Are We Crazy?

A recent article posted to the website Alternet posed a simple question: Are Americans crazy?

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet.  I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world for way too many reasons to go into here….

In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.

The author goes on to detail the issues that make America a “puzzlement” to the rest of the world, and I encourage you to click through and read the whole depressing thing.

The takeaway–at least for me–was that this question isn’t just being posed to the six million Americans who live abroad. Increasingly, it is a question that the dwindling numbers of reasonable Americans are asking each other here at home.

How do we explain the various buffoons and zealots holding public office, and the widespread disengagement from the democratic process that placed them there? How do we explain the contempt for poor Americans that characterizes debates about healthcare, poverty and the growth of inequality? How do we explain widespread rejection of science, the backlash against women’s rights, the refusal to do anything about mounting student debt, or even to recognize that education is a public good? How can we possibly defend letting our infrastructure crumble? Or explain the respectful attention generated by chickenhawks intent upon taking us into war after war? (Yes, Lindsay Graham, I’m looking at you and John McCain and the other “heirs” of Dick Cheney.)

If all of this isn’t crazy–if Americans aren’t in the grip of national psychosis– what is it?




17 thoughts on “Are We Crazy?

  1. I had an old friend whose favorite saying when he was awed or confused by an issue was; “I’ve been around the world nine times, met everybody twice and been to a buzzard f*+cking contest but I’ve never seen anything like this.” I often think of J.D.’s comment when reading comments by many political figures over the past 10 years or so. And the support they recieve primarily from that same political party who continue reelecting them. And, to me, they seem to be getting more out-of-whack, off-the-wall, WTF are they thinking…crazy, in content. Who really cares if Josie castrated pigs or wore bread bags on her shoes; this was not a response to the State of the Union Address – the lack of Republican support for a living wage was a blatant response. As was the applause when President Obama stated he would be running no more campaigns – his response to their rude and senseless reaction was rational and will be remembered long after Josie’s pig castrating and bread bag wearing comments are forgotten. Are Americans crazy? Yes; many are but their “craziness” will not be found in any medical textbook; only in media archives for those in the future who bother to look into our political history from this early 21st Century.

  2. Keep it simple: greed, racism (hate), and power grabbing (some by these radical religious sects in the name of Jesus.)

    By the way, with all of these really good questions being asked, can anyone answer this one: What is the name or names of this or these radical religious sect or sects who keep indentifying themselves by the name, Christian and then endorse and practice behavior outside of mainstream Christianity? I’m seriously asking this question trying to find an answer. I’ve asked many sources. Does anyone reading this know the name of their denomination(s) or sect?

  3. As I recall, it started with Archie Bunker, a truly funny show, but that led to Rush Limbaugh who played the same character but without the laugh track. While we assumed that everybody considered him a buffoon, much of the country lined up and “heiled” him and the rest is history. Once again those who considered themselves the most independent proved to be the most devoted followers of those who looked and acted like them. (And told them what to think).

    Once again the world surprised by the cost of ignorance.

    It will once again be beaten back but we will never get those years back. In fact it will take decades before we get back to where we were.

  4. Sometimes I think that a lot of our problems stem from buying way too far into the cultural myths we have about self-reliance and American exceptionalism, leading too many people to think that any kind of public good or benefit is some kind of undeserved handout or wastefulness, even when we could benefit from those things, like improved infrastructure. (Although I don’t know how that doesn’t translate over towards seeing the massive spending on military action overseas in the same light.) Americans like to think, and I’m generalizing of course, that we’re doing it all on our own and that’s the only way to be proud of ourselves or the only story we can tell of ourselves, like Joni Ernst emphasizing only her family’s hard work in her story about herself, but ignoring the government subsidies their farm received as if it took away from her story. I think it’s crippling to keep buying into that myth as a country. On the other hand, buying into the idea that we can (and should) do it all ourselves and we can do anything I think makes us feel justified about the way we carry on overseas, as if we can fix everything or something. A more thorough and honest understanding of history and our country’s role in it might lead people to question the way we think, but I don’t really see that happening with the way we tend to censor out unflattering history from school curricula.

