Jul 4, 2012

Ability to Laugh at Itself Makes America Great

236. No, this not Sachin Tendulkar's or Kumar Sangakara's latest Test double hundred. A country has completed these many years of its existence. And let me remind you that today is 4th of July. Yes, the United States of America, that ruthless superpower that we so love to hate and pounce on every opportunity to write its future off, is celebrating its more than two-century old existence today.

What makes me write about America? I am all of 23-years old, do I have the right to scrutinize and debate over a nation that is now 236 years old? Also, I am not an American (you know that) and have only little knowledge about the world outside India. And I did not say that I know India inside out either. But there is something fascinating about America, something magnetic that draws almost every human being towards that country. Even those who are repulsed by American hegemony can not help but think about America all day all night long. They vent their anger against US through Twitter and Facebook, forgetting that these platforms too have deep American roots. From the automobile to the Television to google to your toilet seat, the American connection is hard to be ignored.

Yes, America is a shameless resource hunter, a country that has exploited the earth's endowments relentlessly over the last century. In the process, it has fought and incited wars in almost all corners of the world. From Iraq to Afghanistan, US' quest for superiority and its championing the cause of democracy and counter-terrorism have been nothing but veiled attempts to establish control over critical non-renewable resources. But today, I am less concerned about the policies of the successive American governments. What intrigues and interests me is the remarkable success of the American society to stand as a cohesive unit over the centuries, and spread its influence over the entire globe.

So, what makes America 'Great'? For me, the greatest American asset is its ability to laugh at itself. Yes, freedom of expression in American society is almost unprecedented, the people there enjoy the kind of liberty that hardly any other country in the world offers. Right from a literature genius like Mark Twain to the current crop of comedians and satirists, America has a long list of its own national icons who ridicule and laugh at their country's misdemeanors. In the early and mid-20th century, the legendary notion of the 'Great American Dream' was trashed by scholars and general public alike. The American society has always been divided on the racial and ethnic lines, but these lines have often been blurred by Americans themselves. So, an emotional nation voted a Black into Presidentship, and few years prior to that, did not hesitate in branding its own President as a 'human rights violator' or even a 'terrorist' in extreme cases, based on his misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can not imagine such liberty in the rising superpower like China. The voices of Chinese people is often thwarted and human rights is a taboo term in that part of the world. If US has a belligerent army that threatens security of the nations across the world, it also has watchdogs like Amnesty who cry hoarse at the slightest hint of injustice. It is this wonderful dichotomy that makes America a fascinating success story. Despite contending with a huge influx of immigrants of various races and ethnicity, the American society has managed to keep its various strings attached, at least much better than the Britons.

American government may always look for its own interests, but its the free-thinking mindset of the people of the United States that makes their country great. You hardly witness an outcry in countries like Pakistan or even the Gulf Nations over Jihadist terror attacks across the world, but the Americans did not hesitate to criticize Bush after the Gulf War or his so-called War on Terror. You may call CNN biased, but it enjoys great autonomy, something that you can not associate with a Xinhua. From Hollywood to MTV to that common middle class American, every one is proud of the achievements of the USA as a nation, but is never shy of pulling the carpet from the under the feet if a need arises.

While our Desi 'experts' sweat profusely when asked whether the Great Indian Story has gone bust, the Americans have been at the forefront when it comes to predicting doomsday for themselves. Noted comedians and social critics have predicted that US will no longer be the numero uno of the world and that its decline is inevitable. It is this ability of the American society to introspect and self-examine which has made it last so long, that too very strongly. Don't forget, US was like Britain's abandoned child in its initial days, the White settlers were indulged in fierce wars with native Indians, and there was a third dimension of African slaves as well. But over the years, the Americans have evolved remarkably by their methods of self-correction and improvement. 

For me, the American Dream is not over. It will not be over till the Americans continue to laugh at themselves. Because governments may think in terms of military expenditure or GDP figures, but the an average American still thinks about how to change the world in a positive manner. An American continues to be fiercely free and reasonably sensible.

It is perhaps the reason why Shah Rukh Khan has to go to America again and again despite being frisked at the Airports. The work culture and social credentials of this country is impeccable. Why just Shah Rukh Khan, don't be surprised if you find a Communist or a Jihadist standing in a queue outside the US consulate. There is something magnetic about America, I told you.


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