle winter, where social stress should continue to increase. This means that the political decisions make less and less sense overall. Again, contrast the First Gulf War to the Iraq War and Afghanistan.

    Expect more economic stress, political mismanagement, and general xenophobia going forward.

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