Anti-anti-americanism
June 30, 2003 3:02 AM   Subscribe

Why Must America Always Be The Greatest? Be it the greatest sham or show on earth; why is American nationalism and anti-nationalism always couched in hyperbole and a childish hankering for being number 1, whether in the best or the worst senses? Dinesh d'Souza's interesting list of ten reasons to celebrate why he's an anti-anti-American, although passionate and partly persuasive, ultimately fails to convince because of this constant desire to make the U.S. great by artificially and ignorantly belittling or aggrandizing supposed competitors. Perhaps it's not all a game and America is quite simply an OK country, with a standard battery of qualities and shortcomings, like most OK countries in the world?
posted by MiguelCardoso (59 comments total)

 
Shouldn't Dinesh D'Souza have somewhere near the top of his reasons:

"I can toss off a book called 'What's so Great About America' in 2 lazy weeks, pimp it shamelessly through flabbily written newspaper articles, be confident that it'll sell a bucketload, then I can retire on the profits"

Selling Americans books about how great they are is the dead-cert £££ equivalent of selling Brits biographies of Princess Diana.
posted by bifter at 3:10 AM on June 30, 2003


I take offence at that. I'm British, and I couldn't give a shit about Princess Di, and neither could anybody I know.
posted by influx at 3:26 AM on June 30, 2003


Hit the nail right on the head there, Miguel. And D'Souza's pretty good at undermining his own argument in other ways: "Admittedly tycoons are not typical..." or the ridiculous "Historically most cultures have despised the merchant and the laborer", which any serious assessment of any culture will soon undermine. (Off the top of my head: Renaissance Venice, seventeenth-century Holland, eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Britain?)

The biggest problem is that he makes statements that are essentially weightless: 'America, the freest nation on Earth, is also the most virtuous nation on Earth'? What the fuck does that mean? Is there some 'virtuometer' on which he's measured this? Isn't virtue just a little... subjective? (I'm thinking of Mandeville's Fable of the Bees here, too, with its take on 'virtue'.) He might as well have just written 'I LUV AMERICA!!!! YURP SUKKS!!!' until he reached his word limit and it would have carried the same intellectual weight.

There's also a fair heap of disingenuousness there, especially when talking about 'equality':
True, there are large inequalities of income and wealth in America. In purely economic terms, Europe is more egalitarian. But Americans are socially more equal than any other people, and this is unaffected by economic disparities.
Again, an utterly fatuous assertion, undermined by the substantive stuff that comes before it. And in short, bullshit. The social equality of Americans is profoundly affected by economic disparities, as any sick American will attest. In a land that's ostensibly 'classless', economic disparities become an even greater delineator of social hierarchy. It's possible to be a penniless peer in Britain; in the US, being penniless puts you in a peer group of the poor, regarded by some as 'lucky duckies' because they don't earn enough to pay income tax.

Finally, since I can't be bothered roasting this piece past medium-rare, when he says "[t]he American view is that the rich guy may have more money, but he isn't in any fundamental sense better than anyone else", is it wrong of me to point out that the Bush administration's tax policy - high-band tax cuts, removing inheritance and dividend taxation - basically says that the rich guy is, in some fundamental sense, better than everyone else?

I remember a line that my mother used towards people who were puffed up with self-worth: 'I love me - what's your second choice?'
posted by riviera at 3:28 AM on June 30, 2003


I'v got say, D'Souza has a good point, show me another country where immigrants are some of the strongest/most patriotic supporters of that nation.

And Miguel, thanks for the post.... thank God people in Europe are posting...I'm in New Delhi on business and feel completely cut off from the regular flow of Mefi....
posted by pjgulliver at 3:28 AM on June 30, 2003


I think it'd be more accurate if he included "Chomsky, Zinn, Moore, or any of the countless others can toss off a book called 'What's so Horrible About America' in 2 lazy weeks, pimp it shamelessly through flabbily written newspaper articles, be confident that it'll sell a bucketload, then they can retire on the profits."

I'd have to say that selling Americans (or anyone else) books about how awful America and Americans are seems to be far more of a certain best-seller.
posted by wrffr at 3:29 AM on June 30, 2003


I'v got say, D'Souza has a good point, show me another country where immigrants are some of the strongest/most patriotic supporters of that nation.

South Africa?
posted by bifter at 3:32 AM on June 30, 2003


Just my two cents, but frighteningly similar to this. Dinesh's article seems to this reader to be more rah rah America than an insightful look at the United State's need to be number one at everything. Besides, it is already noted in the post that the author's piece is only partly persuasive - Hey, here's a link to an ultimately unconvincing rah rah America piece! Tellingly, your last sentence serves to make it feel like a worthy fpp, and discussion will doubtless ensue, yet I for one would perhaps prefer another link to support the shift to an exploration of the idea of America as not the sole world power that they seem to be.
posted by cohappy at 3:34 AM on June 30, 2003


Well, now that I think about it, settler colonies in general (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada) seem to have supportive immigrant communities...which makes sense. Perhaps settler colonies are just naturally more dynamic than established older "states" because by their very nature they attract the more ambitious from the rest of the world.
posted by pjgulliver at 3:40 AM on June 30, 2003


cohappy: Yes, I see what you mean and I did think of it (crappy excuse, but true). But I was going for an uncluttered post and I though the mania for lists, as shown in the article and countless articles and books, was proof enough of the hyperbolic, simplistic accounting practices of America as #1.

