Commentary by Christopher Kilner
We are not the greatest nation on Earth. Ignorant, misogynistic, arrogant and lackadaisical — Yes. You may respond “we have the greatest constitution” or “we won two world wars,” to which I respond “the Cubs won the world series too … in 1908.”
First, some statistics: we are 14th in education, 15 percent of our nation lives below the poverty line, we are 42nd in life expectancy and only 14 percent of Americans believe evolution to be true. Too harsh? We do lead the world in the following: most nuclear weapons, obesity, highest incarceration rate, highest divorce rate, highest illegal drug use, most reported rapes, car thefts, murders and violent crimes, while simultaneously having the largest police force. Not enough? We also lead the world in: highest spending on health care with no one listening since 2/3 of deaths are preventable, most pharmaceuticals prescribed, highest percentage of anti-depressant use by women, the greatest amount of student loan debt, the greatest national debt of any sovereign nation while having the most complicated tax system in the world and amount of money spent on national defense, which comes to more than the next 14 countries combined, none of whom would ever go to war with us anyway.
I am also proud to say that we did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, nor are we a member of the International Criminal Court. We are also responsible for thousands of deaths in Central America, our own government conspired in the cocaine epidemic of the 80s so that thousands of innocent people could be murdered in Nicaragua (all in the name of freedom), and our nation committed some of the worst atrocities of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in our abhorrent persecution of Native Americans, because we blindly adhered to manifest destiny.
But what of “American exceptionalism”? Our generation still proudly displays it! We are exceptional at poisoning our own bodies with nicotine, marijuana, alcohol and sugar. We also excel at not committing to healthy relationships, apathetically not voting and idolizing misogynistic, crime-committing, immoral brats. Furthermore, we out-pollute every nation on this dying Earth and put comfort before fulfillment or posterity.
To be fair, our generation has been kinder and more accepting of alternative lifestyles, but, I argue, for the wrong reasons. We apathetically accept others. Our generation is not moral; our generation is also not immoral; we are amoral, self-centered and influenced by rhetoric, not reason. We find hedonism guised as liberation addicting. This addiction draws us far from our common humanity with the world and leads to our hubris.
So no, we are not the greatest nation on Earth. Profit runs our conscience and greed our hearts. Indeed, our nation has gained the world, but at the price of our humanity. Our world faces threats of disease and poverty; climate change and the destruction of biodiversity; religious wars and fights for the human soul. In all of this, Americans are not the protagonists or antagonists. We do not take the right or wrong sides, but we take no sides at all. We are xenophobic, arrogant and prideful and, if we continue doing nothing, we will fall.
You will read this, rant on Facebook and have some choice words for me. While you mosey on down to your morning PSL, you will realize I am right, because none, none of the actions you take in response are meaningful. You participate in a culture that demonizes intelligence and promotes promiscuity. You participate in a culture that forces you to purchase mediocrity and shuns dissent. You do not realize I have committed logical fallacies in this paragraph, and you do not care.
I encourage you — no, beg you — to prove me wrong. I challenge you to care for your fellow human, to thrive off challenges and to question everything. I encourage you to place your trust in science and your faith in religion. I encourage you to build others up and tear down structures of injustice. I encourage you to throw off the chains of oppressive consumerism and revel in the freedom of the humanities. If we all seek, in the words of Albert Einstein, not to become people of success, a country of success, but rather people of value and a country of value, we can once again be a city upon a hill; know the danger and challenge this entails, and you will be set free.