31 May 2003
Inoculating against E. spicoli
Sean Penn's Kilroy's Still Here piece drew a blistering response from Michele:
Did you really expect that within a month of the war, Iraq would be some sort of carbon copy of the United States, filled with open markets and democratic elections and prospering people? Are you so naive to believe that freedom can come in a week, a month, even a year?
"Open markets?" they cry. "Why, 48 percent of Americans own no stocks at all! And 'democratic elections' have we forgotten Florida in 2000?"
Thus speaks the celebrity pundit, in solidarity with the mythical Average American. Of course, he's not really an Average American; he just plays one on TV. (Apologies to Joe Goodwin.)
This is not about Iraq for Penn and his kind. It is about their selfish hatred for George Bush. It is about the craving they have to be able to say I told you so, about their need to be right, always right and to prove everyone else in the free world wrong. They care about nothing but themselves and their self-centered ideology.
It's a tricky balance. They must distance themselves from American culture, to which they feel unutterably superior but not too much distance, or the checks will stop rolling in.
I said this back in February of '02:
The left routinely grumbles about this Last Remaining Superpower stuff, and it's true that we've done some things in our capacity as a superpower that qualify as more or less heinous, but if our track record were as horrible as all that, we wouldn't still have a waiting list at the immigration office; you don't see people standing in line to get into Zimbabwe. Still, there are people in places like Berkeley and Boulder who apparently can defend the likes of Robert Mugabe out of one side of their mouths while they condemn George W. Bush with the other.
And not a few in Hollywood, it appears. Posted at 10:30 AM to Political Science Fiction
Penn and his ilk would argue that all those people wanting to get into this country are coming to destroy us for being so arrogant and evil.
I'm not sure if it was Michele or Joe Goodwin (the pulled quote is vague and I am too tired to check which one said what) who used the rhetoric of the Left Strawman's "selfish hatred for Bush" and their "craving , but I'm getting alarmed at this tactic getting more and more prevalent.
It is the repsonse to arguments by psychoanalyzing the person making the argument. It is most glaring on Savage Nation (whose rhetoric bears very little resemblance to dustbury.com), and appalls me by cheapening the level of discourse and making me doubtful of the veracity of that person's side, whether more correct or not. It also reminds me too much of the Stalinist tactics of regarding political opponents as "mental defectives".
I'm not saying this is the sole property of conservatives, it assuredly is not. All I'm saying is be aware of it and call people out on these ad hominem attacks and dimestore Freudians.
We deserve better.
That's a Michele-ism; I quoted nothing from Mr Goodwin here except his domain name, and that for a cheap laff.
Assuming for the sake of argument that she is wrong and Mr Penn does not in fact possess hatred for George W. Bush, what then might Mr Penn's motives be? Try as I may, and I've read the screed in question, I can't come up with anything more sensible than "As a member of the Federation, we are bound by the Prime Directive."
"Savage Nation"? Ewwwwwww.
The line of thinking that says we must be good because people want to come here doesn't pass the mustard for a few simple reasons. People WANT to come here not for our moral stance, but rather because we have been successful in diverting wealth and access to it away from other countries. Being able to make a living in your own country depends on whether you have access to that countries wealth or is it being used to prop up the economy of another nation. The irony may be that you travel across the border to reclaim wealth that originated from your own country. The US is wealthy beyond its natural resources, think about it.
Look at a country like Brazil. According to basic logic it should be one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. Good climate, large population, plentiful resources. However it just limps along, even in debt up to their eyeballs. Partly due to political corruption, politicians taking pay for making the country more "foreign investor" friendly. Partly because of just poor management. And partly because of a heavily tilted global finace/trade (both real and emerging) system, run in the best tradition of the "neo-golden rule"; he who has the gold makes the rules.
Imagine living in a country where huge tracts of land are growing cash crops like Tobacco, or coffee while people are starving. (See if you can get a copy of "life and Debt", a documentary about monetary policy and Jamaica.) Massively subsidized crops are being dumped on your country from the US driving your local farmers out of business and into a specialized cash crop to survive. There is no social safety net and little protections under law. But across the border there is the US where decades of labor struggles have elevated the common worker to a level of dignity not seen anywhere else, where at least some of the wealth of the country makes it into the hands of the workers. You might want to go, knowing even that the US and its policies helped create your own strife.
So yeah, the US represents both salvation and damnation. Not mutually exclusive by any means. But having access to opportunity shouldn't mean having to leave your own country.
In the best of all possible worlds, it wouldn't. On the other hand, Third World hellholes aren't always that way because of something we did, either (cf. Zimbabwe again, which Mugabe runs like a medieval fiefdom). And while your average multinational isn't even slightly saintly, I'm not inclined to think that starvation is somehow morally superior to sweatshops.
Sooner or later, equilibrium will be approached. Electronics manufacturers moved from the US to Japan because it was cheaper; then they moved to Taiwan because it was cheaper; now they've doing business in Malaysia and South Korea and China, all of which have shown improved standards of living, at least in the purely monetary sense. Eventually, almost everybody gets to play, if only because the pressure to find cheaper sources of production isn't going to let up any time soon. Admittedly, this is a long-term solution, while many countries (Brazil included) have severe short-term problems, but it's something. And yes, we probably should quit subsidizing farm exports.
Having access to freedom shouldn't mean having to leave your own country either. But without freedom, there is no such thing as opportunity, so those seeking opportunity go where the freedom is.
What I get worried about is a developing process by which impoverished countries get caught in a cycle of poverty through debts and hop-scotch capital movement. There has to be an elevation in living standards for social change to really start. But as we have seen in the past few years instances like Japan happen less frequently and instances like Indonesia more often. This is where as soon as social progress starts to take hold and workers ask for better workng conditions and the government responds to pressure for more foriegn accountability, then the foriegn corp (subcontractor) quickly packs up an moves. The Wall Street Journal a few months ago did an article about the shoe industry in Indonesia where this is what happened. I personally think that the roads to opportunity and freedom start with a certain measure of security. Without that you are at the mercy of your employer/government.