North Texas Daily

The world is not impressed by the U.S.

The world is not impressed by the U.S.

The world is not impressed by the U.S.
July 11
10:30 2020

The American identity is certainly a complex tapestry, but one of its most resonant aspects is its sense of uniqueness in the world. The U.S. prides itself on being the standard for cosmopolitanism, bringing people from all walks of life into a society that celebrates their differences. And though there is certainly benefit in treasuring one’s own uniqueness, it is important to remember that it shouldn’t come at the cost of valuing personal identity over shared humanity. The paramount importance of personal satisfaction in the U.S. has reared its ugly head so many times that the idea of someone throwing hot coffee at a Starbucks employee in a fit of infantile rage is as American as Mount Rushmore. But in the time of coronavirus, these values have a much bigger societal implication than simple rudeness.

In the last weeks of June, the E.U. began presenting its tentative plans for reopening borders, and the U.S. was very notably absent from its list of 15 countries that will be allowed entry to the European bloc. The list consists of countries that have been able to effectively flatten their curves as COVID-19 uprooted normal social life across the globe. This was a major blow to the U.S. credibility on the world stage, as the president has notoriously downplayed both the severity of the virus and the shortcomings of our lackluster public health efforts.

Shoddy public health actions, however, can be seen not only as a result of outright dangerous misinformation from public officials — but as a result of how American society largely continues to push individualist practices in the face of a collectivist issue. Though exacerbated by targeted politicizing at higher levels, the unique brand of selfishness that permeates American individualism leads many to prioritize their own gain and satisfaction over a net gain for a larger group. And in a time when the coronavirus sweeps indiscriminately through close quarters, the primary concern of many Americans continues to be preventing their own infection with little regard for their own spreading of the disease. In some cases, this hard individualism has inspired anti-mask protests, making for petri dishes of bacteria amalgamated from angry mobs who see mask mandates as a devilish infringement on their personal freedom.

Though the E.U.’s movement toward reopening does indeed come after the pandemic devastated many populations, it also comes as strides have been made in slowing infections in the bloc. Though containment policies have varied between individual countries, the fact that the continent has been able to stabilize with relative aplomb compared to the U.S. reporting disproportionately large infections and deaths points more to the effects of differing mentalities than policy.

While it could be said that Europe and the U.S. both falling under the vague (and often mischaracterized) umbrella of “Western culture” makes them both proponents of individualism, the tendency for Europeans to push for a general sense of cultural egalitarianism over essentially being a cheerleading squad for oneself speaks volumes about how their social practices lent a sizable hand in flattening their curve. But arguing that such collectivist undercurrents are values unique to Europeans would make the presence of non-European countries on the E.U.’s admittance list a mystery. Notably, the fact that Canada occupies a place on the list for their strong public health response while their neighbor to the south is left behind makes a bigger statement about the U.S. than it does about every country on the list.

To many Americans, our unique sense of individualism is a core strength of the American identity. But now more than ever, it seems to also be our undoing. Simply put, the importance of autonomy and personal fulfillment in Americans’ lives will never be respected by a virus that has no regard for how social distancing restricts your sense of “freedom.” Bravely entering a store without a mask to assert your bold sense of self does not relinquish you from responsibility when it turns out your crusade caused a new cluster of infections. And until people start to think not on the terms of their own infection, but how their burgeoning needs for unfettered outdoor adventuring could affect others at large, it makes perfect sense why the E.U. would see that as a threat.

Featured Illustration: Olivia Varnell

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Vincenzo Favarato

Vincenzo Favarato

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