Posts Tagged ‘Hubris’

Clinging to Our Fantasy

February 11, 2009

I read a book review in the New York Times that got me all het up. Both the author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, and the book’s reviewer, Dwight Garner, live in a fantasy world, I think. A lot of Americans do. It’s largely the result of our belief in “American exceptionalism.” No one is exceptional. Karma is karma. Cause and effect. That’s it.

The passage that got me all in a lather was the reviewer’s praise for an earlier work of Barnett’s called “The Pentagon’s New Map.” I quote:

Mr. Barnett’s sane idea: bring the world’s rowdy, hormonal, emotionally tortured teenage countries to the adult table, and teach them to prosper through capitalism, cooperation, and openness. The enemy “is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition — disconnectedness,” he explained.

This is hubris, the same old hubris we’ve been suffering from for decades. It seems especially ridiculous to be praising something like that considering what we’re putting the world through right now with the near collapse of our financial system. And the statement is cheap intellectually. For one thing, capitalism and cooperation are inimical to one another. In reality, competition is always given the run of the field. “Cooperation” is just a nice sounding word. But you aren’t supposed to point that out. We never have real debate about something like that. Certain ideas are not to be questioned.

My main complaint is with the author’s and the reviewer’s enthusiasm for globalization. Globalization was one of those things I didn’t give much serious thought to—although I was inclined against it instinctively—until I saw it in action. In the summer of 2007, I went to Greece, my first trip back there since 1969. What I saw appalled me. The culture of Greece has been ruined by globalization. The Greeks used to be an extraordinarily friendly, relaxed, and generous people. But they are grumpy now—sullen teenage girls taking your money at the cash register. I talked to the owner of a laundromat in Iraklion about what I thought I was seeing, and he confirmed it. He said that the Greeks are under a great deal of stress now, chasing money. He hated what it had done to his country. The old life is gone. Everything is commerce now. Greece functions largely as a resort for the affluent Northern Europeans and Americans. The tourists have no interest in the place or the people who live there. They drink and work on their tans. So the Greeks have lost their warmth toward strangers. Who can blame them? Greece has started to look like every other place in the world—same products, same bored teenagers, same pop music, same frantic activity, same plastic architecture. It’s gotten so that there’s really no reason to go anywhere anymore. The global corporations are creating a monoculture that is ruining the spirit.

A truly sane idea is: we have nothing to give the rest of the world until we give up the fantasy of everyone becoming a millionaire and start searching for our soul again.

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The Dick Cheney

February 8, 2009

A few days ago Dick Cheney told an interviewer: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected.” That’s the sort of thing that sounds like wisdom to an egotist. Respect and love are not separate entities. Where there is no respect, there is no love; where there is no love, there is no respect. What Cheney really meant, of course, is that he believes other countries should fear us. But he can’t use that word.

A few years ago, my wife Judy and I were in Jackson, Wyoming to do a presentation on the parrot movie at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Afterward, we were to fly to Denver from Jackson and then on home, but we got held up on the runway. The pilot explained that we had to wait for the Vice President’s plane to give us permission to pass. It was sitting next to the runway, engines off, doors open, ramps down, not going anywhere. It wasn’t at all clear what was going on, and, of course, nobody explained. As the window for catching our connecting flight to San Francisco shrank, my contempt for the son of a bitch—already high—grew by the minute. Finally, they let us go. As far as I could see, nothing outside the plane had changed at all. That little episode reeked of imperial hubris. In a democracy, the people in the government are supposed to be the servants of the people, not their lords and masters. People like Cheney, and there are many of them, don’t care whether we love them or not. They want to rule over us and prefer to be feared rather than loved or respected. They need to be weeded out.