America is a Teenager
by Chris Churchill
Teenagers are a combination of infectious energy and fun, fury-inducing idiocy, healing optimism and crippling shortsightedness. Most teenagers struggle with that constellation of personality traits and emotions. Most teenagers eventually figure it out and become adults that accept that life is fine even if it’s not great and that we’re not going to live forever but that’s okay too. What I’m saying is, hopefully, if you own a teenager and you are wondering whether or not it is defective, it is probably behaving as is factory standard. America is kind of a teenager, isn’t it?
I will now belabor a metaphor.
In the history of the world, there have always been nomadic clans, city-states, kingdoms and eventually nations that captured and held the attention of all the other nearby groups. The small band of cave people that were having a nice time eating mastodon by the seashore suddenly hear a caveman party in the distance and they find that there is a large clan nearby, building houses, starting fights, trapping mastadons very effectively. The new neighbors don’t seem to intend them any harm but…you know…best to keep an eye on them.
The nomads eventually see the farming community and, recognizing that their efficiency taming the grain was magic, start keeping a closer eye on them.
The thing about these “new” societies is that they are “young” societies. Not children, necessarily. Children are fun and challenging but most people are cool with kids. It’s when these societies become “teenagers” that you have to watch them. When a teenager has too much control of a room full of adults, then you have a problem.
America is that teenager.
America, like that teenager, thinks it’s grown up. It thinks it is an adult in charge of it’s own destiny. However, America doesn’t see that many other countries in the world have things figured out better than we do. I mean look at education and healthcare alone. The way America treats those institutions are very much like a young James Dean might have handled them.
“Naaaaa. I don’t need to read no books. Life will teach me.” America says. The big problem with that adolescent bravado as it relates to education is that when one takes that stance, one is taking out a massive student load with ridiculous interest that they’ll be paying back for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, experience can be the most expensive type of student loan.
An arrogant teenager’s take on healthcare? Also expensive. Rather than creating a healthy, sustainable lifestyle that will foster our growth into adulthood, we have chosen to eschew the advice of all the adults in town, our aunts and uncles in Europe, our cousins in Canada…you get it…because, well, “nothing’s gonna happen to us”. There’s no way our bloated health insurance industrial complex could ever really hurt us too badly. WE know what we’re doing. WE aren’t like the rest of you adults. DON’T YOU GET IT MAN? I’LL NEVER BE LIKE YOU, ENGLAND! NEVER! So we spend a third of our paychecks on health insurance OR we get sick or injured and spend ALL of our paychecks for the rest of our lives on it.
And the wars. Only a teenager would get in the middle of so many conflicts without thinking that, you know, maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s not the rest of the world causing the problems. Maybe it’s the arrogant teenager walking around town, instigating fights between two parties where there had previously only been differences. And probably those differences were about how to deal with that arrogant teenager.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, guys. No need to fight. Just let me do whatever I want and everything will be fine.” The adults look at each other and sigh, knowing that they’ve only been fighting because this kid is such a unique disaster of a human being.
If it takes a village to raise a child, I think the village assumed this teenager was grown up long before he was. They may have dropped the ball by not reigning us in a little sooner. I think it was the World Wars that made the world treat us with premature deference. If your teenager protects you from a murderer, you don’t suddenly sign over the deed to the house, do you? No. Because a teenager makes rash, self-centered decisions all day long. And if those decisions impact the rest of the house, they can hurt a lot of people.
I love my arrogant teenaged country, though. I know he’s unique in the neighborhood. I also know he’s the same old story being rehashed for a new generation. You know how every teenager thinks that their group of friends is the coolest that has ever been and no one has ever been exactly like them? Then we grow up and find out, literally everyone thought the same thing? America hasn’t figured that out yet.
There are other teenagers out there. It’s just that America is the most privileged, dynamic and interesting teenager at Earth High. He’s the student body president and valedictorian. He’s also got a little drug and alcohol problem and a delay in his emotional maturity. But he’s a good kid. He’ll figure it out. Maybe.