This web video pops up in my Simmons library science courses at least once a semester and, predictably, it turned up again today in the first session of my technology course.
Reactions in class were divided between, well, me and everyone else who spoke up.
Watching the video this time around, in the context of other reading I’ve been doing about conservative fears of a European “demographic winter” and non-Western population growth, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the way this data was presented had a certain element of xenophobia — specifically fear about the U.S. being overtaken intellectually and economically by Asian countries like India and China.
I was also struck by the way it frames achievement by conventional educational terms (for example, IQ scores and the concept of education as job training). The fear of non-American young people “out performing” American students has a long history in the American discourse about education (think of Cold War anxieties about Soviet students with higher test scores than American students). Watching the video in light of these two contexts (fearmongering demographic debates and anxiety about academic performance on the international stage) makes me distinctly uncomfortable about the way this data is presented and the way it is offered, for the most part uncritically, in our library science classes as a wake-up call for the future of information organization.
The other students in class seemed to think I was reading the film too negatively, and offered an alternative reading to the effect of, “look how much human potential we have in the world — let’s make the most of it!” Yet at the same time, they, too, were voicing competitive anxieties about how Americans can’t afford to rest easy in the assumption they have the technological advantage — an anxiety that I feel buys into an “us vs. them” framework that can slide into, well, xenophobia and isolationism. Particularly in a period of economic constraint.
You say that conservatives complain about American's competitive place like it's a bad thing.
No, seriously, you do, and it's weird. If you've spent your entire life in America (and in a middle-class or upper-middle class, educated family at that), then you've likely never questioned the benefits that flow to you from being an American. There is a reason why people risk their very lives to get into this country – to have what you were born with. There's a reason why people would not want their standard of living to go down.
If America is to not be first in the world, it should be because our best simply is not good enough. It should not be so because a bunch of zealous ideologues decided that it's mean to try to be the best.
As for your snitting about conservative concerns over a demographic winter: hey, it's your side that NEEDS population growth. How do you think that social entitlements are going to get paid for? (The “fearmongering” in Europe is an acknowledgment of the fact that the countries cannot continue along their current path without fiscal destruction.)
You certainly wouldn't complain if colleges or businesses were to note that their competitors were reaching parity with them or surpassing them on every available metric, or if they were to express concern about their future financial stability. Why are nations different, except because of the emotions that come into play?
Final thought: every great nation in the world has, at some point or another, failed and become a shadow of its former self. That some of us do our best to ensure that the same fate does not befall America under our watch is not xenophobia, but the application of the lessons of history. Doing otherwise is subsuming reality to ideology.
You bring up a lot of complicated stuff in your comment, and I'm probably not going to be able to address it all in a response, but I wanted to say a few things.
If you've spent your entire life in America (and in a middle-class or upper-middle class, educated family at that), then you've likely never questioned the benefits that flow to you from being an American.
Well, actually, I have thought about the privileges that I accrue simply because of the place I was born and the circumstances I was born into — and I don't take the material resources I have and the options available to me for granted.
As for your snitting about conservative concerns over a demographic winter: hey, it's your side that NEEDS population growth.
I'm not sure where your assumptions about what “side” I'm on are coming from. However, when it comes to population and demographics, the globe as a whole is not suffering from a dearth of human capital — it is only that those human beings not evenly distributed around the globe. The rhetoric and fears in the “demographic winter” discourse are NOT arguing for more open immigration policies to help balance out the working population with retirees, for example. The language of conservative demographers is definitely an attempt to get white/European families to produce more white/European babies — not an argument to recruit more workers for countries with ageing populations — workers, you point out earlier in your comment, who are often eager to join the workforce of those same countries.
You certainly wouldn't complain if colleges or businesses were to note that their competitors were reaching parity with them or surpassing them on every available metric
Actually, I'm not sure this is a given. What I am expressing skepticism about in my original post is the kind of “metric” that is being used to measure success or failure — and how helpful those metrics might be in actually encouraging us to create a world in which human beings regardless of their nationality can thrive.
That some of us do our best to ensure that the same fate does not befall America under our watch is not xenophobia, but the application of the lessons of history.
Well, xenophobia and attention to history are not mutually exclusive activities. And I guess my question here is what the most useful take-away lesson of the rise and fall of empires might be? In my own reading of history, one nation's attempt to maintain unequal dominance over other nations in the world has resulted in a lot of exploitation and destruction of human life — that is a situation I am not eager for America to repeat. I, personally, think we need to find a new way of moving forward that does not require us to cling to old methods of assuring our material wealth at the expense of others.