Posted by FunkyPlaid | Filed under Meta
White House correspondent Justin Webb recently wrote a very sharp feature on anti-Americanism for the BBC. While not totally discounting the idea that American policies and national consciousness form the core of world-contempt in this modern day, he narrows down the root of this virulent ‘antagonism’ to having its origins in Paris even before America existed: the idea that the New World was detrimental to the traditions and goals of long-term happiness shared in many countries in Europe:
The prevailing view among French academics throughout the 18th Century was that the New World was ghastly. It stank, it was too humid for life to prosper. And, as one European biologist put it: “Everything found there is degenerate or monstrous.”
In their heart of hearts, many French people still believe that to be true.
A French intellectual once compared the United States with Belgium. Wounding. But you see what he meant: the French capital has a grandeur about it that demands attention on the world stage. Belgium does not, nor does most of America.
Washington is grand but Washington was designed by a Frenchman and his vision didn’t fit the rest of the nation. America is ordinary. Go on say it out loud on the streets of Paris: “America is ordinary”. It celebrates the pursuit of small-scale happiness – in families and communities – and that is what the anti-Americans can’t stand.
In May 1944 (just weeks before American GIs landed on the beaches of Normandy), Hubert Beuve-Mery, the founder of Le Monde newspaper – certainly no mouthpiece of the right – wrote this: “The Americans represent a real danger for France, different from the one posed by Germany or the one with which the Russians may – in time – threaten us. The Americans may have preserved a cult of Liberty but they do not feel the need to liberate themselves from the servitude which their capitalism has created.”
The challenge of this article, which will be continued over the next few days, and the challenge to Americans today is for us to make a momentary consciousness shift. Pull down from the shelf this idea of short-term joy, of selfish consumerism, and of capitalism as the root and causal force in our existence. Examine it closely and think about how little we are focused on tradition, on history, on longevity, and on being a part of the world community. I am just as guilty as the next person for avoiding these issues, and for ruthlessly getting caught up in ‘obtaining stuff’. To me, the need to re-establish our values is right up there with questioning the idiocy and potent evilness of our current administration, and also considering how half of our nation stood by and facilitated its primacy, now twice. If it’s obvious from where contempt for American politics and policy stems, we should also understand that, not so explicitly, there lies a deep root of New World isolationism and a displacement of European consciousness that fuels the continued fractionalization between America and the rest of the world, right or wrong.
18 Responses to “Anti-Everything.”
April 12th, 2007 at 8:51 am
sounds up my alley, thanks!
April 12th, 2007 at 9:27 am
As mentioned, this could be a beginning of a wider trend. There was a program on TV a few days ago about today’s life of excess and consumerism. Where more is better and a better life can be gained through going to the shops and spending.
In the program, it was said that this way of life started in America but has spread out over much of world. But in this day and age where we are wasting the earths resources things have to change. We can’t keep living how we are.
So… if part of the blame is put on America for its lifestyle export it’s probably a scapegoat. A way of shedding the blame for how the rest of the world acts. I don’t know how long for this general idea is going to take hold. If it’s anything like the manmade Global Warming trend that’s kicked in, it’s probably not far behind. Soon as we take blame for our own wrong doing then the better.
That said, the USs foreign policy is not helping. 🙂
April 20th, 2007 at 1:07 am
The fact that the media keeps pounding consumerism into our heads often makes me sick. Even in my refutation of ad campaigns and commercials, I realize that they have worked.
April 12th, 2007 at 10:11 am
I'd say most Americans don't even know HOW to have that consciousness shift. Or even what they would have to do in order to THINK in those ways.
What does it mean to live in a way that inspires longevity for your society? To ensure happiness of the culture, rather than personal happiness? I don't think most foreign nationals would be able to put it into words either.
Being part of the world community is tough when your own government makes you a pariah. I don't know how to stop that from happening honestly. I do my part, I vote, I write letters, but the majority of the country still felt compelled to put that THING in office again.
April 20th, 2007 at 1:12 am
I agree with you here. What you've done is good, and is certainly more than I do. I'd even venture to say that, more importantly, we should be continuing this dialogue with friends and family, on trips around the world and in our own backyards. Prove to ourselves and the world that we're not totally culturally ephemeral, and that we can and will contribute to the shared history of the future.
April 12th, 2007 at 11:28 am
America is ordinary. Go on say it out loud on the streets of Paris: "America is ordinary". It celebrates the pursuit of small-scale happiness – in families and communities – and that is what the anti-Americans can't stand.
