A review I have written for Pride and Prejudice in R-Views has earned me some feedback from one Wicked Little Critta (who oddly enough looks a lot like Amelie). During our exchange of comments I said something which, to a patriotic American (as in someone from the USA) might sound offensive; I promised to elaborate on the subject of my attitudes towards the USA, so here goes.
Up until not that long ago - to be accurate, up until some four years ago, when I started digesting my move to Australia - the USA has always been the place I looked up to. If asked where I would like to be the most, the USA would have been the answer. Today, however, my opinion is quite different. I can't point my finger to one specific reason - it could be George W Bush, it could be this "war on terror" that's driving the world crazy with its fear campaign, it could be the way things look from Australia, and it could be my own experience with unemployment that led me to apply active cynicism towards capitalism. I don't know exactly what it is, but I feel like my eyes have opened with regards to the way I view the world's most powerful nation.
There is a lot to be said in favor of America. As far as a source of influence is concerned, most of the books I read are/were written by Americans. Most of the films I watch are American. A major portion of the music I listen to is American (although in general most of my favorite musicians come from the UK). Most of the people I look up to in this world which are not family or friends are Americans (a brief look at this blog would show names like Asimov, Bryson and Sagan popping up quite frequently). But it is also quite interesting to note that some of these very people - people like Bryson or Chomsky - are also amongst the biggest critics of the USA.
There is definitely a big contradiction to do with America: It has by far managed the biggest achievements humanity has ever managed - putting a man on the moon, sending a spaceship out of the solar system's planet area, for example - but it has also done some nasty things to humanity - say, McDonald.
Last time I was in the USA before migrating to Australia (1999) I kept on admiring it for being a land of possibilities, a place where anything can be acquired and everything can be found. The last time I've to the USA (2005) I felt totally insecure the minute we stepped out of our taxi next to our hotel in San Francisco only to be seemingly surrounded by several characters of a suspicious appearance; the impression I've had from my last visit had mostly to do with the gross difference between the rich and the poor in the USA, a difference that makes you think twice before you go to the street.
So here is my current take on it: I think that the USA is a place that has been contaminated by its elites. Instead of sharing the prosperity that came with being the most successful nation on the planet, the rich seem to be abusing their position in order to get richer. The USA is a place where people's entire lives and goals revolves around the acquisition of money; people will not smile at you if you don't tip them. Just like the leaders of the Communists in Russia have betrayed their people by abusing their position to bestow those close to them with benefits the others couldn't get, the richer people in the USA betrayed their comrades by building this mechanism that supports them in becoming richer and richer. Terrible crimes have been done to this planet and to many of its peoples in the name of increasing company share values, and most of them are American.
Oil companies, cigarette companies, food companies, guns and ammunition companies, technology companies - they are behind most of the bad things taking place here. I think Al-Qaeda is basically the extreme manifestation of hatred towards the bad things coming out of America (note I am not saying they're nice people; I'm just saying I can see what causes their existence).
America is supposed to be the land of the free, the land of all possibilities. But in reality it is a land where you're free to do what you want if you can afford it; you will certainly not become the president unless you have a lot of money backing you up. It is a place where the difference between the rich and the poor is the biggest; I do not think this is a recipe for a healthy society.
So, am I anti American? I don't think so.
Yes, I don't think too highly of the way things go there. I think the dumbing down of the people and the putting of a price tag on everything are pretty bad; but I criticize these because I care and because I want it changed, not because I hate.Read my blog and you will read a lot of criticism about Australia, but I will also tell you that I love Australia and I think it's the best place; I certainly don't hate it. And I think the same applies to Bryson and Chomsky: when they bother to criticize, they do it because they would like to improve things.
I would like to see an America that cares for its people. A place where economic growth for the sake of economic growth is not the holiest of shrines. A place where people matter, where health services and education are available to everyone.
And the main reason this matters to me is because I believe the dominance of the USA will mean that these values will trickle down to the rest of the world.
Sadly, I don't see this coming. What I do see is continuous cynicism towards the USA, materializing in the form of basic hate and contempt towards Americans. Most of the people I know already think Americans are stupid. I disagree; I've seen plenty of stupid people wherever I went, and I also know that most of this world's scientific achievements come from the USA. But with the way things are currently going, the USA is not gaining much popularity in this world.