Putting Our Blinders On

April 11, 2011

The other night I saw a very funny comedian at an improv club. One comment he made near the end of his set though was that although he critiques America, he would never live anywhere else. Noting that “everything is relative” to something else, he mentioned that our problems as Americans when compared with other countries are minuscule. The countries he used in his comparison, though, were Libya and Egypt. When I got home that evening (last Friday), I flipped on the news; CNN was recounting the events that led up to the temporary decision made in Washington to avoid the government shutdown that was very close, as it was just shy of Midnight.

I note these two examples because they caused the seed that I’m working with here, that of our blinders. How often do we put blinders when looking out at the world or an issue? How many of those blinders are subconscious? How many of those blinders in fact make our life easier and (at least on the surface) “better?” Of course America’s problems (on the surface at least) appear “easy” when compared with Libya or Egypt at the moment. As the audience clapped in agreement with the comedians statement, I couldn’t help but wonder–how many people clapping, comedian included, actually have spent enough time out of the states and have enough knowledge about the systems of government and social policy of other countries to actually know that the US has it “better?” Certainly we could point a finger at particular African or Middle-eastern countries which have suffered through long-scale, seemingly never-ending wars, genocides, famines, and oppressive governments and rightly be thankful we have been more fortunate (but such a thought should result in our anger that our other neighbors do not have it better when we have it in our power as a nation to make it somewhat better, it should make us want to do something to help but it usually does not). Yet can we point at Canada, France, Switzerland, and England and unilaterally say everything about living here is better than living there in terms of quality of life, system of government, and personal liberties?  On a bigger scale, do not some of our US problems (and “solutions?”) actually serve as blinders or balms in themselves to make our short term lives seem easier when actually they are or will cause more long-term problems for us and everyone else?

Which brings me to the news when I got home from the club; one of the commentators mentioned that since the “distracting” riders were dropped, republicans and democrats were able to reach a temporary agreement; other commentators were quick to point out that those riders were not dead–they would continue to rear their heads for the foreseeable future as they represented social policy of utter importance to the republicans. What did these riders include? Well, repealing certain air safety and pollution restrictions for corporations; de-funding Planned Parenthood and other women’s health services; taking away PELL grants for low-income students to attend college, etc. Really? The fact that these can be considered valid “social concerns” showcases an enormous amount of people putting their blinders on, both as politicians and as voters who would support such nonsense. They can pretend that global warming and environmental damage is a myth, a dangerous and scary approach that continues to be popular with many conservatives who ignore scientific findings, historical research,  and daily events that prove the disastrous and irrefutable presence of increasing global temperatures and intensifying patterns of weather. By ignoring this and putting on the “Global warming is a lie” blinders, these corporations can continue to degrade and destroy the earth and the atmosphere at alarming and unprecedented rates to maximize their profits while ordinary citizens who buy into such a claim can continue to seek an idealized, though often unattainable, version of the “american dream” full of unchecked and unquestioned consumption and pollution. Buying into the “global warming is a lie” claim is actually easier in the short term and I sometimes wish I could accept such a claim as truth–realizing that the damage we as a world and the US as a nation in particular has done to the environment in the decades since WWII is tough because it makes us aware of the tragedy that can occur if we do not change our ways, a tragedy that even those in power who know the truth of global warming do little about because of the massive amount of money and lobbyists that would have things kept as is. Restructuring how and where we spend money, how we produce and distribute food, and how we train workers in the energy field is a lot of work–that the same amount of people, likely more, would find work in these new ways of doing things coupled with a better quality of life to boot is irrelevant to the corporations and politicians in power who realize that such a restructuring would limit their unchecked profit and influence to more reasonable amounts. People can put on their blinders that make them see Planned Parenthood and other women health services as abortion drive-thrus while ignoring the millions of lives saved by these clinics through the years as they’ve helped women and families who could not afford basic health-care anywhere else. Heck, people can put on their blinders and convince themselves that if a poor kid wants to go to college all they have to do is pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and go–as if every unfortunate youth can easily escape their sometimes oppressive and bleak environment of poverty and get a job at McDonald’s which will miraculously earn them enough to pay for school–and give them to the time off to make it to class!

Certainly we can be proud of being Americans, be proud of what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors have accomplished, be proud of some of the great figures are country has produced, be proud of our democracy and the rights it gives, the potential it is laden with. But we must be aware that unchecked pride in such a source can lead to dangerous nationalism, that can lead to seeing ourselves as better than “those other people” in other countries. It can lead us to assume that we as a nation have nothing to learn from the way other countries do business, government, and social policy. We can easily fall and put on those blinders, convince ourselves that what is bad is actually good, that we have all freedoms even while those freedoms are taken out from under our noses. I heard a friend the other day commenting on the horrible story of the woman in Libya who was raped and then sought help from the foreign journalists at the embassy–“women’s rights have not come as far in some of the other countries,” he said. No, they haven’t; women in many other countries have a long way to go to reach the rights and the dignity they deserve. But there are loud, popular voices in our own country that are doing their best to take away those rights from women here as well. WE have a long way to go; the rights of the poor, the immigrants, and those of “other” religions are not always secure here either.

So do like the comedian did; critique our country, but then be proud of the rights you do have. But don’t then assume that we are number one in comparison to everyone else either. We still have a long way to go.

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