Here's the first chapter from D'Souza's book - Why They Hate Us: America and its Enemies - which sets up the opposition, the Manichean Them/Us framework which is at the basis of competitive rah-rahing. It's from his website - D'Souza is one of the less sophisticated conservative "cultural warriors" but he's very influential and very "Establishment".

Riviera: brilliant, as usual. I now see where you got it from, as I'd suspected before - from your mother!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:46 AM on June 30, 2003


Simply put: we are and have been the most important and valued country in the world and even so far back as the time of Ben Franklin, when he noted in his writings that we had climate, resources, land, etc and would be the dominant country in but a few short years....you maqy not like the boastful, strutting American, but as has been noted in some of our literature, it is this cock-of-the-walk attitude (boasting) that angers the more sedate, aristocrati-driven conservative regimes elsewhere (yes: this has changed over the years).
After all: look what we have given the world! bumper stickers, funny papers, American musicals, contry/western music, jazz, talking movies and George W. Bush.
posted by Postroad at 3:58 AM on June 30, 2003


Well, now that I think about it, settler colonies in general (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada) seem to have supportive immigrant communities...which makes sense.

Nice collection of colonies where the natives were vanished. Nothing like crimes against humanity in your historic past to breed strong patriotism.

Perhaps settler colonies are just naturally more dynamic than established older "states" because by their very nature they attract the more ambitious from the rest of the world

"More ambitious" being fringe folks often socially or otherwise prosecuted ... and in some cases condemned criminals.

Lastly, your "older vs. newer states" rhetoric (where did I hear that before?) fails to explain the "newer states" that went horribly wrong despite having plenty of natural resources and strong immigration, like Argentina.
posted by magullo at 4:24 AM on June 30, 2003


Oh, come off it about the native populations Magullo. The vast majority of immigrants to all of these countries had nothing to do with the (admittedly horrible) genocides perpatrated against the native populations. The bulk of the immigrants who ended up in the US for instance stayed in the eatern seaboard or the Great Lakes area in the nineteenth century and had no interation with Native Americans at all.

Hmmm. So the vast immigration of Polish catholics, German Protestants, Scandanvian Protestants, and Southern European Catholics in the 19th century were "fringe folk?" Think again. Most immigrants to the US were middle to lower-middle class ambititous people who were unable to get ahead in their own socities because of social constraints like the role of the aristocracy or sometimes religious persecution (ie, Jews.) Same with the mass immigrations of Southern Europeans to Australia and New Zealand this century. Believe it or not, immigrating across oceans was an expensive business. It was not generally peniless, illiterate peasants who made the journey (those this was sometimes the case.)
posted by pjgulliver at 4:43 AM on June 30, 2003


His points are terribly weak and contentious. It's possible to make a much stronger case for American 'exceptionalism'. You could start with the fact that the US is the unquestioned intellectual powerhouse of the world. In the arts, the sciences, engineering and medicine the achievements and ongoing research in the US represent the cutting edge. Sourced in the US, a constant river of invention and technique improves the lives of all.

The same applies for society. I don't believe that gay liberation, for example, or womens rights, would have happened in the UK if it had not been for the lead from the US - it certainly would have taken much much longer. Again the US is a focus of challenge and response, breeding innovation that affects the whole world.

We are all citizens of our respective nations, but we are also citizens of the world, the human project if you like. For whatever reasons, probably temporary, the US is the place that is barrelling into the future on all our behalf, for better or worse. That's what makes it exceptional.
posted by grahamwell at 4:48 AM on June 30, 2003


That article could have been condensed succintly into 'I love america!' reminds me so much of the police academy film. Just another small point statements such as 'we is the greatest nation on earth' would not be so laughable if such conservative assertions could be reinforced via the provision of some facts to back up the case. I know I have such quaint ideas (and appalingly bad teeth).
posted by johnnyboy at 4:50 AM on June 30, 2003


The same applies for society. I don't believe that gay liberation, for example, or womens rights, would have happened in the UK if it had not been for the lead from the US

I'm sorry, when did sodomy become legal in America again? And when do you think women got the vote in the US compared to, say, Canada or the UK?
posted by Jairus at 4:55 AM on June 30, 2003


America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy.
If your standard of comparison is India, well, then yes. But I would argue that the USA is the worst country in the industrialized world to be poor in, and the greatest to be rich in, despite the fact that in terms of natural resources it is probably the richest country in the world. The fact that D'Souza is impressed that "we now live in a country where construction workers regularly pay $4 for a nonfat latte" shows his lack of knowledge of EU (and I expect Canadian, Australian, Japanese, Korean etc.) societies. Living in the poorest EU economy I can safely say that Albanian economic refugees in the construction business are sipping 3.5 euro fredos daily in coffeshops around Athens.
People live longer, fuller lives in America.
The "fuller" part is meaningless, but the "longer" is just plain incorrect.
America has gone further than any other society in establishing equality of rights, a statement he illustrates by stating that: surely African Americans like Jesse Jackson are vastly better off living in America than they would be if they were to live in, say, Ethiopia or Somalia. Notice that he avoids saying "... in places such as Sweden and the UK.
Visitors to places like New York are amazed to see the way in which Serbs and Croatians, Sikhs and Hindus, Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Jews and Palestinians, all seem to work and live together in harmony.
... just like they do in London, Melbourne and Montreal...

