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Sunday, March 9, 2014
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- Whenever I praise something, my Japanese wife Fumiko asks, “And what is bad about it?” When I criticise something, she says, “Tell me something good about it.” This is the Daoist “yin-yang” principle: in everything bright, there is also something dark, and vice versa, ad infinitum.
Reality is ambiguous. Take the United States of America, for instance. The majority view in the world seems to be that the US Empire is dark and the US Republic bright, a place to visit, to live. But there are also brighter sides to the empire and darker sides to the republic. One measure of maturity is how many such levels of analysis one can master. To call any critique of the US Empire “anti-Americanism” reveals level 0: the assumption that the US is wonderful in every respect and that any critique manifests a mental disorder.
And yet it is both possible and meaningful to be anti-Hitler without being anti-German, anti-Stalin without being anti-Russian, anti-expansionist Zionist without being anti-semitic, anti-Japanese militarist without being anti-Japanese; and anti-US fundamentalist and imperialist without being anti-American. The roots of pathologies can be found in the deep culture of the normal, good, and positive.
Aristotelian logic with its principle “tertium non datur” (there is no third possibility), has deeply influenced the dualistic thinking in that little peninsula on the Asian continent called “Europe” (“darkness” in Assyrian).
So what is so bright, good, and positive about the US? It is as unsatisfactory to be only positive about the US Republic as it is to be only critical of the US Empire. Explanations and specifics are required to spell out what is bright, and to offer constructive criticism of what is dark.
The US still has the world’s largest economy, but it is expected to be overtaken by China, while the American Dream is slipping out of reach for many. The military, long victorious, suffered its first defeat in the Korean war. Politically, the US is no longer the land of uncorrupted democracy.
But US culture still exhibits incredible creativity: in classical, modern, and postmodern arts, borders are broken down, fences lowered. Culture in the sense of science is also very strong, and innovative technology. And equally important, arts and science do not belong to a certain class but are participated in by all society. The US has not only created new culture that has caught on all over the world; it has made culture for mass–not upper class– consumption a world pattern, as it once did for cars and the other conveniences of the 20th century. Elsewhere, culture is mainly for elite consumption.
And yet these patterns are spreading all over, largely thanks to the US. What remains specific to the US is its people. Nobody in the world is as easy to talk with as Americans, open, on a first name-basis, charming in body language and verbal language. After 14 minutes personal matters are out in the open that would have been kept secret for 14 years, or forever, in some other cultures.
Americans make you feel at home, like one of them; they are generous and open-minded. There is a two-way conversation with outsiders; they are interested in where you come from and “what’s cooking”. They want to know about you, as a person, in a positive way, what do you have to offer, “what’s inside you”. The US offers people a New Beginning, a rebirth, a way to leave the past and the old country behind, as in the days of massive immigration.
Of course there is class: there are huge differences in economic power, decision-making power, and the power to kill (often highly illegal). These differences are far smaller in daily life. Americans differ in housing, from mansions to trailer parks, and in their cars; but they often dress the same, eat the same (McDonald’s, Coke) and share similar tastes and life styles, like church and washing cars on Sundays, basketball, coaching children, love of nature, wild animals, national parks, speaking English more or less the same way. Today this is true even with African Americans -formerly slaves, lynched and segregated- which was not the case even a short while ago.
In all these senses one finds a remarkably classless society of successful refugees from Britain, that North Sea island from whence they came. They are used to receiving, welcoming, and probing foreigners, millions and millions of them, from all corners of the world. Accommodating class, accommodating nations. With exceptions, they fear that those they treated worst might one day treat them, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), the same way: First Nations, African Americans, Hispanics -meaning Mexicans.
The US is an easy place to live, where something is always happening and people feel they are at the centre of events. Its people are enthusiastic about the long list of “only in America”s. It is not surprising that they rally to its defense when they perceive it as threatened. And yet, in doing so they may eliminate their greatest asset through secrecy, suspicion and police state measures. Hopefully this will not happen. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)
(*) Johan Galtung, Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of “The Fall of the US Empire -And Then What?” (www.transcend.org/tup).