This past week marked the 236th birthday of our great nation, and coincidentally, perhaps the most significant scientific discovery in history. However in typical American tradition, we ignored the conclusive evidence about the origins of our universe via the discovery of the Higgs boson particle in favor of good old fashioned red, white and blue self indulgence. As is customary for the 4th of July, Americans celebrated their national pride by eating hot dogs, watching sports, blowing things up, and ignoring planet altering science.
There was a time in our not too distant past when discovering the origins of our universe, and eliminating any reasonable doubt (as if there was any in the first place) as to the biblical story of creation would be an item on the evening news. There was a time when our nation was galvanized around the effort to put a man on the moon. We were one. And we were indeed exceptional. But the truth is today –despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary– over 40% of Americans believe that an invisible deity created the universe in six days… which is simply another way to say that more than 4 in 10 Americans are utter morons.
Yet like spoiled children, we demand that our political leaders continue to tell us how wonderful, unique, and exceptional we still are. Now more than ever, we Americans arrogantly claim that we are the “best country in the world” despite many of us never having traveled abroad… which is not only insulting to the countries with higher standards of living, longer life expectancy, better education and health care than we have, it speaks to our sense of national ignorance.
Which brings us back to the family barbeques on the 4th of July. While America has transitioned from the country that gave us Miles Davis and Joe DiMaggio to the nation that has made icons out of Lady Ga Ga and Barry Bonds , we are simultaneously convincing ourselves that we are still doing just peachy. Despite our (at best) mediocre world rankings in literacy, math and science, and regardless of how we view ourselves despite our mediocrity, none of that changes the simple truth that our once great country has slipped into an intellectual abyss, and that frankly, we have no right to claim that we are the greatest anything.
Well, that’s not entirely true. America is still number one in the world in defense spending, body mass index and prisoners per capita.
The real shame of this is that the discovery of the Higgs boson could have happened on American soil rather than in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1993, congress decided not to build a Superconducting Super Collider in Waxahachie, Texas which would have been larger and more powerful than the one in Geneva. Said University of Texas physicist, and Nobel winner Steven Weinberg, ” This is a discovery that could have been and should have been made in America. “We are regretful that the United States Congress decided in this instance to turn its back on pushing forward the frontier of fundamental knowledge.” But most Americans don’t care about scientific achievement anymore… certainly not like we did in 1969. It’s just not as sexy as Facebook.
So here America stands. Self delusional as to our standing in the world, and psychotically so where it concerns the origins of our universe. We imagine ourselves superior, but in reality we are the fat kid who limps across the finish line in the middle of the pack and receives a trophy anyway… even worse, we think that we won the race. We use the term “American Exceptionalism” in the present tense, when in truth, we haven’t been exceptional in years.
But of course this can change. We can regain our former glory. We can start by caring about things that should be cared about, and learning the difference between facts and faith. Then we can continue by realizing that this American generation has its own Neil Armstrong, and his name is Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I, for one, would enjoy celebrating Independence day more if America more closely resembled the country I grew up in. It sure would help take my mind off what’s actually in that hot dog I’m eating.