Friday, November 4, 2011

Why the U.S. Sucks at Soccer (Or "Why Producing and Consuming Isn't Enough Nowadays")

As the world inches closer to the precipice of a financial meltdown, I thought I’d take a minute to look at why America is royally dicked in the coming years.

Industrial society is organized around producers and consumers.  Producers transform raw materials into something more valuable (called a product), which is then sold to consumers, who make the judgment that they value the product enough (as compared to the price) to spend their hard-earned dollars on purchasing it, or at least purchasing the right to use it.

A nation full of consumers is doomed to failure because nothing new is produced; the population ends up shifting its focus to obtaining more money to buy more products without mind to anything in particular.  At some point, collecting more things just becomes “the name of the game,” and it IS a game of sorts for those that want to play it; keeping up with the Joneses, getting newer, faster, shinier crap to show off or play with.  Sure, I appreciate the finer things in life just like anyone else, but the finer things should be a rare treat or serve some larger purpose than simply trying to fill whatever gaping void these people feel in their souls.

Of course, the government’s solution to this problem is to produce more stuff, and though that’s more in the proper direction, it’s still off the mark.  You could decide to ramp up car production all you want, or make shirts or shoes or whatever good that you want, but odds are that at some point all of those products will become either replaceable, or able to be constructed automatically, either by robots or through nanotechnology or advanced, 3D printing techniques.  Or a nanorobot with a 3D printer, even!

What this country needs more of is INNOVATION (See there, I even wrote it in big letters so that you couldn’t miss it).  We are now a nation that has become afraid to fail.  “Teach to the test.”  “Don’t step out of line or you’ll be cast aside.” “Do exactly as the coach says.” “Don’t make waves at work, or else you’ll never get promoted.”  “You have a well-paying job, why not just stay there and live ‘the good life.’”

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Instead of working at something that’s just “okay” to live the current “good life” in your few off-hours, your work should always be to somehow raise the standard of living worldwide, and make a difference.  In order to do so, you have to be creative and take risks.  But creativity is frowned upon in a world filled with X’s and O’s and expository essays, with standardized tests and institutionalized procedures. 

True, as an economy, this country does need products to succeed, and people to buy those products, but where are all of those new products going to come from?  There’s only so much marketing you can do to convince people to spend money on shit they don’t need (though we’re certainly testing the outer limits of that assertion at the moment with crap like the shake weight). 

It’s the same reason that the U.S. gets killed in soccer worldwide; our youth coaches demand that kids play a system and follow their instructions exactly.  “Their way” is the exact way to do things, and any kid that says otherwise is “difficult to coach” or just plain bad.  Creativity, ingenuity, and impulsiveness are frowned upon and weeded out.

Meanwhile, millions of kids in Rio de Janiero play with makeshift inflated condom balls wrapped with string, largely without adult supervision, and are allowed to figure out the game for themselves.  Once they get to be of the age where serious competition starts, you have a variety of unique talents that can be coached in certain respects, but still retain enough of that individualistic “something” to set themselves apart from their teammates.  America is assembling robots from kits; Brazil is handcrafting playmakers from marble.

The most damning instance of this phenomenon is in the public school system, which now preaches teaching to the test while cutting ancillary programs like art, music, and even phys ed.  We encourage memorization and repetition in our children when these are the exact things that machines CAN do much easier, faster, and cheaper than people. 

What should we be encouraging instead?  Activities that utilize creativity, problem solving, and questioning the way that things have always been done while maintaining the open-mindedness to appreciate why things are currently done a certain way.  We need to teach kids to think like individuals, not machines.

We need to teach them to do what they love, but even that's not enough; once you find what you're passionate about, innovate, change things, push the envelope.  Make people think and feel things that they haven't thought about or felt previously.  Better the world and the people that inhabit it.

“But D.J., if you do that, you’ll end up with a bunch of dumb people daydreaming and nothing getting done!”  First of all, I think a lot of “dumb” people could easily be trained to think much more efficiently and creatively; they just have it beaten out of them by the school system and (admittedly) give in far too often to stupid distractions.  Secondly, if you’re a bum for fifty years but then come up with an idea that transforms the world, or inspires someone else to do so, then isn’t that far more worthwhile than the guy that never even tries to come up with anything earth-shattering, and dies after a comfortable, middle-aged existence, not even a blip on this rock that will eventually return to stardust anyway.

At least if you learn to think creatively and find something that you’re passionate about, you can make strides in that field, and hopefully make life a little better for current and future generations along the way.  That’s worth something, isn’t it?

Anyway, thanks for hearing me out after my extended hiatus from the blogs.  Think I’m an idiot?  Just want to say hi?  Leave me a comment or hit me up on twitter or e-mail below.

D.J. Gelner is an attorney-turned-writer in St. Louis, Mo.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or e-mail him ( if you have any questions.

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