Always down for some terrific writing
August 8, 2006 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Hating America is the latest amazing post on what appears to be an incredibly compelling Livejournal, where wonderful posts have been made on topics that include Legal Temping, Being a Gentrifier, Fluency in Spanish, and Loving the NBA.
posted by blasdelf (49 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read the hating america post a couple of days ago and it is a great piece of down home American pride. The downside is the rest of the world feels differently.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 5:48 AM on August 8, 2006


I read Hating America last night; I didn't realize there was other good stuff there too. You're right though, people hate America for all sorts of reasons he doesn't touch on. I liked the Being a Gentrifier essay.
posted by chunking express at 6:35 AM on August 8, 2006


So the rest of the world hates America because they are told to?
posted by Mick at 6:37 AM on August 8, 2006


I really enjoyed the Being a Gentrifier essay — reminded me of the freeform style in Might.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:43 AM on August 8, 2006


It was an interesting read. I've never really been one for the backpacking/wanting-to-get-lost-with-the-natives, but some of the referenced Conrad sparked a little wanderlust in my crusty heart. But that was always crushed by lack of time and commitments.

The big, multinational corporations might come from America, sure, but they certainly don't have a controlling share in how the life of Americans must go forward. I'm amazed how little McDonalds or Coke really has to do with my life, unless I invite them to the table.

I would wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. I understand where he is coming from, but it is a bit naive. When lobbyists are writing the language of legislation and then courting our representatives in our 'representative' government to vote for it, I would argue that they most certainly have a 'controlling share.'
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:47 AM on August 8, 2006


wow. great blog. thanks, blasdelf.
posted by Lisa S at 6:56 AM on August 8, 2006


Wow, the man can write. And before this discussion gets irrevocably off-track, the post is not about whether we should hate America, but about way a specific subset of young progressive Americans sometimes do when they come back from travels in the third world.

I'll bet there are a lot of folks on MetaFilter who have had similar experiences. I travelled hard and cheap through Latin America and south Asia in the 1980s. My longest trip was for a year. Coming back from that one was totally disconcerting--America seemed some huge noisy monster where I didn't fit in, my friends were aggressive and clueless. But I also remember walking through a big grocery store at night and being stunned at how bright and clean it was, the dizzying choices, and the fact that almost every American could afford the food there.

I also liked this part: I still think backpacking is something we should all have the chance to do, even if it does run the risk of turning our idea of the third world into a sort of playground for personal/psychological growth, a phenomenon that I generally find conjoined with all the overdemonstrative decadence of voluntary poverty. That was a mean chunk of sentence, but I hope you know what I'm getting at - the willing assumption of the trappings of poverty doesn't constitute an understanding of poverty any more than dipping your toe in the pool constitutes swimming. This isn't to say that the experience lacks merit, but it's important to eventually figure out that you ain't even looking to take a swim so much as stare at your reflection in the water.

I ended my lone traveler days because it came to seem so shallow. I was staring at poor people for my own personal growth. It was time to get serious about life and try to do something to make the world a little better place. Anyone else have a similar experience?
posted by LarryC at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


Yes. And well put.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2006


I ended my lone traveler days because it came to seem so shallow. I was staring at poor people for my own personal growth. It was time to get serious about life and try to do something to make the world a little better place. Anyone else have a similar experience?

I backpacked in richer countries with beautiful rural countrysides. I don't know that I really stopped to consider the socioeconomics of my travel plans, save for budgeting my trip carefully. I met other human beings and I came away personally richer for my travels. I don't know why considerations of personal wealth should come into the backpacking equation, honestly, as — to me — that's not what it's really about.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:09 AM on August 8, 2006


"I've got a hunch about America, dude..."

"What's that?"

"...You're doing it wrong."
Brilliant. Thanks for the link, blasdelf.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:16 AM on August 8, 2006


It shouldn't take the trappings of poverty to eke out an understanding of the peculiarities of socioeconomics... what a failure of imagination.

