Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Big thanks to Revere for bringing us some hard news we can use.

The anthrax story is just one more example of the culture of American Exceptionalism: the assumption that the rules that apply to other nations don't apply to the United States. During most of my lifetime, the U.S. was said to derive its unique status from some mystical force of history, a special dispensation given to "Great Powers." Hence aggressive warfare is a crime, unless it is undertaken by the U.S. Indeed, it is an obligation of Great Powers to attack other nations when circumstances require it. What those circumstances might be shift with the aggression for which a rationale is needed, but no matter. During the Cold War, although one might have thought the Soviet Union was also a Great Power, Soviet aggression was evil, while U.S. aggression was pure.

In fact, such actions as the coups engineered by the U.S. against Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh, and Chilean President Salvador Allende; the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 to prevent the replacement of a fascist regime by a constitionalist regime; the arming of the Nicaraguan "Contras" for the purpose of overthrowing an elected government; the invasion and savaging of Vietnam in order to prevent elections from taking place; and countless other illegal actions by the U.S. over the years were undertaken to defend the interests of U.S. businesses.

The present occupant of the U.S. presidency has said that "Democracies don't seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction." Evidently he does not consider the United States to be a democracy, since it is obviously the United States that possesses by far the greatest capability in Weapons of Mass Destruction, however one wishes to define the term. The United States refuses to endorse the International Criminal Court unless U.S. citizens are exempted from its jurisdiction -- alone among nations. The U.S. alone among nations reserves the right to undertake peremptory warfare against any nation its leaders, on their own authority, assert might one day acquire the capacity to threaten the U.S. And so on. Nowadays, we are more likely than we were a few years ago to hear that these special privileges derive from God, who has uniquely blessed the U.S. and chosen it for leadership among nations.

While I doubt very much that the Almighty called upon us to "smite Saddam," as Mr. Bush told the Israeli leadership, or has singled out the U.S. for any of these special privileges, there is one respect in which the U.S. is indeed exceptional. This country has the highest degree of religiosity among the wealthy industrialized countries, and relgiosity here takes the most conservative and retrograde form.

Michael Powell in the Washington Post tells of a new $25 million "science museum" about to open in Kentucky. (Link is to the Boston Globe reprint, for reasons having to do with my overall contempt for the Washington Post.) Its Vice President tells the reporter, "When people realize the T. rex lived in Eden, it will lead us to a discussion of the Gospel. The T. rex was once a vegetarian too." Kenneth Ham, President of Answers in Genesis U.S.A., which sponsors the museum, says that "Evolutionary Darwinists need to understand we are taking the dinosaurs back." The museum teaches that baby dinosaurs rode in Noah's ark.

There are bound to be nut cases in the world, but polls show that more than half of adult Americans believe this raving nonsense. Half of Americans believe the world is 10,000 years old or less. This has nothing to do with spirituality, or even with belief in God. It is just an insistence of believing in children's stories in place of indisputable evidence. And I need hardly point out that there is no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible. The embarassing, and unavoidable fact of dinosaur fossils forces creationists, who claim to believe in the literal authority of the Bible, to ignore its literal text. Surely if baby dinosaurs rode in Noah's ark, the Bible would mention the 120,000 pound adults who were getting into the ancient Hebrew's wheat fields.

It utterly baffling to me why so many Americans are so deluded, all the more so because in the rest of the developed world, these ideas are simply considered laughable. Revere today links to a study that shows that in international comparisons, higher rates of belief in a creator correlate with higher rates of crime, STDs, and other social problems. The less devout a nation, the healthier and better behaved are its citizens. The U.S., with its great burden of piety, is the most socially dysfunctional of the developed democracies. Perhaps believing in idiotic fantasies is not good for you, after all.

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