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Putting Things in Perspective

by Will Dendis
November 11, 2010 01:25 PM | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Our country seems to be going through a rather dark time. Faith in our political system is at an all-time low. Much of the enthusiasm behind last week’s election was fueled by rage at the government and fear of permanent American economic decline. For those who feel strongly about national issues, the stakes are high and passions run hot. Meanwhile, there are legions of disaffected, apathetic citizens who feel things are going down the drain and there’s nothing they can do. I don’t know what can be said to the latter, but for the former, it’s important to step back from the brink every so often and put things in perspective.

Life is pretty good in this country. For most, modern life in general is pretty good. The opportunity for the pursuit of entertainment, knowledge, good health and happiness are greater now than at any other time in history. When we fret about stagnating economic growth, we should keep in mind how far we’ve come. One recent survey asked people if they’d rather be middle class in 2010 — with hot water, sanitation, medical care, air travel a car, computers, movies and so on — or a millionaire in 1900. Two-thirds said they’d rather be middle class. That says a lot about our standard of living, which is beyond the wildest dreams of even the fabulously wealthy of just a few generations ago.

And what of happiness? Cockeyed optimism notwithstanding, Americans are actually way down the list of happiest countries. Perhaps it’s because we work so much. Or maybe because we hope for more than we can get. High hopes lead many to reach for the stars, but they leave many more frustrated by limited ability and circumstance. So while it makes sense to pursue economic growth, there’s no reason to think a return to boom times will make us a happier nation.

Finally, this country still has a lot going for it. The university system is best in the world. America is still the best place to start a business. In the future, there’s reason to believe it will continue to serve as a hub for innovation. China and India may be on the rise, but promising young students and entrepreneurs do not flock to those countries. They come here. This country has educated many of the best and brightest from around the world. As David Brooks wrote in The New York Times last week, “creativity is not a solitary process. It happens within networks. It happens when talented people get together, when idea systems and mentalities merge.” Brooks says people come to America because English is the international language, particularly of technology, and it’s relatively easy to immigrate and assimilate, compared to other countries. Our society is not closed and hierarchal like many others. It’s much closer to a meritocracy.

It can feel a paradox to be content while demanding change, and maybe it is. But perhaps those whose enthusiasm for public engagement depends on framing the issues in the highest of stakes should take an outrage holiday every few weeks and embrace the simple pleasures of modern life in the land of the free before returning to The Good Fight.

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