Friday, December 24, 2010

Is The United States the Greatest Country In The World?

I don't think so, but I'm in the minority; 73% of Americans do

So which country is the greatest?  Paraguay of course.  No, but I do imagine that many Americans when asked whether the U.S. is the greatest might ponder, "If not the U.S., then what other country could be the greatest? China? Canada? Russia? Some European country?"  I think it's odd to think of any country as the greatest - at least in a literal sense.  The same way with cities.  I think San Francisco is a far greater city than Houston, but I have close friends who think Houston is the best (possibly because they love sprawl, humidity, and freeways).  So who is right?  Me or those Houston loving weirdos?  In reality, neither of us is right.  There are advantages and disadvantages, pluses and minuses, in both places and we probably measure those things differently based on our own likes and dislikes as well as our values.  I don't see things any differently when talking about nations.

Had I been born and raised in China, I might think it was the greatest country on earth.  Crazy right?  But not all Chinese people are walking around with their shoulders hunched over depressed about their horrible state of affairs.  This isn't to downplay the fact that many people suffer in China, but plenty of people suffer in the U.S. as well.  Over 2 million of us are in prison, and most of the rest of us lack the standard of living that exists in other industrialized countries because of poor health care, declining education budgets, and the like.

Of course I like it here.  The people I care about all live here.  It is a familiar place and a very beautiful place.  I like how uniquely diverse and multicultural we are as well as many of the ideals that exist in our laws and culture.  As much as it can be watered down and sometimes cast aside altogether, we have a Bill of Rights, and it is often meaningful.  We also have a rich history with both good and bad, but lots of inspiring struggles from the very first against a monarchy to labor fights, the civil rights movement, women's rights, gay rights, immigrant rights and other movements for liberation. I'm sure someone from El Salvador could say many things she loved about her country, and I certainly wouldn't cut her off and say, "no way El Salvador is better than the U.S.A.; you're nuts lady!"

In fact the respondents to the poll cited above probably had much more nuanced feelings about their answer to the question than it might initially appear.  The question asked: "Because of the United States' history and its Constitution, do you think the U.S. has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world, or don't you think so?"

First, it's kind of a loaded question.  Like when those canvassers for the ACLU ask me on the street as I'm trying to get to a meeting, "Hey friend, care about free speech?"

"No, fuck you," I say, but I really just don't have time to talk to them.

So when confronted with our history and Constitution I imagine a lot of people would answer "yes" to any question.  "Because of the United States' history and its Constitution, do you think OJ was innocent?"  "Yes!"

Plus, if you say "no" to the question, you may feel like you are also saying "no" to the idea that the "U.S. has a unique character."

The U.S. does have a unique character and I do like certain things about its history and think the Constitution rocks (which is why, by the way, I actually like the ACLU and encourage people to donate).  But I would be with the minority, still a significant enough minority that I don't feel too lonely, and probably larger in San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley than in other parts of the country.  I do not think the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and in fact I think it is one of the most notorious countries in recent decades when it comes to human rights abuses around the globe.  I connect those abuses more with the nation-state (the government) and American corporations, not really with my neighbors, friends and family.  I'm an internationalist who thinks we should be working towards more open borders, because I happen to like freedom of movement and think human rights are universal.

In that sense I do think there is a critical way to measure nation-states - by the way they use their power to maintain and further human rights.  As I said, the U.S. is one of the worst.  There may be places that are worse internally, but few that exert their power externally, the way the U.S. does, to subvert freedoms and liberties around the globe.  Even the simple "right to life," that so many anti-choice zealots claim to believe in, is easily cast aside when some of those same conservatives cheer on foreign wars that kill thousands of innocent civilians, pregnant women and their fetuses included.

Most Americans don't cheer on war, however.  That's why our government has to make up reasons for war, because most of us wouldn't support such terror without a really, really, really, really good reason; and the real reasons are never good enough.  Some people see right through them.  It is those Americans - the ones who burned their draft cards in the 60's and the ones who camped out at George W. Bush's ranch - who make this country truly great.  Not the greatest, but great.  People like them exist all over the world.  I may not speak their language or practice their religion, but I see neither them nor their country as inferior.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dear Attorney General Eric Holder

I want to "sincerely" thank you.  I understand that you are personally working hard to keep me ignorant about the actions of my government and to treat that website guy like the worst terrorist in the world - maybe not as bad as Osama Bin Laden, but still really bad. 

I know that the people who lied about the reasons for war in Iraq and the people who lie about progress in Afghanistan are lying to me because they know what's best. 

I also understand that the people who broke some stupid law about torture did it because they were trying to keep me safe - and anyway we need to look forward not backward and they tortured innocent people many months ago now, unlike the wikileaks that keeps posting the truth about world affairs every day and promises to keep doing it in the future. 

I also understand that the government needs to monitor my phonecalls and other communications without a valid warrant because they are keeping me safe.  Terrorists want to take away my freedom after all, so I'm really grateful that torture, spying, and infringements on free speech are all being championed by you and your administration to help protect freedom.

Please use more of my tax dollars pursuing this evil, terrorist, truth-teller and in the meantime I'll be sure to not read anything the wikileaks publishes or the new york times for that matter.

C Villarreal

p.s. we need more of this too