What strikes me here is that this notion of an untenable and destructive consumer culture is so totally normalized that it can be seen as in any way "ordinary." The US brand of detached, short-term living coupled with our apparently complete ahistorism is to my mind as out of the ordinary as can be.
The idea that the rest of the world hates the US for what we represent as much as for what we actually do rings true on one hand. But the fact that our corporations aggressively export culture and products while and exploiting foreign labor and goodwill seems equally so. One of your friends comments that the US is perhaps scapegoated for a portion of the rest of the world's wrongdoing; maybe so, but I think a lot of the blame is justified. The problem is our national borders that only open one way. We allow the export of virtually unfettered environmental and labor abuses on the part of US business while keeping our little island, until recently, destached from apparent consequence. And of course with the roots of the consumer lifestyle being in the US in a post-war era that brought enormous wealth and privilege, we do seem in a uniquely powerful position to counter some of the damage we have caused exporting the negatives of US culture.
Another of your friends talks about voting and writing letters. I'm interested in hearing how others work to be part of the consciousness shift you are suggesting.
April 12th, 2007 at 11:30 am
Spell check, grammar check. Brain-check.
April 12th, 2007 at 11:39 am
Off the top of my head…
Recycling. Refusal to buy products that are harmful to society (rBGH comes to mind) forces corporations to change their attitudes as well. Besides voting the most powerful thing you can do is exercise your right as a consumer. NOT buying gross polluting vehicles is starting to change the way auto manufacturers are doing business.
April 12th, 2007 at 12:36 pm
Oops. This was me, not logged in.
April 20th, 2007 at 1:39 am
I wonder if by using the term 'ordinary', Webb is positing the idea that we are perceived as not Great, rather than simply run-of-the-mill. Their revolution came after and as a direct result of ours, but the French still perceive that we somehow lost our path to continued greatness after such a jolly good start. The arrogant and isolationist American view that you mention, however, was there from the very beginning, and really does inform a clear line of cultural behavior in a very mixed soup of diversity. We've got some shit to iron out, and we can't rely on our government or corporations to do it. That much is clear. Can it happen without them?
April 12th, 2007 at 2:39 pm
In the wake of 9/11, a co-worker from New Zealand told me he didn't really understand the American mentality. He said we seemed to be somehow idealistic and selfish at the same time.
"Two things this country needs to come to grips with," he said. "First, sometimes you have to give up your shiny new car if it means helping your neighbor, because if you don't he might become a criminal and steal shiny new car anyway."
"Second, sometimes you just can't solve the problem, you know? You just need to except that."
"Well," I replied, "On the first point, I think you are absolutely correct. Americans have this notion of 'The God-given right to be an asshole' that is really quite disgusting."
"But the second point? Not only do Americans refuse to accept that there are insoluable problems, it raises our hackles to even suggest that it might be so."
Of course, that was then.
April 12th, 2007 at 3:55 pm
"The difficult we do today. The impossible is over in R&D."
April 20th, 2007 at 1:16 am
Hehe. So appropriate!
April 20th, 2007 at 1:20 am
As a society, the only undesirable notion of having an innate drive and duty to problem-solve is perhaps to proselytize the arrogance of thinking problems shouldn't affect the individual.
April 13th, 2007 at 1:24 pm
On the other hand, many 18th century French philosophers idealized America as the place of unspoiled and natural existence, with Benjamin Franklin, the Renaissance man risen from humble beginnings, as Exhibit A.
Capitalism is too large a subject to deal with in a humble comment, but I think the problem lies far more with what people do with money than it does with money itself. Our values are messed up, but it's as possible in issuing blanket condemnations of money as it is in exalting materialism.
April 20th, 2007 at 1:25 am
Historically, it's true that opinions of the New World went both ways. I think an important thing here is that Continental consciousness generally became aligned with the critics rather than the champions, and still is.
I think the problem lies far more with what people do with money than it does with money itself.
Also, couldn't agree more.
April 13th, 2007 at 2:32 pm
A shift in consciousness, on a national level, seems like too much to hope for. I believe that consumer habits could enforce corporations to change their practices, but I don't think that's going to happen on a significant enough scale. The government would have to take the lead, and your incumbents cannot be depended on to do that. It almost comes down to personal conscience, but what difference does that make?
April 20th, 2007 at 1:31 am
This, my friend, is the struggle. I wish I could answer that vital question. What difference does it make if I change and nobody else does? What difference does it make if I eat Hershey's or Green & Black's? Our revolutionary forebears put to bed this slant of momentum and made changes accordingly, with incomparable results. Are we too damned civilized in America for revolution? Surely we're overdue for a cultural and societal revolt, if not a political one…