Friday, June 29, 2012

The Newsroom – What Makes America The Greatest Country In The World

After hearing the buzz about HBO's new series, The Newsroom, I tuned in to creator Aaron Sorkin's recent interview on The Late, Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. That interview was mildly interesting, but not enough to make me want to add HBO to my cable bill.

Then I stumbled upon this clip.

Of course, many other folks have also discovered this clip, and the range of reactions is fascinating. 

Some complain about the language. Personally, this old Soldier has heard it all before and while I may not use that vocabulary in casual conversation, I totally understand the impassioned manner in which Will McAvoy expressed his frustration in this clip. I also understand the decision to air on HBO, to preserve the option of dropping a well-timed f-bomb now and then.

Some complain that Will was too hard on the young co-ed. Well! The world can be rough. Do we send our kids off to college to fill their heads with platitudes, such as diversity, opportunity, and freedom? I hope instead we send them off to college to learn how to think for themselves and to survive in a knock-around world.

Despite these concerns, generally the feedback to the arresting clip is positive.

I did find one glaring exception. This Breitbart post takes the position that America is still the greatest country and the clip is all wrong. The left wing media elite (Hollywood's Sorkin, et al) are trying to destroy America by running her down. Anyone who complains about America should feel free to move away. Jeff Daniels, star of The Newsroom, said in an interview that he "Agrees America's Not The Greatest Country In The World Anymore." Therefore, he (Daniels) is part of the problem.

I seriously doubt that either Sorkin's Will McAvoy or Jeff Daniels are out to destroy America. Let's take a closer look at what Sorkin's dialog and Daniels' delivery is really saying. You can find the accurate transcript of the clip HERE.

Now, let's set up our exploration of the clip in the form of an experiment. We write our Action Hypothesis, H(a) based on the assumption underlying the young co-ed's question, "Why is America the greatest country in the world?" Then, we write a statement diametrically opposed to the Action Hypothesis, H(0) such that one and only one of the statements can be true.

Hypothesis, H(a): America is the Greatest Country in the World

Null Hypothesis, H(0): There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. Therefore, America is not the greatest country in the world. 

We cannot prove anything here, but if we can reject the Null Hypothesis, then we can be fairly certain that H(a), which is diametrically opposed. is a valid statement. Obviously, failing to reject the Null means that we have very little confidence in the validity of H(a). So let's look at the evidence and see if we can reject H(0).

We are NOT good at the stuff that matters
We’re seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor force and number four in exports.
What we ARE good at is not great
We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.
We were great, once
We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were. And we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence. We didn't belittle it—it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn't identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn't scare so easy. 
What thing, which we apparently now lack, enabled this former greatness?
We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. Men who were revered. 

America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. 

First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. 
 Fade to black...

Analysis and Implications 
for further Thought and Discussion

1. The conclusion does not follow from the evidence presented. Perhaps America is still the greatest country, just not as great as it once was. The evidence makes the claim of a fall from past greatness fairly convincingly. What would really nail it is a trendline on all the measures cited. Was there a time when America was #1 or #2 in all the measures?

2. In order to reject the Null Hypothesis, there must be evidence of a country greater than America. America may not be a great country country anymore, but is there a country better than America? There is no counter-claim to satisfy the "if you don't like it, move out crowd." Since we cannot reject the Null, odds are that the Hypothesis is false.

3. Perhaps greatness, especially in the comparative "-est" sense, is not the right question to ask. The right question might be, are we as great as we could or should be? If not, what do we do about it? Pursuing this kind of question is what "the art and science of betterness" is all about! Maybe I should make a Qualitative Value Map!

4. What then are the measures of a great country? Following the dialog, a great country is one which: (a) does well in good things (math and science, literacy, life expectancy); (b) avoids bad things (crime, irrational beliefs, wasteful spending); and (c) has certain positive traits that are harder to count (morals, compassion, humility, curiosity, courage).

5. To the stated measures, heavy on health and prosperity issues, I would add, "happiness." The people of a great country are not only pursuing happiness, but achieving it.

6. I do agree with the recommendation and its implications. There is a problem. America is not as great as it could be. If we care about this, then we should do something to engage each other and move the country toward the goal of greatness. Action follows from knowledge and motivation. We need trusted leadership and informed, empowered citizenry.

7. I found this clip unsettling--in a good way. It really made me think. Sorkin made working in the West Wing cool. Maybe he can inspire a new generation of journalists. 

We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men. Men who were revered. 
As you watched the clip, did you notice the portrait of Edward R. Murrow on the screen behind the stage?  

Bottom Line
If we aspire to greatness as a Nation, then elevating the level of discourse is a good start! Are you now thinking of adding HBO to your cable service?

Health, happiness, and prosperity!