Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The best little country in the whole world

There are a lot of things that infuriate me about American patriotism, but right at the top of that list is the infamous "best country in the world" rhetoric. Inevitably, it comes from people who have never lived in (and often never even visited) another country, and who are merely parrotting ideologies instilled in them by their parents and teachers and friends. Those ideologies aren't sinister or malicious, though, and I absolutely understand where they come from. I vividly remember watching the Olympics as a very young child and being utterly certain that the Americans were going to win every race they deigned to participate in ... because after all, who could legitimately beat an American at anything? When you're born American, that sentiment is in everything you read, in the air you breathe, injected into your bloodstream.

I was one of the lucky ones. I was privileged enough to see enough of the world at a young enough age that I was forced to realize some hard truths: that in every area from educational policy to attitudes toward sex, a lot of other countries did a lot of things better than we did. Once I became aware of that, questioning the "best country in the world" rhetoric wasn't far behind, and once I started questioning it, it came apart in my hands. It was a difficult but necessary awakening. After that point, people who wouldn't or couldn't question it began to annoy me. They had their heads stuck in the sand so far that they couldn't recognize that a bunch of non-Americans had come up with good ideas that might apply to them, and their country was worse off for it. Yet at the same time, I understood them. After all, I'd been one of them. That sand can feel pretty comfortable around your ears if it's all you've ever known.

In the last few years, though, the people who steadfastly refuse to question that rhetoric have grown more and more alien to me. I've spent a good portion of the past month in the U.S., and although I've had some really wonderful times during those trips, one of the major points that's been driven home for me is that this version of the United States is not the same country I left. The quaintly arrogant ignorance behind the "best country in the world" rhetoric has become pathology. Where there was once spirited debate, now there are only accusations of un-American sentiment. Where there was once a righteous commitment to civil liberties, there are now prisoners being held without a trial in Guantanamo Bay. Where there were once policies that at least attempted to bridge the gap between rich and poor and between black and white, there are now poor black New Orleans residents dying on rooftops days after the hurricane that flooded their homes. In the face of this, the people who honestly still think the United States is the best country in the whole world are more than ignorant; they're delusional. Many people have said that September 11th, 2001 was the day that American culture lost its innocence, but sometimes I fear it was the day it lost its humanity ... and its capacity for reasoned thought ... as well.

Like I said, I'm one of the lucky ones. On Friday I will take the oath of Canadian citizenship, and believe me, it won't be a moment too soon. And yet I still find myself incredibly saddened by what my country of birth has become. Even though I no longer wanted to live there, I was still rather fond of the country I left, and I wanted to be able to visit it. I spent the past few weeks in the country nominally corresponding to the words on the front of my passport, but I don't feel like I went anywhere near the place I grew up.


AWR said...

Excellent post.

My comment here:

Canadian Perasma said...

Preach on sistah! This American by birth, Canadian by choice (well..birth too actually) feels the same way. I too grew up in the USA (Seattle) and it's not the same place I remember growing up.

Aqua, of the Questioners said...

I imagine you've seen this by now:

In some ways, I think you covered it a bit more elegantly.

Anonymous said...

i really love your post. i am wondering where and when i WILL find the best country to live in.....