There is so little substance to this argument that it becomes self-parodying.
posted by talos at 5:00 AM on June 30, 2003


Jairus, remember Stonewall and Soap?.
posted by grahamwell at 5:03 AM on June 30, 2003


I don't remember SOAP, and I know Stonewall only as a UK-based gay-rights group... I don't see how these two things are relevant to America leading the women's and gay rights movement throughout the world. A gay sitcom means nothing if gay activity is illegal in most parts of the country that airs it.

Additionally, I question (and take a bit of offence to) your statement that "the US is the unquestioned intellectual powerhouse of the world. In the arts, the sciences, engineering and medicine..." Quite simply, I think to make a statement like that, you have to be blissfully unaware of developments being made elsewhere.
posted by Jairus at 5:10 AM on June 30, 2003


From the article: People live longer, fuller lives in America

I hear this repeated constantly. No ... and no.

Most of the rest of the article goes down the same road: "America is the only country in the world that extends full membership to outsiders" (but if you're a married immigrant, your espouse has to request her own separate visa, unlike in most of the rest of the world and that is one tiny detail). "America has the kindest, gentlest foreign policy of any great power in world history" (world history indeed proves that kindness is the way to supremacy).


Oh, come off it about the native populations Magullo.

Other settler colonies didn't take off. So I won't come off.

The vast majority of immigrants to all of these countries had nothing to do with the (admittedly horrible) genocides perpetrated against the native populations.

That did not stop the Allies from forbidding German and Japanese military bodies post WWII. Which of the two options is the unfair one?

The bulk of the immigrants who ended up in the US for instance stayed in the Eastern seaboard or the Great Lakes area in the nineteenth century and had no interaction with Native Americans at all.

And all this time I thought the conquer of the West was such a paramount period in so many senses for so many Americans. Oh well, I was wrong. Who would have known that everything West of the Mississippi appeared overnight (California included)?

It was not generally penniless, illiterate peasants who made the journey

Right, they tended to arrive with good written and spoken English, which incidentally tells you a lot about the conditions where they came from. More than ambitious, they were desperate. When I say fringe, I mean made fringe by their society's rules (often admitedly terrible by themselves).

posted by magullo at 5:24 AM on June 30, 2003


Stonewall if you're interested - as for Soap - well, you had to be there. It was the first ever sympathetic portrayal of a gay man on TV and the impact, in the age of Danny la Rue, was immense.

Intellectually, yes there's activity across the world, I don't dispute that, but consider where the major journals are published, where the largest and best funded universities and institutes are, where the most patents are filed. It's a one horse race.
posted by grahamwell at 5:28 AM on June 30, 2003


Maybe it's just me, but homophobia-fueled police raids does not do well for your argument of the US leading the world in gay rights...

Are you really using mass patent filings and big expensive institutes as a yardstick for world-leading intellect, here? I don't even know where to begin...
posted by Jairus at 5:40 AM on June 30, 2003


Miss Manners weighs in on the lighter, more social aspects of anti-Americanism (beware inane Wash. Post survey form).
posted by JanetLand at 5:41 AM on June 30, 2003


Well begin somewhere Jairus, what would you use?
posted by grahamwell at 5:48 AM on June 30, 2003


I wouldn't use anything.

The mentality that any country is the "the unquestioned intellectual powerhouse of the world. In the arts, the sciences, engineering and medicine..." is what I take offence to. There is no unquestioned intellectual powerhouse of the world. There is no 'best' country on earth. Everything, everything is relative.

The title of this post is perfect: Why must America always be the greatest? By saying you're 'the greatest' at anything, you're relegating all other parties to second-best, or worse. Not all of us in the world community view progress and technology as a race.

IMHO, it is primarily this mentality that is causing a growing rift between the US and the rest of the world.
posted by Jairus at 6:00 AM on June 30, 2003


OK. All shall win and all shall have prizes
posted by grahamwell at 6:08 AM on June 30, 2003


Again, the mentality that one country is the 'best'. All that link shows is that scientists who work in nobel-favoured areas are primarily American, nothing else.
posted by Jairus at 6:17 AM on June 30, 2003


good editorial about D'Souza here:
Segregation was the attempt of the Southern aristocracy to protect blacks. The civil rights movement was the consummation of relativism (the perpetual boogie-man of the right), not moral absolutes such as the equality of mankind, and has resulted in the arrested development of black people. Racial discrimination can be perfectly rational and ought not to be prevented by the government. D'Souza's all-out assault against history and common-sense goes on and on for 724 pages, attempting to accord old Ku Klux Klan arguments respectability simply because he is an Ivy League-educated Asian.
Ironically, he ends up exhibiting the same suspension of rationality and descent into absurdity that he accused the PC left of committing


I'v got say, D'Souza has a good point, show me another country where immigrants are some of the strongest/most patriotic supporters of that nation.
Israel
posted by matteo at 6:31 AM on June 30, 2003


Everything, everything is relative.

