Getting skeptical about patriotism

Before I sign off and head out for the summer, I have one last post. I’m not leaving quite yet, but I don’t think I’ll have any more time to blog before I go.

Some readers got pissed off at my sarcastic message about the US the other day, so let me explain my views. I think patriotism is too close to nationalism to be safe; both are just souped up versions of tribalism. These things lead to “us versus them” thinking and to conflict being preferred over cooperation. It’s OK to love your country. But to be proud just because you were born somewhere is ridiculous. To ignore the flaws of your country and to refuse to criticize your government is dumb. And to think your country is the only great (free, safe, healthy, etc.) nation in the world is just delusional.

First, one thing I do love about America is that we still have freedom of speech, including the freedom to offend (thank goodness, because I would have to crawl in a hole if I was not allowed to be offensive). 

That said, for those who believe what they learned in first grade (or in the military) about the US being #1 in everything, here are some stats to think about:

Not all of these are bad rankings, but I wasn’t searching for reports that just show the US is doing badly. I searched for “US ________ ranking” and this is what came up in Google. Try it yourself and see what you find. I haven’t checked out the sources on all of these rankings, but I just wanted to show that it’s not immediately obvious to everyone on the planet that the US is the greatest country in the world. 

You know what? It’s OK not to be #1 in everything or anything. We don’t need to be a super power. We don’t need to constantly prove that we are better than everyone else. That’s just a sign of insecurity. That just leads to being a bully. Why can’t the US be happy — like everyone else is — just to be good? Why do we always have to convince ourselves that we are great, the greatest? Our collective arrogance is one of the things I hate about the US.

If some of you are still pissed off because I have the nerve to be honest and say something very unpopular about the US, I don’t care. It’s long past time to be skeptical about patriotism.  

Now, I’m going on a blogging break until I get back in August. Have a great summer and I’ll see you all in a few months!

P.S. Regarding me being emotional, not skeptical enough, etc. I’ve written about that several times before, so you newbies who are curious can check it out:



Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. If you want some anti-patriotism summer reading, Simone Weil had some clever, albeit overly Christian things to say on the subject. I don’t remember the details, but it should be readily available in anthologies or findable. Some of what she had to say on the matter was quotable.

  2. I really love the USA. I love the kind of life I live, I love the people I meet, and although I wish the culture were a little different, I’m glad that the government realizes that it isn’t a government issue.

    I don’t think that it’s the best at everything, but I think that if we started to focus our efforts on improving ourselves rather than the rest of the world, I think that it certainly could be, and although I’m not offended that you also think that it isn’t the best, I am offended if you hold out as little hope as it sounds like.

    That’s all.

  3. Yeah, very well said, Donna, I agree with every word.

    The term “freethinker” has come to mean an individual who has freed themself of religion, but I think that true freethought requires much more. Among other things, freethought also requires freedom from coercion by the media and advertising, freedom from quacks, astrologers, psychics, and other charlatans, freedom from guilt, freedom from neuroses stemming from childhood, freedom from superstition, freedom from ignorant prejudice and bigotry, freedom from others’ expectations, and generally a freedom from the limitations of the box that society tries to build around us. And a biggie: freedom from nationalistic indoctrination.

    It’s long past time to be skeptical about patriotism.

    Considering the obvious religious fervor that accompanies patriotic rhetoric, why doesn’t the skeptical community ever really address it? Is it just too much of a taboo subject? Are we concerned that it would create bad PR for the skeptical community? Or have most of us simply not seen it as a problem?

  4. I have to call BS on the infant death rate statistics every time I hear them. The reason the US rates are useless as a comparison to other nations is both our classification of conditions and our medical technologies are different from most other countries.

    The primary issue is that US doctors make far more advanced and chancy efforts to save babies, especially premies, that would otherwise and in other places be classified as miscarriages or stillbirths rather than infant deaths. Many countries also don’t classify babies as “infant deaths” if they are born live, but are below a certain weight and do not survive past a certain date.

    This means that, ironically, even as our healthcare gets better and better, overall “infant morality” rates can rise along with superior technology and better overall survival results, because we try to save more and more of the harder cases that would have been given up as lost causes elsewhere and elsewhen, and declared stillbirths instead of infant deaths elsewhere and elsewhen.

