I live in America, and it is everything I never thought it would be. I don’t mean that as a compliment!
I was born in Iran during the revolution and spent my childhood in the post-revolution chaos and change as well as the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. It was and still is a sick and chaotic country. I considered myself lucky to be able to immigrate to America after graduating from high school and naively expected a utopia that I never found here. I will admit there are certainly more opportunities and freedoms in this country compared to Iran but comparing the most powerful country in the free world to the chaotic, oppressive and fundamentalist country of Iran sets the bar too low.
Thanks to America, I have achieved higher level of education and have a high standard of living that is above average in this country. However things are far from optimal. I find myself unhappy, unsatisfied and concerned for my future and the future of my child. I find my concerns and dissatisfaction similar to that of many others who are natural born citizens and I believe the issues I face are not unique to immigrants. In an attempt to prove myself wrong, I started looking up areas that are important to me. I had hoped America would be superior to or at the very least equal to other western nations, but what I found was very unsettling.
I believe society works very much like a human body. A person feels “ill” when one organ system doesn’t function properly. The more organ systems malfunctioning, the sicker the person gets. We have something called a multi-organ failure; which is a very serious and often times deadly condition. If I may be so bold, I believe America suffers from a multisystem malfunction and in some areas failure. That being said, I am not a critic in that I don’t just intend to point out the problems. I seek answers, I seek solutions and I believe by understanding the exact nature of our diseased society, we can begin to look for and implement solutions.
System 1 – Freedom: America is the self-proclaimed land of the free that readily throws people in jail. Yes our country leads the world with its percentage of incarceration per capita. 2.3 million adults are behind bars in the United States compared to 1.6 million in China; which has four times the population. Any web and literature search would confirm that we are indeed number one in this category. America, I don’t think we want to be number one like this!
The popular belief that we put the bad guys behind bars to make the country safer for the rest of us is false. According to several poles including Nation Master data America leads the world in total number of crimes at over 11.81 million per year.
System 2 – Safety: Just as most, feeling safe is important to my sense of security and ultimately happiness. So I ask myself and other Americans, are we safe and do we feel safe? Statistically our odds of living to adulthood and old age are higher than most nations especially that of the developing world. However we also have statistically high number of crimes, murders, homicides and suicides. Since the recent mass-shootings have triggered a deep concern regarding firearm related crimes and deaths, I will expand on their role in our society.
Keeping people behind bars has not made us safer, nor has arming the country with weapons. We have become a manufacturer of homegrown criminals and terrorist. We have roughly 30,000 gun related deaths per year 99% of which are due to homicide and suicide. Recent data shows an alarming high number of mass shootings and mass murders over the past decades with numbers increasing exponentially. There have been over 61 mass shootings killing 3 or more people since 1982 and over 70 mass shootings attempts (some unsuccessful) since 2011.
Year after year we add another previously sacred area to the list of unsafe possible crime-zones including high schools, houses of worship, shopping malls, grocery stores, parking lots, universities, health clinics/hospitals and work place. Most recently the horrific massacre at an elementary school where innocent 6 and 7-year-old children and their teachers were cruelly murdered demonstrated that no one and no place is off limits to our homegrown terrorists.
I don’t claim to know solution to the current epidemic crisis of gun related crimes and deaths. However, the data is indisputable and naturally this rising rate of gun related crimes have made our country less safe and made us more fearful.
System 3- Healthcare: This category hits close to home, as I am a healthcare provider. We certainly lead the world with the highest cost of health care. But where do we rank with illness. Does spending top dollar for our health make us the healthiest country? Unfortunately not, as we lead the world in many disease categories including obesity and mental disease. In other disease such as cancers, diabetes and heart disease we remain among the top nations.
Where do we stand in terms of having healthcare availability and quality? When compared to other industrialized countries, US ranks low in healthcare and does a poor job in providing efficient access to quality healthcare to its people. This is the only wealthy industrialized country that does not provide a universal healthcare for its people.
To sum it up, we are sick (sicker than many other countries), and despite spending top dollar, we provide worse care to less people than do other developed countries. That is unsettling.
