Romantics and Pragmatists: What if America is the best? (Excerpt of chapter 5)

The fifth chapter is related indirectly to chapter 3, but explores the ramifications of America's system and society being the best in world history. In particular, it looks at the polarization of society, the prison population, inequality, etc.

 I think few things are more frightening than the idea that the present or past America is the best mankind can achieve. In all sobriety, without ideology, I don’t even think the American oligarchy, plutocracy or upper class would actually make this claim. To be fair, I think most defendants of American supremacy would probably say that this is the best that can be achieved at the present time, but does not reflect a “best” in absolute terms. Nonetheless, whether objective or limited to the present time, the idea that many common features of American society are the best is frightening.
Rather than run through a bunch of statistics that purport to objectively position America in a poor place relative to other countries, I want to examine the dark side of some alleged (and statistically backed-up) examples of success.

Measured by per capita income, wealth, purchasing power, etc., America has achieved one of the highest standards of living in the world. This achievement in a couple of centuries is no mean feat. Although this development and the policies that have fostered it may have contributed to the polarization and inequality of modern-day America, I don’t to rehash an argument that has been made well by others. I want to look at the psychological and social impact of this development, particularly the disinterest in others, isolation, indifference and zombification (dead eye syndrome) of a people due to affluence and what is tragic about this.

The hipsters in Brooklyn and future generation of finance employees in Manhattan have more in common than one would think at first glance. Sure they are roughly the same age, generally came or returned to New York after college, are in their twenties or early thirties and often have some ambition of one sort or another, presumably artistic or social fame for the Brooklynites, and wealth and power for the Gothamites. Under whatever circumstances they manage to do it, both also distinguish themselves by being able to survive the financial, social and environmental stress of the city. Their peers from childhood or college wonder about their (usually soon former) friend’s concealed side that motivated them to move to the City. But all this is perfectly fine and well. There is nothing dramatic about it. If the prosperity in America produced simply a future generation with these types of characteristics, we would have to concede that it is the best, certainly at the present time. Yet what I have described above is not all. There are two other traits that these hipsters and finance employees share: they don’t know how to ask questions and they can only talk about themselves. be continued...
Text by Yuri Smirnov
Photos by Koen Douterloigne
July 2015

Further Reading
Smirnov, Yuri. How a Russian Sees America. Feb. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 1 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America: What Do You Have That We Don't? Mar. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 6 (excerpt): How a Russia Sees America: Are We Really That Different? - Security. Mar. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri: Chapter 2 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America: What's The Point of Living? Apr. 2015
Smirnov, Yuri. Chapter 1 (excerpt): A Russian's View of America. What Do you Have That We Don't (Continued)? May 2015
Smirnov Yuri. How a Russian Sees America - the issue of balance. June 2015
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