an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

the leader of the free world?: three things

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Canto: So now we’re going to have a go at US jingoism, which is the same as jingoism elsewhere, only more so.

Jacinta: Yes, when nationalism gets in the way of simple humanism, or what might be better termed as ‘humaneness’, or any term that can be defined as opposition to needless suffering, human or otherwise, then it’s a problem.

Canto: And nations, it seems to me, are a much more recent phenomenon, by and large, than cultures. So when national governments suppress particular cultures within their boundaries, as the Chinese thugocracy is doing today, in the name of some unifying national principle, it’s a problem.

Jacinta: And let’s be fair, Australia has done this in the past, as has the US – both nations in respect of their indigenous populations – and it has been a common feature of many nations as they seek to forge this ‘national identity’ dream.

Canto: But also to be fair, some nations are learning lessons from their history, and embracing a more multicultural national identity. But to return to the US, and the term US exceptionalism’, we’ve already agreed that, from an outsider’s perspective, the US appears to be exceptional in only two things, when compared to other WEIRD countries – its jingoism and its religiosity.

Jacinta: It’s kind of religiously jingoistic. As well as just plain religious, compared to Australia, Western Europe etc. Religious, or worshipful, about its political system, its Presidents (remembered by number!), and its clearly outdated and overly vague Constitution.

Canto: Indeed. But, having paid rather too much attention to US politics since the advent of Trump – because we could barely believe that any WEIRD nation could elect such a Chump, or permit to stand for the office of ‘President of the Leader of the Free World, or ‘President of the World’s Greatest Democracy’, a person whom no rational interview committee would hire to run a public toilet, an incompetent buffoon, in fact -having been seduced to watching this slow-motion train wreck, I’ve often heard these terms – ‘the Leader of the Free World’ and ‘the World’s Greatest Democracy’ – spoken by pundits of the Left and the Right, by politicians as well as journalists, generally in an offhand ‘speaks for itself’ sort of way that suggests to me that they might’ve learned this mantra in kindergarten. So I want to say three things about this, and I’m going to focus specifically on the ‘Leader of the Free World’ claim.

First Thing. The free world – a relative term, of course – doesn’t require a leader. Essentially, that’s what makes it free. It certainly doesn’t need to be led like a flock of sheep by a self-appointed shepherd.

Second Thing. There seems to be an assumption that the USA, which has the largest population of all the ‘free world’ or WEIRD countries (India, a nominally democratic nation, doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for WEIRDness), and the largest economy and military capacity, should automatically be named WEIRD leader. But that’s like assuming that the biggest and strongest kid in the class should be named ‘class leader’. After all, the biggest and strongest kid might be a blithering idiot. In fact, under Trump’s leadership, the USA did become something of a blithering idiot, and was so regarded by much of the WEIRD world. And it could become so again. If, for some specific purpose, the WEIRD world requires a leader, then it should choose a leader fit for that purpose. But I would argue that, most of the time, a leader is not required. What is most required is collaboration and mutual support. The free world shouldn’t be seen as hierarchical.

Third thing. When we talk about the free world, obviously the key word is ‘free’. Yet there is a problem within the USA vis-a-vis freedom, because the imprisonment rate there is higher than that of any other WEIRD country, by a long way (and meanwhile, high-level criminals can be elected to the nation’s top leadership positions). This third thing is worth looking at more closely. The World Population Review website has figures on incarceration rates by country, and it does provide sources, but let’s face it everybody knows that the USA’s incarceration rate is way off the scale – the greatest proportion of imprisoned citizens on Earth. And considering that second, third and fourth places are filled by Rwanda, Turkmenistan and El Salvador, nations not noted, historically, for their political freedoms, this screams at anyone that something is seriously wrong with this ‘bastion of freedom’.

Jacinta: Mind you, I wouldn’t trust any statistics coming out of China or Putinland…

Canto: So why such a high rate of the unfree in the land of the free? The World Population Review website provides the figures in numbers per 100,000 of the population. The USA’s number is 629, which has actually fallen in the last few years (it was 716 in 2013), but it’s still easily the highest in the world. Okay, as far as we know. Australia’s number is 167, which is bad enough. Western European countries seem to be doing something right – they’re obviously not riddled by crime, or they don’t see imprisoning people as the solution. Here’s some numbers. France 119, Portugal 113, Spain 113, Belgium 93, Austria 91, Italy 91, Switzerland 73, Sweden 73, Denmark 72, Germany 70, Netherlands 60, Norway 56 and Finland 50. And in Japan, that admittedly odd country, the number is 37. So why is the US number so horrifically high, and why isn’t the WEIRD world investigating the USA for crimes against its own humanity? Well, it may be that the USA is like the proverbial frog in the slowly warming pot – it seems oblivious to its self-made mess. But there are some clear-cut reasons. For a start, to call US prisons correctional institutions, as they do, is an obscene joke. The privatisation of the prison system has only increased the problem of dehumanisation and recidivism – the USA’s recidivism rate is one of the world’s highest. A tendency towards longer sentences – for whatever reason – has exacerbated the problem, and the USA’s fantastical ‘war against drugs’ has meant high rates of imprisonment for victimless crimes.

In short, no country that treats such a vast proportion of its own citizens, many of them struggling to survive in situations of severe disadvantage – in this way should be allowed to get away with claiming to be a bastion of freedom.

Jacinta: Yes, but you can’t get away from it, history tells us that might is right, and if you don’t get it, you’ll get stomped on. Peter the Great told me that.

Canto: Okay… so this was all a waste of time then.

Written by stewart henderson

April 19, 2022 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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