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“an American-like personal quality”

with 4 comments

Not really a big fan of the Onion, or really of any of the many permutations of fake news to emerge in the last few years. But this piece is very well done – close to perfect, actually.

CHAPEL HILL, NC—A field study released Monday by the University of North Carolina School of Public Health suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish, emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners..

[…]

Iraqis have often been observed weeping and wailing in apparent
anguish, but the study offers evidence indicating this may not be
exclusively an outward expression of anger or a desire for revenge. It
also provocatively suggests that this grief can possess an
American-like personal quality, and is not simply a tribal lamentation
ritual.

I honestly do believe that many (most?) Americans do have a bit of trouble picturing people from other nations, especially non-English speaking nations, as human in the full sense of the word. Not trying to be silly or mean in saying this – I believe it’s a strange sort of cultural dysfunction. Partly it has to do with the isolation / insularity of the place. It’s hard to get anywhere from most of the country where another language is dominant (Mexico for some along the southern border, and Quebec for us in the northeast.) Only about 25% of Americans even have a passport – I’d love to find the number of us who die never having left the US. (When my wife’s grandfather was driving her to college, they stopped at Niagara Falls. He was in his 70s – and would die two years later – and had never visited another country. Faced with the very easy prospect of driving or walking across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side of the Falls, he decided not to. A bit too scary and strange to leave – why bother now, at this point, etc…)

It’s no excuse, really, none at all, for condoning what has been condoned. But it is a factor…

(via Ghost in the Wire)

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 25, 2007 at 9:50 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Hmm… Though for some of us who rarely have the chance to leave the U.S. (I’ve done so only a few times in my 45 years, and only to Canada, the Mexican border, and the UK), there is enough exposure to people from other countries to compensate for that. I’ve lived in all five boroughs of New York City throughout my life, and as a result, I find it difficult to imagine a U.S. that isn’t comprised of people from other nations and many cultures. Presently, I live in Woodside, Queens, near Jackson Heights, where there are as many people from South Asia as there are from East Asia as there are from South or Central America as there are from…North America or Europe.

    Not saying that there aren’t many Americans who cannot identify with people in other countries (Americans who probably live in cultural surroundings that would seem alien to me)…but you can’t use travels outside the U.S. as the only yardstick for measuring an American’s likely ability to identify with people from different cultures. Some of us “Americans” do actually live in places where we interact with other people from all over the world.

    Richard S.

    August 1, 2007 at 7:55 pm

  2. No, of course it’s not the only yardstick. But on the other hand Queens is a rather special place, yes?

    CR

    August 1, 2007 at 10:27 pm

  3. Hi. Yes, Queens is a bit special in this regard, but I’m sure there are many places in many towns in the U.S. where people get exposure to other people from different countries. (I’ve been in other places with huge diversity – all over NYC, in Philly and other parts of PA, in San Francisco, in Seattle, and I’ve heard there are even many such places not “on the coasts.”) So, I think it was maybe stretching it a bit to characterize people in the U.S. this way, at least so broadly, on the basis that they never leave the country.

    I think this attitude about people from other countries not really seeming like other real human beings…comes from the usual social and political backwardness…from so much propaganda drumming up nationalism and jingoism for so long. For instance, we’re constantly reminded that loss of other people’s lives in a war doesn’t really count; it’s always the loss of “our” troops that matters. That’s an attitude constantly reinforced by the mass media. Though I think people are falling into this way of thinking a little less with the increase of disgust over the government’s international policies and wars.

    Richard S.

    August 6, 2007 at 2:59 am

  4. Most of the places that you name are still places that were largely against the war – or at least more against the war than other, less cosmopolitan portions of the US. Of course, it’s the ideology, the jingoism as well. But those things still need warm, moist soil in which to grow. Of course it’s not just American provincialism that causes this sort of thing to happen, but it might not be able to happen without it.

    comes from the usual social and political backwardness…

    All I am saying here is that American lived isolationism is both a cause and a symptom of the backwardness that you describe.

    CR

    August 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm


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