  5. E.N., thanks for sharing your insights! They as well as Sheila’s and the other contributors truly make one think!

  6. I present InflateGate as the latest demonstration of the disconnect between the media’s intended function and its present state. If only reporters were as adamant and demanding with our elected officials as they have been with Belicheck and Brady….

  7. A few summer’s ago a taxi driver in Glasgow asked me if we Americans were crazy. We had been talking about the proliferation of guns. He simply couldn’t understand us. Our myths might dominate the minds of our elected officials; they seem insane to foreigners.

  8. I was working in Switzerland during the decline under Bush II. Even though the Swiss tend to be pretty uniformly fiscal conservatives they were astounded that America could be that fooled 2 times in a row. I could only agree.

  9. How can you get the attention of a room full of starving dogs if your opponent is dressed in a meat suit?

  10. The meat suit is preoccupation with all things round: BB, FB, S, PP, B, G. VB, but not badminton because the bird is not round. .

  11. There was a noticeable difference when Bush II was President. As soon as those abroad realized I was an American, nearly all would cautiously ask what Americans thought of Dubya. It was informative to engage them so that they would share their thoughts. They would soon warm up to share sentiments that boiled down to viewing him as a goofus in substance and style. I’m sure those in other countries have their differences with Obama too, but in my travels since he took office, none of my foreign hosts have made negative comments about him.

    While in the U.K. this summer, I WAS surprised that the Ferguson Missouri incident was on the TV news EVERY DAY in 4 different countries. When it appears Americans are not practicing what we preach, foreigners do pay attention and are not afraid to ask questions about it.

    Nevertheless, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of foreign hosts who have visited America (including those age 30 and below who dominate low-paying hospitality venue jobs). In fact, their mood would noticeably brighten when they described their visits here. They liked our country and us.

    The bottom line – foreigners do pay a lot of attention to the USA on both our good and bad days.

  12. We, as a country, seem to spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and seeing only what we want to see. We ignore the blemishes and wrinkles that time has wrought to our detriment.

    For example, our own state has an incredibly bad history of abuse of power over the poor and indigent, especially of minorities. Did you know the state still had forced sterilization laws on the books as late as the mid-70’s? I could not believe this when I first heard of it in a Psychology text book I read in the 1980’s. Indiana was the first state to pass a law allowing forced sterilization of those citizens it consider degenerate. The research I did was full of the kind of ignorant bias we hear now, even from those in professions that should know better. Eugenicists drove these laws and abuse was rampant. Their ideas have coalesced into the “undeserving poor “narrative we hear so much of today. It also shows how the powerful want to control others without any controls on their actions. (Because they are smarter and purer, so are entitled.)

    I agree with E.N. regarding the myth of self-reliance and independence. Without the infrastructure of public education, the work of union members, the fire and police protections and so many other social safe-guards funded by all taxpayers, that self-reliance would collapse. Now we have a movement in education that wants to sanitize our past in K-12 history books and cement those myths into our cultural memory.

    Yes, IMO, we are crazy and getting crazier by the day. Through willful ignorance we are reliving our past mistakes and repeating the same actions, but expecting a different result. Isn’t that the definition of crazy?

  13. Yes, Earl, and the issue of inflation-deflation will be the easiest thing to deal with. The NFL should now be expected to correctly inflate the 24 footballs prior to the games–12 for each team. That same NFL will mark the footballs and retain possession until just prior to kickoff when the inflated and marked footballs will be distributed to the teams. The days of teams retaining their own footballs should have been over years ago. Who even knew that teams could supply and mess around with game footballs like that?

    If I am not mistaken, this is not Belichick’s first clouded incident. His and Brady’s defensive statements seem so feeble that even folks who don’t pay much attention to football can see right through them. But, they will march right out onto the field on February 1st as though nothing happened. M-o-n-e-y, really serious money, is at stake on that Sunday. So. . . .

    As for crazy, yep, we are and it’s spreading like the measles that other crazies refuse to inoculate themselves or their children against. For Jenni McCarthy and her followers…no, vaccines are not why your child has autism. How many times do you need to hear that?

