Right now the U.S. is in a kind of national self-esteem slump. Our schools suck. Our banks suck. Our government sucks. The Eurozone is still in the “red zone”, so to speak, and most of the western world is feeling a kind of crisis of identity (not in the same way the Middle East is, but still…). The western world has been the nexus of wealth and power for so long, one could compare us to that group of stodgy colonial plutocrats that were more worried about their plantations than a brewing revolution. We may be pessimistic, but the east is anything but. As we sit and stew at our own pity party, China, India, many of their satellite nations (let’s not forget Russia, and its satellites) are taking advantage of a booming economy, a thriving (and often government subsidized) manufacturing sector, and a middle class on steroids.
Hint: here’s where you get out of the submersible. We need to stop looking at the world in terms of west and east, because it’s the last vestige of Cold War cognitive “lensing”. With the advent of internet connectivity and our (buzzword alert) global economy, we need to accept the fact that there are nations, there are multinational businesses (i.e. corporations), and there are consumer citizens. That’s the new characterization of the 21st century, and if we’re afraid of falling behind these rising “eastern” powers, we’re simply worried about losing a cultural framework when life was easy and we always won. Unfortunately, we’re not living in that world, and we haven’t been for some time. Instead, we’re living in a world where the U.S. has some very marketable and attractive cultural appeal to these rising stars. Our tech still stands alone, our market is still a behemoth of consumer and economic power, and the emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship is a global trademark that we own.
The U.S. needs to understand these strengths and, rather than trying to be more like China or India in the way they approach education and economic policy, we need to maintain our unique American-ness. These countries are still trying to figure out how to do “developed nation” right, and while they are, we need to stop bogging ourselves down in partisan ideology and look at where the world is. The world is no longer western, it’s truly global. The world is phasing out oil and embracing renewable energy and environmental conservation, not in a partisan “us” vs. “them” way but in a practical and necessary way. The world is a crowdsourced, open-ended, innovative and forward moving animal, not an institutionalized and corporate-minded standardizer. If we don’t stop worrying about what the other guy is doing because we’re afraid we’ll lose; if we don’t stop trying to be more like these rising nations and start trying to find our own, we’re going to be Rome 2.0 (and not in a good way).