Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why The Fourth of July Bothers Me

July 4th has recently begun to bother me.

This isn't because I have a problem with a holiday that commemorates the founding of a country that has undeniably risen to a level of unprecedented prominence and power. Nor is it because it celebrates that founding as a good thing, which I believe it was.

No, the thing that's beginning to bother me is the mindless patriotic rhetoric which invariably accompanies the holiday, and the apparently complete lack of introspection, by huge segments of the population, on who, exactly, we Americans are today.

The Fourth of July is the day that we boldly proclaim our superiority to the world. "America stands for freedom!", we are told. "America is great!" We are told that we are the most free, most just, most peaceful, most equitable, most moral, richest and smartest people on the planet. Our soldiers are all heroes, and those we oppose are all terrorists. We are divinely endowed with these attributes, and charged with forcing them on the rest of the world. We believe that we are truly exceptional.

On this last point, at least, we may be correct. We are exceptional in our extremes and in our superlatives. But they aren't the ones we usually think of.

We are exceptional for imprisoning more people and at a greater rate than any other country on earth.

We are exceptional for having the largest war-making capacity in the history of mankind.

We are exceptional for our belief that the unprovoked killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in their own country can be justified.

We are exceptional in our belief that it's not torture when we do it.

We are exceptional in the disparity of our wealth, and in the amount of power and wealth that we vest in an oligarchic and plutocratic elite.

We are exceptional in our position as a wealthy, industrialized nation that does not provide its citizens' health care.

We are exceptional, quite frankly, in our lack of humility. But pride, as they say, goeth before the fall.

In short, we really aren't that great any more. We've all been trained since birth, (in a way that's fundamentally not that different from how it's done in North Korea), to revere the United States, to idolize and accept it without question. But now is the time to question that- to fundamentally examine everything that we've been taught and have believed without the slightest bit of skepticism.

Ultimately, the greatness of a country is derived from the actions of its people. And if we are to become a great country, we will need to honestly and humbly examine our actions, and objectively compare them to our professed national system of beliefs. And then take action to realign the two.

I think it is the humility that will be the hardest to come by. But without the humility to admit our flaws, we will never correct them.

And maybe it's because humility seems to be in the shortest supply at this time of year that the Fourth bothers me so much.

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