The quest to be Number One is endemic to our American society, and perhaps to our species itself. Whether it's being the Alpha Male in your local social herd, winning an Oscar or a Grammy, or getting to play Ohio State in the Bowl Championship of college football, being recognized as the top dog in the game is prized almost above life itself for the vast majority of us. And even in our own private lives, we are taught and encouraged to excel ' and to outrun, out-earn or just outlast the "competition" ' as part of achieving "success" in the world.
Even for most of those who claim to reject this paradigm, there's still a drive to do and be best at something, and for individuals there's really nothing wrong with that. Striving to better oneself is a valid goal, and it's only when we get into comparisons with the achievements of others (instead of the challenge of bettering our own previous milestones) that pathology may enter the picture. Wanting to be the best you can be is not only laudatory but life-affirming.
The problem occurs when nations try to emulate this behavior. Whether it's the ancient empires ( Rome , Britain , Ottoman, et alia) or their more recent analogues ( U.S.S.R. , U.S.A. and the People's Republic of China , most obviously), the striving of the leadership of a nation tends to be more about domination of others than the betterment of its own citizenry. And the present mess the Bushites have dragged us all into is only the most obvious example today.
The most glorious opportunity for letting go of this adversarial "member measuring" happened in 1989, when less than a decade after Ronald Reagan had urged Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" . . . the latter's replacements did precisely that, as Berlin, Germany ceased to be a city divided by concrete and bricks. The cheers went up all over the world, as the possibility suddenly existed that Cold War politics had perhaps seen its last breath. Over the next several months and years, the so-called "evil empire" of Soviet oppression dissolved into its original member-states, as the specter of "Mother Russia" shrank to a single nation ' still formidable geographically, at about twice the size of the U.S.A., yet with less than half of the U.S. population far less imposing than the former two-continent expanse of turf had been.
In addition, the leadership of that considerably shrunken empire finally took a look at the status of its own people, saw it sadly lacking, and began to institute economic reforms with more free market than planned economy in them. The result was both greater prosperity for their own citizens and a lower emphasis on pushing offensive weaponry at the rest of the world. Although there's still some concern about "renegades" in one or more of the former Soviet satellites having access to missiles and such, the primary claims of the Cold Warriors were laid to rest for the most part.
And what does this leave them? Well, they've tried to turn our attention to the "other Red menace" in China, correctly noting that country's Communist heritage, as well as its overflowing population in need of territory just to spread out their own holdings (though its population is well over one billion, China actually covers less territory than the U.S.). But recent events have led most pundits to admit that China is also too busy building an economic infrastructure, and promoting at least semi-free market options among its people, to focus much on world domination. Moreover, the latest official world from Beijing declares that China has no interest in engaging in an "arms race" with any Western nation, let alone the United States .
So now, of course ' having failed to piss off either of the current so-called "major powers" of the world sufficient to get them to threaten to "bury us" as Nikita obligingly did some 40 years ago ' we've got the new Cold War, waged against some nameless thing called "terrorism." By definition this is not tagged to any specific national entity, but scatters itself among the countryside, so our imperial leaders can point in almost any convenient direction and claim that target-nation is "abetting terrorists" . . . and so it goes.
The offshoot of this imperialist view of the world is, of course, the colonialist "nation-building" and "democracy nurturing" that gets used as the cover for the expansionism so favored by neocons and other oligarch elitists. And so in the name of "advancing society," these powermongering creeps push forward to dominate and destroy other countries, sovereign though they should be.
The problem, of course, is that America was never intended to be a "world power." The Founders sought liberty, not conquest; the Revolutionary War was fought to achieve independence, not a new king; and even the Constitution, with all its warts, could not get past the ratification process without tacking on the Ten Commandments of Liberty, the Bill of Rights ' each of these designed to circumscribe the power of the State itself, not to define the limits of what individuals might do.
Were they merely looking to establish a new Imperium? No. They sought to create a wholly different paradigm and pathway to follow, one in which "that government which governs least, governs best" (with the rather logical conclusion that "least" might even equal . . . "not at all"). And part and parcel to that was that such a government would not be used as a cover for the exploitation of other sovereign nations, or to mask efforts to install our way of thinking in others against their will.
It was also not in the plan for this America to become the world's policeman, intervening in local squabbles and trying to impose our way of being on other cultures. Above all else, it was not part of that grand design for a sovereign America to oppress its own citizenry, in the name of facing down other nations ' whether in "arms races" or in any other kind of competition . . . except in the competition of free market commerce, and free transfer of goods and services among free individuals.
By forgetting this, and buying into the fearmongering of the power brokers who purport to lead us, we have subverted the very meaning of words like "liberty" and "peaceful coexistence," replacing them with a constant condition of fear and apprehension, in which the next excuse for "going to war" (without so much as a murmur of Congressional approval, instead of its full sanction, as required by our own set of laws under the Constitution) could be as flimsy as "terrorists might be hiding there" or "they might be making weapons of mass destruction" (despite no evidence of either condition).
If we ever choose to stop acting like America should be anything more than a nation of free individuals, living peaceably with others and trading voluntarily, we might finally have a chance to at least begin to restore that "American Dream" we keep hearing about. Until we let go of this pathological need to be "Numero Uno" ' the biggest bully on the block ' we'll continue to miss the point of Tom and Sam and Patrick and all the rest of those brave patriots who gave us this opportunity in the first place.
Will it ever happen? Let us pray it is so . . . .