The Nation Without Mirrors

P.S. I know that should come at the end, but I need to start with it. Normally I just bang out a blog to clear my brain and expected this would be the same. It wasn’t. It was hard to write and I keep feeling like I want to apologize. It seems I am battling with the same assumptions and larger than life mythologies I’m about to discuss — and I didn’t even realize it. Anyway, here goes…

Just came back from a trip to Ell-ay and SF Bay. Back home to Mexico. Undisputed — the US has some amazing, wonderful aspects. People consider where we live in Puerto Vallarta paradise, and I often feel that way as well, but the U.S. has its own versions of paradise and Cali has more than her fair share.

Still, I came back confused about tons of stuff from the US. Life seems so hard right now and almost everyone appears confused, anxious or depressed. Logic notwithstanding, people desperately cling to a sense of entitlement that is peculiar to America and feels totally outdated to me. It’s a subtext that says no matter what, this is the greatest place on earth. We are so bound up looking at other places and declaring them less than, that it stops us from looking in a mirror.

Looking from the outside in, I see a  nation refusing to accept that it may be no worse but is in fact no better than other countries. I feel that deep-seated mythology even from my progressive friends who have many criticisms of the US. It’s still a subtext that gets in the way of self-examination.  From where I stand, I see a nation without mirrors.

Mention corruption to a Mexican and you’ll likely get a sympathetic response about how terrible it is here. Or poverty, problems with the school system, cronyism, etc. You get agreement without shame, confusion or defensiveness.  The national ego is not built on being the best country on earth.

Mention the cultural depths reaching back millenia, strong family ties, the comforts of life here, or the delicious food and you get enthusiastic agreement. People here have pride of place and country as much as Americans, and love their place of birth no less. By way of strong contrast with the States however, national pride is constructed without comparison to other places.

What I keep wondering is why we can’t do the same. We have mega corruption — assuming we agree that corporate power and vested interests should not have a place in government. We have more poverty now than at almost any time in the past hundred years. We are constrained by a constitution that was conceived in an agrarian nation of the 1770’s and in many respects is irrelevant to respond to today’s challenges. We have humongous problems with health care, education, traffic (OMG! Ell-ay really is off the charts!), random violence, prisons. I could go on — not because America has more problems than other places, but because it’s my country and I know it well.

In discussions, both personal and national, even gentle critiques are often defended with absurd comparisons — “At least here we can express our opinion and not end up in jail like in xxx.” “You think there’s poverty here? What about yyy.” Women, violence… it’s all the same. The absurd part is that the country is never (and I mean never) a comparable western industrialized nation where we won’t come out on top in any of those areas. It’s usually a country we’ve stereotyped anyway, but it’s always a country in an entirely different stage of socio-economic development.

Why bother? Why not wo/man up and move on. It’s all rationalizations that fuel outdated mythologies and that holds us back. We could avoid a lot of verbal exhaust fumes if we found a national mirror that could give us a relatively objective 2012 appraisal.

We would get a lot further with in-depth discussions on solutions if we dumped the stifling and ridiculous mantras that the US is the best country in the world, the greatest democracy on earth, and we’re luckier than anyone else on the planet.

Hogwash. Double think.

America doesn’t need to be defended against its own condition. Like every country, it is well-loved by its citizenry. It has blemishes like every place and it just might be a hell of a lot easier to fix problems if we owned up and focused on solutions.



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