    Nobody’s going to sanction Boehner either for his wacko actions in stepping right around the President (poking the President in the eye, as it were!), are they?

    As long as we are chatting here, on this Sunday evening the American Heroes Channel will mark the 70th anniversary of the freeing of Auschwitz with an uninterrupted (no commercials) showing of “Schindler’s List”.

  14. The effect seems to the result of a cascade of changes that have occurred over our lifetimes. Schools are political footballs and education has been changed from teaching students thinking skills to teaching them to score on their standardized tests. The ability for critical thinking is being lost and as a result there are many who never think to challenge anything that is spoken on the radio or television or printed. I saw it in my children’s education; the premium is placed on compliance, not free thinking. Keep quiet in class and don’t challenge the teacher.
    There has been a loss of conscience or consciousness or both by our free press. As SK has pointed out many times, there are many in the press corps who have become stenographers and don’t appear to have the skills or drive to research a topic thoroughly enough to frame challenging questions and represent the public interest. Our local paper is a model of what happens when the free press is owned by accountants.
    As our society became consumers, we devoted ourselves to hanging on to our spot in the middle class as long as possible, always concerned that the end is near. We have become sheep and our elected representatives have made it point to deny us our rights to representation in the work place, to fair elections and to intelligence in the state house and congress. And they keep getting elected by making the political process so distasteful that most can’t stand the smell and avoid getting involved or even voting.
    Funny advertising has become a new source of entertainment as most of what was considered entertaining has been chopped up into shorter and shorter segments in favor of more advertising intended to get us to spend more money on things we probably don’t really need as opposed to saving it and taking care of our own financial futures.
    In short, yes we are crazy and a lot of people are so crazy they don’t know it.

  15. We are admired by so many in so many countries so do not get completely bent out of shape.

    We went from arguing issues civilly and working together to these political action committees for campaign contributions and more and more power of lobbyists and committees and off shore money and now unlimited amounts and by corporations too .The US has been corrupted by money and power of money of those on someone’s payroll or with so much money like the Kochs. In South America it is called “mordita” the bite. Here it is campaign contributions aka legalized bribery of which so many politicians then advocate the irrational and are extreme because of the entities giving them money they take .Then they sway many who are not well informed on what this diverse county can provide to all and democracy fails from greed and ignorance. We have become the nation of the bribe and amnesia to what has been accomplished in 200 yrs. here.

  16. Yes, we’ve gone crazy. Mostly because we’ve given everything unto Caesar. We pray to politics as a benevolent god when it’s always been a violent, jealous, deadly idol.
    Very few problems have a political solution. All societal problems have a very personal moral defect at their heart.
    We do nobody any good when we force our version of charity on others, just as we do no good to force our version of morality on others. Taxation may seem nicer than theft…but thieves don’t sell your home for back taxes, either. War may seem nicer than murder, but…well, nevermind. No. War is not nicer than anything.
    But here we are.
    We spend more tax money on education and healthcare than anybody else, and to worse effect. We spend more on “security” than pretty much everybody else put together, and besides having the world’s highest percentage of citizens in prison…we have little to brag about in terms of peace and justice here.
    Bottom line, Americans are people who rub the genie of government to make other people submit to our collective choices…and most people (including Americans like me) hate that.

  17. I think Americans are so isolated that they have no idea what the rest of the world thinks or does. The media is the reason for this as they concentrate on what the White House or Congress may have said or done that day and what mass murders occurred that day/week instead of reporting what is going on in the rest of the world. My husband and I stopped watching the local news because it was the “criminal of the day” report with mug shots no less and “news” with no regard to what happened at the school board meeting, or recently what happened in France etc. Every single day it was police reports and ambulance chasing news and we just shut it off. We would wait until 15 minutes after the hour and see what the weather report was and shut it off. I didn’t get the paper anymore so spent my mornings getting news from on-line reports instead. As long as you guys allow that to continue (because who else is going to change it), you will continue to dumb down Americans so that they are just fighting each other…oh wait…never mind.

    I can’t wait to meet a local here in Europe and find out their take on my being American living abroad serves me up with. I’ll report back chance meetings that might answer today’s blog question – are we crazy? Yes, that’s why we left…

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