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Yep, I agree with all of this and have for at least a decade and a half. America is a shithole and has been made that way by the things at the top that look (more or less) like people.

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As someone who splits his time between New York and Tokyo and also spent years living in Brazil, I find myself agreeing with the main points of this piece, and at the same time thinking, "But so many other presumably advanced countries have their own massive flaws -- sometimes it seems like a coin-toss which place I can stand to live in". Japan, for example: yes it's clean and neat and polite and has a great healthcare system and fabulous public transportation etc etc etc.... But ask my wife, who is Japanese, a sociologist trained at the U. of Chicago, how she feels about the years of relentless sexual harassment she's had to endure inside her own academic department; or how foreign-trained scholars like herself feel about the discrimination they suffer at the hands of resentful provincial colleagues who think "good scholarship" means submitting to the whims of the gerontocracy. And that's just in the university setting; the rot is everywhere. Japan is a corrupt, rigid, terminally ingrown, fear-driven, woman-hating society that she can't wait to leave forever. But where do we go?

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I'm Australian and I haven't really gotten the fuss about Japan either (it sure doesn't look like fun for a renegade like me). Only a bare handful of anime/manga is much good, and Japanese culture doesn't seem to generally be "weird" in actually interesting ways anymore.

For me the best part about Japan is the quality of their electronic components (they've largely given up on complete consumer products after merciless price competition)…

I won't say Australia is a utopia either – our politics is a fair-dinkum mess – and if you pick your stuff at random it'll be fairly average; the main benefit for me is that if you learn which stuff to choose, you can make the best of our multiculturalism. (And we have a pretty strong DIY culture, being perhaps the only country where neutral-cure silicone is easier to buy than the less-useful acid-curing type.)

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Even US electrical standards are surprisingly screwed-up, examining them from Australia (or Europe for that matter); to me, that speaks volumes itself. Don't mind me if I rant…

For a start, why do they allow extension cords to be made using cable with a lower current rating than the sockets? Australian extension cords must be rated for the full 10A (2400W at 240V) of our normal socket, whereas US extension cords can have 15A sockets with only 13A rated cable (and historically even 10A); and that even with three sockets and no overload protection (the majority of Australian extension cords are single-socket, although “piggyback” plugs and a few straightforward dual sockets remain somewhat common as with double-adapters; but anything with 3+ sockets certainly must have overload protection here).

And seeing case reports, your power strips (in Australia we call them power-boards) apparently don't even need to be overloaded to void the warranty! Sure, plugging in more than one heater would overload them (anywhere in the world); but any one US/Canadian heater can only be rated up to 1500W (12.5A at 120V), well within the rated 15A for most power strips. Some people claim a (not obviously specified) per-socket limit, but my Australian power-boards can handle their full 10A through one socket just fine, so it's not a convincing excuse (other than to uninformed laymen).

What other country distinguishes between “residential” and “commercial”-grade switches and sockets, for that matter? Not Australia, I can tell you. As far as I can see, it's just an excuse to make cheaper flimsier fittings for homes – and isn't the home where people are most likely to die in a fire?

Even commercial US/Canada fittings are inexpensive compared to Australia's (although the switches on Australian outlets certainly add to their cost), anyway.

But they're called the Underwriters Laboratories for a reason, so did you really expect better?

That said, some industrial components are reportedly superior to their European counterparts, which rather fits with the US's general tendency to make the “best and worst” of many products.

The “electric furnaces” are pretty funny, though – basically just a giant central fan heater.

Way to miss the points of central heating (they don't actually do anything the portable units can't, apart from higher power which is partly imposed by the use of 120V for small appliances).

A few eclectic electricians in the US/Canada have actually run 240V circuits for imported European appliances (as long as there's nothing frequency-dependent, they'll work fine like that).

Granted 240V gives stronger shocks, but under Australian/European standards you're much less likely to get shocked in the first place (since we have decent plug designs, and don't allow unearthed single‑insulated small appliances as are still widespread in the US).

As long as you avoid cheap, shitty pink USB chargers (see Big Clive) anyway…

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If you take a road trip throughout the country you will see that America it is absolutely a failed state.

