The U.S. is one of the most liberal countries in the world. Why don’t liberals like it?
Scott Alexander, the (pseudonymous) writer behind the thoughtful liberal website Slate Star Codex, wrote about how his fellow liberal friends were offended because he celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden.
The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.
I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person?
Many people have noted that recently “liberals” haven’t been acting liberal. And here’s the perfect example. Liberals stand for protecting innocent lives, right? Osama bin Laden is a man who directed the murder of thousands of innocent humans and caused many more to die from the instability he created in the world*.
Liberals stand for religious tolerance, including the right to not believe any religion, right? Bin Laden would force people to follow a fundamentalist version of his religion and kill not only non-believers, but even people who followed different sects of Islam.
Liberals stand for minority rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and other human rights, tolerance, freedom to choose any way of life you want, right? Bin Laden would oppress the world into conformity through tyranny and violence. In his “Letter to America”, he attacked America for allowing women to serve in the armed forces, for allowing women to wear what they want, for being sexually positive, and for engaging in “immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s, and trading with interest.”
In short, conservatives have actually been right that “they hate us because we are free,” and liberals—real liberals—support those freedoms in principle. So it was really a great thing when bin Laden was killed by the U.S. in national self-defense. If you oppose the murder of innocents and theocratic tyranny, then you should have celebrated that day, because his death really did cut down on the threats of both. Not only that, it was justice.
Alexander compares the reactions liberals to bin Laden’s death to the reactions of liberals who celebrated Margaret Thatcher’s death in England. It is a good point of comparison on his part, and it makes the point that some people tend to feel greater feelings of animosity towards people who are more similar to themselves—with the same nationality or the same general support for democratic governance, in that case.
Maybe that is why some liberals hold what can best be called “anti-American” views, in the way Alexander describes them in the next few paragraphs. That is,
I was an Obama voter, and I have proud memories of spending my Fourth of Julys as a kid debunking people’s heartfelt emotions of patriotism. Aaron Sorkin:
“[What makes America the greatest country in the world?] It’s not the greatest country in the world! We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the f*** you’re talking about.”
Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People [at HuffPo, Salon, Slate].
Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans.
The Aaron Sorkin quote is perfect. Those pretentious pseudo-intellectual liberals take a great pride in feeling above their fellow citizens. They are so much better and so much smarter and courageous, in their minds, to admit America’s flaws.
And it’s true America has its problems. No rational person would say it doesn’t. But America is, from an objective standpoint, one of the greatest countries in the world. America is one of the greatest countries in the world especially if you consider the liberal values of tolerance, including things like women’s rights, gay rights, education and social services for the poor, to be of great importance.
If you are going around trying to burst people’s bubble on Independence Day, you are just a jackass trying to get attention—again, trying to make yourself feel morally superior. People celebrate it because it’s a holiday, and if they use hyperbole, like, “We’re #1!” that is not meant in a literal sense.
America is, however, objectively one of the best countries in the world in most of the categories that we want to be good at. Look at the rankings Aaron Sorkin cited:
#7 in literacy
#22 in science
That’s where we want to be. Consider the fact that there are 196 countries in the world. Liberals take pride in being so internationalist and worldly. So why do they seem to forget entirely about the Southern hemisphere when they look at these ratings? Why do they take such a Western-centric viewpoint? Being 22nd in science means you are better than 88.8% of the world.
Granted, I don’t know what study Sorkin was referring to, and it almost certainly didn’t include all 196 countries, but many of the countries not included in studies limited to, say, the OCED, are less developed and would rank lower if included.
Look at life expectancy, which is one where America really is behind some countries that it is more developed than. He cited a 49th place ranking, but actually America ranks 34th, according to the WHO’s 2013 numbers, just below Cuba. There are 194 countries in those rankings, so Americans live longer on average than the people of 82.5% of countries in the world.
Therein lies another problem with such rankings: Liberals often selectively cite the lowest ranking they can find, even if it isn’t accurate. Look at the citation of “178th in infant mortality.” On its face one should be skeptical. Only someone who is so biased in favor of being critical of America would take it to be true that one of the world’s top 10 most developed economies by GDP per capita would be like a third-world country.
So you would look up the numbers to make certain, and find the U.S. ranks 60th. That’s arguably lower than such an advanced country would want to be, but it’s nowhere near 178th.
That is, if you take the CIA numbers at face value. Let’s look at the UN’s numbers: From 2010-2015, America ranked… …38th!
It’s starting to feel like Aaron Sorkin and others who love to hate America are not being honest.
Because if they were being honest, they would have to be quite happy with how successful America is and how liberal and open-minded and accepting it is. America is one of only 21 countries that allows and recognizes gay marriage. We’re ahead of much of Europe on that, if you consider “ahead” to mean liberal and pro-gay marriage.
By all means try to keep making America even better. But accept reality and argue based on facts. If there are some other countries to be especially critical of, they are countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Belize, Pakistan, Palestine and the Gaza Strip, and the other 70+ countries whose governments imprison** people for being gay.
Liberals should say, “Hell yeah, we’re good at science. Hell yeah, we allow gay marriage. Hell yeah, we produce musicians who curse out the president on stage and dance in ways that Mike Huckabee thinks are Satanic and export that culture to the world, so that it can be censored in China and Iran. Hell yeah, America ranks seventh in the world for cannabis use! I love America.”
I like Alexander’s website very much, and I thought his essay was very honest about his own and other people’s biases. Still, I want to critique some of the assertions in his actual post about bin Laden’s death, as well.
It was actually not so much of a raw-raw America kind of post that a conservative “patriot” would post, but more critical of how America usually is, in his mind, versus how it was that day bin Laden died. I.e.:
It’s like invading a foreign country and being genuinely greeted as liberators, and then the populace establishes a peaceful democratic government and thanks us for our help and says they owe us a favor sometime.
My response: You mean like in the Korean War, or World War II, or the Gulf War (liberating Kuwait), or even—for the Kurds, at least—in George W. Bush’s Iraq War? The first three wars were successes for America’s side and the side of freedom against tyranny. The Iraq War was, of course, largely a failure in bringing about a stable democracy, but it is worth pointing out that even now the Kurds did benefit by having a relatively autonomous region to self-govern in Iraq, after years of being genocided by Saddam Hussein.
America ranks sixth in Bloomberg’s innovation index.
America ranked second in 2015’s World Giving Index.
America is the sixth most “livable country”, according to the UN.
(*The wars civil unrest and wars caused by bin Ladens actions caused much death and suffering. Even on a domestic level, it caused greater violence between Sunnis and Shias. It also caused America and other countries to hunt down terrorists abroad. It should be noted that it was absolutely justified for America to hunt down al-Qaeda in foreign lands.
But even at a lower level of proof, it can also be said that, “Bin Laden attacking America was exactly what neoconservatives wanted,” in the same way that, “Trump’s Muslim ban is exactly what ISIS wants.” That later quote has been thrown around by liberals a lot, as if justifying the extremism of radical Muslims because Trump proposed a stupid policy, but if he is in any way responsible for increased terrorist attacks, then bin Laden certainly is responsible for creating the War on Terror.)
**I used the word “murder” in an earlier example. Actually I meant “imprison.” Not all of the countries that outlaw homosexual relations impose the death penalty. But 10 do.