Look at Japan, where only 30 percent of people say they’re in good health, compared to almost 90 percent of Americans. In truth, the Japanese are pretty much the healthiest people in the world. They have the longest life expectancy, the lowest rate of heart disease (we come in 22nd on that one), the fifth-lowest rate of cancer mortality (we’re tenth), and the third-lowest rate of infant mortality (we’re 31st). Yet either they have a different conception of what “healthy” means than we do, or they’re a nation of pessimists. Here in America, on the other hand, when you ask even the morbidly obese diabetic how his health is, he says, “I’m doing great!
We are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
I’m considering getting this etched onto my tombstone.
In his classic work “The Irony of American History,” Reinhold Niehbur warns against confusing technological proficiency and economic prowess with moral superiority or particularly sagacious leadership. Read backward into history, American exceptionalism bestows a kind of inevitability upon the hard-won victories for individual rights and freedoms. Seneca Falls, Gettysburg, Selma and Stonewall look less like heroic instances in which huge moral questions were advanced by people willing to risk their own well-being and more like dime-store dramas in which the outcome is assured because good always triumphs. Lulled into that conception of progress we look at the United States as, if not infallible, then certainly less fallible than all other regular nations. This country’s greatest virtues stem from understanding its own flawed human normalcy, not its alleged superiority. Viewing one’s history as a résumé of triumphs serves no one’s best interests – least of all those of the United States.
I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
- James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son