After being gone for a few days, I was catching up on a few of the blogs I frequent. A good friend of mine has been traveling in Europe, and her observations have been amusing, erudite, and witty. And what comes across, especially in her most recent post, is an affection for and pride in America -most specifically New York City. What is also stated is a critique of American media, something I consider the greatest form of love. It is easy to love something blindly, to not notice or care about the faults or cracks or issues. That kind of love is easy to maintain until it is shattered. A much more transcendent and hardy and useful love is a love that recognizes faults, and accepts them for the present time while hoping to better the situation as a whole. And this is what she does, and what I appreciate about her commentary. I especially find this line to be especially true: "American media is very insular, and we rarely care about anywhere else, at least not for extended periods of time". It is what made this comic strip from today:particularly congruent with her blog posts. We as a nation would rather learn about the next American Idol winner -or contestant, or possible contestant- than about the natural disasters that are currently ravaging the world. And why wouldn't we? American Idol is fluffy and fun and isn't a downer like floods and tornadoes; and America is perpetually considered the world's adolescent. It is, like traits found in traditional narratives, our greatest strength and greatest weakness. Because we are arrogant, we succeed. Because we are arrogant, we alienate. Because we are a nation perpetually looking forward with an almost contempt for our history, we are not burdened with could nots. We only see in can do. Because we are amnesiac in terms of our own history and world history, we have no basis for which to judge our actions and how our actions will be met; as Daniel Boorstin put it, "Trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers". We are not so great at planning ahead because our concern is mainly the immediate present, and that is a problem. Not that it is a recent one by any means.
We -humans- like to look back at previous generations and see them as larger than life; we like to look at the generations that follow our own with contempt mixed with a dour sense of disappointment and betrayal. Principal Flutie on Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it best when he remarked, "See, the problem is you kids today have no school spirit... ...When I was your age, we cared about the school's reputation and the football team's record, all that stuff. Of course, when I was your age, I was surrounded by old guys telling me how much better things were when they were my age."
Our insulation is not a problem of the present; we come by it naturally as a nation. It is there in President Washington's farewell address when he states, "Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others should be excluded"; and echoed in Thomas Jefferson's inaugural address when he said, "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none". It was there in the neutrality acts we passed and honored while Europe fell to Hitler in World War II. It has only been after 1945 that we as a nation have continually made an effort to be seen and heard on a global scale, transcending parties and administrations.
This belief structure, and one we as a nation tend to wish to revert to on any given day, was made possible due to the geography of our situation. Separated from Europe and Asia by oceans -and covering about 1/3 of our own continent- gave us the buffer needed to make alliances unnecessary. Because we are so large, many of our needs could be met by our own country. Unlike France or Turkey or Spain, we weren't constantly under threat of being attacked or overrun or taken over. Unlike Poland, we weren't conquered every fifty or so years by a new force. We had security built in isolation, and prosperity that came from self-reliance. But that is no longer the case; 9/11 proved it as assuredly as 12/7/41 did half a century earlier. With our dominance comes integration. With our music in every gift shop and with our military stationed on every continent, we do have to make the world and the world's problems a priority in ways we have not previously done. We are doing quite well, considering we really only got into the game 60 years ago. We are playing catch up in a game that the rest of the world has always been a part of. And we have to learn fast if we are to succeed. What we need, then, is a moment in history when that information and knowledge is made a priority. We need someone to stand up and place an unmatched importance on this issue on a national level, much like JFK did with math and science when he proclaimed that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It is going to be difficult; history and sociology and global political understanding aren't exactly as sexy and exciting and awe-inspiring as being shot into space. But we need it to happen. Hopefully, it happens soon. Because the world doesn't care that we are a young nation, and a nation that is just learning how to balance our own arrogance and self-involvement with their interests. They aren't grading on a curve.