January 15, 2003

Avert Your Eyes: Ryan's About

Avert Your Eyes: Ryan's About to Rant

Okay, Daintily Dirty went and got me reading a European version of Time magazine, which apparently dedicates 75 percent of its covers to pictures of Saddam Hussein and burning American flags. Save Europe from Nazis and Fascists, rebuild and finance the recovery of their battered countries, and 50 years later we've become the next big Satan. Some gratitude.

It's fascinating just how much the rest of the world distrusts U.S. policy, which is fine. They have every right under the sky to criticize us to their heart's content. I'll gladly take their crap and pretend it's ice cream. However, this guy just was screaming to be put in his place.

According to Brian Eno, "a musician who believes that regime change begins at home," America has become "trapped in a fortress of arrogance and ignorance." And here's why:

Europeans have always looked at America with a mixture of fascination and puzzlement, and now, increasingly, disbelief. How is it that a country that prides itself on its economic success could have so many very poor people? How is it that a country so insistent on the rule of law should seek to exempt itself from international agreements? And how is it that the world's beacon of democracy can have elections dominated by wealthy special interest groups? For me, the question has become: "How can a country that has produced so much cultural and economic wealth act so dumb?"

Well, for starters, just over a year ago, we had four airplanes hi-jacked, three of which were flown into buildings, costing us over 3,000 lives. Kinda left us a little irked and forced us to refocus our lenses on the world and re-assess our role in it. We thought there would be a little more sympathy from the world but, you know, finding very little, we've decided to take matters into our own hands.

I can't really argue that we have poor people in America. He's got us there. Then again, poverty has a toehold throughout Europe, or at least it did the last time I checked. I'll admit I'm a little rusty when it comes to social studies, so maybe all the countries of Europe have managed to stamp out that pesky little poverty bug. If so, I sincerely apologize Mr. Eno. Truly yours is the economic model we should embrace.

As for those international agreements we keep pulling out of, I have to admit that, musician that he is, Mr. Eno struck a chord there too. Yes, we're pulling out of international agreements, but don't worry, Mr. Eno, that does not in any way mean that we have a deep-seeded desire to occupy Germany, or France, or Spain, or Great Britain. No, it simply means we want to be on a level playing field with other countries who don't want to play fair, countries like, oh, I don't know. . . Iraq and North Korea. Hell, they use international agreements as toilet paper. If you're going up against a cheater, sometimes it helps if you cheat as well. Once the cheaters are out of the game, we'll be more than happy to engage in a group hug and go into a big hall where we'll gladly sign agreement after agreement.

I could fill this page with the names of Americans who have influenced, entertained and educated me. They represent what I admire about America: a vigorous originality of thought, and a confidence that things can be changed for the better. That was the America I lived in and enjoyed from 1978 until 1983. That America was an act of faith — the faith that "otherness" was not threatening but nourishing, the faith that there could be a country big enough in spirit to welcome and nurture all the diversity the world could throw at it.

There must be a "but" somewhere around here. Oh, wait, here it is:

But since Sept. 11, that vision has been eclipsed by a suspicious, introverted America, a country-sized version of that peculiarly American form of ghetto: the gated community. A gated community is defensive. Designed to keep the "others" out, it dissolves the rich web of society into a random clustering of disconnected individuals. It turns paranoia and isolation into a lifestyle.

Tell you what, let a few terrorists infiltrate Europe, destroy Big Ben, the Brandenburg Gate, the Eiffel Tower, and spread a little anthrax around for good measure and then talk to me about being paranoid. In actuality, America has shown remarkable resilience in bouncing back from the shock of a nationwide trauma. Still, we're not too keen about having it all happen again. I really like how he makes it sound as if our borders have suddenly become closed to everyone, as if we now don't allow immigrants or tourists into our country. The only "others" we want to keep out are the suspicious folks with three aliases who want to learn how to fly commercial airliners for no apparent reason. Otherwise, we still maintain a vibrant and diverse cultural base. You should really come and visit us sometime.

Too often, the U.S. presents the "American way" as the only way, insisting on its kind of free-market Darwinism as the only acceptable "model of human progress." But isn't civilization what happens when people stop behaving as if they're trapped in a ruthless Darwinian struggle and start thinking about communities and shared futures? America as a gated community won't work, because not even the world's sole superpower can build walls high enough to shield itself from the intertwined realities of the 21st century. There's a better form of security: reconnect with the rest of the world, don't shut it out; stop making enemies and start making friends. Perhaps it's asking a lot to expect America to act differently from all the other empires in history, but wasn't that the original idea?

Again with the big squishy peace hug idea. A nice idea that, until you start dealing with people like Saddam who believe being nice means killing only half as many people as he did last time. "Perhaps it's asking a lot to expect America to act differently from all the other empires in history, but wasn't that the original idea?" No, it's not asking a lot, and in fact that's exactly what we're doing, and we're being criticized for it. We're taking our position as the world's major superpower, and we're trying bring about change. Europeans have this fuzzy idea of all countries just chilling out and letting the bad apple regimes just run their course.

It's easy to sit on high, strumming your guitar, living the good life, and simply turn a deaf ear to the reality that other countries are truly just struggling to survive. But those countries do exist, and while your back is turned, they're actively promoting a hatred of the rest of the world, the West, that seems to have so much. We made that mistake in Afghanistan. Maybe you're content to make the same mistake with Iraq, but we're not.

Maybe regime change does actually start at home, but it sure speeds the process along if the dictator happens to be a charred corpse following an air raid. It's a sick and harsh reality, but it's reality all the same.

Posted by Ryan at January 15, 2003 01:02 PM

Wow, you are a stupid, stupid man aren't you?

If you're going to critique a something, you should at least put 1/2 as much thought into it as the original article.

Posted by: Kyle Munzenrieder at January 25, 2005 03:04 PM
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