I bury my head as deeply as I can into this white, white world of mine, but end up speaking crude Chinese to a gold farmer named Loveyou in World of Warcraft, who is working a 12hr shift and making what I spent on the beer I'm drinking during said haphazard conversation.
posted by mek at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2006


"But still you'll never get it right,
'cos when you're laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all...
"
posted by kittyprecious at 7:28 AM on August 8, 2006


Great link, blasdelf. The Musty Man is indeed an excellent writer.

I also agree with LarryC's observation about extensive third world travel, but with some qualifications. Experiencing life the way the vast majority of the world's population lives is important, especially for Americans, even if you are only dippling your toe into the pool to test the water, as The Musty Man would say. This takes time and energy, but having spent more than a year doing this, I have little interest in taking such a mammoth trip again.

That being said, once you have gotten over the hump of experiencing the third world, I don't see that travel in a third world country is any more or less shallow than travel in the first world. In both, there is a lot of sightseeing and eating some new (hopefully good) food, and hopefully you get to meet some nice, interesting people and forge some form of relationship. And when you get to know new people, travel is fantastic, wherever it happens to be.
posted by huzzahhuzzah at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2006


Dave Barry with curse words.
posted by wfc123 at 7:47 AM on August 8, 2006


Nice read, but I think he's mistaking an intellectual problem for an emotional one.

I can empathize with him: after a recent visit to Panama I found myself examining my thoughts and feelings about Central America and came away realizing I'm simply older. I am "okay" with the fact I am not the same person I was ten or twenty years ago when my heart would nearly break by things I saw in places like El Salvador. Heck, I used to feel the same way about things I saw in Detroit too.

He's obviously wrestling with his own motives and how he has been framing poverty and suffering vs. wealth and privilege in his mind.

It doesn't mean it was wrong to feel the way he did before. Hell, during the 1980's and the dirty wars in Central America we WERE right. These people should not have to suffer simply because they are viewed as dominoes in the Cold War. [see also the United Fruit Company, the doomed Central American Common Market, Panama Canal etc. and the myriad ways Americans having been screwing with the ithsmus over the past two centuries with near absolute disregard for impact it had on the locals]

America should NOT have been giving military aid to governments that would not think twice about wiping out their "enemies" as they saw fit. America was born and built upon the distrust of state power over the natural rights of the individual. So why give the local elite carte blanche to destroy the life and liberty of powerless individuals trying to eke out a subsistence living on the margins of the 20th century?

And after the wars ended and there was relative calm in Central America, the new "enemy" appeared on the horizon in "globalism." This is much more complex phenomena than simply capitalism vs. socialism. This is hyper-capitalism and is for all intents and purposes unstoppable. Manageable, perhaps, but there is no governmental or non-governmental entity strong enough to prevent its spread and dominance.

As I'm older now, I can see the ambiguity. Globalism is more than McDonald's. Technology is a huge boon to the poor of the world. Computers and telecommunications provide coveted employment opportunities and the infrastructure to help build a more prosperous life.

The key question is what do these people want? It's not for us to decide. I don't think they want to live in a state of nature and he's right to see a hippy backpackers as just another tourist. But it's not about comparing America to
Third World countries.

When you get older and develop a thicker skin it doesn't mean you were wrong to feel the way you did in the past.
You're are literally a different person now and maybe you simply want to see practical solutions to real problems. At least that's how I feel about it.

I don't care to intellectualize it to my own satisfaction, I've wrested with it and I'm okay with how I felt then and how I feel now.
posted by crowman at 7:52 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I read the on being a gentrifier essay and it was funny because he moved from U street to columbia heights which is a distance of maybe a couple blocks. The neighborhoods in DC are really small. So I don't get how it would be a mystery what columbia heights is like. Plus I'm super white, have lived in columbia heights for a year and a half and haven't had anything thrown at me. One time I got called snowflake which was pretty sweet sounding for a racial slur.
posted by I Foody at 7:54 AM on August 8, 2006


I was just about to write the same thing, I Foody. Is the guy walking around with a KKK hood on, or something? I mean, yes, I'm sure there have been disparaging remarks made behind my back as I've walked through my NE neighborhood, and I have had to yield the sidewalk to some young toughs at times, but, sheesh, Columbia Heights ain't exactly the frontier. I see a bit of a persecution complex going on.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2006


Text is hard to read, though.
posted by JanetLand at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2006


I liked those essays. Except for the "Gentrifier." I can't stand when people say "African American" over and over. Ok. You listen to NPR and took Minorty Studies in college. We get it.

