Responses to “On Point” from 7 November

The folks in the Washington Post are of the opinion that Anti-Americanism has transformed into a more mass antiamericanism, something that transcends various ideological subsets. The best example brought up is that it is ludicrous to expect a political leader to promote US interests if the general public of a country is anti-american (in other words, other politicians are not going to act like Tony Blair). There is another component about 30 minutes in to the piece that talks about the more moderate stance in India, where the US is a land of opportunity.  The view there is changing so that the US isn’t the only place of opportunity, Europe, Australia, and the UK are all turning up as alternatives, so while there may not be the same anti-american sentiment, there is a sense of turning away and a sort of fall from dominance.

This is intriguing to me because I saw this happening while I was living in China.  First off, the first hundred days of Bush in office spurned intense anti-american sentiments in mainland China because there were so many flubs. In the post September 11th world, inclusion or at least close proximity to the axis of evil didn’t make my colleagues in China any happier with the US itself.  What’s interesting is that, as a democratic country where “we the people” have choices, I was at times referred to accusatorily, because if someone “bad” is in power, i had a choice over the matter. In China, when someone suffers injustices at the hand of the government, there is no wariness in the sympathy the person receives.

This is not my point.  My point is this: the US aims to be a place of bleeding edge technology, of world leadership in so many areas.  The current state of the general education system and how we are raising the future leaders of tomorrow is shooting ourselves in the foot. Being the melting pot country that we are, in many fields we have been importing talent, either recruiting immigrant students who come to the US for college, or actually recruiting overseas.  Considering the difficulty of paperwork for the average person seeking a visa and how that has changed over the last 10 years, I would not be surprised if pretty much anyplace else looks more attractive to the brilliant mind seeking a hotshot career overseas. The US may no longer be the land of opportunity for those set to make a six figure contribution to the economy.

I never really thought about the different flavors of anti-americanism, but it’s worth contemplating. (courtesy Robert Keohane, Anti-Americanisms in World Politics)

  • Liberal anti-americanism: where the political ideals are similar, but the person doesn’t believe the US actually manages to live up to those ideals (I suppose I fit right into this category myself).
  • Social anti-americanism: the US is a flawed society with poor infrastructure to actually take care of its people, a poor welfare state (western/northern europeans).
  • Nationalist anti-americanism: countries that admire the US, except when it impinges on their own national dealings (China is the example mentioned here).
  • Radical anti-americanism: US is an evil force which needs to be destroyed.

So while the US is associated with education in the minds of many, it is no longer strongly identified with freedom.  I can see how that’s a fair assessment, my question becomes how strongly do we as Americans want to be identified with freedom?  Our two party system of limited ideological diversity doesn’t really make me feel like government accurately represents the different needs and desires of the people of this country, though I think our system functions.  I won’t say it fucntions well, but anything based on people who are corruptible is going to have flaws. That’s fine.

The American ideological pedestal?  That I’m not so sure about, as I am constantly dismayed at what we are able to to and carry out in the name of that almighty pedestal.  Pedestals only serve to distance us from reality. We like distancing ourselves from reality, both here and abroad.  We don’t see our food being grown, we don’t understand the process, we don’t even associate cuts of meat with living breathing creatures that can look us in the eye. We don’t associate the fuels of our houses and vehicles with uneven distribution and sale of a country’s natural resources while average citizens of that country lack access to good medical care and water. We don’t associate the mass wasteful use of paper (and this is an especially american and modern business phenomena) with the intense amount of forest clearcutting it causes. The US is less and less seen as the land of the free by outsiders, and I can’t say i disagree.  We are the image of military power and action based on fear.

What about impotence in the US?  One caller made a great remark about poor voter turnout when we have elections.  Usually I think about this as a sort of general apathy, where people may vote but it won’t actually make a difference unless you vote for one of the two main parties, neither of which is giving the voter what they want.

Some anti-americanism is unavoidable.  Our ideals of freedom of women, cultural norms, etc are in conflict with the life rules of other people in the world, and the fact that this is pushed through our media and wholesale exported around the world must be hard to handle.  Sentiment against that I cannot argue with because people are entitled to cultural and religious beliefs. As a place in the world that tries to accept cultural and religious differences, it is hard to combat this outlook.  Tolerance is something we struggle with internally as well, so I can’t really feel the need to lash out for folks not understanding that part of the idealism here.

Calling the US out on actions that are questionably freedom-seeking at best DOES seem appropriate, but the likelihood that those in power in this country will listen?  I don’t think we’re very good at that.

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