Sure, to a postmodernist. Anyway, this American can't remember having a conversation where everyone sat around talking about how America was "the best." It's a damn good country, with some damn good people (and some damn fool idiots, too). It does certain things very well. But I'm willing to forgive hyperbolic claims that the U.S. is "the best country on earth," since that's so much closer to the truth than the tired refrains that the U.S. is the scourge of the earth.
posted by pardonyou? at 6:41 AM on June 30, 2003


From now on I'm just going to repost this line of Baudrillard's every time one of this "America is Great!", "No, It's evil!" arguments seems to begin: Tocqueville describes the beneficial effects of democracy and the American constitution with considerable enthusiasm, praising the inherent freedom of the way of life, the regularity of mores (rather than the equality of status), supremacy of a moral (rather than political) organisation of society. He describes with equal lucidity the extermination of the Indians and the condition of the Negroes without ever bringing these two realities together. As if good and evil had developed separately. Is it possible that one can, while keenly feeling both these aspects pass over the relation between them? Certainly it is, and the same paradox faces us today: we shall never resolve the enigma of the relation between the negative foundations of greatness and that greatness itself. America is powerful and original; America is violent and abominable. We should not seek to deny either of these aspects, nor to reconcile them.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:53 AM on June 30, 2003 [1 favorite]


Jairus: if we're careful about what we mean by 'best', we might be able to agree. There's one sense of 'best' which is subjective, rah rah stuff. Let's put that to one side. Another sense is objective - the most favourable environment for research, development, progress and innovation. This is measurable by results. It's not a trivial issue, all nations would like to understand and emulate the conditions that produce barrelfuls of Nobel prizewinners.

There's clearly something that America is doing right and has been doing right since WWII. I disagree that it's relative. The Nobel table highlights this in that it shows the degree to which America took over intellectual leadership (at the very least in the Nobel fields) from Europe after 1950. This isn't a moral or value judgement, nevertheless it's something America can rightly believe is of value and strive to preserve, just as it's something other countries try to emulate as best they can.
posted by grahamwell at 6:54 AM on June 30, 2003


There's clearly something that America is doing right and has been doing right since WWII

You mean things like not waging a war so that America's infrastructures grew at a time when pretty much everywhere else infrastructures where being in fact destroyed? "We must be doing something right, although I could not really point it out" sure sounds like "rah rah" to me.

And what Pseudoephedrine well said.
posted by magullo at 7:05 AM on June 30, 2003


pardonyou: To an Iraqi mother whose children were killed by a US bomb, the US is the scourge of the earth. To an Iraqi mother whose children were saved by a US-led development in medical technology, the US is the best country on earth.

Postmodernism aside, everything is relative. Most American tourists who have come up to Canada that I've spoken with will talk for hours how America is the best. Most Canadians I know who've moved down there have moved back in short order, with an American or two who came with them because they think Canada's the best.

By denying relativity, you're denying personal experience.

grahamwell: There are a million ways to interpret any statistic. You can say "America has more science nobels than Sweden, so therefore it's the best in science"... but you could also say, "Sweden has won a Nobel for every 400,000 people, and in the US it's almost triple that number, so Sweden is the best in science."

I'm not arguing that the US hasn't led the world in the quantity of nobel prizes since WWII, but I am arguing the relevance of that single measurement (and of any single measurement) when applied on a global scale.
posted by Jairus at 7:09 AM on June 30, 2003


graham well, an Australian primetime TV soapie called Number 96, which began in 1972, supposedly had the world's first sympathetic gay soap character "who also took part in the first prime time homosexual kiss on the show. It took American TV almost 30 years to catch up, with a homosexual kiss in Dawson's Creek last year." Maybe Americans are generally more insular than other Western countries due to the sheer scale of North America and, therefore, it's just easier to assume that they are the best or first in everything? Or maybe generalising is just useless, I dunno.
posted by Onanist at 7:10 AM on June 30, 2003


couched in hyperbole and a childish hankering for being number 1

early training. american primary schooling is all about culling the physically strong, athletically inclined, and competitive natured from the rest of the herd and setting them an assisted course to wealth and/or power. the rest are encouraged in milquetoastery and conformity in order to produce obedient consumers. what's left are generally written off as prison or welfare fodder.
posted by quonsar at 7:28 AM on June 30, 2003


grahamwell: the article you pointed to (about the number of US nobel prize winners) is flawed, as far as your argument is concerned (becuase as far as the authors' argument is concerned it's full of holes) because it counts as a US citizen (and only as a US citizen) anybody with dual citizenship. Thus people who received basic training in the sciences outside the USA are counted as americans if they worked at a US university at the time that they received the prize or when they did the work for which they are being awarded. Thus for example, 2002 laureate in physics Riccardo Giacconi, is counted as an American (presumably, otherwise the numbers mentioned don't add up) whereas. in Italy he is seen (obviously) as uno italiano
However, science being an international endeavour, I'm not sure that the nobel laureates themselves would applaud their use as "patriotic" point grabbers. So let's leave it at that, agreeing that top level US universities are, without doubt, powerhouses of the sciences. And that this has nothing to do with D'Souza's arguments which are rather lame. So lame, in fact, as to cast doubt as to whether humanities' fellows in Stanford are worthy of their science colleagues.
posted by talos at 7:29 AM on June 30, 2003


talos: agreed, I wasn't making a point about Americans, who, I guess, are the same as everyone else. Mr Giacconi, like so many others, voted with his feet.
posted by grahamwell at 7:53 AM on June 30, 2003


A non-inclusive list about what makes a country dominant:

1. Extended mercantilism. Not just specie, but whatever nation holds the economic strings of such industries as mining, agriculture, advanced technology and finance.

2. Governmental efficiency: A ratio of what the government promises vs. what it delivers. This ratio placed on a sliding scale of the total number of promises.
Something approaching a 1:1, with a high number of accomplishments, *indicates* that the nation is powerful.
In fact, this indicator might be better than "system of government" as an indicator.

3. Socially vigorous: maintaining a balance between social welfare and social competition sustains minimum standards while encouraging maximum accomplishment.

