Thursday, September 23, 2004

What's happening to America?

What's going on? How come two hundred odd years later, the basic principles which America stood for, indeed, got created with, are disappearing? Free speech, free and unfettered enterprise, innovation, ingenuity? Why are all these getting quashed?

The very basis which founded America - competition, hard work, finding new solutions to problems, where have they gone? Why is there legal issues at every turn? Why are kids getting sued for listening to music? Why is free speech being used to allow all kinds of advertisements on the internet? Why is junk mail being discussed in the government?

Ever since this nation began, it has believed that hard work and keen brains will always succeed. And people have succeeded. The 'American Dream' meant something. But now, those same people have become so big that they kill competition, lobby for ineffectual standards, stick to old technology.

Technology, (at one time it used to be called Engineering!), which brought this country to where it is today, is moving away. Om Malik has been pointing out that the axis of technology has shifted over the China Sea. And now I read that BBC is putting it's entire audio video archive on the internet to be downloaded, shared and built upon by anyone and everyone. And they're doing this with the help of Lawrence Lessig, an American of Creative Commons fame, who has been questioning copyright laws in this country for years now. Are American ideas getting accepted faster abroad now?

When most of the word is going 3G services in cellular, America is just catching up. When the rest of the world is beginning to enjoy ever faster internet speeds on their cell phones compared to dial up, statistics of broadband use of 42% in the US is making everyone feel proud. When even developing countries like India are getting ready to set up Internet TV, there isn't even a whiff of it in the horizon here.

Something is seriously amiss.

I believe Capitalism is showing it's age. Hard work and brains are required when you're starting something. But when the machinery has gotten running you need a different set of skills to make it run. You only need to mend those small things that break from time to time, and slowly over the years a new machine emerges. But if you don't replace the parts which fall off with newer parts, sooner or later the whole monolith becomes too costly to run.

Law, which any civilised society uses to prevent it's citizens from undue harassment and to entitle people their rights, is being used for exactly the opposite! Two years ago, I read a book by Philip Howard called "The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom" and "The Fine Art of Drawing the Line". Philip is a lawyer in New York who argues how law is getting abused in America. An example - there isn't a single see-saw or a blade of grass in children's playgrounds in America. How did it come to this?

The world is changing. It's people are changing. People are becoming more aware, informed, are able to make more intelligent choices than earlier. And it will not match with what worked last century, last decade and sometimes even last year.

Marriages, which one time meant a lifetime relationship, is not the same anymore. Many people are deciding to share their lives together without getting married. Europe has been changing it's laws to reflect the changes happening in society, and here we're fighting over the issue of gay marriage? To the point that it's being debated as an election vote earner?

With elections looming up, attacks and counter-attacks on the veracity of military careers are going back and forth. What about the number of military careers getting extinguished everyday in Iraq? (And is anybody keeping count in Afghanistan any more?, or is public memory so short that we've forgotten who caused the 9/11 attacks?). And all this not counting the thousands of civilians. Would America love another country with so much blood on their hands?

And someone, somewhere is making a bunch of money out of all this. And all in the name of freedom, in the name of democracy, in the name of security. That is what galls me. Over the last couple of years, security has become the biggest industry in the US. In the midst of everyday people trying to eke a living, some people have forgotten to feel. To feel for the people dying in the war everyday. To feel for the people who have been earning their whole lives to live their retirement in peace, and now they are not even being allowed that. Is there no stopping greed? Does money always have to be the bottom line?

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Paine said, "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind". This is the reason, however much anyone resents it, is why the rest of the world has looked up at America. Unfortunately, that mantle is slowly getting vacant. Other countries are showing the way.

Today, Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, gave a speech at the UN. He addressed this speech to the President of the United States. He said -
"If we look around us, the single most defining characteristic of our contemporary world is the global, transnational character of the challenges we confront, whether these are in the realm of international security or development."

"We speak about cooperation, but seem hesitant to commit ourselves to a global offensive to root out terrorism, with the pooling of resources, exchange of information, sharing of intelligence, and the unambiguous unity of purpose required. This must change."

The torch of democracy, of freedom, of a respectable life for all is not getting extinguished. The fire is spreading. Other countries are leapfrogging into development. Encouraging growth, innovation, invention and ingenuity.

America cannot give up what it started.

If anything, the fire has to burn brighter here.

This is my wish.


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