  5. Regarding being a sceptic. Appealing to emotion rather than relying on evidence is a flawed approach to disseminating an idea amoung the populus.

    Firstly it implies that the populus are incabable of understanding the facts and that only by “Speaking to the Heart” can they be persuaded. It is the short cut to agreement. It is tantamount to saying “You couldn’t possibly understand X, so I’m not even going to try to explain it to you, instead I’m going to use your weakness to trick you into agreeing with me”

    Every rhetorical device is a logical fallicy, used to trick the audience into agreeing with the speachmaker. If Sceptics start using “emotive language” to make a point then they in no way differ from a Preacher (“God loves you, are you going to spit in his eye?”) or Politician (“I may be the least qualified candidate but I’m an ordinary guy just like you so vote for me”)

    Using emotive manipulation has been taken to new heights in the UK and US by all parties to win elections, however that does not mean that it is the meathodology sceptics should adopt. It is the antithesis of rational thinking, the foundation of scepticism.

    Do not confuse “thinking” with “emoting”, although the vast majority of people use emoting to make decisions (how else would Preachers, Politicians, Advertisers and other con artists make a living?) invaribly they make the wrong decision.

    A rational, thinking, enlightened populus capable of understanding complex problems and finding there solution is the opposite of a emoting, reactionary, closed-minded, knee-jerk, scapegoating “Dumbocracy”.

    You can not successfully use the tools of dumbocracy to promote rationality.

  6. When I see bumper stickers that say “USA #1” I wish I could find the… uh… authors? and ask them a few questions. Granted, the USA is #1, that is self-evident, but I wonder, who is doing the rating? And has the USA always been #1? Since the USA is (obviously) #1, who is #2? Was the USA always #1? If so, did the USA become #1 after the Declaration of Independence? Or was it the Constitution that made the USA #1? What about the Articles of Confederation? And during the Civil War, was the USA still #1? Or did #1 status fall to the CSA?

    And you bring up a lot of instances where the USA is not #1, but what you don’t realize is that GOD rates countries exclusively on the basis of imitation chrome testicles hanging from trailer hitches. That, and the percentage chance that holding aloft a beer and yelling, “Whooooooo!” will find you a suitable marriage partner with whom you can have 10 children. We are still #1, indeed!

  7. I am dismayed, as you are Donna, at the loss of habeus corpus, and of many of our rights to privacy.

    I never thought I would live in a country that allowed torture.

    I hope you have a great trip, and come back refreshed!

  8. You read this, didn’t you?

    Personally, I really like the shirt:

    USA is #1
    in obesity, national debt, waste production and oil consumption

  9. And also a sign off from me as I probably won’t have much time left to read/post tonight, as I leave for Philadelphia tomorrow, and on to Vegas for TAM6 next week.

  10. Thank you. This is eyeopening. I didn’t realize just how bad some of the rankings had gotten. I’ve always felt that true patriots will defend their country while fighting to fix the problems within as they arise.

    It’s kind of like having a child that you are so proud of, love, and want to see succeed, yet want to smack upside the head with a clue-by-four on a regular basis.

  11. Patriotism, at least as the term was used at the founding of this country, does NOT mean you accept everything the nation does uncritically. The best patriots–and these not only include the founders, but notables such as Davy Crockett–were EXTREMELY critical of the government and the nation, and worked to make it better.

    As for stats, in health care we actually are #1 in patient satisfaction, and we’re at #5 on the Economic Freedom Index, our lowest scores being in fiscal freedom, government size, and freedom from corruption.

  12. Once we were a city on a hill, the first modern (if flawed) Republic, an example.

    Now, we are largely an embarassment. While I believe it is inevitable that my family will move back to the US one of these days, I look at my kids and feel guilty at the very thought of it. To take them from a part of the world that believes the education of children is of the highest importance and families regularly spend substantial amounts their income to get extra lessons for their kids (heck, outside a nearby mall a vendor sells large packets of previous years exams so kids can practice) and put them at the mercy of a school district that could at any moment elect a few zealots and gut the schools (assuming the community bothered to adequately fund the school in the first place). To take them from a place that is safe and you actually trust your neighbors and don’t fear strangers and put the in the quagmire of anxiety mongering that is the US news.

