Space Race.

I remember when I learned about the space race, both in elementary school and in secondary school, it was taught in such a way that felt as if we, as a country, were still patting ourselves on our back over our collective victory against the Russians.

It is humorous and strange to me that adults would teach this sense of group superiority to children. Not only that they would teach it at all, but especially teaching it decades after the event.

As a child I played sports and other team activities and I can understand the fun and excitement of getting wrapped up in feeling a part of a group that has succeeded.

I also understand that on an evolutionary level, groups and tribes were very important to our survival. One part of being a good member of the group is taking pride in the group's victories, but also, in an earlier time the groups victories had a strong correlation to our survival. If the group was strong and victorious, as an individual our likelihood of survival would be much greater, so it would be to our advantage as individuals to feel a sense of emotional investement in our tribe or teams victories.

But like so much of modern life, things that were useful to us in the savannas of Africa no longer serve the same function, yet because they are so deeply ingrained both biologically and culturally many hold on to them just as tightly.

I also realize that the struggle between the U.S.A's space program, and that of the USSR was more than just a struggle of national super powers, it was a test of idealogies. People saw the success of the space program as being anolog to the success of Capitalisim or Communism. If they were to show that Capitalism was superior to Communism being able to be the first to the moon could supposedly do it.

While I can understand the childhood pleasure of, and the biological factors for, I can not relate to the feeling of group pride. Particularly having the feeling on such a level that I would want to pass it on to young children on an institutional level.

I feel about as much attachment to the Russian engineers working in the space program of the 1950's and 60's as I do to the American engineers at Nasa of that time.(not much). Both groups of people I have never met, nor do I even know their names. Nor does either of their achievements have any correlation to my ablity to achieve. As good as they may be at engineering, I can take just as much personal pride from the achievements of Nasa as I can from from the Sun's ability at being very hot.
The Nasa engineers and the Russian engineers do come from the same species as me, which is something inherent in our nature, but our national identities are totally arbitrary. We should feel the same satisfaction at one countries success, particularly in scientific areas, as we do ours. It would be nice if we could be more concerned about the progression of the human race than particular countries.

One part of growing up and maturity, I feel, is being able to be happy for other people's achievements. As a child I was not able to do this at all. As a young adult I still cannot always do this, but have come much further along than I was before. The more comfortable and confident I am with myself, the less I need external factors confirming to me my own sense of well being, and the less I see the success of others as somehow taking away from me in any way. It is not as if we are in a competition. We are all in this together trying to be happy and figure out what in the world is going on. Our culture is very much about competition and being the best, which I see as emotionally immature, particularly when we as a country and people are still teaching in schools our children to think of our group as better than others.


DB said...

you're back. Also, I am better than you.

Vincent said...

Chris, I have been waiting for an American to say this. You have said it on your country's behalf, and you have said it very well indeed.

Perhaps there is a Russian that has said it better on behalf of Russia. Fyodor Dostoyevksy, or Nikolai Gogol (or Tolstoy, but I have hardly read him).

One of the biggest things to separate UK from US is that UK, having been a colonial, imperial power second to none, has settled down to being just another country, more or less, interested in the world at large and not seeing everything through its own lens of distortion.

But then I see that my previous paragraph is garbage, because you cannot generalize in this way about 60 or 200 million people. Thinking that you can is part of the old tribalist way.

Marissa N. Paolacci said...

who said you had emotional maturity? do you watch south park?