It's okay to say "Black", people.
posted by tkchrist at 9:01 AM on August 8, 2006


I Foody and MrMoonPie, I was thinking the same thing as well. I lived in Columbia Heights two years ago, just as the big condos and the new shopping center were breaking ground, and I never got anything of this kind.

Still, the guy is funny and can write, so I gave him some slack.
posted by Inkoate at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2006


I Flood, MrMoonPie and Inkoate, I wonder if you all missed the City Paper article on rock throwing from Garfield Terrace, on 11th Street?
posted by 8 Bit at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2006


I mean, yes, I'm sure there have been disparaging remarks made behind my back as I've walked through my NE neighborhood, and I have had to yield the sidewalk to some young toughs at times, but, sheesh, Columbia Heights ain't exactly the frontier.

Something tells me that this guy too idealistic to avoid the young toughs, MrMoonPie; that may be part of the problem. But the whole thing is a reverie that takes place in the space of a few seconds, between being insulted and talking to the old man. The result is some pretty effective short story tension, before he realizes that he's overreacting. The Morgan Freeman stuff was a nice touch.
posted by zennie at 9:20 AM on August 8, 2006


Experiencing life the way the vast majority of the world's population lives is important, especially for Americans

Yeah, and I wish it were possible. You can take a long bus ride to Copan, you can buy some local threads, take a room in a nasty hotel or with a poor family, you can eat what they eat, share their occasional dysentery, listen to their music and speak their language and laugh and cry with them and all that--but you still have that passport in your back pocket. When the military seizes power, or civil society breaks down, or you just want clean sheets, you're gone. It is a good experience to have, but it really is all about you.

At some point in life it is important to do more than have experiences, you need to start thinking about the significance of your life for those around you. What are they going to write on my tombstone? "Here lies LarryC, he went to a lot of cool places and had humanitarian thoughts?" At some point you take those travel experiences and use them to fashion the adult self, who hopefully makes a difference in the world, even in some small way. That is what I meant by saying that after a point, Third World travel became shallow. I felt I was ducking my responsibilities.
posted by LarryC at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2006


Good blog. Here's a nice bit from "Hating America":

You see a noisy asshole whitehat at the airport and think "AHA! I HAVE FOUND THE TRUTH OF AMERICA WRIT LARGE!", or you go into a Chinese Buffet and think "I CAN EAT AS MUCH AS I WANT AND NONE OF IT WILL GIVE ME DYSENTARY I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY!" Whether you receive this suddenly new data as a cause for joy or disdain says very little about America and a lot about you, parallel to the sort of observations one makes when they're abroad. I find that my cultural observations about Guatemala are usually really about me. "These people are mean" means "I am lonely." "Those people are loud" means "I feel excluded." "This country is great" means "I love being unemployed and drunk." When I start talking about AMERICA on the return, I'm usually still just talking about myself.

But I have a problem with this paragraph from "Fluency in Spanish":

In my experience, the statistical characterization of Americans as people who don't bother to learn another language is totally inaccurate. Yeah, I speak some Spanish, and of my best high school friends, one speaks a little French, another speaks a little Russian, another speaks a little of about thirteen different languages, and another never shuts the fuck up. I bet a lot of you speak somewhere between a little and a lot of any number of different languages, most of which you are probably cribbing together from the hangover of your high school education and maybe a few optimistic college classes before you let it slide. After all, we all know what happens to the sort who selects a language (or group of languages) as a major. Hopefully one of you will emerge from the crowd and prove this point for me.

