I have lived here long enough to get the basic idea. What I conclude is that I don’t belong in this America that you’ve built. Here are some reasons:
- It’s not a very friendly place. I grew up in a small rural community. Everybody knew everybody. I realize that some will say this is not applicable to the big city. I don’t see why not. I won competitive elections to Columbia Law School’s Student Senate, every one of my three years there. I had 300 classmates. It wasn’t that hard to become acquainted with most of them. That was my community. If I can make a community out of 300 future lawyers in New York City, why can’t you make a community out of your workplace or your apartment complex? Just say hello and smile, for chrissake. It won’t kill you.
- It’s not a very honest place. The test for this is to ask people if they are honest. Invariably, they will say yes. An honest person is someone who has actually tried to be honest and, in so doing, has discovered and admitted that honesty is often not an option. Example: the Gestapo knocks on your door and asks if you are sheltering Anne Frank. Either you renege on your promise to her, or you lie to them. Life is like that. You don’t owe the truth to everybody, and you do owe the truth to some people who won’t be getting it from you. If Americans were serious about being honest, they could start by admitting that they aren’t. (Hint: think about what goes on at the company you work for.)
- It’s not a very intelligent place. It seems that a superpower can be defined as a land that loves boondoggles, so as to piss away its wealth and power in the most efficient manner. Invading Iraq: how could we possibly have forgotten the long national nightmare known as Vietnam? The 2008 financial meltdown: was there honestly not enough collective memory, in our corridors of power, to remember anything from the savings & loan crisis of a mere 20 years earlier? I am no fan of Barack Obama, but I must ask: how could an intelligent nation elect George W. Bush — twice? How can we imagine that we would get intelligent government when our elected representatives are too busy and/or corrupt even to read the bills on which they vote? The list goes on: a high court that absurdly defines a corporation as equivalent to a human person; an Occupy movement lost in navel-gazing; a Republican party dominated by know-nothings. Has all this really happened in the world’s leading provider of higher education?
- It’s not a very kind place. You’d think that people proud of their nation would be proud of their fellow citizens. I don’t see a lot of that. I see people fighting over politics and religion, insisting on things they don’t even understand, patting themselves on the back for the nasty stuff they say to each other. We just love to score those little zingers, don’t we? Instead of an environment where you wouldn’t dream of abandoning your fellow man, we’ve got a place where it’s every man for himself. Great for the jungle; not so great for building a nation.
- It’s not a very thoughtful place. Some might think that the most powerful country in the world would look around, one fine day, and notice that its people were not the happiest, not the healthiest, not the best educated, not doing too well financially — in short, it would seem that this country would have looked at Sweden, Denmark, and other such places, and asked itself earnestly, What do they know that we don’t? How can we improve? But there’s no need to ask questions when you already know the answers, and evidently most Americans think they do.
- It is not a very fun place. I can’t have fun with guys without raising a question of whether I’m gay. I can’t have fun with women without being treated like I’m only interested in screwing them. I can’t have fun with kids; people will stare at me like I might be a pervert. No matter who I try to have fun with, I have to be careful; something might go wrong, and then I might be accused, sued, and/or arrested. Then again, just cutting to the chase and having fun by myself is weird; only a loner would do that. I guess it’s just as well that everybody is too busy working to have fun anyway.
None of this is to deny that there are friendly, honest, intelligent, kind, thoughtful and/or fun Americans, or places within America where you can enjoy one or more of those characteristics. Nor is it to deny that Americans pride themselves on being all of these things, even when they aren’t. The point here is just that we have crossed a line, where any and all of these things are capable of being denied or withdrawn without notice.
To fit in, in today’s America — to get and keep a job, for instance, and to be socially accepted — you have to be ready to jettison any and all such virtues. Too often, the friendly person seems goofy, compared to the serious one; the honest person seems naive; the fun one seems immature. Indeed, such behaviors can make you a misfit and even a target. It is all amazing, not to mention disappointing — and the very fact that I would think so is perhaps the clearest indication of my own lack of fit. Obviously, I don’t get it.