Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Have We Got That They Haven't Got?

I love my country. I consider myself lucky to have been born here. But when visiting Italy and Greece I was forced to ask myself - what do we have that they don't that lets us say our country is the best in the world. In general, what I saw were people working in "First World" countries. Driving cars. Going to school. Eating lunch. Working. Smiling. Laughing. So why do we claim to be better? I think the answer is limited and almost purely philosophical.

First, there is our Constitution. I haven't read the counterparts in other countries, but I suspect they don't do as well as ours. Second, and I think this is where I saw the greatest difference, is the American ability to believe in true upward mobility - in other words, the American Dream. While in Catania in Sicily, we saw graffiti almost everywhere, and wondered why? My wife wisely suggested it was that the youth there might feel a lack of ability to escape their island. We certainly see similar problems in the inner cities and Indian reservations that lead to crime and substance abuse.

While the belief in the American Dream is significant for our happiness, I'm not sure whether the American Dream is anything more than an optimism without any real difference from European lives. I certainly didn't get the feeling that the Italians and Greeks were stuck in their lives without any actual opportunity to move up. And I haven't seen any evidence that we actually have greater upward mobility. (Feel free to show me some).

Many people will point to our economy as evidence of our superiority, and maybe we do have more wealth. But so what? If I am working all the time to increase our so-valued productivity, am I better off than if I had the entire month of August off? Sure, I like having 137 channels on TV, but as Springsteen noted, there is often nothing on. Our houses are probably bigger - but many of us (including me) have more room than we know what to do with.

In essence, I think we should back off on the rhetoric of superiority of our country unless we have something real to point to.

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