Friday, November 03, 2006

Greens v America

A terrific (and terrifically long) thread over on Thought Mesh illustrates the scattergun approach of anti-Americanism. ('Scattergun' because the accusations are many and rapid rather than focused and thoughtful, quantity over quality – leading to frequent self-contradiction).

The reason I describe what has become the default leftist position in Europe as ‘anti-Americanism’ (implying that it involves invalid criticism) as opposed to just ‘criticism of America’ (of which some are valid) is that it has in common with many other ‘isms’ an irrational demonisation of an specific enemy.

Facts and actual consequences don’t matter with anti-Americanism: all that matters is the construction of a narrative in which ‘America’ is the villain.

This villain need not be consistent as an entity (at different times in the same argument ‘America’ can be the US as a whole over generations, or a particular US administration, or a secret cabal of ‘business’ and ‘oil companies’, or just the individual George W Bush and his religious lunacy or personal Freudian complexes about his father.)

Nor need the villain be consistent in its characteristics (one moment it is stupid and blundering, with no understanding of the complexities of international affairs; the next moment it is incredibly clever and Machiavellian, manipulating international affairs for its own gain; now it is well-meaning but foolish and naïve; now it is purely selfish).

When the villain is cast and facts have become an irrelevance, it becomes very easy to lazily accumulate a set of beliefs acknowledged as truisms, but with no basis in reality.

The myth of Kyoto
The thread on Though Mesh looks at some of the common lazy beliefs about the Iraq war, oil and imperialism.

But another, absolutely belting one, is this: “America doesn’t care about carbon emissions - Bush is destroying the planet because he refused to sign up to Kyoto.

Who doesn’t believe that?

But did you know, for example, that the USA is a signatory of the Kyoto protocol, but that it was the beloved and much-lamented Clinton administration that refused to ratify it, following a unanimous (95-0) Senate vote against ratifying a policy that could penalise the US but that gave absolutely no binding targets to developing countries?

Bush merely continued the policy. And here’s what he said: “This is a challenge that requires a 100% effort; ours, and the rest of the world's. The world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is the People's Republic of China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto … America's unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change … Our approach must be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”

And amazingly, he wasn’t even lying! Instead, the USA signed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate with the countries that matter, including China and India, which has similar targets but none of the skewed penalties.

Here are some more inconvenient facts:

The USA is one of the few countries that is actually on track to meet its carbon emission targets – by reducing its carbon intensity by 18% by 2012. (The UK is also on target).

Germany the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden are not on target, but might get there via international carbon trading.

Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland have all increased emissions but can also rely on carbon trading. Japan and Norway have increased emissions by such a large degree that they are certain to miss their targets. France has reduced its emissions by just 2%, but then its target was only to maintain 1990 levels.

But of course, what matters to anti-Americanism is that ‘George Bush refused to sign Kyoto’ and stories always trump facts, and intentions trump results.

David Cohen described a certain middle-class leftist view of social policy thus: “I am a good person if I help the poor. I help the poor by arguing that the Government should tax people like me more and give the money to the poor. I am a good person.”

The anti-American green equivalent is this: “I am a good person if I do my bit for the environment. I do my bit for the environment by stating that the USA is the world’s worst polluter. I am a good person.”

Don’t miss the next exciting instalment: How the French and Germans enjoy the unique position of being able to snipe at the relative lack of American spending on national health because they can rely on the USA to do all their defence spending for them...


Peter Burnet said...

I can't recommend this book highly enough for anyone interested in this. No single explanation for the phenomenon (fear, jealousy, snobbery etc.) will suffice and Hollander shows how, at least in continental Europe, the syndrome goes almost all the way back to the Revolution. But what is great about the book is his analysis of the almost uniquely American tradition of domestic anti-Americanism, or at least anti-American rhetoric. I'm not naive enough to think anything is going to change, but I often wonder whether our American friends are even vaguely aware of their own contribution to "world opinion" on their country. Whether they should care or not, or to what degree, is another question, but if they don't, maybe they should stop getting so insulted by it.

AOG explains here that there is an element of "playtime" to a lot of American political debate, and we all know how they can slander one another with the most vicious allegations of perfidy and then stand shoulder to shoulder at the first sign of danger. But do Americans understand that nobody else in the world does this except in preparation for a civil war and that outside observers draw very different conclusions, such as half of Americans really believe it and know what they are talking about? I can't imagine an Italian or Swedish or British leftist going on about how how not only his country, but also his national ethos and historical philosophical foundation are raping the planet and causing untold misery through private greed and thus represent the ultimate threat to world prosperity, peace and social justice. Not even the looniest leftist moonbat in Canada would ever suggest Canadian troops are fighting in Afghanistan so Bombardier can get reconstruction contracts. The allegations of lying, conspiracy, bad faith and thirst for profit and conquest in American politics are just never-ending and unfortunately much of the rest of the world takes them as sincerely as they would if they thought them about their own country and leaders, which they never do, because they don't do playtime in politics with their national integrity.

Then there is the ongoing colonial mentality of the American intellectual elite, savaged by Tom Wolfe. They really do seem to be incapable of seeing or saying anything positive about American society, but they'll wet their pants about everything European. They are worse than the most deferential Indian servant-toady at the height of the Raj.

Finally, some days it seems that Americans of every political stripe are congenitally incapable of admitting there are limits to U.S. capabilities, power and influence. I noted last month when the Norks did their nuclear test, Americans immediately started screaming at one another as to whether Bush or Clinton was to blame. It seemed to be a replay of the "Who lost China?" debates of the 50's. A lot of international anti-Americanism is grounded in a widespread subconscious assumption that the U.S. is omnipotent--they cause everything and could fix everything if they really wanted to. It's ridiculous, of course, but they come by it honestly.

And then, once a non-American fan of the U.S. has taken the time to articulate all this to his American friends with affection and concern, he can look forward to every last one of giving him puzzled looks and a patronizing, one-paragraph, boilerplate grade three civics lecture on the importance of freedom of speech. Aaaarrrggghhh!

Susan's Husband said...

Doesn't it also show through in other advertising, where American adverts are very in your face, whereas European ones seem to be a bit poofy?

I also think that one of the problems in current American politics is that the more socialist of the political factions are starting to take their own rhetoric as seriously as the foreign anti-Americans

David said...

Anti-Americanism is the anti-semitism of fools.

Peter Burnet said...

Here is an interesting comment from the maddeningly inscrutable French intellectual enfant terrible, Bernard Henri-Levy:

Lévy explained, "I am in a culture where anti-Americanism is a warning light that signals the worst is happening. At the heart of Fascism is anti-Semitism, or nationalism, or racism. There is something less known, but just as central, and it's anti-Americanism—America taken as a category, not as a region of the world, but as a region of the soul, which describes the non-natural part of human society. Democracy is a mixture of races, a society based not on roots but on a constitution, founded on an oath. Of course the real America isn't faithful to this program, but this is how the anti-American French see America, as a chemical nation, inorganic, the triumph of law, of abstraction, of institution. I'm not pro-American as much as anti-anti-American. When the French begin to feel a mad visceral hatred toward an imagined America, I know the cauldron is boiling and the filthy genie is about to jump out again."

Brit said...

I think the heart of it is an innate need to rebel against whatever is the prevailing system - a need so strong that the relative benevolence and success of the system is irrelevant.

You would thus expect to see it at its strongest in France, which is a nation created by continual, dramatic protest and revolution.

Peter Burnet said...

There are parallels to be sure. The revolutions are never over. I blame too much classical architecture. I love the States, but there is something just so cozy about that forbidding, irrational Gothic. It keeps everyone on their best behaviour.