Wealth is concentrated in various neighborhoods and they are far and few between. Most of the country is in poverty. Aside from many of the urban areas, almost every small town is just a dilapidated dump with the people looking as worn down as the houses and buildings they live and work in. Something has gone terribly wrong in this country and historians are really going to study the case of the "United" States. Which isn't united at all either.

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May 9, 2023·edited May 9, 2023Author

What does it say that every town with under 50,000 people is someplace people want to move away from? Whose residents are considered "losers"? Now multiply that by thousands. This is a civilizational issue. It underlies a lot of the present political moment. Again, people confuse symptoms with the disease.

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Very well written and good job citing so many stats and other relevant articles. Many push back when these discussions are happening because it forces them to put effort into imagining a different future rather than gripping onto a present that simply doesn’t exist anymore.

We are tasked with imagining a new story and acting upon that, or we will continue slipping. In a way I am still hopeful. More and more people are accurately diagnosing the problem nowadays rather than treating the symptoms. To me that is the only effective first step, because in my estimation the changes needed are foundational. I appreciate your writing and will be sure to share!

-Drew

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Generally agree. Certainly my area is all but non-functioning. Actually lots of pieces of the social fabric around me literally don't work. Police don't really show up here and courts move so slowly and inefficiently that they are pointless as a conflict resolution tool. City codes are rarely enforced... That said, life goes on with a modicum of decency because most people are doing their thing and there remains a lot of good will despite it all. The systems around me at work, in my town, etc.. all keeping going on general good will and the inertia of past wealth, positive expectations and already built infrastructure. Always surprised that this keeps going but it does day after day year after year but just barely and with everything looking increasingly tawdry including our relationships with other people.

I think some of this is even dawning on foreigners, I have relatives in S. Korea and no one asks me if they can visit or send their child to college near me anymore. In the past I was deluged by such requests which always surprised me even decades ago. In my experience the U.S. hasn't been better than other developed nations places for most of my life but people believed it was against all evidence. Distant relatives in Korea couldn't believe that there were no water standards where I lived and that some people couldn't get high speed internet or go to a doctor without resorting to the emergency room. Literally thought I was making some of this stuff up.

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I’ve noticed this too: I suspect that relative to other countries, the United States has become a much less an attractive destination than it used to be. Another thing you don’t hear about is how many people go the other direction (or wish they could).

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If we can figure out and manage the paperwork I plan to retire in S. Korea. One possibly positive point about the U.S. is that despite all the racism, plenty of that, it's still a relatively easy place for a foreign born person to live, albeit getting full citizenship is an increasingly lengthy process. Moving legally to most countries seems much harder. I sometimes feel bad about leaving the U.S. like I owe it more effort but by the time I have retired I'll have done my fare share I think. The utter dysfunction and low level background violence just makes the U.S. wholly unattractive to me. The joy of walking with young niece or nephew late at night knowing that we are in no danger is priceless. People here gave that up willingly for the personal right to be antisocial. That's what I've come to see petit bourgeois personal liberties and rights as, mostly the right to be awful like shouting the "N-word" in public or threatening your neighbor by marching around with a gun. Keep your rights, I'm outta here.

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This was a really well written article, definitely thought provoking. I read it yesterday and its been rolling around in my brain since and i even discussed it with my wife to hear her thoughts on some of its points. Im really torn on the subject admittedly. I appreciate the statistics you used and think we are often fed overly simplified ones that lack context or need to be broken down further to tell a better story, so that was helpful. However i do find myself getting to a place where as i over think the complexity of why our society and culture feels a little rotten, and sometimes try to step way back from it and remember that a lot of people seem pretty happy living here. And a lot of people want to come live here. If its rotten to the degree youve described why would that be true? And im not describing ultra patriotic I LOVE AMERICA type, im talking about average people that are here and from around the world. Hundreds of millions if not billions of them. Widespread blissful ignorance? Forced beliefs tricking them into it? Unaware of the better life they could be living somewhere else? Maybe.

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May 9, 2023·edited May 9, 2023Author

Brian, people still play the lottery, don’t they? Some people win. It’s really that simple.

