Thursday, July 1, 2004
Grow Up, America
I grew up in a commune in Salinas. That’s right, a commune. Up until I was 13 I was raised with an extremely liberal family in a tight-knit setting where I was taught about environmentalism,American history, and independence. I was taught to scrutinize everything I see and hear, and to come to a conclusion only after educating myself with the facts.
After living in America for twenty years, I can tell you the good things about America coming from a liberal’s point of view. We have good food, good music, and good people. We are all good at heart, and easy going for the most part. You come here and are a part of a giant melting pot. Heck, we even have those little lighters in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.
You can come to America and definetely experience the joy of speaking your mind and having the freedom to escape-be it with Tivo or food or shopping.
The bad things about America are that we, as a whole, have a hard time thinking for ourselves. Regardless of whether the media is left or right, as a whole, we fail to educate ourselves and progress as a species once we finish high school or college. We figure we put in our time and now we can just work or relax and not have to worry about picking up another book again or become educated by some wise being.
Truth be told, the nation’s illiteracy rate is growing. Children no longer rely on reading to fuel their imaginations or play outside; they stay inside with the comforts of escapism—television, computers, telephones, and food. We are growing weak hearted, weak minded, and weak in the soul and body.
The reason we were such an easy target before was because we took for granted the simplest things in this country. We fuel more money into prison systems than we do our education system. If we just took the time to get up, turn off the television, and question what we just saw, our minds would expand.
As a twenty year old, I know most people my age do not vote, and it is a sad fact. We need to get youth more involved not in politics, but in the country’s welfare and to see that their thoughts do make a difference. We need to educate both the young and old alike so we don’t need to build as many prisons, and have the young busy with both recreational and educational activities to fuel their minds to pick up books or hobbies, not guns.
Too easily in this country do we just give up and resort to hiding. We take our aprehensions out on others and ourselves instead of being direct and just facing the problem head on—which is our way of thinking. For too long, we have just sat back and expected others to fix things for us because in America, the way of life is easy. But the best way to live life is not easy.
The best way of things is usually paved with hardship, but in the end, its definetely rewarding. I’m not asking you to go on the Atkins diet or to give up your computer. I’m just asking you to question what you believe, teach your children to question, and never ever stop believing in the value of imagination. As Albert Einstein said once, imagination is more important than knowledge
Kathleen Smith / Salinas
Perspective from Abroad
What’s wrong with America? We too rarely step outside ourselves to recognize our bad behavior. We think that by dint of the freedom we stand for and the inarguably great democratic values that our country was founded on, that we are somehow above behaving with grace.
It is easier to see ourselves from outside the country.
In the summer of 1991, my companion and I were waiting in line to board a boat from Italy to Greece. A pair of drunken Americans cane weaving through the line, and burst into an off-key version of “Margaritaville,” trying to get others join in. That night, the same couple played a fatal game, dancing on the ship’s rails. The rest of the passengers were sleeping when the two fell overboard. A Greek fishing boat rescued the woman; her boyfriend drowned.
We play grown-up versions of this drunken game, where the stakes are much higher. We blindly stumble about on other people’s turf, making messes, slipping, and often with fatal consequences. Still, we expect that somehow by the virtue of our intentions, we will not only be forgiven, but we will still be adored.
In Athens, the hotel television ran American TV shows. Ten-year-old reruns of Dallas painted a questionable picture of Americans in a city that had McDonalds at the foot of the steps to the Acropolis.
We are as emulated as we are reviled. And obviously, we are not only emulated for our tacky displays of materialism, but for what is still an unreached goal for our country: real liberty and justice for all.
But we can’t be so naive as to think that gaudy displays in another country somehow mean that our mindset has spread globally. We forget to show respect. We do not bother with niceties anymore.
And we cannot impose ourselves on other nations, then like little rude children become knee-jerk angry when we are justifiably rejected. We cannot expect that the mess that has resulted from invading Iraq will be ignored—and that the fallout from this mess will not mar us for long.
It’s important to believe that this country is still the greatest country in the world—on paper at least. But it’s terrifying to think that we are headed in a direction where we hide behind our flag, refusing to admit our weaknesses, and refusing to accommodate the rest of the world in our vision.