    Then, there is food, fuel, and climate change.

    Corn feeds cows and Suburbans. The amount of corn to make a hamburger, lots. The amount of corn to fill a Suburban with ethanol could feed someone for about year. And as for food inflation … stop complaining, plant a garden, and be thankful the US can feed itself and doesn’t have people rioting over shortages.

    Gas – many of the Europeans I know hear that gas is $4 a gallon and are amazed at how cheap it still is.

    Climate change – at least, we are no longer the #1 emitter of greenhouse gases. Like so much other manufacturing we outsourced that to China so we can blame them for burning coal so that we can have our cheap Barbie dolls and disposable everything. One wonders if they would be number one if the US stop buying their goods …

    It pains me. I grew up believing the US is #1 and saying the pledge of allegiance everyday in school … and now we lead the world in Paris Hilton.

    PS They actually broadcast high school civics debates here in Singapore in prime time on the main English channel during debate season – if you decide to move, let me know and we’ll start a skeptics group here.

  13. Donna, you hit the nail on the head with this post. It’s no wonder we come off as the “ugly American” with our superior attitude. We don’t do enough to educate our children about our place in the world, along with world history and geography. Sometimes I think I’ll vomit if I have to hear Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” (actually titled “God Bless the USA”) sung at our school music program one more time.
    Jingoism is back in style – Obama catching flack because he wasn’t wearing a flag pin.
    With Bush’s policies, we’re seen as an arrogant bully around the world, especially in Iraq.
    No, there isn’t any one “greatest country in the world”. There are a lot of countries that have great features, but none of them are perfect, the USA included.

  14. I seem to be dealing with some really weird free speech/offended issue on my blog at the moment. (Very weird as I’m accused on an attack I never made.)

  15. Since I was casually mentioned in the post I feel I should at least have some retort.

    Donna/AKA Writerdd:”I am so glad I will be out of this country (the US) for the summer. I already wish I did not have to come back.”
    “I don’t love America any more and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to say that as loudly as I want to…..This country has been ruined for me.”

    I think that tone prompted me to claim that I disagree with you and think that we shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater “as they say when it comes to the United States. I can’t find within comments that where anyone claimed that the “USA is #1” but I have seen the “Sheeple” if you will follow blindly what they’re taught culturally and educationally and tear up at the “God Bless America” stuff that somehow offends some of you, which I find kind of ridiculous that you’re making fun of someone’s beliefs whether they be religion or patriotic duty. I mean, they’re “Free” to do that aren’t they? Should everyone’s faith and moral compass be Tabula Rosa and gray with opinion?
    I myself am Agnostic, but would find the United States quite boring if everyone here were Agnostic, devoid of their religious heritage and cultures, whether they be Hindu to Wiccan.
    Our country’s history comes of people who stole away to a land and literally fought, long and hard, with GUNS to get a foot hold of a country they believed in, and believed they could create it however they felt. A true grassroots community where you elected your officials and molded your teachers and stood up for what was true and fought back for what was wrong. Was it ever “perfect” no way Jose. Like I said before, overall, I think, in my opinion it’s a pretty damned good thing we’ve got over here and I’m not going to let a few bad apples (i.e. NeoCons) ruin it for me and the future of this country.

    Now Donna, you go travel(or should I say escape) to your Baltic Republic and enjoy yourself. Have fun and I hope you pay attention to the alcoholism that is prevalent there. I hope you notice the unemployment rate there, the spousal abuse rates, the socialized medicine, their hatred of minorities, the black market economy that exists and the apathy towards democracy exists all over post-communist countries.
    And I’ll be here campaigning for Obama so we can change the guard as they say and possibly set the country in a better direction than the current guys has left it.

  16. Quote Dental_Floss_Tycoon: I hope you notice the socialized medicine …

    You say that like a medical system that tries to ensure that both rich and poor have good access to medical treatment is a bad thing ;)

    One of the right’s great propaganda victories in the US has been demonizing terms like liberal and socialist. Sadly, the rest of the English-speaking world isn’t immune either.

  17. “thank goodness, because I would have to crawl in a hole if I was not allowed to be offensive”

    That’s pretty much what I did for 4 years of (private) college, as they had a hate speech policy similar to that described in the linked article.

