As an American living in Europe, I am often asked whether I miss the States and whether I will return there. The answer I give is that I miss my family and friends living there, but that I have no plans to return to the States. In fact, in the current environment, I would find America a disagreeable place to live.
Those of you who visit this blog on the expectation of stimulating thoughts from an author’s point of view I ask your indulgence that I might – just this once? – enlarge the topic.
My impression of America today, based in the voices I hear from across the Atlantic – the formal media, social media, politicians, commentators, activists and private individuals – is that it has become a violent, racist, and un-educated country, and my impression is that this is a view shared by many non-Americans. To be clear, I’m not focusing on the President; to my mind, he is only the cheerleader of a violent, racist, un-educated minority, a minority that is attempting to dominate the discourse on issues with a stridency which seems to seek a change in the culture of America. The desired culture appears to be more fragmented, more ‘them-and-us’, less orderly, and more beneficial to the loudest.
When I mention an ‘un-educated minority’, I am not speaking of Americans who have only a high school or secondary school education. For me, it’s not about the number of years of education one has; rather it’s about how one behaves. There are Americans with graduate degrees who are behaving like cretins and high school drop-outs who display considerable wisdom.
I believe that there are two vital behaviours which the ‘un-educated’ are neglecting: the systematic collection of reliable, non-business-related information, and the deliberate, dispassionate analysis of this information. These two behaviours, taken together, are the foundations of good citizenship. What kind of information am I talking about? General, wide-ranging information on subjects including history, social science, physical science, theology, sports, finance, psychology, art and politics. If one doesn’t have at least an understanding of the trends in these areas, how can can one call oneself a knowledgeable citizen? And it isn’t just a question of having ‘facts’ at one’s disposal: the ‘facts’ can be wrong or misleading. Trust only sources of information that are reliable and have no incentive to bend the truth. It takes time, attention and effort to become half-educated.
And the other half of being ‘educated’ is perhaps more difficult: it involves setting aside one’s personal agenda and biases (my, particular religion/political beliefs/economic circumstances/social standing/etc.) in order to understand alternative viewpoints and to analyse dispassionately the pros and cons. (Nothing other than arithmetic is always right.)
It seems to me that the ‘uneducatedness’ of some Americans, who have insufficient or wrong information and analyze it superficially, is what leads to racism and violence. Racism (and other forms of intolerance) cannot stand up to the ‘educated citizenship’ approach.
By ‘violence’, I’m not just referring to gun violence, but to abuse of all kinds, and to the desire to disrupt the status quo just to ‘punish the system’. The latter two forms of violence are invalidated by informed analysis.
Gun violence is a particular issue for me, as a resident of England, where reliable adults can have rifles and shotguns, subject to certification and safe storage, and where handguns and automatic weapons are proscribed. Does this handicap the British population, many of whom are keen hunters? No. Gun violence is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US. Apart from this, the major difference between the two countries is that there is no ‘constitutional right’ in the UK to bear arms. But, the Second Amendment was based partially on the right to keep and bear arms in English common law and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Yet, there is no ‘constitutional right’ in the UK.
As I think about the causes of ‘uneducatedness’, two things come to mind: laziness – unwillingness to take the time and effort to inform oneself and to think clearly – and discontentment with one’s situation in life, which, while sometimes justified, can lead to the the blaming of others or the ‘system’. Laziness is, of course, self-inflicted, and if one is discontented, the best remedy is action, not blame.