I meant to post something for the 4th of July, but I got way too caught up in my thoughts about America. I’ve been abroad for at least four out of the last ten months. And I spent most of that time in South Asia. Prior to going there in October of 2009, the last time I’d been to India was a short visit in the summer of 2003.
Being not-in-America makes me really miss America. I sometimes surrender to the temptation to kiss the ground upon returning home. There’s really no other place in the world in the world where I want to live.
But I also find that feeling so paradoxical. Because I know that life in America is not better than it is in other developed countries. In many respects, it is significantly worse and its people are significantly unhappier. Which makes the 4th of July kind of a weird holiday. Down here, we have a country celebrating a war that killed 26,000 people in order to liberate it from….Great Britain? North of the 49th parallel, there is a country that expended no lives and is also a free and stable democracy.
If anything, we’d be better off right now if we were part of Canada. From the modern standpoint, it seems like the main results of the Revolutionary War are a lack of healthcare and millions of innocent people, from across the world, directly and indirectly murdered in our name.
Given that, what does it even mean to say that I love America? I certainly don’t think it is more moral or provides a better life for its people than most (or any) other developed nations.
The only rationalization I could think of is that I love America in the way that most people love their families. You know that your family is not really better than the millions of other families around you. But you love them anyway. You see their good points and downplay the significance of their bad points.
And sure, I can name a hundred and one things that I love about America. In fact, I delight in most of the things that are generally held to be negatives. I could go on and on about it. But those are not really real things. I like those things because I grew up with them, because they’re familiar to me. America is the scenery for every major event in my life, and so of course American things will have an emotional resonance for me that other things will lack.
But…even that is kind of unsatisfying as an explanation of my love for America. You love your family because they’re people, because they love you, and because you need to love them in order to interact with them and grow up with them and put up with their various impositions. Love lubricates the entire setup.
But…America doesn’t love me. America is not capable of emotions. America is a place. Or a collection of people. Or a system for organizing people. Or a shared set of customs. If the purpose of a nation is to create an environment conducive to the material well-being and happiness of its people, then America is not that great of a success. The solution is to move somewhere else, or, if that’s too much of a hassle, to deal with it. What purpose do all these extraneous emotions serve?
If anything, it makes the things America does feel worse, and seem more egregious. Especially when it’s things that directly affect me. The way that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Travel Security Agency act at airports is not actually that bad. I don’t mind it when other countries hassle me. But receiving even minor hassling by your own country upon coming home…that just really sucks.
I’m pretty sure that love is not the right word. Maybe I’m just using it as a synonym for, “I’m comfortable here” or “I’m happier here than I would be somewhere else”. That feels righter, since it puts the emphasis on me and on some chemical stuff going on inside my head, instead of on America, an object which is not, on its own merits, capable of supporting these emotions.
But I don’t know if that’s really quite true either. I feel much more positively about America than many people I know, including people who would be much, much unhappier in some other country.
And that’s where I’ve gotten on this topic. I think my problems here are mostly linguistic and semantic. I haven’t really defined what I mean by “America” or what the emotion I feel is. And I’m not really sure what the question is either. Is the question, “Why do I feel this way?” or is it “How should I feel?” I don’t know.
Now that I have a reader or two, feel free to chime in with your own mild America-related angst.