  18. Its depressing to hear someone say that they are sorry they will “have to” return to the united states, or to hear someone sing the praises of Singapore.

    For those of you who may not know this, Singapore has the death penalty for simple possession of marijuana and also still allows caning. It isn’t exactly a haven of freedom, democracy, or even moderate sanity.

    As for having to return to the United States… well, lots of people try very hard to get here from all over Europe, and fight like hell to stay here. Mostly because this is where the jobs are. And there has to be a reason for that, with all our flaws as a nation, we’re still fighting to keep people out rather than in.

    I was ashamed, deeply ashamed, at our response to the Danish cartoon thing. I’m glad that the supreme court has again slapped back the greedy Stalinist hand of the Bush presidency. I have real misgivings about the massive disparities in wealth that we have here. I worry about the state of public education.

    But I also appreciate the mix of cultures and races and ideas. I think we can make the changes that need to be made here.

    I’m not ready to bail yet.

  19. Have you lived in Singapore? Have you lived abroad at all? It can change one’s perspective.

    Is the law in Singapore more draconian than in the US? Certainly, but given the history of military dictatorships, coups, and corruption in this part of the world, Singaporean jurisprudence has been largely effective in mitigating the ethnic and other problems that have afflicted so many other countries.

    Is drug trafficking a death penalty? Yes. The first time or two you are caught using, however, you are promptly put in a drug treatment program. The US response – wait until it is there third strike, then put them away for life. Having grown up in a community with the state penn and rabid death penalty proponents drinking beer and cheering when they heard someone was about to dangle (who cares if they were underaged or if DNA evidence could acquit them), I don’t believe the US has grounds to proud of its judicial restraint.

    However, I admit that not being someone who uses drugs or wants my kids to use drugs, I don’t miss that particular benefit of US culture.

    Are there aspects of US society that would be preferable to me? Absolutely. Singapore has a way to go on democracy. Freedom – less of speech and other things, but citizens here enjoy affordable, quality public housing, some of the best public education in the world, affordable health care, and a greater personal safety.

    And for the record, I didn’t bail. My fiance had a better job in Hong Kong so I did the moving. I just also was open minded enough to learn where other cultures do things more rationally.

    My point was that when it comes to my childrens’ futures (now that I’ve seen how seriously other countries take education and family), I am deeply concerned about the scientific, environmental, and overall educations of the US public now and in the future. I suspect that most people on this board have similar reticence about the scientific literacy of people in the US and without that literacy the US will be hard pressed to compete effectively against countries that make the effort to educate their children.

    A recent program I watched cited that China has something like 200,000 industrial design engineering students vs. the US’s 4,000. While you can take the numbers with a grain of salt, that means if true that China has 10x as many industrial design students per capita as the US.

    Some friends of mine from India (both having attended Oxford then Harvard) were concerned at how their son would in the Indian educational system, because it was so incredibly competitive.

    It is a global society now and if we want our kids to compete effectively, we must educate them effectively. And I don’t know that I can prepare my kids for that world in the US educational system. So at the end of the day, I’d rather raise my kids in Singapore than in the US since I want them to learn calculus, the theory of evolution, etc. rather than how to roll a joint, the theme song to Sponge Bob Squarepants, and creation science, I mean Intelligent Design, I mean whatever the heck will filter through the school boards next. If wanting to properly educate my kids is unpatriotic, I guess I am.

    However, if you’d like to visit Singapore and assess its freedoms up close, I’d be happy to show you around – assuming you are carrying a few kilos of something illicit.

  20. I finally found the quote I’ve been looking for:

    “A patriot must be ready to defend his country against his government.” —Edward Abbey

    I think that sums it up nicely.

  21. “However, I admit that not being someone who uses drugs or wants my kids to use drugs, I don’t miss that particular benefit of US culture.”


    What can I say to this? The fact that you don’t use drugs, or want your kids to use drugs, is absolutely no reason to kills someone for a totally victimless crime, is it? Is it a reason to incarcerate someone?

    Obviously not. This kind of thinking is just… words fail me, man, they really do. Its everything that is wrong with every government in the entire world, summed up in your sentence.

  22. “However, if you’d like to visit Singapore and assess its freedoms up close, I’d be happy to show you around – assuming you are carrying a few kilos of something illicit.”


