Hey Abner, thanks for your honest post about how the concept of “best country” has always bothered you. Reading your thoughts got my brain juices flowing real good.
Abner commented that the media uses the idea of “our country is best/better” to divide people, presumably to create some advantage for either politicians or profit makers to use against their own people or against another country.
I think he’s entirely right about that, the narratives created by media are not without purpose. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna serve somebody” and the narratives in any media are serving somebody, they are edited narratives, someone is making choices about what we see and read and those choices are not random. Plenty of those narratives are venal, basically serving to trivialize people’s taste and to distract them from actual problems and challenges.
What Karl Marx had to say about religion, being an opiate revealing the oppression and pain of the people, might now be aimed squarely at the flood of media, social and traditional (24 hour news anyone? 24 hour sport anyone? 24 hour shopping channel anyone?).
Anyway, back to my main point, so I agree with Abner that the concept of “best country” can be used badly, destructively, as a power tool.
But that does not invalidate the concept or its use. A hammer can build a house or kill someone, how we use a tool says something about us, less about the tool.
Perhaps when most people say “our country is best/better” they are saying something positive? Perhaps we can use those words and mean no insult to any other country, being focused rather on all the good we see and value in our own country? Perhaps there are more accurate ways to express this valuing of the good in our own country, but poor language use does not equate to negative intent. 🙂
I think Abner is correct to suggest that on a nation to nation scale it is impossible and irrational to think that such a thing as a global or generalized “best” can even be established. Nations are too different, values are too different and anyone who set the standard would be setting it from a particular narrow perspective, all of us stand on our own land, seeing the world from the perspective of a particular place and a particular experience.
I think it probably is possible to compare particulars, it still might not be entirely helpful to make that final statement “and this one is the best” in any particular, but some things can be measured and some things need to be measured.
I have recently had conversations with friends in some South East Asian countries (I’m not specifying the countries as that would distract from this illustration and I would prefer to speak of the short comings of my country, rather than suggest problems in someone else’s.) and they lament about the levels of corruption in their countries and the impact this has on them and their families.
So is there value in measuring the particulars of legal justice from country to country, or human rights from country to country, or standard of living from country to country? I think there is. I also think that there is a “better” standard of legal fairness and a worse standard, there is a better standard of human rights and a worse standard and poverty, at any level is always a bad thing, surely, and the less poverty in a country the better it is, surely?
I also agree with Abner that anyone who has not travelled is in a really weak position to be saying “we are best” and many of us who do travel end up drawing a similar conclusion to the one Abner states – countries are DIFFERENT, not better or worse.
And here is one way Australia is different from most other countries except a few isolated island nations. Australia shares no land borders with any other nation and we are not “on the way” to anywhere else either, we are stuck down the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere and surrounded by vast distances across water to most other places with just a tip of the South East Asian archipelago reaching down towards us. For the two hundred years of white settlement we’ve never had to learn a neighbour’s language, or worry about them being just across the border.
Balancing against this isolation has been our traditional orientation towards England and what goes on there seeing as the Monarch of England is still the Monarch of Australia. (You have NO idea how much that fact burns me every time I think about it.) That outward gaze towards the UK has expanded to include the rest of the world in my lifetime, partially due to the interests of all the “new australians” in various waves of post war immigration that we have welcomed. We are interested in the rest of the world and we love to travel and we have a high enough standard of living, and a decent exchange rate that makes plenty of travel possible for most of us.
So, we are a strange mixture of isolation and engagement.
Where am I going with this? It seems I have come to my conclusion, or perhaps it is a dead end? No, I prefer to think of this as a free flowing response/reflection on Abner’s post, one contribution to a conversation, therefore, no conclusion is necessary…….