God Bless America

Natasha Moore discusses Australia’s cultural inferiority and superiority complexes when it comes to the U.S.

A non-exhaustive list of areas where I know more about America than my own country: politics, history, the prison system, courtroom procedures, the solving of murders, living in lofts with dysfunctional but loyal friends.

This has always sat uneasily with me. We in the rest of the English-speaking world maintain a psychologically layered relationship with the globe’s superpower, our friend/ally/bellwether/cultural-imperial overlord, the US of A.

On the one hand, we have our cultural inferiority complex. In Australia, it’s known as the cultural cringe (traditionally a UK-wards posture, easily adapted). They’re the cool older sibling, we’re the much smaller kid brother. They just do things better. Their movies are slicker, their universities more prestigious, their politics more interesting. If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

On the other hand, our cultural superiority complex is just as pronounced, especially lately. How hard is it, guys, to have a functioning health care system or rational gun laws? The rest of us over here in the OECD seem to manage it just fine? (It being actually quite hard, and me personally having done nothing much to deserve or contribute to our existing system, in no way diminishes my smugness.) The difference in our nations’ COVID-19 responses hasn’t helped. We look on from afar – appalled, saddened, but also, too often, if we’re honest, with that little dash of schadenfreude.

I love America, and Americans. But both the inferiority and the superiority complexes make it way too easy to resent, ridicule, or write off our neighbours across the Pacific. No man is an island – no nation either, even my literal island nation. We’re in this together. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). This week of all weeks, I’m trying for less smugness and contempt, and more love.