    As for this…

    Did you seriously just joke that I should be killed because I’m not a fan of the sadistic and corrupt police state of Singapore? Really? Killed.

    For a few kilos, of course, there would be no “first offense” for those of you who might be wondering why I’m jumping straight to that instead of assuming that Mark was insinuating that I should be sent to drug rehab.

    I’m glad that your kids are going to learn some science. I’m sorry that they are going to be taught that it’s okay to kill people for disagreeing with the state.

  23. Apologies – in my head, I was writing “assuming you are NOT carrying a few kilos of something illicit”. As for what you chose to put in your body, your call. I just would seriously advise anyone who travels to countries other than the US to take local laws and customs very seriously. Flashing a US passport is no guarantee that marines will come to your rescue. Similarly, I’d advise people from other countries to take US customs and laws seriously – being an ignorant tourist only gets you so far.

    Do I regard marijuana and heroine to be equally damaging? No. If I were running thing, might I decriminalize marijuana? Maybe. Whether or not drug use and trafficking is victimless has alot to do with how it is practiced in a given place. In Asia, the drug trade has been a source of organized crime and a great deal of violence. In the Netherlands, not so much. What is different about Singapore when compared to other countries in this region, is not how draconian the laws are since many countries have the death penalty for trafficking, but in its consistency in enforcement and its willingness to treat drug use as a public health issue.

    I am, however, stunned that you would consider Singapore to be a sadistic, corrupt police state. The very draconian laws that you are condemning were put in place precisely to combat the drug money corruption that had been so prevalent in this region – thank you Britain for the Opium Trade.

    In fact, it is ranked the least corrupt country in Asia and was ranked 5th in world in Transparency International’s 2006 report (the US was 20th).

    Does Singapore have a paternalistic government that has been criticized as a one party democracy? Yep, guilty as charged. And like so many European countries, the US has a huge variety of parties representing the divergent interests of its many peoples – wait, we have two unless you are a Ralph Nader fan in which case, he’d argue we only have one. But lets take a moment to examine Singapore’s neighborhood and see how it does against its peers.

    Its neighbors – Thailand = a lovely country that has had a couple dozen coups in the last hundred years. Cambodia = killing fields, war with Vietnam, etc. Vietnam = wars with US and France. Myanmar aka Burma = a military regime so corrupt that it won’t let in food aide to feed typhoon victims. Indonesia = corrupt authoritarian regime for decades. Malaysia = not too bad though if you want to own a business you’d better be Malay. China = nah, that list is too long. South Korea = great, great country but run by generals for decades though not now. North Korea = evil, evil, evil. Japan = not so bad as long as you don’t ask them to stop honoring war criminals with Shinto shrines.

    Okay, so maybe not as democratic as other places, but not a police state. Corrupt, only compared to Finland, but a glowing example for the US. On to sadistic, are we talking water boarding sadistic, Rodney King sadistic, lethal injection where it might actually be poorly administered and really suck sadistic, Wounded Knee sadistic, or simply Paris Hilton sadistic (a crime against humanity if you ask me). I’m not pro-caning by any means, but being a citizen of a country (the US) that doesn’t regard proof of innocence to be sufficient grounds for appeal and is willing to kill adolescents and the mentally impaired, I don’t feel like my moral standing is that great. Perhaps, you come from a different US of A.

    Finally, I am entirely serious about being willing to show you or anybody else around Singapore. While I don’t think you would be inclined to settle here, it is hardly the evil place of your imaginings. Think of it as a really big gated community – for better or worse.

    Be a skeptic, test your theory about Singapore with a bit of evidence.

  24. I have evidence. First off, I hate gated communities. Second, freakin’ CHEWING GUM is against the law. Third, in Singapore they don’t even release things like death penalty statistics, so yeah, I am talking water boarding sadistic.

    I mean, we at least HAVE appeals. And (still) habeas corpus, which the Internal Security Act suspended in Singapore.

    I’m not saying Singapore isn’t pleasant. I’m not saying it isn’t clean. I’m not saying it isn’t a great place to live if you’re on the right side of the law and fairly well off.

    I’m saying that its a police state.

