The political theorist Benjamin Barber (best known for his 1996 book Jihad vs. McWorld) published an article the other day titled “We’re Number 34!“, which outlines quite well one of the worst vices I see in some of my fellow citizens: ignorant hypocrisy. I really hate to be so blunt about it but that is the only way to describe the state of affairs we find ourselves in – we carry ourselves as though our nation were something to be aspired to (and at one time it was) while failing to notice the disconnect between the dream and the facts. For example, for a nation that assumes a monopoly on the “American Dream” we are #10 in terms of social mobility. As for taking care of our youngest: we are #34 in infant mortality.
How are we able to claim for ourselves some kind of global exceptionalism when we’re #34 in infant mortality?
It’s not that we don’t know how to be number one: in military expenditures we outspend the world, budgeting more for hard power than the next two dozen or so nations on earth including China, France, the U.K., Russia, Japan, Germany, Italy, Brazil, South Korea and Canada and another dozen nations put together. If we can do it here, we can do it in health, science, education and social justice.
What we can’t do is have it both ways — talk number one and behave like number 34. Proclaim our superiority and privatize or close down every meaningful public program. Strut like a wealthy cosmopolitan but tax ourselves like some parochial back-water bankrupt (about to default on our debts!).
The fact of the matter is that neoliberalism – the Reaganomics approach to the world – has shaped the public’s perception of reality to such a degree that we now suffer from mass delusions and amnesia. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, we tout our exceptional unexceptionalism as though it were not; ignoring our humanity, we have sacrificed our social conscience and substituted it with a market conscience that completely undermines everything we as living, breathing human beings cherish and value.
Under the guise that efficiency, justice and liberty can only be obtained through private enterprise (and private enterprise only) we have alienated ourselves from the power of the public and the community. Resisting any initiatives organized by a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” because “it will only fail” or “ruin everything” is to say that each of us, the very people that constitute society, have failed and will ruin everything.
And if that’s the case, we’re absolutely hopeless no matter what we do.