Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is America the Best?

Now that the Olympics are over, and the medal count has been counted up, we see that order is restored in the universe. Kobe, Lebron, CP3, and D-Wayne have brought back gold for USA basketball. Micheal Phelps consumed more calories in a day than a Chinese household does in a week. And the United States won the medal count by 10 medals (110 to China's 100). But wait!!

China won more gold medals than the United States! How can this be? Wait, aren't we supposed to be the gold-medal winning medal-count winning powerhouse? Next thing you know, McDonalds is going to serve healthy food!


In my mind though, this begs a much larger question. Is America the "best?" Are we truly the greatest nation? And what does that all mean?

With our economy being crippled from rising gas prices (I'm trying not to think about the winter, with natural gas prices), and the dollar weakening worse than my willpower when I get a whiff of McDonald's fries, are we really the "greatest," or the "best?"

I'm no scholar or expert...I call it like I see it...and it seems as though this sentiment began after WWII. We entered the 1950's, we were secure, the GI's were beginning their families, and life was happy. As we began a cold war with the USSR, we pushed to be "the best"...the first man on the moon, we were in huge competitions with the Ruskies as to who had the most medal counts, thus giving us bragging rights as the "best" for the next 4 years.

Yet now, there is no more USSR. Russia is still just as scary as it was 25 years ago (even more scary, in my not-so-humble opinion, because I don't think we're paying as close attention to them as we should). We have China, which got a huge love fest from NBC and all the news stations that were invited. India, who are continuing to grow and grow. Korea is becoming more and more of a global player. And there's the United States.

I don't know if we're the best. I do know 3 things (for frequent readers, if you haven't noticed, my mind has to work in threes. If I don't have three reasons for something, I can't write about it...just a heads-up):

1. Without an operational definition of what "The Best" is, we'll never know. Do we have the best education? In grade school, I don't think so, but post-secondary education we are the best.

2. Don't think I'm downplaying the United States. We have the opportunities that might not be afforded in other countries. While living in Korea I ignorantly asked a Korean man, who was complaining about his job, "Why don't you switch jobs?" He told me that Korea isn't like America. You work at one job your entire life. You don't "switch." That's just not the way that careers are. But in America, it's commonplace to switch from job to job (notice the absence of pensions at many jobs as evidence of this).

3. I don't know if I'd say we're the "Best," because I need hard proof and specifics. But I will say we do set up a standard (like it or not, Americans, and like it or not, foreigners). Why do you think Microsoft and Apple are HQ'ed in America? What about Google? WalMart? Why do you think American movies are so popular overseas? Or many international athletes train here? We have an unwritten role to stand up as that standard.

**Random side note - I ALMOST pulled a TAMN and said we aren't the Best, but we are the Blest. Here I am, looking out for your financial well being by not having you smash your face into a computer monitor due to my attempt at being clever**

So no, I don't think we are the best, because we can't define that. But I do think we put forth a standard to the rest of the world. If that makes me a fat American who only thinks about McDonalds and having Chinese labor workers make $0.02 per day while stiching my jeans, so be it.

1 comment:

bftdlister said...

I think, if there is a "best," then America wins by default. The reason is simple. In America we have the freedom to do anything we want, or nothing at all.

Like your anecdote indicated, changing careers frequently has become the norm here. No one forces us in to athletic programs, leastwise not on a national level as the Chinese do. Yet, we still end up winning more medals than any other nation in the world despite our currently struggling economy, our shifting social identity, and despite being outnumbered by nations like China and India.

While other nations offer many of the same freedoms, none of them tend to come close to our Olympic dominance. While doing well at the Olympics is fun, it doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things save to help us realize the importance of larger things like the freedoms and benefits we have that enable people like Michael Phelps to do well in such international competition.

Ultimately, our freedoms, and the incentives such freedoms offer, let the truly gifted rise above the rest of the common schlubs. We honor and respect them for their dedication because they earned it more than the people who were forced to do it. They had the choice to do something else, yet they chose that course which led them to success. That doesn't minimize the performance of athletes from countries like China, but it surely enhances the performances of athletes that enjoy greater freedoms.