    As for drug crimes… not the time and/or place, but in fact, trafficking is ALWAYS a victimless crime, by definition. Other crimes, murder, mayhem, jaywalking (another caning offense in Singapore) may be committed by people who are drug traffickers, but selling processed plants at market prices to willing buyers who know exactly what they are buying is an act that involves exactly zero victims.

    But my main point is that I’m not willing to trade freedom for security. I think its a bad deal.

  25. My friend, I see people jaywalking everyday in Singapore. Every freaking day. How many canes do you think they have? Goodness, there are even sex shops and a red light district here.

    While I have repeatedly conceded that the drug laws in Singapore are quite severe and that it isn’t how I’d choose to do it, if someone put me in charge, you repeatedly toss around the term police state with no context for it. Singapore is not China or Saudi Arabia or Russia or Iran or many other places. Tagging it with the same label that applies to many places is misleading and silly. Singaporeans don’t walk the streets in fear.

    Does Singapore have the same Bill of Rights as the US? Nope, but it isn’t the boogey man you claim it is. More censorship than in the US – sure, the US is pretty darn good unless you are a government scientist daring to discuss global warming or evolution. Can’t own a gun – true. Can’t high, yep (but then you can’t actually do that legally in the States).

    Chewing gum – specifically, the sale of chewing gum in Singapore is against the law. Yes. You can bring it in from trips abroad for personal use. What bit of insanity would bring one to ban chewing gum? The government a few decades back figured out how many millions of dollars a year it took to clean up the gum on buses and the subway and concluded they’d rather spend those dollars benefiting people in a different way. It might surprise you to learn that there is a suppressed underground striving to liberate the Doublemint gum.

    China was invaded by Britain to ensure the British right to get Chinese peasants hooked on opium. It is how they got their hands on Hong Kong. If you as an adult make an adult decision about what to put in your body, I don’t particularly care as long as it doesn’t endanger others; however, plenty of dealers don’t ask for ID and turn away people under 21. You give crack to a 12 year old, I consider the 12 year old to be a victim. Context matters.

    War on Drugs – again, not a supporter. I’m mostly a liberal and would legalize some and offer treatment if you wanted it. But you had claimed that that drug use was a capital crime in Singapore which is inaccurate. You think I didn’t research a country I was moving to?

    As for freedom vs. security – it is always a trade-off. Always. As far as I know, nobody has extended the right to bear arms to biologicals or nukes. For the security of others on the road, I’m not allowed to drive drunk. Etc., etc., etc.

    But my point ultimately isn’t, what does Singapore and the rest of the world have to learn from the US and the Bill of Rights. Quite a lot, I’m sure. It is what does the US have to learn from Singapore and other parts of the world in areas where the US isn’t number one, not even close. Aside from the Singaporean education system leaving the US education system in the dust, it might be worth trying to figure out how Singapore has managed to create a fairly unified society from three distinct religious/ethnic groups in less than fifty years.

    PS I’m glad we have the right to a trial. It only took us 7 years to bother to extend it to the detainees. But hey, as long as you don’t mistakenly get pick up on the streets of a Western Country by CIA operatives and sent to an “ally” who isn’t so squeamish about torture then dumped on the street in some other country when they figure out, they got the wrong person, it is okay. Rights are for citizens and you have yours. That is all that matters. Thank God or Dawkins we are only a police state in other countries.

  26. I never said that Singaporeans walked the streets in fear. What I said was that Singapore is a police state. Which it is. I never said that USE was punishable by death. I said that POSSESSION of a quarter ounce of Marijuana is punishable by death. Which it is.

    Maybe its a police state with a great educational system. But its a police state with draconian laws. They banned gum because that’s their first response to every problem, an approach that I would like to see the US avoid.

    What you haven’t made is a case that the US has anything at all to learn from Singapore. Seriously. They have education. We have Google. If they had Google, you’d have a point.

    If we are going to agree to limit behavior in exchange for some security… again, you manage to sum up so much that is wrong with the world so easily. First because you don’t seem to understand the difference between driving and driving drunk, and second because you’re trivializing the issue of freedom, which is sad.

  27. Well, just to bring this back to sanity: there are other options besides the US or Singapore. There are many countries on the planet with great educational opportunities, excellent healthcare, yada yada yada….and freedom.