4. Demographics: maintenance or improvement of population numbers and quality, along with the incorporation of talented or economic-incentive immigrants seeking prosperity.

5. Cultural hegemony. The export of a nation's cultural matrix, political and social opinion, fashion & design, ethics and morality.

6. Diplomacy/Intelligence/Tourism: "diplomacy is war by other means", a potent force multiplier--the best war gives a mutually favorable outcome without a fight. Intelligence dissipates fear and stimulates economic development through competition. Tourism exports cultural hegemony and stimulates international communication.

7. Incorporation/Flexibility. The ability to absorb the better idea from other nations, along with discrimination against ideas that are *not* better. The flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances not just reactively, but proactively.

8. An appreciation of history by the government (if not by the people as a whole.) Record keeping and remembrance, along with active research of the past, not only helps a government avoid the pitfalls of others, but to develop effective strategies for the future.


Examining nations based on these criteria, in an unbiased manner, I believe will indicate who are the leaders, who are stagnant, and who are failing to compete to the detriment of their citizens.
posted by kablam at 8:16 AM on June 30, 2003


I've always thought that cultural hegemony is bad for culture at large. The rest is in general too ambiguous / open to interpretation (i.e. "discrimination against ideas that are *not* better" - let' talk about gun control, shall we?)
posted by magullo at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2003


grahamwell: interestingly, and pointing to the truly nomadic nature of science nowadays, Dr. Giacconi has, if you check his bio, migrated back and forth between the two coasts of the Atlantic, in pursuit, I assume, of the most interesting projects. So the "voting with his feet" part is not that simple to interpret.
posted by talos at 8:38 AM on June 30, 2003


Dinesh began his career at Dartmouth where he founded the conservative Dartmouth Review with money provided by William Buckley. He and his blonde harpy pal Laura Ingraham secretly taped meetings of the gay student support group and mailed the tapes to the students' parents in an effort at intimidation. Dinesh would be happy to have gays required to wear lavender stars on their chests when in public. That the bigot is considered an intellectual darling of American conservatives says a lot.
posted by JackFlash at 8:59 AM on June 30, 2003


"D'Souza's Gassy Wind":

"If these critics [ of America ] are right, then America should be destroyed." - Spoken like a true terrorist - If it could be demonstrated that the critics are at least half right, would this this mean that America should be half destroyed? Ah - not to worry, for D'Souza assures us that "America, the freest nation on Earth, is also the most virtuous nation on Earth." So we are, thankfully, spared from destruction. That's good.

D'Souza is a silly man with a very loud megaphone, and he has always annoyed me in the way that, during an unbearable heat wave in a room without air conditioning, a large, loud fly buzzing at one's sweat drenched head disrupts hard won sleep.

The stench of his gassy half-truths, bromides, and lazy falsehoods - loudly trumpeted in the manner of which Dante so vividly described - assaults my senses -

"America provides an amazingly good life for the ordinary guy. We now live in a country where....where maids drive nice cars." Some maids do so, I'm sure. Others are "Nickle and Dimed"

"....newcomers to the United States are struck by the amenities enjoyed by "poor" people."

Ah yes, including the superior educational system for children from the kindegarten age through to their late teens, the free day care services, and the free (rationed, yes, but at least adequate) health care system.

Oh wait. I'm thinking of Sweden. Or was it France? Denmark? Belgium? Germany?.......perhaps D'Souza was referring to our extensive and magnificent prison system? The excellent availability of street drugs such as crack, and of malt liquor and cigarettes? The extensive networks of fast food franchises supplying cheap, healthy fast food cuisine? Or the superior quality of the American trash, so much better than Calcutta or Bombay trash in it's richness, which litters the city streets and provides a safety net for those industrious ones who live in state mandating bottle and can deposits?

Perhaps D'Souza is referring to that free educational and informative network television fare ( envied - and slavishly imatated - the world over ) which also serves as an incentive to the poor, a lure to economic self improvement, as it displays for them the many varieties of glittering luxury autos and other fine consumer products which can, with sufficient effort and self discpline, be theirs?

"America offers more opportunity and social mobility than any other country."

: Mobility in many directions - a speedy route to the grave, or to prison. The US' has just beaten Russia for the #1 position, among major industrialized nations on Earth, for the highest number of citizens in prison (both on a per capita and an absolute number basis), and is in hot pursuit of Brazil and South Africa for most homicides per capita.

Contrast D'Souza's stirring "give me your poor, huddled, downtrodden masses..." rhetoric [ "In America the destiny of the young is not given to them, but created by them......America is a country where you get to write the script of your own life. Your life is like a blank sheet of paper, and you are the artist.." ] with the increasingly stark socioeconomic transformation underway in the U.S. Recent research has shown (see below) that mobility in the U.S. is far less than once believed, and that it takes, on average, Five or Six generations to erase the benefits or disadvantages one's economic origins - about a century, perhaps more. And mobility is likely declining even as economic stratification is increases.

social mobility in the U.S. is declining: "It seems increasingly apparent that the secret to success is to have a successful parent. Consider some prominent examples: George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds; Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda; Estée Lauder and Ronald Lauder; Julio Iglesias and Enrique Iglesias; Sam Walton and Jim, John, S. Robson and Alice Walton.....As more recent and better data have become available, economists have marked up their estimate of the impact of parents' socioeconomic status on their children's likelihood of economic success. .....It turns out that the famous line attributed to Andrew Carnegie — "from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations" — is an understatement. Five or six generations are probably required, on average, to erase the advantages or disadvantages of one's economic origins. ....This represents a marked departure from past thinking.....Why is there such a strong connection between parents' socioeconomic status and their children's? A large part of the answer involves intergenerational transmission of cognitive ability and educational level.