Can anyone explain the sentence I've bolded? Because I don't have the faintest idea what it means, even though (or because) I was a language major. (Also, he doesn't seem to be distinguishing very clearly between "taking some language courses" and "being able to speak another language.")
posted by languagehat at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2006


Needs to be said, the writing is great but written purely from an American point of view. Send him to Lebanon or some other parts of the world that are back ass different. Then put him in Europe, Scandinavia or the Asia Pacific to get an idea of what living outside the US in comfort means.

I read this and just think he's a wanker.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 10:13 AM on August 8, 2006


He speaks of his own group of friends in a particular social stratum and circumstance (I'm speaking in regard to what he says about Americans learning foreign languages, or, more likely, as languagehat points out, "taking some language courses," which is another thing completely) as though they were a "statistical characterization" of all Americans, which is, to use his words, "totally inaccurate." Where did he go to high school? Who did he hang out with in high school? When he says that he "speaks some Spanish," what does he mean?

Yeah, he has a snappy writing style, and some of what he says is pretty resonant, but he falls prey to what a lot of bloggers and internet writers indulge in, which is unsubstantiated glibness.

And yeah, I know that I'm generalizing, too, so fire off the rocks and tomatoes at will.
posted by blucevalo at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of surprised at all the kudos this guy has gotten for his writing. To me, there's very little THERE there.

His writing style is snappy and conversational and all that, but the insights are shallow, hopelessly self-conscious and self-absorbed, and he seems to lack anything resembling empathy for anyone but himself.
posted by psmealey at 11:04 AM on August 8, 2006


Yeah. The writing almost sounds like what you'd read in a personal journal. What's up with that?
posted by zennie at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2006


His writing style is snappy and conversational

Hence the kudos.

the insights are shallow, hopelessly self-conscious and self-absorbed

Dude, he's a blogger.

he seems to lack anything resembling empathy for anyone but himself.


This is simply untrue.
posted by languagehat at 11:38 AM on August 8, 2006


The gentrifier story was good, but I'm not entirely sure what point he was trying to make.

Here in NYC, living in any of the neighborhoods where I can afford to live means pricing somebody out. If I were black or any shade of brown, this would be called "finding a place to live," but since I'm white it's called "being an evil white gentrifying scum." That's just the way of the world, though, and I'm not quite sure there's anything to be done about it.

[personal anecdote]
Anybody who has seen pictures of me will know that, up until a month ago, I had a radically circumferential afro. I've spent the last 10 months or so living in the lower east side, a hispanic neighborhood (mostly Dominican) which has been rapidly gentrifying as of late. Anyway, for months, I couldn't walk past a crowd of young men in my neighborhood without being relentlessly catcalled ("Nice hair!" "The 70s are over!" "Welcome back, Kotter!"). A few times I've had guys say worse things, and once or twice I actually did feel threatened. However, nothing ever happened. Last month, I cut off my hair (It's freakin hot under all that hair!), and now I don't get any shit from the neighborhood boys at all. Lesson learned - you can be white and live in a lower-income non-white neighborhood, but be prepared to make some adjustments or else face the consequences.
[/personal anecdote]
posted by Afroblanco at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2006


psmealy, I'm not sure what kind of livejournals you normally read that are better written, but I'd love to see them.
posted by ORthey at 12:09 PM on August 8, 2006


Sorry, guys... in a sour mood today. Yeah, for a livejournal piece, that was pretty good. Think I'll go hit happy hour now.
posted by psmealey at 12:40 PM on August 8, 2006


I'm not hugely keen on it as a piece of writing.

I thought at first I found it rather highfalutin. It is a little in places but I hadn't quite put my finger on it. So I went back again and cut out a few sentences and put them in word and then counted.

The problem (for me anyway) is that there are too many 40 plus word sentences; I counted 63 in one. Nothing wrong with the odd overlong sentence, but here they are the rule, not the exception.

