Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

europe and america, part 2


Continued from here. I read this excellent essay by Brian Eno on the European Edition of Time magazine and posted it, then kept on writing somehow.

Eno looks at the situation from more of a cultural perspective, which is a welcome change. And here is a counter-essay from Christopher Caldwell (Editor for the conservative US magazine Weekly Standard), who writes much less with "longing for change" (as Eno does) than with spite for Europe and disregard for its opinions as "the result of specific historic experience". Caldwell's argument is slightly childish (bragging that "European food is no longer better than American food" (something that could be argued a bit) and then at the end, with a last paragraph that could apply to the US as much as it could to Europe:

that is what George Bernard Shaw was talking about when he defined a barbarian as one who mistakes the customs of his tribe for the laws of nature.
I tend to think that no side really has the upper hand in this debate (if that's what it can be called). There is too much irrational crap being thrown around. Both the US and Europe are being unreasonable, although to me the "unreasonability" of Europe is more palatable since it doesn't imply war. That is not to say that war can't exist, although if humans were less selfish (or is it less stupid?), it shouldn't.

What I do find interesting in these discussions is that the "America" that people talk about is that of its leaders, while the "Europe" is that of its people. When Chirac or Schroeder go against the war, they do it in part simply for political gain. All European countries, including the UK, have 60% or more of their population against the war. But in the US the percentage is around half. So "American behavior" should not be measured by what Bush does. Problem is, of course, once hostilities begin Americans are less divisive and tend to fall behind their leadership, defending it even if it's wrong (it took years of slaughter in Vietnam for that to change for that particular war). So then the "America" being discussed, that of its leadership, becomes that of its people.

I don't know. It vexes me that arguments as simpleminded as "our food is better" can really influence these kinds of decisions, later snowballing into real problems and even stupid things like "french fries" becoming "freedom fries". All countries have their good and bad things. Some have things that I agree with more, but there are no absolutes. My paradise could be someone else's hell. And many these ridiculous arguments reek of absolutism. Jason has some good comments on this (and on this subject in general) on a recent entry.

But what pisses me off more than that is the hypocrisy, and I think that's also what angers most people. Bush saying "we are defending freedom and the rule of law" and then dismissing out of hand international treaties and putting people in jail without due process is not a recipe for being respected. Saying that they care about democracy while being cuddly with Saudi Arabia, or changing their argument for war every five seconds isn't either. Chirac's position is more palatable since it implies peace (at least until yesterday--apparently they might be shifting their opennes to conflict), but it's still difficult to see how they can defend that "war is not okay now, but it would be okay in three months." Their shifts and counter shifts smell of political maneuvering, not of real conviction.

The absolutism implied in the positions of this whole discussion has the additional bad side-effect of artificially polarizing the discussion, which creates emotional rather than rational responses. In this sense I think that the US in general is overreacting a bit (more than Europe). All this talk about how "the US saved the French in world war two" is pretty strange as I mentioned before, since nobody seems to remember that the French helped the US in their war of independence against the British, and in both cases the one that "came to the rescue" had its own reasons for doing it aside from "defending freedom" or whatever it is they loftily declared.

We should be more open to listening to what others say, on both sides. Criticizing one thing in particular doesn't mean that you are criticizing everything. And honest criticism is always good.

When writing (or creating anything) it's difficult to take criticism at first, since you take it personally. Over time I learned to separate criticism of the things I do from criticism of me as a person (which also makes it easy to know when someone is actually criticizing me as a person). People, organizations, countries, etc, they all change and learn, and what I did yesterday might not be what I will do tomorrow. I think that if that could be applied to other situations, the world would be a bit better.

I hope this makes some sense. Too many ideas in too short a space.

Anyway, back to spaces.

Categories: geopolitics, personal
Posted by diego on March 14 2003 at 7:27 PM

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