But these factors can "explain at most three-fifths of the intergenerational transmission of economic status," Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis of the University of Massachusetts wrote in the latest issue of The Journal of Economic Perspectives. They suggest that the intergenerational transmission of race, geographical location, height, beauty, health status and personality also plays a significant role." (Alan Krueger, NYT November 14, 2002)
Paul Krugman picks up this story - "But the past is only prologue. According to one study cited by Mr. Krueger, the heritability of status has been increasing in recent decades. And that's just the beginning. Underlying economic, social and political trends will give the children of today's wealthy a huge advantage over those who chose the wrong parents.

For one thing, there's more privilege to pass on. Thirty years ago the C.E.O. of a major company was a bureaucrat — well paid, but not truly wealthy. He couldn't give either his position or a large fortune to his heirs. Today's imperial C.E.O.'s, by contrast, will leave vast estates behind — and they are often able to give their children lucrative jobs, too. More broadly, the spectacular increase in American inequality has made the gap between the rich and the middle class wider, and hence more difficult to cross, than it was in the past.....Meanwhile, one key doorway to upward mobility — a good education system, available to all — has been closing. "

Indeed, the U.S. Middle Class is shrinking although the overall impact of the Bush tax cuts will be to shift more of the overall tax burden to, you guessed it, the middle class. Meanwhile, the rich have been steadily getting richer. The U.S. census bureau data for the 1948-1998 period directly contradicts D'Souzas coke bottle thick rose glasses distored vision.

In fact, inequality in the U.S. has been getting worse since 1968-1970, and the trend post 1998 has continued at least, if not accelerated. (see links at the end of this post).

I'll let other Mefi'ers step in to rebut some of the other D'Souza arguments listed below (some on this thread have already doen so, quite effectively).

"America is the only country in the world where we call the waiter "sir," as if he were a knight. "

"People live longer, fuller lives in America."

America has found a solution to the problem of religious and ethnic conflict that continues to divide and terrorize much of the world.....all seem to work and live together in harmony."

"America has the kindest, gentlest foreign policy of any great power in world history."

But I just couldn't resist turning up the flames on this self satisfied, smarmy, revisonist turd: "Twice in the 20th century, the United States saved the world -- first from the Nazi threat, then from Soviet totalitarianism." - this is either lazy and incompetent revisionism or simply a bald-faced lie.

FACT: the Soviet totalitarian state (and it sure was, under Stalin) did the bulk of the fighting against Hitler's armies in WW2. FACT: American industrial concerns provided some of the key funding which ennabled Hitler's rise to power, and GM, Ford and IBM subsidiaries in Germany built the bulk of vehicles for the German Wermacht and provided the punch card technology which helped to facillitate the Holocaust. In some cases, profits between these subsidiaries and their parent companies in the US continued to flow during the war. The Bush family dynasty fortune derived from such "trading with the enemy". Reparations were paid after the war for damage done by allied bombing to American corporate subsidiary plants in Germany which aided the German war effort. During the war, in one case, a major oil concern which was palying both sides of the fence parried an attempt the Roosevelt Administration to curtail "trading with the enemy" by threatening to shut down the US war effort by cutting of the flow of oil. FACT: we will never know what the Soviet State could have been, due to the concerted effort, on the past of the western capitalist industrial powers, to crush socialism in Russia from it's very inception (through sending troops and supporting the White Russian counterrevolution, and when this was unsuccesfull, through economic boycott.) The USSR came very close, at one point, to going the "European" way of a "mixed" economy. I would suggest that attempts to crush the Russian socialist experiment may have tipped that balance point, and that they certainly helped provoke the experiment's metastisization into Stalinism.

For the record, I do agree with many of D'Souza's assesments about those actual mechanisms of government which benefit America and the US political process. These are truisms, if good to reassert.

But the end of his article, please....

"To make us love our country," Edmund Burke once said, "our country ought to be lovely." Burke's point is that we should love our country not just because it is ours, but also because it is good. America is far from perfect, and there is lots of room for improvement. In spite of its flaws, however, American life as it is lived today is the best life that our world has to offer. Ultimately America is worthy of our love and sacrifice because, more than any other society, it makes possible the good life, and the life that is good."

I'll leave it to you, gentle readers, to determine what Edmund Burke meant. But it clearly has little to do with D'Souza's formulation, which amounts to: "We should love and sacrifice for America because it provides us with a good life."

There is a world of difference between 1) a country which provides a good product and 2) one which is "lovely" - which I take to mean "admirable both for what it is and also for it's conduct."

There is a smug quality to D'Souzas' shiny, cheaply plated rhetoric which makes me think: he is much smarter than this but, knowing better, chooses to continue serving up, in such fragrant and steaming helpings, that which his right wing think tank patrons request. I'm not sure he has any actual convictions at all except that, through his literary excretions, he can attain a pleasant lifestyle involving beltway cocktail parties, speaking engagements, and book tours.

A big lie? No, I would instead call it "A Gassy Wind"

*US income distribution moves towards 3rd world profile:The "L Curve": a graphic depiction of US wealth distribution.

