Can Not Learn

Sometimes I don’t write because so many others do it better. For example, Umair Haque, in his essay What Do You Call a World That Can’t Learn From Itself?:

Americans enjoy lower qualities of life on every single indicator that you can possibly think of. Life expectancy in France and Spain is 83 years, but in America it’s only 78 years — that’s half a decade of life, folks. The same is true for things like maternal mortality, stress, work and leisure, press freedom, quality of democracy — every single thing you can think of that impacts how well, happily, meaningfully, and sanely you live is worse in America, by a very long way. These are forms of impoverishment, of deprivation — as is every form of not realizing potential that could be.

But I don’t wish to write a jeremiad, for I am not a pundit. The question is this: why don’t Americans understand how poor their lives have become? Is it even a fair question to ask?

Of course, one can speak of capitalism and false consciousness and class war, of technology hypnotizing people with outrage. But I think there is a deeper truth here. There is a myth of exceptionalism in America that prevents it from looking outward, and learning from the world. It is made up of littler myths about greed being good, the weak deserving nothing, society being an arena, not a lever, for the survival of the fittest — and America is busy recounting those myths, not learning from the world, in slightly weaker (Democrats) or stronger (Republicans) forms. Still, the myths stay the same — and the debate is only really about whether a lightning bolt or a thunderstorm is the just punishment from the gods for the fallen, and a palace or a kingdom is the just reward for the cunning.

Hence, I have never once sees in America a leader saying, “hey! See that British healthcare system? That German union and pension system? Why don’t we propose that? They work!!” Instead, the whole American debate is self-referential — pundits debating Andrew Jackson (LOL) instead of, say, what the rest of the world does today in 2017. How can a broken society grow only by looking inwards? If you are a desperate, heart-broken addict, what can you learn from yourself? Won’t you only, recounting your pain, reach for the needle quicker? So we must look outwards, always, to learn best and truest — but I will return to that.

Check out that lightning bolt / thunderstorm / palace / kingdom sentence. That says more, with more accuracy and indelibility than I could hope to with 5, 10, 20 runs at writing the same idea. And that’s just one sentence.

Anyway, he’s right.

Brief Notes Nearby