I know that a lot of people think that, if you are going to write something clever or witty, sentences with innumerable clauses improve, well, the overall brainy, reasoned, nuanced feel.

I have to say I disagree. Too many of these you just wind up obfuscating whatever point it was you were originally trying to malke.
posted by rhymer at 1:26 PM on August 8, 2006


Oops. Should read make.
posted by rhymer at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2006


8 Bit: I actually read the story in city paper but it doesn't change my reaction because A) it has still never happened to me, and B) The one person I know who had rocks thrown at him at that location was black. I don't think these 10-15 year olds are terribly concerned about gentrification. They are throwing rocks because they don't mind being douche bags.
posted by I Foody at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2006


Actually, maybe there is no point and that's the he wants to obfuscate with all those sentences.
posted by rhymer at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2006


Fairly typical writing of Lower Trustafundistan's early-middle period, most remarkable perhaps for its above-average workmanship: much ado about aesthetics, nothing much on morality, and despite a veneer of wordliness very little sense of the wider world outside the 'stan.
posted by little miss manners at 3:19 PM on August 8, 2006


LarryC: I ended my lone traveler days because it came to seem so shallow. I was staring at poor people for my own personal growth. It was time to get serious about life and try to do something to make the world a little better place. Anyone else have a similar experience?

[...] At some point in life it is important to do more than have experiences, you need to start thinking about the significance of your life for those around you. What are they going to write on my tombstone? "Here lies LarryC, he went to a lot of cool places and had humanitarian thoughts?" At some point you take those travel experiences and use them to fashion the adult self, who hopefully makes a difference in the world, even in some small way. That is what I meant by saying that after a point, Third World travel became shallow. I felt I was ducking my responsibilities.


Your argument contains a massive false opposition between "shallow experience" and "serious responsibility", that probably only applies to young people on extended gap-years, deferring the point at which they settle down.

Personally, I go travelling for between 6 weeks & 3 months every year, typically in third world countries, but when I am not doing that I work in a public service job that demonstrably benefits all Australians (& many foreigners), pay all my taxes, contribute to charity, have volunteered for professional refugee-related work, and am actively involved in a left-environmental political party.

You and the blog author also both seem to make some hideous strawman assumptions about the motives of travellers, like that it's all about "personal growth" or "voluntary poverty":

And I still think backpacking is something we should all have the chance to do, even if it does run the risk of turning our idea of the third world into a sort of playground for personal/psychological growth, a phenomenon that I generally find conjoined with all the overdemonstrative decadence of voluntary poverty [...] but what people are really trying to do is figure their own shit out.

Meh. When I travel, I just travel. As huzzahuzzah pointed out, you see some sights, you eat some different food and you meet some new people. You might also pick up some cultural snippets along the way, and you probably get a runny bum. The rest of the time you sit around bored out of your skull waiting for late, delayed or cancelled trains, buses & boats, or sitting on fiendishly slow and uncomfortable trains, buses & boats when they finally arrive, wondering when you can shower or eat next.

PS: Copan? That place was a backpacker-Disneyland if ever I saw one, possibly surpassed only by Vang Vieng in Laos. Buy some local threads or stay in a hotel in Copan, and chances are you can sleep happily for a year knowing that you have paid enough "white-man's tax" to cover 20 of their relatives' schooling for a year, which is surely doing some good in the world.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:57 PM on August 8, 2006


Well, you're clearly far superior to the blogger. Congratulations, you win.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on August 8, 2006


Why, yes I am, and why, yes I do.

That was uncharacteristically snarky of you, LH. What gives?

I'll put it more simply: the "out to find oneself" stereotype of backpackers on some sort of humanitarian, spiritual, or poverty-loving headtrip applies to approximately 5% of backpackers, in my experience. To claim otherwise is either to deliberately ignore the rest of us who just travel, or to somehow not notice us. Either way, it makes for a poor argument.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:32 PM on August 8, 2006


After all, we all know what happens to the sort who selects a language (or group of languages) as a major. Hopefully one of you will emerge from the crowd and prove this point for me.