"The most egalitarian countries have a Gini index in the 20s. European countries like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Norway, and Sweden all fall in that range, according to World Bank figures. Canada and Australia are just over 30. The United States is around 40...Once inequality reaches 50 percent, disparities become glaringly obvious, to the
point where they undermine a society's sense of unity and common purpose....Sierra Leone takes the prize. At 63 percent, it offers the world's most extreme example of inequality."

By multiple measures, income inequality in the US is rapidly increasing, and 60% of Americans are sliding towards poverty. US Census Bureau data: family income distribution, 1947 to 2001.

posted by troutfishing at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2003


D'Souza is one of the less sophisticated conservative "cultural warriors" but he's very influential and very "Establishment".
When one knows a little about the biographies of these conservative pundits, one's uneasiness about the content of their arguments is heightened. One wonders how Mr. D'Souza can pooh-pooh the concerns of black students about racist speech, given his own background. When D'Souza was a student, the campus newspaper he edited published a "joke" photograph of a lynched black student hanging on the Dartmouth campus. Similar "jokes" included publishing the names of gay students who did not wish their sexuality to be a matter of public discussion -- after those names had been taken from a list stolen from the gay student organization's office. When D'Souza attained the mature status of a graduate student at Princeton, he wrote an article which revealed the details of a woman student's sex life without her consent.The article was written for a magazine, Prospect, founded by "Concerned Alumni" not long after Princeton started to admit women. The person selected as editor of that magazine during Mr. D'Souza's time there was . . . Dinesh D'Souza. As Louis Menand put it in a book review written for The New Yorker, "It is not pleasant to see a man who did so much to poison the wells now turning up dressed as the water commissioner, and it will be apparent to most people who read Illiberal Education that the book's promise of balance is a false one."
From The PC Harangue by James Boyle.
posted by y2karl at 9:38 AM on June 30, 2003


Oh boy. gassy, mercenary, dumb, and mean!
posted by troutfishing at 10:32 AM on June 30, 2003


magullo: Your point about gun control is that it is a closed debate? Discrimination against *bad* ideas by a society is the recognition that while some society may accept it, it is not acceptable to "this" one (whatever "this" society is). The US "officially" rejects such things as slavery, child prostitution, and genocide, no matter if another nation thinks they are reasonable or at least stoically acceptable.
Discrimination against such ideas, even "knee jerk" discrimination, is acceptable, and even reasonable, in the US. And all societies do something like this, to their benefit or detriment.

However, the US is split over gun control, abortion, and other topics. So the "discrimination" on those issues is less established. As issues they are still open to debate, and as such the US as a nation might have official "leanings" one way or another, but there is no profound social sanction on these issues.

As far as "cultural hegemony" goes, it is a complex thing. Its strongest parts are those standards that the dominant nation encourages, such as English as a standard tongue in Air Traffic Control, technical and measurement standards, passport standards, common currencies, etc.

Its passive side is the marketing of the culture, which can be nationally atypical, say with the "Hollywood vs. Bollywood" situation. Or the more marked struggle of "The Western Way vs. The Asian Way", a cultural struggle that will take many years to overcome by everyone.
posted by kablam at 10:34 AM on June 30, 2003


i bet Miguel never asked metafilter to debate if your country is/isn't the greatest.

doesn't that kinda prove america rocks or something? if not, then this post is a troll.

oh, and we made ron jeremy a megastar.
posted by danOstuporStar at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2003


The Paradoxes of American Nationalism
posted by homunculus at 10:49 AM on June 30, 2003


The bulk of the immigrants who ended up in the US for instance stayed in the eatern seaboard or the Great Lakes area in the nineteenth century and had no interation with Native Americans at all.
posted by pjgulliver at 4:43 AM PST on June 30


Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. The eastern seaboard clearly did have indigenous inhabitants once - who sold the island of Manhattan for a song, and where are they now?
posted by dash_slot- at 11:57 AM on June 30, 2003


danOstuporStar

I remember a recent post by Miguel which could be interpreted as " one of the best things in life, in fact in the world, is savoring grilled sardines in a tranquil seaside town in my country". You take it from there, pal. I saw no objections to the admitedly subtle boasting in that thread. And sardines, let me assure you, stink something bad.

(Disclaimer: I can still taste them from my memory without having eaten them in years. I absolutely yearn them, but no one in their sane mind would cook them *inside* their home: they'll stink up the place for months.)

kablam

The original sentence, like many others in the article, implied that in US society kept *bad* ideas completely discriminated. The point is not so much what are the current social debates, but the fact that at the very least many ideas cannot be objectively labelled bad or good. In most industrialized countries, weapons are placed under strict control and the US *singular* policy on the matter is seemed as bad and definitely not a minor issue. I'm not going to go into the gun control debate but the claim is that if it is done in America, then it is necessarily either "not bad" or "minor", then it is clearly unsustainable.

As far as cultural hegemony, while you talk about English being the current technical language, I was thinking more in the line of Michelangelo vs. Jim Carrey, or (maybe more palatable for some) the Keops Pyramids vs. the Chrysler building. I do think that everyone should be at least bilingual (opens your mind). I'd also rather not have winners and losers in the culture wars. Can't we all show what we've got and play with each other's toys?
posted by magullo at 12:10 PM on June 30, 2003


Miguel ...

"Be it the greatest sham or show on earth; why is American nationalism and anti-nationalism always couched in hyperbole and a childish hankering for being number 1, whether in the best or the worst senses?"

