Maps and globes can be extremely insightful and educational, but not simply for topographical and geographical reasons. The way maps are arranged can represent the creator's cultural ideals and judgements of the countries, as well as a judgement of respective productivity and advancement. In the past, mapmakers accumulated great wealth because the more information was catalogued and appropriated the 'right' way--or more toward the center, in a different color--the more financial and social reward they achieved.
Now, maps are not universally exploited, and in fact there's been much intellectual pursuit at representing our spherical world accurately in a non-spherical medium. The Mercator map below made seafaring in the sixteenth century simple because of the straight lines, however the transferrence of physical matter from a sphere to a rectangle caused progressive stretching toward the poles. Hence, Greenland and Alaska look nearly half the area of North America, when indeed they are much smaller. This flaw was addressed, as consecutive maps have been produced, but the important matter is that the function of this map distortion was utilitarian, not cultural, political, or moral.
None of that is new, but we need to understand that if we're to understand anything further. As usual, there's a subjective exploitative orientation, as well as a more objective, practical orientation. Just because the latter is more objective, doesn't mean it's without flaws, as seen in the Mercator map. What's common across both these orientations is the deliberate use of maps. So? Well, that's significant because maps--whether or not they're geographically accurate or distorted--portray the relationship between multiple landmasses. If you isolate the Panama Canal on a map, it's easy to dismiss it as simply another seafaring route. However, if you look at the Americas, the bigger picture becomes clear: crossing that tiny canal saves thousands of hours and miles and dollars. Trace a line with your finger from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean using the Panama Canal, then do it again without. This simple exercise brings us closer to actual seafaring reality.
This brings me to the widely televised 2007 Miss Teen USA folly, where Miss South Carolina was asked why nearly twenty percent of Americans cannot locate America on a map. She babbled and clearly had no idea--sadly--but the question was valid and Americans in general may want to explain the statistic. American exceptionalism has led us to believe we are the undisputed best at certain things like economics and sports and fashion, which, due to our overall success, is true in production terms. However, leading the field still means the field exists, although America's ego has grown to a point where the field is so far marginalized, it's an afterthought. This is problematic because we don't compete with other cultures or countries because we assume we're alone on top of Myshitdontstink Mountain. Even economic competition isn't packaged as competition, it's simply packaged as a natural ebbing of the international market. Since America assumes the market is indefatigable, invincible, and unerringly on its side, it is stubborn to truly judge itself on the same plane as other cultures and countries.
Miss South Carolina neglected to understand that one-fifth of Americans can't identify the USA on a map because to them, America's so exceptional they neglect how it still exists in a context. But that wouldn't make for a good beauty pageant answer because it would ostracize your voting base.
Another observation of American exceptionalism is the self-deprecating joke: What do you call someone who only knows one language? An American. Surely English is the most common international language, but largely because economic powerhouses like America use it as their primary language. Thereby, it's not an accident that America speaks the most common international language, but it is telling how many European countries are fluent in multiple languages while America perennially finds ways to speak English more conveniently (Ebonics, slang and text-speak) rather than more aptly. This movement is synonymous to looking at just the Panama Canal and nothing else, except we can't physically trace a line through our own ignorance to actually see the flaw.
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