To expound a bit: it’s unremarkable that some people enjoy good lives. That’s true literally anywhere, even in the most socially-deprived hellholes on earth. The question is: what is the experience of the *modal* individual (the most common thing in the dataset)? Note that this is the same approach Steven Pinker takes in his books. Forget the edge cases, what are your chances of having a decent life if you are average, or even below average, since affluent people have it easy pretty much everywhere? The U.S. certainly isn’t the worst, but compared to peer nations it’s near the bottom and continually getting worse.

Because of the enormous size of America’s population and economy, we will always have a sizable contingent of people wanting to come here no matter what. The size of America’s economy relative to the rest of the hemisphere alone will guarantee a steady supply of migrants. Also, English is the international language, and is the lingua franca in many poorer countries (e.g. India, the Philippines) making the U.S. an attractive destination compared to other places. We are also more accommodating than Western Europe. BTW "billions" aren’t moving here, the entire planet only has nine billion people, total--1/9th of the planet isn't trying to move to the U.S. with only 2 percent of the world’s population, lol! Most people in any given country stay put (barring a refugee situation, etc.).

I've noticed that a lot of immigration to the U.S. tends to be either "high end" or "low end". At the low end, people come from the bottom social strata of their native countries where, due to the size of its economy, living in the United States is still an improvement over where they came from (much of Latin America, for example). At the high end, you have people who can access higher education due to scholarships or family wealth and have elite-level skills, usually in either medicine or engineering. They parachute directly into the upper class where their chances of striking it rich are better here due to the lottery setup I mentioned. They make enough money to insulate themselves from the social fallout. Well, mostly—I see one of the victims of the latest Texas shooting was an Indian immigrant who fits the profile. Plus, people tend to migrate to places where they already have connections (relatives, friends, etc.) which means that previous migration encourages future migration, no matter how bad things get. That may be why, as I noted, immigrants don't seem to be worse off compared to other groups.

In between those poles, native-born Americans are ground to pieces. And the steady supply of immigrants is used as an excuse to keep America’s Squid Game-style setup going, since we can always import more people to replace the losers.

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Thank you for your thorough response. You make a lot of really great points and for the most part i agree with all of it. Just to clarify, i was implying billions “would” move here if they could, sorry for not being more clear.

I would just like to directly respond to your one point about the only immigration tending to be high or low end. I mean, like ya, of course thats true. If someone has an average middle of society income life, you would need an extremely compelling reason to start over new in another part of the world. The fact that the US offers something to people coming from places they need to escape and to people from the elite seeking great lives seems to validate that this country can offer something special to many people.

You know, i guess where my hang up is in a lot of ways comes down to the title of this well written article. To imply the society is rotten, i think of rotten fruit, which cant be eaten and must be thrown away. It implies its too gone and cant be recovered. Im not sure the average american feels that way. I do know a lot of educated elites that think that though. And a lot of impoverished people who have made a lot of really bad personal choices that havnt improved their situation. Im a middle aged store manager at Starbucks, ive been working retail my whole life and managed several thousand people over that time and lived throughout the country. Id say i have a pretty good pulse on “the average person” and i just dont think they hold a lot of the opinions you might even when confronted with these statistics. We all know there are big problems. We all know we are being taken advantage of one way or another. We all have an uneasy feeling about the state of things. But rotten? Nah.

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You're right, it's a poor choice of words. There's a tendency toward the polemic when writing these things which I'm trying to tone down. It's more rotten on the surface than on the core, lol. And the fact that so many people come here and have good lives should be a point of pride. I just bristle when people use that as an excuse to ignore our festering problems. We've definitely gone down a wrong path of late.

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"a lot of people seem pretty happy living here."

Most Americans have probably never even been to another country (Canada doesn't count). Very, very few have *lived* in another country for any decent length of time. People "like" what they know. It's that simple. Plus they've had it hammered into their heads their whole lives that America is "the greatest country in the world," and they're gullible enough to believe it.

"a lot of people want to come live here. If its rotten to the degree youve described why would that be true?"

Because most of those people are from places which are worse, largely thanks to the US.

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Interesting. Sounds like you got it all figured out.

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Obviously it's a failed society, this is hardly news. I would argue that it was a bad idea from day one, and it's a miracle it has lasted this long.

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