Monday, November 8, 2010

Fiction and the Future

One of the annoying things about spending time over her is constantly meeting people who believe salvation can be found in America either in getting there or in getting something from there. I love America, it is far from perfect, but it is freaking awesome. I believe that America is the greatest country in the world, not because I'm a redneck gun toting conservative that falls asleep listening to the national anthem (that only happened once), but because I've been a bunch of other places and I've payed attention to history. America is faaarrrr from perfect and often falls well short of its own ideals, sometimes with tragic consequences. But within the history of nations, superpowers, and rebellious colonies, America is exceptional. There is imbalance between the classes, but there is also fluidity of movement between them. There are racial tensions, but never before has a nation successfully incorporated so many different cultures and people-groups into one body, and in the process been willing to acknowledge its failures.

If I think America is the greatest, why does the belief that going to America will fix everything bother me so much? Because it isn't true and it takes people's hopes and attention away from things that matter.

I am yet to meet an African that doesn't want to go to America. I'm sure they exist, I Just haven't met them. Getting a visa/green card is the equivalent of winning the lottery. The poor in America have more resources, opportunities, and freedom than most of the middle class and semi-affluent in most African countries. The challenge is, most of them will never get there, not as immigrants and not as visitors. But that doesn't stop people from hoping and dreaming; dreaming about a place where everything is good and where their lives will be easy and full of prosperity. But that place doesn't exist, at least not the same as in their dreams.

I was thinking about this stuff and I realized I do the same thing. I don't have a country or a place to look to and hope about and dream of, thinking "If only". But I do have the dream of 'the next' the hope of the 'maybe then'. The truth is, someday I may find 'My America' here on earth, but if I do, it won't look like anything that I could imagine. It will have its own challenges, stresses, and complications. There may be the peace that comes from knowing it is home and there is no reason to keep on searching and looking forward to the next, but it won't be perfect, it won't be the undefined paradise that is in my head.

It's because of this that I find myself in the constant struggle to find the balance between taking advantage of the opportunities and experiences that are available today and not getting lost in the daydreams of the grass on the other side, and maintaining the hope and the desire for those things that are yet to be, the place (figurative or literal) that I'm yet to get to. I don't want to be the guy that places all his hopes and energy in winning the lottery, getting his U.S. Visa, getting the perfect job, etc. I want to be the guy who keeps on moving in the "right" direction and takes care of whats in front of him. The problem is, this is a lot harder than dreaming about a fictional future.


  1. As one Rwandan friend told me recently after a trip to Boston... "it wasn't a good as I thought it would be, it wasn't like in the movies"

  2. Yeah, I can totally see that. Getting published is my America (at the moment), and I can totally see how such a dream could keep folks in Africa down just because they keep hoping to get lucky rather than working hard.

  3. Yeah, its a tough one. It's easy to fall into a "the grass is greener over there" mentality and never even recognize it. Trying to spot it in myself is a job I don't want, but I think I need.

  4. This is a response my dad gave via email:

    Next to perfection, we as a nation suck. I hate what we did to Blacks and Native Americans. But compared to the rest of all the countries that ever were or are, we are much better. Never has a country offered more opportunity to more people. We are famous for our racism but we are less racist than any country in the world. I don't know about Antarctica. I haven't been there. No country has ever given more treasure and blood for people who can give us nothing in return. So far, we are as good as it gets.

    I met an African who doesn't like America. A white African from Cape Town. I asked "What country is better?" He said "France." I asked him how he enjoyed his alien abduction.

  5. The American superiority complex really endears you to the rest of the world :)

    You ever thought that maybe people wouldn't be so quick to criticize the US if yall could be a little bit more self-critical? Ever heard an Irishman claim Ireland is the greatest country in the world? Do Irish politicians yap on about Ireland being the greatest country on earth?

  6. Solidifying the reality that even the Irish acknowledge the greatness of the U.S. Thanks for the confirmation.

  7. France is a bigoted, racist society that is even now trying to infringe on people's freedom of religion by banning headscarves. We did stupid things like making being black practically illegal, but look at who we have as a president now.

    People can say what they want about why we went to war in Iraq. If it was actually for oil, it didn't work. China is getting most of it now. Do you see us leaving?

    No one else would give a damn about a lot of the human rights abuses throughout the world if US activists weren't vocal about it because they are so focused on Palestine as being the worst situation in the world. The only reason there has been any international action on Burma is because the US lobbied for it.

    All that being said, I really don't like it when I travel and am constantly looked to as something special because I come from the US. On a trip to Thailand, a friend explained to me why people look so favorably on Americans there. She said that because of US power and wealth, its citizens are thought of as being higher beings. The word she used was gods.

    This idea extend to our military abilities. In the battle of Ramadi in Iraq, the local citizens sided with the US because the expected us to be overwhelmingly forceful. When we weren't there was a lot of popular anger, which lead to many people taking up arms against us. The word that was used to describe the US Marines when the local population revolted was an Arabic word for a soft cake that crumbles when you touch it.

    People tend to look for salvation in all the wrong places. Bar girls in Thailand think they can land an American man and get out of poverty. A lot of Iraqis thought we would be strong and powerful and enforce order. It tends not to happen like that and people go on suffering.

  8. What is the world's second-greatest country? For the same reasons that America is the greatest country?