[I usually like to take an instance of scholarly work and apply it to a practical, real-life issue. I’ve set aside that rule in this post to offer a general cultural criticism to a pertinent and immediate issue in the U.S.A.]
There’s something depressing about extreme instances of violence (gun violence or otherwise) in the country in which one lives.
What’s more depressing than occurrences of violence is that we can’t seem to muster the social or political willpower to do something to change the culture that has produced an outpouring of violence over recent decades.
The problem is endemic, I think, and also is evident in our collective attitudes about healthcare in this country.
Many people, for instance, respond to the healthcare issue with proclamations about the superiority of healthcare provisions in the U.S.A. when compared with other industrialized nations. These judgments cannot be derived from facts, as the data show clearly that the U.S., despite spending more as a percentage of GDP on healthcare than any other nation on earth, ranks just 37th in terms of healthcare outcomes (just after Dominica and Costa Rica). It is just a matter of fact, then, that our dollars don’t go nearly as far in this country as they do in other nations. It is also a matter of fact that we don’t have a healthcare system worthy of aggrandizing proclamations.
What is the cause of this confusion? I believe it to be a kind of patriotically inspired willful ignorance (though I would argue that patriotism is not genuine if the ardor one has is merely blind zeal.) People do not investigate the facts that inform their views – or, more aptly put, people’s views often are not informed by the facts.
Many bloggers and talking heads point immediately to a need for different (i.e. stronger) gun control laws in this country. This rendering of the solution to a problem not clearly identified is too narrowly construed to solve the problem (and its causes) that we face. What we need, if we are to solve this endemic problem, is a frank conversation and an effort to educate the public about where we really stand in the world. This ought not to happen just in terms of healthcare and gun control, but must be a broader conversation about where our country falls short of our ideals and how we can improve ourselves. Perhaps this also means revisiting and reevaluating our ideals.
While I think that the founders of our country left a lot to be desired in the way of proper leadership and ideas about governance, their authority as thinkers and governors rarely is questioned. While this is a mistake in itself, one thing is certain: our founders did not look around them and announce that the ideal X had been reached – but rather looked to historians, philosophers, and political theorists to decide what ideals were worth pursuing, and then they made public wake to encourage a change in course according to those ideals. If we set aside the facts about where we fall short as a culture and as a political nation, we will (as we are today, perhaps) stall our progress, which ought to be continual.
If we wish to be genuinely patriotic, we must work to reform this country – not because it is a failed state or society, but because real patriotism includes a desire to continually build upon the good and root out the bad. This makes me remember Nixon, one of our many morally questionable leaders with some genuinely patriotic ideas, in a 1960 presidential debate: “A record is never something to stand on. It’s something to build on.”
Real patriots, whether we agree with their particular diagnoses and prescriptions, look reality in the eye, bleak as it may at times seem, and set our nation on a course informed by ideals for how we ought to live and how we ought to be. If we’re to be a shining beacon on a hill*, we must work, at the least, to ensure the beacon we present to the world is one worth admiring. Following instances of violence like today’s in Aurora, Colorado, we have good reason to doubt that this is what we’re doing.
*I thank Edward Simon of Lehigh University for a correction regarding this allusion: I had in mind Winthrop’s (1630) “A Model of Christian Charity” but used the Reagan-ized version of the quote instead (America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere). Winthrop’s “a city upon a hill” metaphor doesn’t work as well as Reagan’s interpretation, so I’m sticking with the latter. It’s Reagan’s version of the thought that captures my meaning, I think.
LA Times article citing data – this is more readable than the last two exhaustive reports and the facts come at the top of the article. This data is echoed in the EOCD report and in other news outlets.
A summary of a WHO report qualifying the data in comparative prose