  28. Freedom is a continuum. A country like Singapore can have excellent economic freedoms but be terrible in personal freedoms. Another country like Norway can have excellent freedoms in almost every other way but the most burdensome tax system on the planet.

    I think saying that one country is more or less free than another is, in a way, missing the point. Of course, comparisons are extremely useful, but really, shouldn’t the point be to increase freedom for everyone, no matter where you happen to be?

    Don’t let thoughts of your country being more free than others (in certain ways) stop you from working to make it even freer.

  29. If you are going to cite Singapore law, try using the Singapore government website, not google –

    Clearly, google has demonstrated that you can’t always trust what you read on the internet and that one should be … I don’t know … skeptical about secondary source material. As for accomplishments, Singapore raised itself from a third world country to a first world in four decades without the benefit of any natural resources to speak of (which is part of why education is taken so seriously).

    It also seems clear that you don’t seem inclined to learn from cultures other than the US which is precisely the hubris I worry about raising my kids within.

    My objection to the term police state is that it places Singapore in the same boat as Burma, Iran, East Germany, etc. I’ve visited countries that would qualify as truly oppressive regimes and Singapore doesn’t fall in the same category which you might come to understand if you visited Singapore and a couple of other countries rather than read internet misinformation.

    Sadly, I had hope when introducing Singapore to this conversation that we could have a discussion on how to improve American science education and whether the Singaporean math and science approach might offer something that could be adopted for use in the states. Given that the consensus among scientists is that global climate change is going to present incredible challenges to the human species, I believe we ought to be educating everyone we can as well as we can to meet these challenges. So if anyone would like to have that discussion, lets talk, but I’ve had enough of trying to explain the circumstances behind a drug policy that I don’t endorse to folk who want to demonize a country they’ve only visited on the web.


  30. So Mark, you realize that your web site lists death as a penalty for carrying a pound of grass into Singapore, right?

    Not with intent to sell, just possession, although I’ll agree that I had my facts wrong on quantity. On the other hand, carrying an ounce of coke (certainly personal use quantity for a week long stay) WILL get you the death penalty

    so maybe we both need to look over the law more carefully. Lets revise your “several kilos” to “half a kilo” of Marijuana, and .03 kilos of cocaine, and call it a wash.

    As for what I’m willing to learn from, we haven’t even discussed that. We have not, in fact, discussed the educational system in Singapore. I said–and maintain–that I don’t like Singapore’s judicial system.

    And since I’ve already expressed my deep shame over certain aspects of American society, its a little odd of you to accuse me of hubris. But let all that be a wash.

    Donna, there may be a paradise country out there, but I sure as hell haven’t heard of it. People wax poetic about Northern Europe, but they are losing population there. People love France, but really, they have Race riots and unemployment and burning cars just like everybody else.

    I agree with shanek… the question is where does the US, which is a great country in some ways, go from here? How do we get more of what we like, and change what we don’t?

  31. Oh, and Mark, you missed my point about google.

    That wasn’t a freedom point. It was a point about innovation, economics, and impact. That is, what is the EFFECT of an education in Singapore. Does it lead to the creation of things LIKE Google?

    That’s the case I’m INVITING you to make. Sure, their education system leaves ours in the dust according to some metric. What is the real effect of that education? Where’s their Apple, their Google, their Sony?

  32. Of course there are no perfect countries. The US is a good place to live. It’s just not unequivocally the best place to live. And yet it brags about being the world’s greatest nation all the time. I guess I’m still pissed that they lied to me about all that supposed super-duper-ness when I was a kid in school

  33. Okay, there isn’t a Singaporean Apple or Google yet, but it a city of four million that has only been a first world economy for a couple of decades. That said many international tech, biotech, and financial firms have set up financial and r&d offices here to take advantage of the quality of the education of the work force. It even has set up the educational systems and infrastructure to attract video game creators. But you probably won’t here about this or that tech breakthrough from Singapore since it will likely be in the guise of a multinational.

    However, if we look at the other country who’s educational competitiveness I talked about long ago in my initial post then we reach a population level where asking where is there Google is reasonable – South Korea. The societal concern and investment in education has made South Korea a global competitor in a number of areas (i.e. Samsung, LG, and Hyundai).

