A blogpost on No Passarán explores an aspect of European anti-Americanism that I’ve also discussed [and now a new category at this blog]: Envy.
The New-Old Objectification
posted by Joe Noory @ 6:15 AM
Monday, February 26, 2007
In Sunday’s Telegraph, Niall Ferguson continues to flog his notion that present day America can be compared to the British Empire, on that he’s admitted is different because it is not an empire. One of the fantastic differences between the Telegraph and pathological nature of the BBC’s editorial ideology is that the Telegraph invites comments far more directly and without making a show of “letting you” Have Your Say, albeit with heavy editing by beeboids.
“The usual” view is always present. It has this vision of the world being a playground where all the children need to be equal for their own good despite the fact that some have given the world a reason to be on the “time out bench.” For the likes of these folks, even the Darfur genocide doesn’t get you an off-side whistle while “the good” in the world spend years on end trying to define the meaning of genocide anew.
Maybe it’s because they are ignorant, arrogant, parochial and jingoistic.
Maybe it’s because they have either invaded or forced regime change in more than 200 countries, many with democratically elected goverments.
Maybe it’s because they would rather spend their time watching non-stop ‘news’ of such luminaries as Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith, than to bother to discover what their own government is doing to them and to other populations of the world.
As ever, the implied self-as-high-culture tries to form comparisons to American low culture. Low-culture to low-culture are quite typically strenuously avoided for the reason that they might produce some actual empathy.
However, the matter of low-brow behavior can’t be entirely hidden:
I am an American living in Britain and I have been abused many times by British people trying to get their jabs in at Americans. Mostly from teachers, believe it or not!
Believe me, I know. The inability to dislodge the prejudice for a person and a nation is a telling and ubiquitous feature of American dealing with Europeans’ lectures on a daily basis.
The difference is refreshing and enormous, and show a great breadth missing at the BBC. Between the highly predictable notes left by readers are those like the following:
As I see it, having visited the United States, the great advantage it’s citizens possess is the ability to succeed, should they so wish. There is no class culture, consequently those who are successful are admired and indeed encouraged to achieve more. Envy and jealousy simply do not exist. It is something the rest of the world cannot understand and this is manifested by the so called “hatred” expressed against a country which is totally different to the class system which dominates all other nations.
Well, there’s always a “root cause” argument to be made too.
People hate America because they want the romance of the hammer and sickle, or the romance of a martyr.
The truth is it’s not the US that’s arrogant, it’s the romantics that want a cause that exalts humanity into some kind of superman, when what is actually being offered is the chance to be ordinary.
Obviously the US is not a place with no class culture, and where “envy and jealousy don’t exist.” As long as there are human beings, envy and jealousy will exist. It’s a question of how much, and how pervasive. My experience has been that the US does have a significantly more generous attitude towards “others.”
Item 1: A Bulgarian researcher in the US for a year commented to me that a) there was a large community of very smart Bulgarians in the US who were there because they could succeed more easily on this foreign soil than at home, not just because there were more opportunities, but because other people encouraged success, and b) that she was tempted to stay herself, because she daily got reports from back home that, in her absence, her co-workers were stabbing her in the back. Again, there’s plenty of backstabbing in the US. It’s a matter of percentages.
Item 2: A French woman who came with her husband on sabbatical in the US took up wire sculpture and became quite proficient. “I never could have done this in France,” she remarked. “Why?” “Because in France everyone would have been critical, especially in the early stages when my work wasn’t very good. Here, people were amazingly encouraging.”
Item 3: Alain Finkielkraut, in a series of lectures at Boston University, referred to American academia as a Garden of Eden. After the lecture, I remarked that he made that comment because French academia is so filled with back-biting, mutual recrimination, and envy, that to come here and talk with people who actually care about the ideas they espouse is a heady experience. One of the universities deans was in the row in front of me and responded, “What, you don’t think there’s envy and politics in American university culture?” [And who would know better than a Dean?] “No,” I responded, “you just have no idea how bad it is in France.”
Now granted, Finkielkraut had just been dragged through the politically-correct wringer in France when he made those remarks, and he didn’t have to get tenure in an American university. But the larger point, I think, remains. If we think in terms of batting averages, where the degree to which one does not succomb to envy represents hits, then I think American culture bats in the mid .300s and French culture (which I know best in Europe) around the mid .200s.
And given that these issues get at the heart of both positive-sum emotions and atttitudes on the one hand, and the ability to sustain a civil society on the other, these “batting averages” are important gauges of the resilience of a culture in sustaining the experiment in democracy and freedom that modern society represents. Given the pervasive hostility of Europeans to the US documented in the article by Niall Ferguson, when the US is Europe’s natural ally, at a time when Europe really needs good cultural allies in its struggle with a primitive, zero-sum, tribal enemy in its midst (which bats below .100), this pervasively base envy of the US, and the politics of resentment that it spawns seems ominous to say the least.