One of the big issues in the USA just now is the appointment of a new Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. The justices are appointed for life, and, as most people know, their role has become increasingly politicized in recent years. It was their decision that made George W. Bush president in 2000, to the astonishment of legal scholars. I was interested to see an article in Slate about the questioning of John Roberts, the prospective chief justice, about whether non-US legal decisions should be considered at all. How fascinating, and frightening, that some people think that Americans should pay no attention to what the rest of the world does, and thinks.
But this isn’t surprising. I’ve often noticed how arguments in the USA take place without the slightest reference to any other place or people, as if there is nothing to be learned from the experience of others. And it doesn’t depend what people are talking about. The subject could be obesity, education, or relationships–experiences common to almost all humans, in one way or another–yet Americans talk as if they are a race apart. Perhaps it is a symptom of the sense of superiority that we seem to exhibit, to the amazement (and amusement) of people from around the world, who may admire much about the United States but rarely share the belief that it is in every respect better than their own country.
I had an English friend who couldn’t get over the way old men in coffee shops would approach him for a chat, then tell him, “This is the greatest country in the world, yessiree.” Even if it were true, it would be terribly bad manners to say this to a guest. Imagine someone doing the same when someone came to his house, “Yep, this is the best house in the whole neighborhood.” In many cultures it is considered extremely important to downplay one’s accomplishments and possessions, and even in the US we don’t speak this way about our homes. Or do we?