Scott Christian

Scott Christian
Los Angeles, California, USA
August 29
Scott in his former life was a playwright but is now a tender of culture, sports, music, and literature. He spends most of his time attempting not to impose his obsession with baseball, motorcycles, and the music of U2 on the general public. In this regard, he has largely been a failure.


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MARCH 5, 2010 11:13AM

Declaration Nation

Rate: 6 Flag

Despite my best efforts to get some reading done this morning at Starbucks before work, a peculiar brand of human theater two tables over couldn’t help but distract me.  Those accustomed to trying to read in a public place know all too well what I’m talking about, that inescapable allure of social spectacle that can’t be beaten by the written word.  On today’s menu was a generous helping of angry old men sprinkled with a dash of distractingly beautiful woman.  For the angry old men, it was a debate--and I use the term very loosely--on health care.  For the woman it was skin tight jeans, which momentarily stopped the debate.  It was the nature of the argument between the old men though that got me thinking about the nature of dialogue in America, specifically the fact that we have none.  The tight jeans just got me thinking that occasionally I really appreciate tight jeans.


It’s interesting that so much of the political theater of late has been pointed in the direction of a need for a national dialogue, as in Democrats and Republicans need to have a dialogue concerning the issues of America.  Two philosophies in a collision of point/counterpoint, hoping that the end of the road will produce something towards enlightenment.  Good luck with all that.  If you really think about it, when has America ever been a place of dialogue?  The whole country was founded on the Declaration of Independence for God’s sake, not the Suggestion of Independence.  America doesn’t search for the answer, America just tells people what it thinks the answer is.  It’s no surprise that a televised health care debate does nothing more than highlight a propensity to grandstand and yell at each other, facts be damned.  The funny thing is that the old man summit at Starbucks today was like a mimetic creation of C-SPAN’s Healthopalooza last weak, only in golf wear.  


The scene was a standard one for Orange County, a group of obnoxious men in their mid-fifties wearing golf shirts and chinos and yelling loudly at each other.  Of course, this being Orange County, there was only one poor bastard arguing for the current health care bill (I should probably point out that he was in very Democratic T-shirt and jeans) with a bunch of country club gray hairs yelling at him.  One of the points made, and this seemed like a fair one, was that if Obamacare gets passed, there’d be 30 million new people with health insurance, which means you’d have to share your doctor with 30 million people.  No seriously, this is almost a direct quote.  Apparently there is only one doctor in the contiguous 48, so get in line number 29,878,452, there’s going to be some waitin’ to do.  Of course the rest of the argument was peppered with the usual fare, death panels, communism, mandatory abortions and all that.  I would have laughed harder at these very loud gentleman had not they sounded exactly like the legislative branch of our government.  The simple fact is that we Americans just can’t argue.


I should probably define what I mean by argue here.  I’m going with COED definition #2, to give reasons or cite evidence in support of something.  Essentially this is point/counterpoint, I make a statement, you use facts and evidence to counter that statement, then I use the same to counter your counter, etc., all the way until the stronger point emerges.  This is what philosophers do, which is perhaps why so few in American Universities become philosophy majors anymore.  I know, I was one and there were about three of us.  


Americans tend to prefer just yelling out there unsupported opinions and move on.  There’s a lot less heavy lifting involved this way, intellectually speaking.  It should come as no surprise that we are famous for our orators and not so much for our philosophers.  The problem is that with so much public debate erupting lately, this lack of philosophical dialogic has really become painfully apparent.  I do often wonder though at our polemic inabilities.  Why are we so programmed for vitriolic contretemps rather than measured debate?  I suppose the fact that our first settlers were a fractured and deeply conservative religious group doesn’t help.  Not to mention that, culturally speaking, there are a whole host of American symbols that suggest an aversion to polemics; the stoic cowboy, the blue collar Joe, the self made tycoon.  Americans after all prefer James Dean to say, David Niven.  Then there is the whole post WWII power grab that essentially instilled in us the idea of the American moral high ground.  We just innately know what is right, or so we think.  A nice enough delusion until two Americans think different things, then trouble starts brewing, which is what brings us to today.


I suppose in truth it is really a human condition more than just an American one.  We naturally think we have the answers and people who disagree are just wrong.  We’re also naturally a bit lazy and would prefer not to have to indulge in something so unglamorous as investigation to confirm that we are right.  But I do think that American culture is more inclined towards this intellectual laziness than others.  A quick glance at the last two hundred years of influential philosophers can confirm that.  I know that in a country as large as ours we’ll never agree on things, but it would be nice to know that civility and reason could rule the day.  I’m not ready to give up on the pipe dream of unity just yet though, after all, when the woman in tight jeans walked by the old men, the whole table went silent.  Hell, if we men can unite under the banner of chauvinism, certainly there must be some hope for us, right?

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Oh Ye Old Brotherhood of Men . . . good to know there is one establishment that will never crumble to the ground.
I think we inherited this surfeit of self-righteousness from the British, who originated the manifest destiny in a global way. That they have finally accepted a more humble place in history is maybe a good sign for us.
The level of stupid, though, I think is uniquely American. Maybe giving those back-woods dummies the vote was a big mistake. Sharing your doctor with 30 million new patients, sheesh, he didn't really believe that did he?
So much truth in this post. I was at a gas station in my town (at night in a small, conservative town) and a group of boys approached with white buckets asking for donations for their upcoming church trip. When I responded that I was broke and not a supporter of religion they snarled out "you one of them devil worshipers ?" I cautiously smiled, bowed my head and whispered, "You can't see the horns but they are there." When I looked up they were wide-eyed and smiling... they didn't seem interested in raising money for Jesus anymore.
"Can you do that curtsy thing again?", they snickered.

Cleavage and tight jeans are the answers to world peace, Scott!
americans.. obese in body and in mind....
its a funny scene you describe.
what makes us speechless??
Having the luck and joy of knowing people from around the world and hearing their strong, informed opinions, I cringe when American politics raises its obnoxious voice in our discussions. I am often looked upon as the "voice" of my country; I offer my meager treatment of what I know in a humble delivery. Truth be told, I tell them, I have my opinion but I don't know all the facts.

I am blessed to hear their ideas. Its why I also read newspapers outside of the ones produced on American soil. The wellspring of ideas, studies and supporting facts, such as what actually happens with socialized medicine, is really astouding. For the record, I have yet to hear one British or Canadian friend bitch about what they have in their homeland in the way of healthcare.

A former English co-worker was shocked at the bi-weekly premium removed from her wages just so she could have the "right" to see a doctor and STILL pay a co-pay, if she got ill. Actually, I feel the same way. Of course now that I belong to the unemployed class, I've got no reason to complain, right?
Perhaps it is our attention span that is to blame. Listening to the arguments takes time and we are accustomed to having our issues dished up in sound bites. I struggle with this myself, sometimes watching the local university channel and finding myself tuning out during extended lectures. It's an embarrassing thing to admit, but there you have it. I want to know, I want to think about it, but find my head spinning as the arguments are made on one side or another.
This is so well put. I was born and raised in the US, but have lived out of the country for the past two decades. One thing that strikes me every time I go back to the States is how polarized EVERY topic of discussion in the media or on the street seems to be, and how little people are willing to listen to someone else's ideas--let alone consider actually being persuaded to change their views.

Living for 20 years in a country with national healthcare is a prime reason I doubt I would ever move back to the US. (I've been spoiled into thinking access to healthcare should be a right.) None of my American expat friends, Canadian friends, British friends, and Japanese friends can wrap their minds around how intelligent people can OBJECT to health care for everyone.

Thanks for the great post!