Winning the future, in everything

In the State of the Union address January 25, President Obama made one major point: let’s kick some ass. Although he didn’t put it in quite so crass terms, the president made it clear that the United States will not fall behind China, India, or anyone else without a fight. Throughout his speech he threw out one major catch phrase –”Win the Future.” This odd and somewhat semantically hazy phrase conjures up images of carnival workers standing by their booths calling out, “Win the future here! Come and win the future!”while sad children try in vain to toss a ping pong ball into a goldfish bowl. However, the president never said it would be easy to win said future. He said we must “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build”the rest of the world. I was proud to hear the ambitious plan to have America get 80 percent of its fuel from green sources by 2035 and double our exports by 2014, but are we still the young, industrious country we used to be? Why should we not go the way of the European welfare state and drift off into retirement without a care? President Obama’s answer was that we cannot simply give up; we must adopt an almost Cold War stance of competition. He went so far as to call this moment in time our “Sputnik moment”and the beginning of a new quasi space-race to “win the future.” Our President stressed in no uncertain terms that all those English, philosophy, history and classics majors out there are basically failing our country.  What we need, according to the administration, is a new batch of scientists, engineers and inventors to spark a new drive for technological superiority in order to maintain our dominant status in the world market. While I must agree these things are important, I wonder why we shouldn’t also promote superiority in the arts, in thought and in general civic engagement. Mr. Obama stated himself that Americans are able to innovate more than any other country due to our freedom of choice and open-ended future. Consequently, if we focus all of our attention on one aspect of learning and innovation, we will surely lose out on the other. I fear that just as the University of Vermont’s decision to focus on its “spires of excellence”may hinder efforts in other departments, the country’s intense focus on applied sciences may reduce our overall ability to innovate and become a well-rounded society. I say, we should win the future in molecular biology and symphony orchestras, anthropology and solar cell technology, because without one side, you simply cannot have the other.