Thursday, November 02, 2006

Monkey see monkey do: Part I

Back in August I had an interesting discussion with a gentleman from California who had become suspicious of what America has come to stand for. It was during our breakfast discussion that I realized that a lot of what we're seeing on the news and reading about how other nations view America is because other nations have been copying what we do for years--and making fun of America is no exception.

I had already started forming my thoughts into an article when I ran across a posting in Stone Soup Musings about a question that blog's author had posed to some Canadians: who's your favorite American president?

Admittedly, I must have been in a foul mood (I had quit smoking and even my wife thought I was more tense than usual--I've since been off and on the wagon a couple times) when I wrote this response, but I thought I'd use it to introduce a succession of articles I hope to post and will call the Monkey See Monkey Do series.

Inside them there will be some repeated themes and even some repeated sentences. Regardless, here's installment #1.
I've been cruising a few blogs lately and have noticed a theme. Canadians have been spending a lot of time America bashing.

This follows another trend which is Americans bashing America. Though the seeds may have been planted in Korea or Viet Nam, I believe its waterhshed was Iranian radicals invading the American embassy there and kidnapping 300 American citizens. Large and influential groups of Americans, primarily "progressive" politicians, authors, and Hollywood, became victims of an odd strain of Stockholm syndrome. Editorials, books, and movies have had a decidedly Patty Hearst flavor ever since.

One of America's greatest exports is its culture. In addition to MacDonalds, Burger King, Rock and Roll, movies, etc., our exported culture includes America's opinion of itself in newspapers, movies, and lyrics.

That culture used to inspire other countries and citizens to be more self reliant, take individual responsibility, be entrepreneurial, encourage liberty, promote education, all kinds of positive behaviors.

Now it seems we're exporting the opposite, and the rest of the world is copying our behavior much as they did for 100+ years before--except now the examples are dysfunction, neurosis, anti-social behavior, and hostility toward our own government.

And now I come to Stone Soup Musings and find a casual interest in Canadian opinions (you could have been in NY and gotten the same opinions--I'm not sure I would have "gone off" but may have) and Mike is wishing Clinton had four (why not eight?) more years.

Since when did America care what the rest of the world thought? When did "the rest of the world" become the standard barer for what should and should not be done--even regarding our puritanical reactions to our politicians' extramarital affairs?

When was character excused from the list of presidential virtues? America's leaders carry a heavier burden than the rest of the world's. So what if they will tolerate any number of character defects? In America there remains a large population that expects more.

If Clinton had abused the trust in him from blacks as he did the trust in him from femininsts, would he still be thought so kindly of? Maybe we don't take feminism as seriously as we do racism?


  1. Applause from Guam...

  2. Thomas, I see our country differently and prefer to think along the lines of John Donne:

    No man is an island, entire of itself...

    Although I agree that other nations have been copying what we do for years, we've also been emulating them. From the British music invasion to Finland's Nokia phones, Americans are also voracious consumers of other countries products and cultural concepts.

    Right here in Michigan we see evidence of that. The Houghton/Hancock area is home to Finlandia University where a large population of Finnish students make up the student body. The town also has a large population of Finlanders. Anyway, street signs are written in English and Finnish and you can buy pasties (also available throughout Michigan) or pay to take a sauna.

    Anyway, I mention this because I think what you talk about is a two way street. Americans are not above butting their noses into other countries' business and making critical remarks, and we certainly do our fair share of copying the trends and fashions coming from other countries. From Murano glass, Paris fashions or Japanese comic books (not to mention foreign autos), Americans love to have things that are different or out of the mainstream.

    On the other hand, although I haven't traveled extensively, I have been to several European countries and I was suprised to see that America's influence is not as great as I assumed it would be. In large cities like Rome, Dublin, London, etc., I did see McDonalds and Starbucks, but once I got out of those areas it was hard to find anything uniquely American.

    The point I'm trying to make is that we give as good as we get. As my parents used to say, keep your advice to yourself if you don't want to hear what others have to say. Unfortunately, we Americans seem to have an opinion about everything (myself included)!

    By the way, I hope you manage to quit smoking completely. It's not easy. I know because I quit 15 years ago, but my husband is still smoking in spite of acupunture, hypnosis, patches, pills, you name it!!

  3. Kathy, I agree we've imported our share of foreign influence, but it's mostly cosmetic. There exists no foreign idea America has been substantively influenced by for over two hundred years.

    The big ideas behind democracy and capitalism are a challenge to other nations without either. Both are a hope to individuals worldwide but an embarrassment to governments unwilling to relinquish their power over their populations. Though a generation may have embraced both The Beatles and Beetles, neither brought hope to Americans that they may soon be able to educate their daughters, start a business, worship how they wish, move where they want, read what interests them, or petition their government for redress.

    These are big ideas. Everything else is a French pastry.

    Where before represseive governments receeded into dark corners to escape the light of the great consitutional concepts we enjoy in the US, they now openly mock the product of those ideas because its own citizens, exercizing their free speech rights to assault their own country, have provided cover to countries like North Korea, Iran, Burma, and Venezuela.

    Where before we were proud of our political and economic achievements we've become ashamed of our own success. That guilt is probably warranted, to a small extent, because our generation has sacrificed little, compared to previous generations, to protect them. Our generation has become complacent in the freedoms we've inherited just as spoiled children frivolously spend the money they've inherited and did nothing to build themselves--and as a result never appreciate the cost such good fortunes must be purchased with.

    How quickly we are to criticize the inherited fortunes of our country's wealthiest families while thinking little of the squandering of our own. Witness how easily standardized tests will be dumbed-down so less effort is required to pass them. Look how weak our resolve is to treat everyone equally before the law, prefering keep them hostages to under-achievement and low expectations because of their skin color.

    Too many politicians and citizens point to the few thousand deaths in Iraq as too great a price to pay, forgetting that previous generations have paid far greater prices to stem tyranny in fewer hours than we've been months in Iraq.

    How different the world would be if America thought so little of freedom's value if America withdrew from difficult conflicts. If everything were as easy as opening a McDonald's and replacing the Big Mac's special sauce with humus the Middle East would have long stopped treating women as property or indoctinating their sons and daughters with hate to willingly become suicide bombers.

    Kathy, until other countries are able to boast of their citizens' freedom as we are I hope it never becomes a two-way road. There are darn few good ideas in the returning traffic.