System 4 – Education: We have some of the best and most prestigious universities but we rank very low in terms of general education when compared to other developed countries. Our basic education in the areas of reading, writing, math and sciences lags far behind other developed nations. When it comes to college education, US is thankfully not the worse as it is growing, but the rate of our growth is considerably slower than many other developed nations.
System 5 – Religion/spirituality: No one can argue that America is a religious country. We believe in God, we fear God and we have many churches or other religious congregations to prove it. At a respectable number over 350,000, no one would deny about the high number of our churches. A recent study found US to be the 5th most religious country in the world (they did not include the middle east in their survey).
But that doesn’t seem to translate into happiness, as Americans at large don’t rank very high in terms of overall life satisfaction and happiness. Though spirituality is one of the key elements of overall satisfaction and happiness. I don’t suggest that religion is making us unhappy but rather, we are so unhappy that religion doesn’t seem to be enough to counteract the damage done to the other aspects of our lives.
System 6 – Wealth: No one would argue that the US is the wealthiest country in the world. That we are! But as mentioned above our wealth doesn’t make us the happiest, healthiest or the most educated in the world. What it does is creating larger discrepancy and inequality among its people. Yet again, we lead when it comes to income-inequality as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer.
System 7 – Pollution/Impact on the world resources: What if there is a greater purpose to our existence and our time here on earth? What if all this suffering is for a greater cause, for our future and the future generations? To answer that, I look into our impact on earth, more specifically our contribution mother Earth’s destruction. I am not naïve and I know our humanity, is to variable degrees destroying the very earth that made our humanity possible. But where do we stand there? Are we the best or the worse? We certainly have the technology, resources and money to fund efforts in global conservation. We are yet again one of the leading destroyers of Earth. When researchers took carbon print (we rank #1), polluting water resources (ranked #2), destruction of marine life (#3) and 9th place for threatened species and other categories. Knowing what we are doing to our world, our home and the home of our children, how can we not feel some guilt? Can we really pride ourselves with happiness?
Happiness: Finally I arrive at the core issue. I suspect there are many more areas/systems that can be added to 7 items but this number is more than sufficient to make a society sick. My sense of un-wellness and unhappiness and a desire to understand and hopefully improve my own condition is what inspired this quest. What I have included above is based objective data. However, when it comes to happiness it is difficult to be entirely objective. One must also consider get subjective and personal perception and feelings.
Most people I know, myself included report being unhappy often. We are overworked, overstressed and highly educated and relatively well-paid bunch of people who don’t seem to enjoy the benefit our privileges. Being always on the run, we seldom take enough time to unwind and enjoy life. We are drowning in consumerism and capitalism and we have become slaves to our money, houses, cars and other stuff we keep accumulating. In hopes of improving our life and health, we turn to healthier life styles, eating organic foods, engaging in yoga and meditation, participating in intelligent exchange of ideas. We socialize with other like-minded people. Sometimes we turn to medicine to treat our moods, being antidepressants or other pharmaceuticals or plain old alcohol. We turn to books, movies, sports or spirituality to find “it”. We look within and we look outside and all the while we get unhappier. I know I am …
I am finally coming to realize that none of my efforts and good intentions will get me to feel truly well and happy because they are aimed at my individual symptom management while the underlying disease of my society, my country and my world is still very active and untreated. I see it as a shared responsibility to get us truly well. Some of what I have maybe inherited and internal but I am certain the illness of our society is a very big reason for my sense of un-wellness.
One may argue that it is our “sickness” that made the society “sick” but in my opinion, our society, has taken a life of its own. It is no longer just the sum of its people; it is much more than that, and much more powerful. Yes we created it and we contributed to all its ill effects but it has now become an unruly, undisciplined and very sick monster that is going down, taking all of us with it. That is if we don’t wake up and stop it.
I don’t think it is too late. There is still time and there is still hope; we can come up with real solutions and treat the underlying condition. We can better our world, and in turn it will be a happier and more hospitable place to nurture humanity and create a happy, healthy and peaceful people, myself included.