December 2, 2008
Living atop the monolith of American superiority, sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are nearly 200 other sovereign states living in our prodigious shadow. Some are tiny places like Monaco, Lichtenstein, and San Marino, countries you could literally pee across on a full bladder, but there are also sprawling giants like China, Russia, India, and Canada. Yes, that’s right. Canada. It’s sobering to think that there are countries out there with fully developed governments, economies, and cultures that are fundamentally different than ours. Better? Hard to say. You can’t really put a chili dog and tater tots head to head with moo goo gai pan on any rational qualitative scale. Nor can you definitively say that China’s brand of communism is any worse than American capitalism, especially considering China, like McDonald’s, has more than a billion people served. Granted, cheeseburgers are somewhat complicated – especially when you’re using reconstituted onions and frozen meat patties, but providing basic social services for more than a billion people has to involve some impressive, Byzantine, Rain Man-style calculus. As far as religion goes, that’s a wash as well. Sadly, not even Don King himself could get Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and the ghost of Nietzsche (a serious rhetorical stretch anyway) to throw down against each other in some sort of chain-link death match for moral superiority. As sexy as it sounds, a cage full of blissed out pacifist deities and the ghost of a deranged, syphilitic, coke-abusing German philosopher would probably only muddy the issue even further. Besides, if Nietzsche were to win (assuming he could score some ghost coke before the bout), the fact that he is a spiritual being blows his whole moral construct completely out of the water. In fact, the whole idea is pointless – sort of like following the path of a Möbius strip. Does it lead to infinity or futility? Is there a difference? Fortunately, Americans generally leave the mental thumb-twiddling of philosophy to foreigners anyway. If we can’t kill it, cook it, snort it, smoke it, drive it, buy it, or fuck it, we’re not really all that interested. This mindset has surely slowed our cultural development over the past few hundred years, but it has kept us mean and greedy and on top of the heap – geopolitically speaking at least. Badass as we are however, occasionally Americans pop our heads out of the sand and concede that other countries have something useful to bring to the table. For the Saudis, it’s oil. For the Argentineans, it’s breast augmentation techniques. For Canadians, it’s maddeningly inexplicable perkiness. Whatever the case, the dark, ugly truth of American culture is that ours would be pretty shitty if we didn’t steal so much of it from other places. American culture is a stone soup, and we contributed the stone. If you want to get a taste of some of the ingredients before they hit the pot, head down to Momo’s this Friday at 8pm for A Night of Music From Around the World, a live performance of music from diverse cultures by the University of Texas world music ensembles. Hear music from the Middle East, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, and other Caribbean countries. Proceeds from the performance help the ensembles acquire new instruments, as well as guest artists and teachers. Might as well pony-up for this deal because that chain-link death match just isn’t going to happen.