Funny thing how true this is Miguel ... and both of them are in full colors in this thread alone ...
posted by MidasMulligan at 2:03 PM on June 30, 2003


A non-inclusive list about what makes a country dominant

Add geography to this list. America has a huge amount of prime land in terms of agricultural and natural resources.
posted by moonbiter at 2:59 PM on June 30, 2003


MidasMulligan - You forgot to mention the honourable Mr. D'Souza himself;

"If these critics [ of America ] are right, then America should be destroyed." - Spoken like a true terrorist - If it could be demonstrated that the critics are at least half right, would this this mean that America should be half destroyed? Does this guy have a vengefull god-complex, or what? I bet D' Souza used to burn ants with a magnifying glass as a kid, and never grew out of it.

Ah - not to worry, for D'Souza assures us that "America, the freest nation on Earth, is also the most virtuous nation on Earth." So we are, thankfully, spared from destruction. That's good.

But I'm suspicious that D'Souza got his 'Virtue-ometer' at Wal-Mart, and it was poorly calibrated. Or, maybe he just (foolishly) bought it at a yard sale! Twit.
posted by troutfishing at 3:49 PM on June 30, 2003


magullo

Sorry to say this, but of the first four sentences of your reply, none of them were proper sentences. I'm not quite sure what you were trying to say.

However, I will give it a go. I think your point was that, in the issue of gun control, other nations discriminate against guns, but the US does not, therefore the US should change. But that does not address my point of a dominant nation doing what *it* wants, as far as discrimination goes.

Every country has arguments about new ideas from other nations. A dominant country exports ideas, and uses discrimination to select from other nations' ideas as to what it wants to adopt. As an example, the US might find the pyramids, or the Temple of Karnak, to be magnificent Egyptian things; but at the same time utterly reject the institutionalized Egyptian hate and fear of homosexuals.
*And*, what the US learns about the pyramids or the temple, it exports, both back to Egypt and to the rest of the world.

A less dominant country may set up barriers to foreign ideas, even to such things as words that might "corrupt" their language, or American fast food. They do not let their people decide, or the marketplace. They discriminate against questions which should still be open to debate.
posted by kablam at 8:19 PM on July 1, 2003


Kablam - beyond ideas, what about marketplace innovations which degrade the "commons"? How do nations ("dominant", or not) address those?
posted by troutfishing at 9:59 PM on July 1, 2003


Nice insight, kablam. You say dominant countries discriminate against ideas and less dominant ones set up barriers to them. Errr ... what are you talking about? I'll say that a significant amount of Americans do have hate and fear of homosexuals. And the laws of the land support them - I seem to remember that firing someone for the sole reason of their sexual orientation is pretty much legal all over the US. I'll say it once again: America is NOT the sole custodian of *good* ideas, naturally discriminating against bad ones, like the writer claims. That's absurd.
posted by magullo at 2:03 AM on July 2, 2003


...scientists who work in nobel-favoured areas

I'd love to hear a few examples of nobel-disfavored areas (in the sciences, at least).
posted by shoos at 2:15 AM on July 2, 2003


troutfishing: first in degradation, and also in innovative solutions to alleviate that degradation. And no, signing on to the Kyoto accord is not an innovative solution, it is just agreeing to do less degradation, and let others do more; instead, let us say producing, selling and giving away anti-pollution equipment to poorer countries who cannot fabricate it themselves,*does* aid the commons. Aid that less dominant countries are less able to give.

magullo: you are incorrect on both counts. In the US the issue is wide open for debate, and change is ongoing; returning to an Egyptian status quo is no longer an option. Egypt, however, shows no inclination at all to change its ways.
My point, so easily missed, is not that the US is the sole custodian of *good* ideas, but out of their selection of ideas, they are far more likely to embrace the foreign concept, even enhance it; but are also *able* to distinguish good ideas from bad ideas, from *their* point of view, which can then only be justified on condemned after the fact.
Another example: China is in a full out race to obtain foreign technologies for both economic and military purposes. However, this has a major disadvantage, that they obtain solutions without knowing the process that was used to achieve them.
The US does the same, but then invests considerable time, effort and energy to reverse engineer what others have created. The advantages this give cannot be overstated, and show an availability of resources that only a dominant nation possess.
This is not to say that China doesn't reverse engineer--it does--but that the US does it a lot.

In the final analysis, all nations must assert themselves to some extent, but dominant nations try to do so across the listed criteria, seemingly in competition with each other.
posted by kablam at 5:19 PM on July 2, 2003


Kablam - OK, I agree with your response, except that you are sketching out some sort out of neo-socialism whereby the excesses of the free market are "fixed".....

"...producing, selling and giving away anti-pollution equipment to poorer countries who cannot fabricate it themselves..." - so what if those countries cannot afford this technology - Does the first world bomb them into oblivion to stop their development, or does it loan them money to buy nonpolluting technology? And, if the latter holds, what do we call such a loan: Capitalism? Socialism? Other?.....
posted by troutfishing at 8:22 PM on July 2, 2003


neo-capitalism, of course. what else?
posted by shoos at 1:58 AM on July 3, 2003


I'd love to hear a few examples of nobel-disfavored areas (in the sciences, at least).

Mathematics and astronomy are notoriously difficult fields in which to receive Nobel Prizes. There's a persistent rumor (almost certainly apocryphal) that Nobel's wife was cheating on him with a mathematician; his resentment is the reason for the lack of a mathematics prize.

There have been a few physics prizes given to astronomers, but they're really few and far between, especially considering the magnitude of public interest in astronomy.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:56 PM on July 3, 2003


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