Measuring the American Difference
Topic: Decline of the West
One fairly reliable clue to an individual's political orientation is his attitude toward the metric system of weights and measures. Broadly speaking, those who wish to convert the United States to the metric system are progressive in tendency, while those who prefer to cling to the English system profess conservatism on other issues as well.
America is the only major nation on the planet that has not gone metric. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, when the last big push was made to force the metric system on this country, there were dire predictions that failure to adopt metric would have a disastrous effect on the American economy. It was said, no doubt truly, that the old English system, with its eccentric or obscure units of measurement (exactly how big is an acre, for instance, and what is a rod?) is unsuited to a modern, high-tech economy. It was at this time that signage on the interstate highway system began to give distances in both miles and kilometers. Clearly, the end times were upon us.
But the metric mob had reckoned without the reaction of the American people. Confronted with all those unfamiliar liters, kilos, centimeters, etc., they resolutely refused to stop thinking in terms of inches, ounces, quarts, feet, gallons, yards and miles. And so the dream of a metric America faded out. A few quaint remembrances linger—the two-liter soda bottle and the 5K race—but in the land of E Pluribus Unum, a pound is still a pound and if you give us an centimeter, we'll take a mile.
Despite the warnings of metric proponents, no economic disaster followed this rejection of the metric system. Indeed, the US economy has proved perfectly capable of working in either the metric or the English system as circumstances dictate. But clearly, America's rejection of metric still irritates many progressives:
ZAKARIA: We have to adjust. First of all, it's a much more competitive world. We have to be benchmarking. We have to be asking ourselves, what's going on? Give you simple example. Meredith there are three countries in the world that have not adopted the metric system: Myanmar, Liberia, and the United States. So we look around the world and "We say, that's okay. Those standards are for you. We're special, we're different." And what I'm saying is that era of kind of "American exceptionalism" is over.
That's Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria, promoting his new book, The Post-American World, in an interview with Meredeth Vierra on the Today show. (Incidentally, Barack Obama is said to be reading this book.) Zakaria's frustration over America's refusal to get with the global program is practically a parody of the progressive mind-set. How dare these boobs not adopt the rational, logical system of weights and measures that was invented in France, and has been adopted by almost the whole world?
America's decisive rejection of metric was indeed a triumph of American exceptionalism. And it points to a difficulty that progressives are likely to encounter in their various projects to remake the country: the instinctive conservatism of ordinary Americans. Hardly anyone I know, for instance, takes gay marriage seriously. Some are opposed to it while others say that it makes no difference to them whether gay people marry or not—but very few think that gay marriage is real marriage. Despite generations of "progress" on social issues, people retain an instinctive belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, period.
In the long run, perhaps, as metric goes, so goes the nation. The truth—the grim truth from the point of view of progressives—is that most Americans are conservative by temperament. They don't like change, especially when they feel that it's being forced on them by an activist minority. In a country of this size, therefore, with political power so fragmented, projects of social improvement are probably doomed to failure. They can only be implemented, if at all, by stealth or administrative fiat. But though progressives lack the power to bring about constructive change, their irrational desire to reform America by making it just like the rest of the world can cause a lot of damage. Those two-liter soda bottles, for instance, have made a mighty contribution to the obesity epidemic that progressives now propose to fight with "fat taxes" and other forms of bullying. I don't mind watching them chase their own tails, but I do object to their doing so at my expense.
Posted by tmg110
at 8:04 AM EDT