Sunday, July 1, 2007

Anti-Americanism: Must We Take It No Matter What?

I went out last night to see Transformers. It was a good movie too.

After the movie a few people wanted to have some drinks and just socialize. We found a place near the theater and settled in. Someone was talking about how the Pentagon loves Michael Bay and is very keen to support his movies by providing him with lots of access and support. It's obvious when you see Bay's movies that this is true.

By this time in the evening the point had come up a couple of times. I'm sitting there thinking "well, yes...it's the logical thing to do as it's free positive PR." So I said that.

That reasonable person or that logical ends result type of theories thinking is pretty much prevalent in legal, economic and other social science studies. The aim is to examine how people behave according to their self-interests.

I went on to say that the US is pretty much the world's only superpower so positive PR is in their interests, uh oh. Clearly those were fighting words and another person questioned me on the US being a superpower.

Now I know that the US is VERY unpopular right now and click around my blog and you'll know that I'm very much a critic of my country's actions and policies right now too. However, my dislike of the current administration doesn't negate history.

What was funny was the person went on the attack and said that I'd been "brainwashed" because she assumed that all my studies had been in the States. Honestly that's one reason I thought getting that degree would strengthen me because how often will you hear the critque that Americans have horrible tunnel vision. Well, in general, that's true but I can't help but notice as an American that there are a whole lot of people who want that American university or grad school degree. (Yes, that's smug defensiveness there, but it's true.)

Anyway, when I told her no I'd not been "brainwashed" and I'd spent the last couple of years studying that stuff here, well, that offensive went silent. To which the next question was how long I'd been here and after I answered, that offensive was busted too. I'm easy to debate with because discussing varying perspectives is interesting. However, I'm hard to argue with because in an argument it's not about an exchange of ideals. To that end, I can usually anticipate the steps someone is going to take - it's mental chess. In the spirit of the movie we'd just seen I'd managed to inspire a small flare up of in the war of idealogy over America and what it represents. However, I wasn't on a flag waving mission as much as it was just logical to me that the US military would support movies that paint it in a positive light. That's particularly true in the current political climate. How is that controversial?

My thing is, look, you can love or hate the US, but the US is a superpower or hegemon. Just look the concept up. For the sake of being complete here is a definition of the concept that I was referring to last night:

...a “superpower” is a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global hegemon.
Now that definition is free of interpretations of whether that is good or bad. And I can completely understand debating the issues and points that superpowers raise. However, I wasn't arguing that the US was a good or bad superpower. Honestly, right now I think it's a pretty bad superpower.

I wasn't arguing about current US policy. I said the US is the world's only superpower and if you know the political concepts, I don't know many who'd argue otherwise. From there, we can come to blows on different issues that dredges up, but the superpower issue is not a debatable issue unless you're dealing with someone who is so biased against the US that they're hard pressed to ever say anything positive about the US.

This got me thinking. Last term I checked out a book called. Anti-Americanisms in World Politics edited by Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane which has various essays that discuss the types of anti-Americanism and its impact on the political economy. It was interesting book and I intended to incoporate a chapter on that in my thesis but ran out of time. For just 70 pages I cited over 100 sources and there wasn't room for a section on this within the time constraints I had.

I don't think anyone could argue that anti-Americanism is more than justified, at times. Power corrupts. History has shown us that time and time again. Also, we know that anti-Americanism is going to happen and it's something that scholars who are interested in world politics might look into studying because it impacts the worldwide political economy.

Since I've lived abroad for awhile, I've found this to be true. People can attack the US in your presence and that's fine. That happens many times with people here in Korea for a range of reasons. But if you have critical words for their countries it's okay for them to bristle and get defensive. However, if you react in a similar way when the US is on the chopping block, well, they don't like it. This gets even more tense if, well, you actually know where Ottawa vs. Toronto or Canberra vs. Sydney are and why that's worth knowing.

It's interesting to me because I have a laundry list of complaints about my country, but the US is a superpower. Now that we've established that let's talk about the stuff that flows from that fact because THAT'S much more interesting than haggling over well-defined terms.

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