i don't think any significant number of people worry that Americans are literally too stupid to tie their shoes; the stupidity in question is not that of a drooling idiot, or a turkey who must be chased indoors when it rains, lest rain fall down his nose and drown him. the stupidity in question is that of a person who does not have the judgment or foresight to be trusted with power and authority.
Oh, sure, I'd agree with that. However, "too stupid to tie their shoes" is what people say. I mean, that's practically a direct quote from one of the responses to my posting. I'm not the one taking the word "stupid" to an extreme; I'm reacting directly to others who do. I think people say "Americans are too stupid to tie their shoes" because it's a convenient, pithy form of insult, but it's an expression of a more complex perception. I'm not going to argue whether or not "stupid" is a good term for this perception; I'm just trying to discuss it. I'm also trying to provoke discussion in a direction I find interesting and revealing.
I like your analogy with the bank; the first part at least is a lot like the Saturday Night Live skit I menioned, which I'll repeat: "America is mad. Maybe not at you, exactly, Saddam. But you'll do." And, I think it's telling, extremely so, that your analogy is much nearer the bone than anything I've heard so far from overseas.
There are only a couple of problems with it. (I know that dissecting analogies is a parlor game, but humor me.) Are the police on their way, or is it instead a mob who are going to shout at him? If it's a mob, is it the mob that has shouted at him every day as far back as he can remember?
Now, I'm one of the only 8% of Americans who have traveled overseas. I've lived and widely traveled in Europe. I can at least get by with German and Spanish in addition to English. I don't support an invasion of Iraq. I didn't support a massive bombing of Afghanistan. I think that the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, the bombing of a civilian television station in Bosnia, and the bombing of the Chinese embassy were all atrocities. (Notice, however, that nobody has tried to find out what I actually think about invading Iraq--I'm just a fuckwit. And if that be so, then maybe opposing the invasion of Iraq is fuckwitted?)
But, let's pretend that I weren't. Let's pretend I were just trailer park trash, a sterotypical insular, isolationist American.
What would be my motivation for opposing what is effectively a colonial, imperialist policy? I know people outside the U.S. are going to tell me I'm bad, to expect self-abasement for the sins of America. But I also know they've been doing that every day for my entire life. I know the ones who do this have at least virtual scrapbooks and magic-markered histories with a list of things to throw at me. I also know that they can dish it out, but they can't take it (for evidence, see this thread). I know it's going to be a shotgun accusation, no matter what. I may be stupid, but I understand that time goes forward, and I remember that I got vivisected for deserving the 9/11 attacks, presumably because of all the bad things that Clinton did. But I also remember that, overall, the Clinton years were a time of relative military restraint. So I get a not-entirely-unreasonable damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don't feeling about the whole mess. And it seems to me more than a little dishonorable and opportunistic that more was thrown at me just during the time I was shocked and in grief. Why should it be clear to me that there is benefit to be had from succumbing to pressure?
Now, I have to reiterate here that I don't support this approach personally, but I'm trying to focus some understanding on how all those people you read about in the polls may be operating, in terms of functional psychology. This is, I think, in the spirit of the original article. Although I may disagree with the ultimate conclusion, I think it's an interesting and multifaceted discussion. So, I'll go back to being me.
I think that there's a fundamental difference between the worldviews and opinions of Europeans and Americans that causes an awful lot of misunderstanding. I'd like to talk about those perceptions rather than arguing which perceptions are right or wrong for a little bit. For one thing, Europe is made up of a bunch countries, most of them pretty small, and the E.U. is still fairly new. The U.N. has hardly been an untarnished success and seems these days more like the League of Nations than ever, and NATO doesn't seem to work too well unless everyone plays a role, including the U.S. So there's a flexibility of switching between a European identity and, say, a French or German or Dutch identity. On the other hand, the U.S. is viewed as somewhat of a monolithic entity, at least in Europe. But the U.S. really not a nation in the sense that, say, France is a nation. It's too loose. Not as loose as the E.U., but there are still echoes of the individual states of the Union as once having been separate countries, and it still affects the character of the people. So, for example, you get the City of New York, which has a strong anti-war sentiment, while some place like Alabama might have a strong pro-war sentiment.
Recognizing this might lead to some interesting analyses. For example, it has somewhat accurately been said that if you live in NYC, you're Jewish, even if you're Italian- or Irish-Catholic. By that is meant that the Jewish cultural presence in NYC is extremely strong. So, what does that, coupled with the antiwar sentiment, say in response to those who say the U.S. acts this way because of support of Israel?
But, you're not allowed to say this, or at least it doesn't fit in with the perception of the U.S. as a monolith. The U.S. must do everything because they support Israel and want oil, and that's because they're evil and greedy. End of discussion.
On the other hand, look at the other response in this subthread. The mess in Srebrenica is percieved as a Dutch fuck-up and that is, it seems, rather vigorously believed as the appropriate way to view it. But it doesn't address the question of why everyone else dropped the ball so that 600 lightly armed Dutchmen had to deal with a situation they couldn't. It's like sending the Texas Rangers or something. This is no insult to the Dutch. Frankly, I feel sympathy for them, and I see the inquiry as a form of scapegoating. The whole process reminds me of action by committee, which primarily works to facilitate scapegoating and hand-washing.
On the other hand, I can't say that the Gulf War was an action by a coalition of Washington and Florida, even though most of the command emerged from Florida in response to decisions made in Washington. It is, I think appropriately, considered a U.N. action with the U.S. a big chunk, and Florida just got assigned to it.
And, so, responsibilities get assigned to the U.S. as a whole when analogous responsibilities wouldn't get assigned to Europe as a whole, because Europe and the U.S. are differently organized entities. However, nor is America truly analogous to a single European country. (The U.K. comes closest to the organization of the U.S., not necessarily in the sense of governmental structure but in a cultural sense. So, perhaps "Continental Europe" would be a better term.)
One of the disadvantages of the structure of the U.S. is that a President whom a large number of people think is illegitimate can have pretty much free reign over foreign policy. But even by the polls, only a minority of people would support attacking Iraq without support beyond the U.K. (something like 45%, last time I looked), and a rather small minority (something like 25%) would support it without even the U.K. You only get a clear majority for support if there is a wide coalition, not too unlike for the Gulf war. (Even the polls I question in general, because my father once had a beer in New Jersey with a guy whose name would be instantly recognizable if I mentioned it. He said, basically, they give the commisioners of the poll what they want.)
Not that this means it won't happen, of course. The President has a great deal of power, and this is a weakness in the Constitution and the way it has been interpreted. The checks and balances of the U.S. are in shambles or at least are close; the judiciary remains pretty good, but they don't have much power over foreign policy, and Congress hasn't been much more than a rubber-stamping body recently. But Europeans are, I think, going to look at the U.S. and interpret it in terms that would be more appropriate to a parliamentary government, where the Prime Minister is by definition of the winning party, or like some other form of European government that owes more to the idea of personifying a country than the U.S. does.
At least that's the impression I get from reading up a lot on European history after the War. As I keep saying, I may be wrong, or I may be right.
The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett
[ Parent ]