It’s Independence Day here in the States, and while that’s becoming increasingly ironic these days, it’s still the country’s official birthday, as 246 years ago today, we declared our independence from those tyrannical English, who wanted us to pay taxes and leave the Indians living to the west of us alone. Bastards! We can’t have that!
I’ve never been the most patriotic person, simply because a country is an artificial construct that doesn’t have as much relevance in my life as some other things do, but I’m still an American. I am very fascinated by other countries, however, and the way people living there perceive their own countries and the States (because the U.S., like it or not, is the dominant country in the world, still). So today’s Question is: What do you like the most about your own country?
I’m a bit corny at times, so I have an esoteric answer first, but a more practical one later. In principle, I very much admire the ideals of the constitution, despite the country rarely living up to them. Despite borrowing from many sources, it’s amazing to think about how radical a document the constitution was in 1787, and how well it’s been able to govern the country. It’s one reason why I’m not despairing too much of current events – I think they suck and I think they’re tragic, but course-correcting is very much a part of American life, and I have a feeling we’re going to get that soon enough. I love the idea of being an American, in other words, because in theory, we’re governed by a sober document rather than tribalism or nationalism or religion or fear. America is, still, a land of opportunity, and its lack of “history” is appealing. What I mean is that in more homogenous countries, which grew up because tribes came together and interbred and then created a singular tribal identity, it feels like the weight of history can crush the individual. I’ve felt it in Europe, certainly, even as Europe has become more diverse over the years. It’s still there, and it feels like it would be hard to break free of it. People like tribes, after all, because they wouldn’t be in them if they didn’t. That feeling still persists in the States, but I don’t think it’s as powerful. Here, it feels like the opportunities to re-invent yourself are more abundant, and more people take advantage of them. I’ve often said I love living in the West, because it simply feels freer. I love history and love studying it, so I’m not talking about that, but I am talking about freeing yourself from your own history. I love Pennsylvania, but even today, when I haven’t lived there in almost 30 years, it feels a bit claustrophobic when I visit. Perhaps the presence of your entire history just around the corner is comforting to some, and I’m sure I’d be happy if I lived near where I grew up, but ever since I moved away in 1993, I’ve felt like someone who is able to make choices based on what I (or my wife) wants, not what is expected of me as part of a tribe. I know, that’s possible for any human, but it feels like it’s more of a mindset of Americans, and it’s more a part of our culture. Because we have no native culture but simply lift what we want from so many others, it feels like we’re not bound by any. Our government – the ideal one, not the one that exists – helped create that culture, and it’s still a big part of being an American. I dig it.
But that’s esoteric. Practically, I think the best thing about the States is something most people don’t consider. Despite our rather shitty health insurance system, the U.S. is not a bad place to have special needs compared to the rest of the world. One reason we haven’t abandoned this budding theocracy is that our daughter gets very good care here, care she probably wouldn’t get in most other countries. Her wheelchair would cause us major problems in Europe, as the cities simply aren’t built to accommodate people in chairs because back when they were built, nobody cared about that. When we went to London and Paris four years ago, we were dismayed at the landscape, which is very unfriendly to wheelchairs, and I know a lot of Europe is like that. One of my daughter’s therapists travels to many other countries, and she says that Europe is, sadly, not the worst place for special needs people – in some countries, there are literally zero accommodations for special needs people, and they’re basically stuck in a room and ignored. So while our health insurance kind of sucks, we have figured out that special needs people need accommodations and we’ve worked those into our legal codes and building standards. That’s not a bad thing.
Anyway, that’s my answer. If you’re reading this and you’re American, what do you like best about our fractured state? If you’re not American, what do you like best about Mexico, or Germany, or Bosnia, or Argentina, or Australia, or Morocco, or wherever you live? Let us know!