I believe that we can be unflinchingly self-critical while remaining unflinchingly proud to be American. When I returned home from that trip to Europe, after visiting some of the most beautiful and democratic cities in the world, I stood outside the terminal of the San Francisco airport, and breathed in all the chaos around me. “I’m so glad to be home,” I said.
Brett Wilbur / Carmel
Speaking in Tongues
One would think that if a nation is intent on having a global empire, that it would behoove its citizens to excel in geography, and take a deep interest in foreign cultures. Amazingly, this is not the case. A predisposition toward obliviousness is a major factor that separates us from the European nations that helped spawn the US in what was otherwise a kind of trans-Atlantic osmosis.
Sometimes it seems as though Europeans were transplanted to America without having retained the full deck of European cards. The Brits, the French, and the others could not have built successful empires without taking a strong interest in the world beyond their borders and a hunger to increase their knowledge of the natural world. They were driven, at least in part, by the desire to import the legendary knowledge and resources of the East.
To me, the key flaw in the American Character is its cultural isolationism, and specifically, its recognition of only one language. English is a wonderful language, but it is still only one of many. The U.S. could be a gigantic version of Switzerland, with corresponding Anglo, French, and Spanish regions. Our country is just as well poised as the Swiss to be multi-lingual, and not merely with European languages.
Students could, for example, be required to learn a Native-American language in school, and thereby pay homage to the land’s original inhabitants. Or they could tap into America’s rich African or Asian heritages. Instead our society is a juggernaut of conformity that neither truly celebrates diversity (although there are signs that we’re trying) nor properly embraces the majority’s identity as transplanted Europeans. There is a weird strain of pan-Celtic-ism throughout the land that is neither especially well-suited to dealing with the nation’s ethnic diversity, nor running a global empire. Ireland is a beautiful place, but a paragon of cultural isolationism.
The mono-culturalism of Americans is like a built-in firewall against stepping into the shoes of other peoples. This was painfully clear to me as I watched the recent hit film Lost in Translation. The main characters were forever rolling there eyes and in essence saying “Can you believe these Japanese? They’re really not American.”
The film posed a problem for me, since I liked the actors and I liked the general premise of two people connecting in a foreign country. But again and again the American double-standard reared its ugly head: you must speak our language, but heaven forbid we even try to speak yours. In this mindset, anyone that does not speak English is marginalized.
Peter Gachot / Monterey
Get Right Again
I know that I live in the USA—Unlimited Stupidity Abounds. It pervades so much of our lives these days it seems to have become our national creed. In this age of Bush-isms, while many Americans wipe their eyes dry from the tears shed because of Ronald Reagan’s death, maybe it’s a good time to revisit one of the Reagan-isms—“Trickle down economics,” and modify it for the mentality of all too many of our national leaders of recent times, including Reagan himself.
With Dubya in the White House, it’s become an unrelenting time of “Trickle down stupidity,” with the masses being led down the road to oblivion. As with companies, educational institutions and families, the attitudes and values of government flow from the top down.
Besides setting a bad (trillion dollar) example for debt-laden American individuals to follow, the Bush regime is pushing over-the-top patriotism as it kills innocent people in the “blood for oil” war, rewards corporate miscreants with more tax breaks and helps to demolish our crumbling education system even further. No child will be left behind because they’ll all be sitting in the corner with dunce caps on.
George Bush Senior? He was Reagan’s right hand man, with his old CIA cronies backing the contras. How much killing went on (with financial gains) because of the two illegal government operations that were the Iran-Contra scandal? The stage was being set for the first Gulf (Oil) War when he took over the number one position in the US.
Has anyone at the top figured out why the French were not ready to join us in our latest (Iraq) quest? Does Vietnam ring a bell, where we joined France in its mission of trying to maintain its colonial empire in Indochina? It ended as one colossal failure, with a massive retreat.
In the 1800s, American author Mark Twain went from writing about the romance of the river to the soulless nature of imperialistic America. Imagine what we would think and write today. His quote “It is not best that we should think alike” is especially relevant today with the menacing warmonger thinking done by our national leaders in the name of democracy and capitalism, with a blind following by the flocks of sheep that many of our citizens across the land have become. A great postscript to Twain’s quote is a 1960s song title by the Beatles, “Think for Yourself.” Practice independent thinking this Independence Day. And make those thoughts known to the powers that be. It’s time for America to wake up, and wise up. Make our country right again.
William P. Frisch / Marina