Europeans and Us

For those of you interested in the general topic – how Europeans see us – I’d like to suggest two articles. The first is Bruce Bawer’s “Hating America” in Hudson Review. We follow his mood swings, beginning as an amiable American abroad, moving into a more defensive mode, and then concluding with a thorough summary of current works on the topic. His last paragraph points not only to a major difference between Americans and Europeans, but also perhaps the greatest indicator of a divide between red and blue values—religion. Of course, as he notes, this is a good deal more complex than either the blue states or Europeans realize.

That some of America recognizes “human nature” and some of America (and much of Europe) does not is a theme we return to again and again (and will again and again). Of course, it is not that arguments are merely between Europeans and Americans, nor among each. We start from broadly differing definitions of what it means to be human.

In one of my earlier posts a comment was made (perceptive because it cut to what I meant better than I had), the comment addressed Sowell’s distinction between “constrained” and “unconstrained” thinking. [Yes, I apologize -thanks for fact checkers like Dr. Weevil] It seems to me that we might also describe that as between people who recognize human nature, with its frailties, and the tragic nature of our life versus those who see man as pure, unfettered will. The former has problems with abortion; the latter detests limits, even being tied to biology – arguing that sexuality is itself culturally defined. The former is going to see checks and balances as necessary; it is less likely to trust institutions defined by man. The latter finds utopian schemes attractive. Of course, the latter is idealistic, but it is also foolish and in the twentieth century such thinking has led to more than fragmented psyches, but also death camps. Well, you might say, that is painting with a broad brush. Yes, it is. We’ll leave the arguments for another day. Instead, I’ll give you the last paragraph of Bawer’s essay.

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Comment on Andy B’s post

Reinforcing Andy B’s post: Instapundit links to a study using think tank references to measure media. The report showed a more dramatic left swing than the researchers expected. Reynolds also links to a Rocky Mountain Editorial . She points out to get a “fair and balanced” day, one would have to read the NYT once and watch Fox special report twice.

I am curious about another factor that might skew military reporting. Liberal arts schools have tended to downplay both military and diplomatic history for the last generation or two; I suspect all reporters (except those with military training) know less about tactics than is necessary to report well.

Also, right-leaning media seemed, even before 9/11. more likely to understand the unique language (let alone culture) of the career military. (This distinction became clear in covering the Florida absentee vote.) My gut, however, may be wrong– that is the thrust of the “chicken” hawk meme. I would like to see such a study.

The Big Story

Wednesday, my youngest and I picked up the middle daughter at the airport, home from her year abroad. We circled the city as I missed a series of turnoffs from the beltway. I enjoyed listening to the sisters talk and talking myself. Then, I started a monologue; it is hard to believe, I told them, what Americans say to one another, do. They let me speak. Then I realized their faces had changed. Their impatience was not because I was talking too much nor because they felt I was prying nor even their usual boredom with me. Instead, they were both appalled.

“Mommy,” the younger one said, “I don’t think Tessie wants to hear this. I don’t.”

Yes, the stories were not just ugly, they were unimportant. I’d been drawn to them because they demanded attention, raw with anger – theirs and mine. But they had gotten me off track as much as those missed exits kept me circling the city. Bush as a Satanic creature from Goya’s Spain, Michael Moore’s tiresome spiel, novels that wittily discuss assassination – these are not the story. Not really.

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Play to the End

When I was haphazardly running my little business, a Kenny Rogers song would float through my mind uncomfortably often. The refrain of Don Schlitz’s “The Gambler” went:

“You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”

Well, that’s like buy low, sell high. Not that it doesn’t work, but what the hell’s high, what the hell’s low?

It always comes down to an unknowable: we may distinguish a good hand from a bad one (though that is fairly hard); another decision is also important: is that stack at the middle of the table worth the risk? In America’s case, the people that are likely to spend the stack of chips aren’t as likely to be us and, while the short term risks of money and blood are ours, the greatest risks will also not be ours. (Well, now, we are beginning to suspect, in the long run attacks will eventually come our way. Still, a lot of other countries are likely to be bloodied on the way to get us–9/11 was preceded by 20 years of warfare often against us but mostly outside the U.S.) The choices are risky for us – and others. But, oh, the pot; the chips are no gilded base metals. This is the real thing–democracy, women’s rights, people’s rights.

I’m reminded of those worries, that particular mystery when I hear smug State Department types take a grim pleasure in critiquing Bush’s foreign policy; their Olympian self-satisfaction is hard to miss: Iraq is a debacle; not even one of us could undo this damage for a generation. Their dispassion implies the whole thing was merely a game; Bush made a move, we checkmate; let’s call it quits (and send him back to his dusty ranch)

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Human Nature, cont.

I would like to express appreciation for the comments on my earlier post prompted by Mr. Rummel’s post. This week Paul J. Cella writes “Mass Men” at Tech Central. Reading that and remembering how some comments moved into the utilitarian prompted the following remarks, which do little justice to either the comments or Cella but take the discussion in another direction.

I tend toward Cella’s argument – that the purpose of a good liberal arts education should not be utilitarian. My children are in the process of acquiring—as did their parents–some of the least utilitarian degrees out there and it would be unmotherly to disown them. But as the commentators might note and Newman argues, “though the useful is not always good, the good is always useful.” And the truth is the truth.

Often I am the most irritating of parents asking, What’s it good for? The problem, however, is that I suspect if force fed reality, academics might have to acknowledge the truth they are proselytizing isn’t true. The passions that move us are more complex, interesting, and various than they suppose. And their “truths”, the figures they see in the carpet of experience, are just not there. Other, more heroic and beautiful, more tragic and vulgar, ones are. Of course, in terms of economics, variants of socialism have not proved in the twentieth century to be a very attractive government for the “little people” (for whom the typical academic seems to think he speaks, while couching such discussions in tones that reek of condescension).

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