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Friday, September 05, 2008
Ronald Wight at Writers Festival
So first off, I'm a big fan of Ronald Wright,
and not a big fan of the American Right.
And I haven't read Wright's new book.
The impression I got from him presenting and discussing though was that he has fallen into a bit of the Al Gore trap, which is, really smart guy, really angry at the Republicans. That angry righteousness can distort anyone's thinking, whether the outrage is justified or not.
I got the impression that his concern was as much about what the Americans should be, than what they are. I suspect the book itself is more about what they are and how they got to be that way.
The question I thought of asking, but didn't (since for one thing, I can format it nicely here, rather than stumbling over ideas as I try to glue them together at the microphone)
Question: You described the situation in the United States as being the "backwoods versus the Enlightment". The implication being, that if we could just make the ill-educated, or the fanatical, suddenly into secular rationalists, that if, to stretch a point, we could just wave a wand and turn the Republican base into European intellectuals, that this would substantially address the problems that the US creates in the world.
Here is my counter-argument:
1. The European Union that you praise is on the territory and composed of the people who, in the last century, while well-educated and cosmopolitan, visited upon the planet two of the greatest horrors in world history, the two World Wars.
Surely this lesson from history tells us that there's more to nations behaving well than simply having educated, worldly populations?
Isn't the issue more that powerful nations behave badly?
The European Union that we look to at a model has a set of well-behaved nations, because the lot of them were losers, on both sides, that emerged from the rubble of war. Aren't they behaving well simply because they lost most of their power?
2. By extension, the United States is the dominant power. It consumes something like 25% of world resources, and has a massive military. Do you expect Americans, even well-educated, rational Americans, to step outside their own self-interest and a system that requires continuous growth, and say something like
"we're going to make ourselves poorer, for the benefit of the world"
Seriously? Isn't this fundamentally against most of what history has shown to be human nature?
Under the Clinton-Gore administration, one lauded for being led by two very educated, intelligent men, factories were still bombed, mistakes were still made, and always, always American interests were first and foremost.
So in conclusion, isn't the issue more American power, than any particular aspects of American culture (or lack thereof)?