Can anyone explain the sentence I've bolded?


Well, I can't generalize too much, but I know two people who were language majors in college, one Russian and another one French. The former one switched majors half way, the latter had to get a second one.
posted by c13 at 8:24 PM on August 8, 2006


When I travel, I just travel.

When I eat, I just eat.

When I read, I just read.

When I shit, I just shit.

When I die, I just die.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:18 PM on August 8, 2006


After all, we all know what happens to the sort who selects a language (or group of languages) as a major. Hopefully one of you will emerge from the crowd and prove this point for me.

Yeah, I don't get it either.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:38 PM on August 8, 2006


When I eat, I just eat.

Ah, I see you also walk the path of mindfulness. When just walking the path of mindfulness, that is.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:42 PM on August 8, 2006


After all, we all know what happens to the sort who selects a language (or group of languages) as a major. Hopefully one of you will emerge from the crowd and prove this point for me.

What happens? For my part, I majored in French Lit, and have had a modestly successful 15-year career as a software program manager and small business manager (still no MBA). One of my best friends also majored in French, and is a very successful corporate attorney. I can probably name more success stories among the people I knew in my own undergrad department, than all of the dime a dozen washouts I have encountered in my life that studied engineering, economics and business.

Sure we're sellouts, I guess, but like UbuRoivas, I pay my taxes, do a crapload of volunteer work, travel a bunch (I've lived abroad for school and work for a total of 5 years) and try to stay maintain integrity in all things I do, with some effectiveness (I hope).

I'm not sure what the point of all that was, either. I think that's what's wrong when you generalize (or stereotype): you're wrong at least half the time.
posted by psmealey at 4:47 AM on August 9, 2006


That was uncharacteristically snarky of you, LH. What gives?

Meh, your comment rubbed me the wrong way. It's too easy to take potshots at backpackers, and it never looks good to be saying "This guy does it the bad way, I do it the good way." If you feel the need to present a shining example by way of contrast, it's more graceful to write "Some people..." while inwardly smirking and thinking "Why yes, since you ask, I am one of those good people." But nothing personal, I assure you.
posted by languagehat at 5:24 AM on August 9, 2006


Sure we're sellouts, I guess

But I don't even know if that's what his point was. I'm glad I'm not alone in my confusion.
posted by languagehat at 5:25 AM on August 9, 2006


I'll put it more simply: the "out to find oneself" stereotype of backpackers on some sort of humanitarian, spiritual, or poverty-loving headtrip applies to approximately 5% of backpackers, in my experience.

Fair enough. Perhaps the article resonated with me because both the author and I used to be in that 5%, and made the common fallacy of assuming our experiences to be universal.
posted by LarryC at 12:15 PM on August 9, 2006


languagehat: funny - it was the cheap shot at a few barrelled fish & smug "I have the right attitude" stance on the part of the blog author that rubbed *me* the wrong way. The self-congratulatory self-description was meant to counter LarryC's model of empty experience v contibuting to society. Speaking of which...

LarryC: I can actually see exactly where you and the author are coming from, and have probably been there myself. When you discover that you can live somewhere as vibrant & constantly interesting as India for about $5 a day or less, it doesn't take long to conjure up plans of working two months a year & sitting around on beaches or in mountains or whatever for the other ten. Then you meet bunches of people who do exactly that, and they can assume a kind of role-model status. However, rejecting that model doesn't mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater, is all I'm saying.

It could almost be that overcoming the hero-worship of hardcore dropout backpackers is a rite of passage in independent-traveller-world. In most cases, you will meet them on your first trip to a developing country, and compared with them you will inevitably be young, hopelessly naive & impressionable. You develop a schoolboyish crush on them & their lifestyle, but eventually need to move on. Moving on can require a form of epiphany, as you and the author seem to have had.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:33 PM on August 9, 2006


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