Jingo Bells, Jingo Bells...

I was really looking forward to the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics tonight, but over the last few days I’ve been growing increasingly uneasy about what I might see there. As it turned out, after the initial voice-overs by Messrs. McKay (co-alum of my high school!) and Costas, I turned off the television. I’m only going to tune in when events I want to see are on.

My problem is nationalism, and the two forms it has taken since September 11th. First, is the lower-brow flag waving habit. There was actually a fight over allowing the flag from the top of the WTC to make an appearance during the ceremonies. Give me a break! If it wasn’t that important before 911, then it is exactly that important today, no more and no less. All people really mean when they wave these things around is “I’m part of something bigger than I am and I don’t have to assert my identity for a few minutes! Hooray!” My good friend Carl Sagan has a pretty good understanding of what’s going on here: the pre-human part of our brain controls this emotion. In fact, it’s reptilian. Don’t follow leaders or symbols blindly, you’re better than that.

The second and much worse problem is what Bob Costas said (paraphrasing): “America was thrust unexpectedly into the middle of history.” There is real feeling that this is an emotional time, and that to ham it up and make it one of the overtones of the Olympics is only natural. Bullshit! Events like what happened in NYC and in DC on the 11th happen ALL THE TIME, ALL OVER THE WORLD, AND HAVE DONE SO FOR MILLENIA. The fact is, we’re just not used to it, but that doesn’t elevate it over the concerns of other nations. There have been earthquakes in the last two years that have killed more people than those planes did, ten times over. There have been devastating wars and strife for all of history. To take this one event and treat it with so much melodrama just drives home to me that we, as a nation, do not care about anyone other than ourselves. It kind of makes you begin to understand the feelings of anger that pervade the third world…

Greg Langmead
Machine Learning Engineer

I am a software engineer and mathematician. I work on NLP algorithms for Apple News, and research homotopy type theory in CMU’s philosophy department.