I am not a subscriber to the notion that anything we do in America is best because it is American. I think, or at least I hope, most people would agree with me on that, in theory. But for some reason our political figures, for generations, have been telling us about how we are the "Greatest Nation in the World". By what measure? I am not trying to say that we don't have some great moments or that we aren't pretty good in certain aspects, but this constant tooting of our own horn has worrying consequences.
I think it can be argued that we have been trapped in the greatest "echo chamber" in modern history. An 'echo chamber' is the idea that if one is constantly being surrounded by opinions and information that only supports their world view they will be increasingly blind to outside information . As a Bernie Sanders supporter, it is something I have to actively try and avoid because of how easy of a trap it is to fall into. Online you may see 10 pro-Bernie articles all while you browse the pro-Sanders forum you are part of, but if that is your only source of information, you are going to miss the greater narrative going on in the world. This blindness than inhibits your ability to think critically and will ruin your ability to make reasonable, objective decisions. It is essentially a phrase for when it is really easy to get lost in your own opinions. I believe this is what has happened to America as a country. But we will touch on that in a bit.
So, if America has essentially become a giant echo chamber, the first thing we have to do is regain our objectivity. The easiest way to do that and to avoid falling victim to the echo chamber effect, is to constantly ask yourself "What if I am wrong?" Seeking out information that is counter to strongly held beliefs and taking in other perspectives is essential to constructing informed opinions and surviving the trap of believing your own insulated world view is always correct.
I suggest, if you are reading this, that you take the time to watch the following TEDtalk. In it the speaker highlights the importance of the question 'What if I am wrong?' Ms. Schulz is making the point that we are inclined to wrongness because being wrong feels a lot like being right. While she is talking more about individual wrongness, I think she absolutely highlights what could be happening in America today and probably has been happening for a very long time.
If we are being honest, I can definitely think of moments where I was guilty of some of the things Ms. Schulz is talking about. I bet most of you reading this would agree that it is easy to get set in your own ideology. Having a core set of beliefs is not a terrible thing, but never examining those core beliefs in a critical way is a huge problem.
Think of America as an individual. As an individual, America has it's own set of core beliefs and values, ideas and ideals. It knows, intrinsically, certain things to be true and it knows other things to be false. When was the last time America, the individual, asked the question "What if I am wrong?" I would argue the answer is a long, long time. Perhaps so long that we are at (or very close to) the point of the Coyote and the Cliff. Ms. Schulz tells us that we cannot differentiate when we are wrong from when we are right because being wrong feels highly similar to feeling right. This suggests that if America is wrong in its assertion that America is great because of all the reasons we (as a nation) always lists, the consequences could be devastating and we won't know for sure until the fall is already inevitable. That is, unless we ask ourselves, what if we are wrong?
So, maybe the American way isn't correct like we have have been led to believe since we were old enough to attend preschool. Maybe the 'status quo' which has become such a buzz word this election cycle has gained focus for a reason. Maybe we are dangerously close to the cliff. Maybe we have to stop being afraid of being incorrect and start questioning how we do things down to the most basic levels. If we refuse and we keep on going with out ever taking a look under the hood, who knows what will happen? The American Constitution is a GREAT document, but it is 200 years old. Maybe we should stop treating it as infallible and start being more critical of it and the laws we build around it. There is no shame in challenging the establishment, there is nothing wrong with trying to do better. If we simply say "We are great and everything is great and isn't life here just great," how will we ever improve? Where would the incentive to try and make our lives better come from? We can't both believe we are the greatest and desire to get better, so either we are all living life and this is as good as it gets or we are WRONG.
I support Bernie Sanders for president. Senator Sanders is constantly accused of being a radical for proposing things like Universal Healthcare and Free Public College Education. I understand where that criticism comes from. Those are two proposals that will cost a lot of money and time to pull off correctly and they seem to go against the common values that this nation was built on. Many then jump to the conclusion that such ideas are 'impossible', 'impractical' or 'unrealistic'. But what if we are wrong? What if these programs, which not only work else where, but are highly successful in many places around the world, are what is best for our nation?
It isn't that outlandish to think about when you consider that America is lagging behind other nations in plenty of ways. Because of our blind faith in the superiority of the 'American Way' we have let the American Dream die . At the top of this post there is a very colorful map of the globe. This map indicates the 'where-to-be-born index'. The 'where-to-be-born index', as calculated by the EIU, measures a variety of factors among a number of countries to determine what country is the best to be born in if you were hoping to have a prosperous life. Based on what we are taught in our schools from the earliest of ages, based on what we see on our American television channels, and based on what we hear our politicians say, we must be number 1 on such a list. American exceptionalism tells us that we are the greatest and Americans have the freest, best lives of anywhere on the planet. The problem is we are not number 1, nor are we number 2 or 3... America is tied with Germany as the 16th best country to be born in the world. Does 16 seem exceptional to any American? Similarly, America ranks 15th in the latest World Happiness report and our national happiness has declined significantly since the first WHR was released in 2007. If we aren't prioritizing the happiness of the people in our nation, what are we doing? If we aren't striving to enrich and better the lives of ALL people in our country, what do we have to brag about? The answer is nothing.
Of all the UN countries that rank ahead of the United States in the where-to-be-born index, all but New Zealand provide their people with better healthcare (as ranked by the World Health Org according to this source, here). Most of the European nations that rank above the US provide their people with free college tuition. So the question has to be asked, What if we are wrong? What if America isn't a stronger, better place because of our constitution alone? Maybe we aren't freer or smarter or more innovative, just because it is what we have always been told. Perhaps America has been the victim of the largest echo chamber in recorded history. Maybe we bought into our own greatness so strongly and in such a way that we blocked out all the progress that has been made all over the world, be it health care or education or scientific pursuits. Maybe now that the time has come to adapt, evolve, change and to simply join the rest of the world with the goal of bettering the lives of the people, we are paralyzed by a fear of admitting that we made a mistake.
None of this is to say that we were never great or that we shouldn't be proud. We should be, America has an illustrious history. I am simply suggesting that we try harder to be more humble and then, if we can all admit that there is a chance we have been wrong, we attempt to be bold.
It is scary to try something new, but to lie to ourselves and act like these working programs, that clearly have improved the lives of millions of people all over the world, can NEVER WORK HERE is asinine and disingenuous. Will it be perfect? No. Will it be difficult and expensive? Yes. Should we do it? Of course. How far behind the rest of the world do we want to fall? Iceland, Costa Rica, Mexico are among the countries that do a better job of providing their people happiness in life. Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan are among countries that provide their people with better opportunity than the US. Do we want to use GDP as the sole measuring stick by which we determine our greatness? Even by that measure we won't be number 1 for very long. Should we brag about the ludicrous rate we pour money into our military? No, we should own up to our failings, of which we have plenty. We should admit that, by buying into our own greatness, we were blinded by hubris. Then we must be brave enough to commit, as one Nation, to provide the basic rights of Education and Health Care to our citizens. What good are all the resources and wealth this great country possesses, if its citizens are struggling just to find the basic happiness we were promised by all the generations of Americans that came before us?