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The Roots of Anti-Americanism

By       Message Sam Vaknin       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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The United States is one of the last remaining land empires. That it is made the butt of opprobrium and odium is hardly surprising, or unprecedented. Empires - Rome, the British, the Ottomans - were always targeted by the disgruntled, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed and by their self-appointed delegates, the intelligentsia.

Yet, even by historical standards, America seems to be provoking blanket repulsion.

The Pew Research Center published last December a report titled "What the World Thinks in 2002". "The World", was reduced by the pollsters to 44 countries and 38,000 interviewees. Two other surveys published last year - by the German Marshall Fund and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations - largely supported Pew's findings.

The most startling and unambiguous revelation was the extent of anti-American groundswell everywhere: among America's NATO allies, in developing countries, Muslim nations and even in eastern Europe where Americans, only a decade ago, were lionized as much-adulated liberators.

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"People around the world embrace things American and, at the same time, decry U.S. influence on their societies. Similarly, pluralities in most of the nations surveyed complain about American unilateralism."- expounds the Pew report.

Yet, even this "embrace of things American" is ambiguous.

Violently "independent", inanely litigious and quarrelsome, solipsistically provincial, and fatuously ignorant - this nation of video clips and sound bites, the United States, is often perceived as trying to impose its narcissistic pseudo-culture upon a world exhausted by wars hot and cold and corrupted by vacuous materialism.

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Recent accounting scandals, crumbling markets, political scams, technological setbacks, and rising social tensions have revealed how rotten and inherently contradictory the US edifice is and how concerned are Americans with appearances rather than substance.

To religious fundamentalists, America is the Great Satan, a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah, a cesspool of immorality and spiritual decay. To many European liberals, the United states is a throwback to darker ages of religious zealotry, pernicious bigotry, virulent nationalism, and the capricious misrule of the mighty.

According to most recent surveys by Gallup, MORI, the Council for Secular Humanism, the US Census Bureau, and others - the vast majority of Americans are chauvinistic, moralizing, bible-thumping, cantankerous, and trigger-happy. About half of them believe that Satan exists - not as a metaphor, but physically.

America has a record defense spending per head, a vertiginous rate of incarceration, among the highest numbers of legal executions and gun-related deaths. It is still engaged in atavistic debates about abortion, the role of religion, and whether to teach the theory of evolution.

According to a series of special feature articles in The Economist, America is generally well-liked in Europe, but less so than before. It is utterly detested by the Moslem street, even in "progressive" Arab countries, such as Egypt and Jordan. Everyone - Europeans and Arabs, Asians and Africans - thinks that "the spread of American ideas and customs is a bad thing."

Admittedly, we typically devalue most that which we have formerly idealized and idolized.

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To the liberal-minded, the United States of America reified the most noble, lofty, and worthy values, ideals, and causes. It was a dream in the throes of becoming, a vision of liberty, peace, justice, prosperity, and progress. Its system, though far from flawless, was considered superior - both morally and functionally - to any ever conceived by Man.

Such unrealistic expectations inevitably and invariably lead to disenchantment, disillusionment, bitter disappointment, seething anger, and a sense of humiliation for having been thus deluded, or, rather, self-deceived. This backlash is further exacerbated by the haughty hectoring of the ubiquitous American missionaries of the "free-market-cum-democracy" church.

Americans everywhere aggressively preach the superior virtues of their homeland. Edward K. Thompson, managing editor of "Life" (1949-1961) warned against this propensity to feign omniscience and omnipotence: "Life (the magazine) must be curious, alert, erudite and moral, but it must achieve this without being holier-than-thou, a cynic, a know-it-all, or a Peeping Tom."

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Sam Vaknin ( http://samvak.tripod.com ) is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He served as a columnist for Global Politician, Central Europe Review, PopMatters, Bellaonline, and (more...)
 

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