    The US educational system at its best may produce the Google’s and Microsoft’s, but it also produces a huge percentage that prefers creationism to evolution, that can’t find Iraq on a map with country labels on it, etc. Singapore and South Korea may not be as strong in innovation, but they are successfully educating a higher percentage of their populations in math and science.

    Of course, I could be biased. I grew up in a community where religious zealouts would turn up at school board meetings and suggest that the curriculum promoted witchcraft and sadly, my community wasn’t particularly nuts in these matters. I do think the US ought to consider a national curriculum so that parents don’t have to play school board Russian roulette with their kids’ education.

    Look around – how many tech, computer, and other jobs that require solid math and science are moving abroad. That is why we need to take education seriously.

  34. Look around – how many tech, computer, and other jobs that require solid math and science are moving abroad.


    I honestly don’t know. A lot of jobs are moving here, as well. MS tech support has moved to India (and is, for partners at least, excellent), but Apple tech support moved back here (and is also excellent). But phone center jobs aren’t exactly algorithm design or basic pharmaceutical research.

    It IS a global economy. Education IS crucial. But the US has incredible public schools, but there is a question of access. In public school in two different states between 7-12 (with one year in catholic school–but the same classes were available in the same year at public), I took two years of calculus, three years of college level history, one year of college level english, 1 year of college level chemistry, 3 years of Latin, learned to draw, draft, and paint, and took 2 years of french. I also competed nationally in debate and speech.

    At those same schools, there were a bunch of people who weren’t presented with those same opportunities, primarily because of race or income. I went to school all over the country… and had some great teachers and poor teachers everywhere. My fifth grade science teacher was excellent, as was my 6th grade math teacher. And this was in a tiny town in S.C. (see my post “5th grade christian Nazi” for details).

    Point being, we don’t necessarily have a problem with our educational system per se. Its a cultural problem with the prevailing attitudes towards science and math.

  35. Well, I’m glad you were fortunate to have had good public schools. In the community I grew up in, there was only one public high school which offered precisely one calculus class a year taught at the speed of the slowest person in the class, the third year of Spanish and third year of German were taught together “Como estas, fraulein?”, a second year of chemistry was only offered every other year, and the private religious schools in town offered even fewer options.

    When I met students from other high schools in academic competitions from schools from more affluent suburbs, it was incredible to me the class options they had available to them. The discrepancies in opportunities between good and bad schools and college and regular tracks in the US is appalling.

    Part of the problem is how schools get funded in the US. If you live in a state or locality that doesn’t value education, you can’t get the tax dollars to invest in new equipment, new books, better teachers.

    And I’m not even claiming that my high school was particularly bad, but far more energy was devoted to the football and basketball teams than was even devoted to debate or the science club.

    You say it is a cultural problem – I agree. We don’t as a society take education seriously enough. If you don’t believe me, believe Bill Gates who is spending his billions trying to turn things around because he is worried we will fall behind.

    Part of the cultural issue in the US is the notion that if Junior isn’t good in math or English or whatever, it is okay because he’s good in music so we will focus on that. The prevalent attitude I’ve seen in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean communities is that if Junior isn’t doing well in a subject, Junior needs extra lessons, maybe a tutor, and certainly needs to work harder.

    In addition, it isn’t just manufacturing and call centers that are going overseas. Plenty of programming has moved offshore – perhaps, the overall design is still done in Redmond or Silicon Valley, but many lines of code are written abroad. And if you aren’t worried about IT, a fair amount of financial data processing and financial modelling is moving to India (my wife is an equities analyst and the industry uses Indian b-school grads to build the initial financial models – that is one less job for a New York accounting major). It is even possible that if you go for an X-ray and CT scan that the radiologist that interprets the scan for your primary care doc is based abroad.

    Finally, we are a democracy in which the guy who was taught that the earth was created in six days has an equal say over who gets to decide science funding as you or I do. (Actually, living abroad I can only vote for president so I don’t even get congressional representation … no representation, but still taxation … hmmm. ) I’m less worried that the US will suddenly totally lack brilliant scientists and engineers, but those scientists and engineers may go unfunded because most Americans think stem cells are what the leaf grows out of. We’ve got to educate our kids better or we will pay for it later … and sadly, the rest of the world will likely pay for it too.

    Forgive me, I rambled, but I wanted to respond to each point.

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