It’s time again I addressed a number of commonplace beliefs held in the United States which, while they often sound great in sound bites, are almost always based on flawed reasoning. I call these beliefs “American myths.”

And here is the sound bite that echoed around when President Obama addressed the nation’s students on Sept. 14th, 2010:

Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education, there is not a single thing that any of you cannot accomplish, not a single thing. I believe that.

Pres. Obama says that if you have a dream, you can achieve it through hard work and study. On a simplistic level, it sure sounds good and conveys a wonderful message of hard work and education to students. But in reality, it’s not true. Telling kids that “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach” with the panacea of hard work is actually doing some of them a disservice. Not all human beings possess the gifts and talents necessary to achieve equally well in any field. While hard work will certainly help the students succeed in their goals, hard work and education alone will not make “nothing — absolutely nothing” beyond their reach. Some goals require physical and mental abilities far beyond that which studying and hard work can provide.

You agree with Pres. Obama and don’t believe me? Fine. If I study and work really hard, will I ever succeed in flying F-22s as a fighter pilot for the Air Force? Nope. I’m too old to successfully compete with fighter pilot hopefuls two decades my junior, and my imperfect eyesight also disqualifies me. Hard work and study will not succeed in landing me that job.

Likewise, my almost 14-year-old niece will probably never become an Olympic-level gymnast, even if she puts in 18-hour days of training. She certainly could improve whatever natural ability she has, but she doesn’t have the right body type to be a world-class gymnast, and she would be starting far too late. Looking at the U.S. women’s gymnastic team who won the team silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, I notice all the team members started studying gymnastics or dance by age 4 or earlier, so they were able to be world-class a decade later because of their hard work. But starting at age 14 is just too late.

My mother-in-law once taught a student with an IQ of 85. He once told her that he wanted to be a teacher when he grew up, but his low native intelligence made that impossible. No amount of studying would bring his IQ up to average. Another guy I met told me how he was studying to become a doctor, but after taking Biology 101 for the third time, he still only managed to scrape up a C. Neither student had the mental candlepower sufficient to make his worthy goal a reality. Hard work and education will take these two only so far, but some things are just beyond their reach.

And then there’s this interesting poll by Marist:

Nearly one-third of U.S. residents — 32% — say they would like to be an actor or an actress. Following closely behind are 29% who dream of becoming a professional athlete. 13% report they would like to list 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their working address and be President of the United States. An additional 13% say they could see themselves as a rock star. 13% are unsure.

So hard work and education will make 32% of Americans into successful actors? Will hard work and education make the 29% who want to become professional athletes successful? Will the 13% who answered that they wanted to become President all succeed with just hard work and education? It should be pretty obvious that hard work and education, while very important, are not sufficient to place “nothing — absolutely nothing” beyond their reach. Certain physical and mental qualities, age, luck, and other assorted issues or events may be critical necessities in achieving some dreams.

Sure, it sounds great to tell school kids that they can succeed at anything they wish if only they work hard enough to get it. But reality shows us that success comes from more than just desire and study. Physical and mental abilities are important. Kids may dream about becoming astronauts, but unless they have the physical and mental capabilities as well as the desire and hard work — not to mention some kind of working space program when they’re adults — it’s not going to happen. And that’s why I label this idea as one of America’s myths.

You can't be an astronaut

It’s about time I addressed a number of commonplace beliefs held in the United States which, while they often sound great in sound bites, are almost always based on flawed reasoning. I call these beliefs “American myths.”

Since 2010 is an election year, the news media will almost certainly begin to run more and more articles about the importance of voting and how everyone should vote. While I agree that voting is important, I disagree with the idea that everyone should vote. This is a common American myth.

Let’s think about it. First and foremost, anyone who isn’t an American citizen cannot and should not vote. It’s considered an act of fraud in every state, territory and dominion of the United States. Voting is a responsibility and a privilege associated with citizenship, but this idea isn’t universally understood. In San Francisco, certain people want everyone, citizen or not, to vote on local city issues. While non-citizens living in San Francisco will certainly be affected by local votes, they still remain non-citizens. Membership can and should have its privileges.

Are you aware that in the United States, convicted felons cannot vote? Since a felon has already demonstrated that he or she is not a good citizen, society has determined that a convicted felon loses the right to vote. Yes, this right may be restored after the felon has served his or her sentence, but until then, a felon cannot vote. I can’t help thinking this is a wise rule, especially when I try to imagine Charles Manson casting a ballot.

No one should vote more than once. Even if an individual finds some clever way to circumvent the many laws designed to stop people from registering and voting multiple times, he or she is still committing voter fraud. I include in this category those who damage or spoil ballots, those who browbeat or threaten other voters, and those who coach the mentally incompetent into voting for their chosen candidate or issue. In the American democratic process, no one should be allowed to get away with the thoroughly non-egalitarian idea that some votes are more equal than others.

Apathetic citizens who are otherwise eligible to vote, but who haven’t bothered to register by a certain deadline, cannot vote in the next election. Even if you’re a fully eligible U.S. citizen, you must register in your local voting district if you want to cast a legal vote. If you haven’t taken the paltry amount of time and effort required to register to vote, you won’t have much cause for complaint when the day comes around and you can’t participate because you’re not on the voter rolls.

Finally, while it isn’t illegal, no one ought to vote in ignorance. If you don’t care or can’t be bothered to find out about the issues brought before the public, why participate? There’s not much point in voicing your opinion if you don’t have one. Granted, Joe and Jane Citizen certainly have the right to walk haplessly into the voting booth and vote for candidates and initiatives based on the results of a coin toss. But every citizen who votes in ignorance is failing in his or her civic duties. During the Democrat run-off leading up to the 2008 elections, I heard someone at work say she couldn’t decide whether to vote for Barack Obama because of his race, or for Hillary Clinton because of her gender. Neither of these reasons had anything to do with the issues at hand. One of my wife’s relatives once stated that she voted for JFK because he was such a good-looking man. But neither the candidate’s nor the voter’s race, gender, or pulchritude should have any bearing on a vote. Instead, we need to take the time to do the research–read the voter guides, study the pros and cons of the initiatives on the ballot, find out what we can about the history and political beliefs of the candidates, then vote for the people and ideas that best fit our own political philosophy.

So should everyone vote? No. Only eligible citizens who have taken the time to carefully study the issues and candidates should vote, and vote once. Anything else is either illegal or ignorant. And we’ve had enough of that.