Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Friday, July 18, 2008

Imposing the American Way

Nature shows us that dissonance is a means of restoring stability to natural systems. The caterpillar’s residue gives rise to the butterfly. Natural forest fires clear the way for life of many varieties to regenerate. The founder of the martial art of aikido believed that the goal of all conflict is to restore harmony. Systems seek stability and they may create what we humans call conflict or chaos in order to do so.

General Systems Theory tell us that systems are always trying to correct themselves – using their own innate form of immune system to ward off any infections that threaten their stability. We see this in natural systems, like plants, animals and the human body, as well as in human-made systems such as the complex web of institutions we’ve created.

Looking at America one might see a system attempting to make adjustments that it sees as necessary for its own survival. Any system will try to make corrections when it perceives that it is under threat – when its stability is being undermined. These adjustments will tend to get more and more severe, until stability or harmony begins to return.

Was the 9/11 terrorist act not one sign that, maybe, just maybe, things weren’t quite right? If a person has a heart attack, it is a pretty clear sign that he should change his lifestyle – that things are not going well anyway. Usually, people get lots of warnings before they suffer a coronary arrest but many are oblivious to the early-warning signs and sometimes die as a result of their first heart attack – the most severe signal the body can muster to say slow down and change your ways.

Nearly all Americans look at the events of 9/11 from the personal or national levels, rationalizing that the terrorists were motivated by perverse religious beliefs and fanaticism, coupled with economic suppression that is so rampant in the third world that people take it for granted. On the level of all humanity, however, it was a wake up call for them to change their ways.

It is easy for Americans to ignore the impact their way of life has in other parts of the world. After all, they rarely hear much about it from their corporate-owned media and only a few take the time to see themselves, as other countries perceive them. So, the Americans may have been shocked to learn that they are resented by so many other cultures that have been victimized and exploited by the American Way. But that naïveté was popped on 9/11 as millions of Americans started to realize that they weren’t as well liked as they may have thought.

There is little awareness in the US that the American Way has become a curse for much of the world which is seeing cultures ruined, traditions abandoned, people exploited, environments scavenged and local values ignored. The American Dream has become the world’s worst nightmare.

American chauvinism is being confronted right now. Its swagger and arrogance is out of control. People in other parts of the world, even Americans living abroad, have seen this coming for years. But the Americans didn’t want to hear anything that could possibly suggest that the American Way was flawed – that their way wasn’t the best and the Americans weren’t better than any other people. National egoism breeds arrogance for Americans and hatred in them. The noise will not be stilled as the rest of the world cries out for equality, respect and justice. It will simply get louder and louder.

The most positive change the Americans can make is to stop thinking so chauvinistically – as chief exporters of the American Way. As Senator John McCain wrote recently, "We are an unfinished nation." Americans still have lots to learn, despite their great strengths and achievements. America is a very young country, barely pubescent compared to most other cultures. But like the talented teenager who has yet to taste defeat, America’s adolescent arrogance can be its biggest blind spot and its ultimate undoing.

The Americans share a planet with billions of other people. Acting as if it is invincible and singing God Bless America aren’t the actions of a nation with any real appreciation for other people’s cultures. Making the loss of American lives a huge issue while simultaneously denying the value of the lives of others is incredibly chauvinistic. How would Americans feel if its World Trade Center civilian casualties were classified as collateral damage as they do when they kill tens of thousands of non-combatants in other countries? Nationalism is great until it gets perverse and hierarchical.

The Americans need to think not only as Americans who are proud of their country and the incredible strides they have made in creating one of the first and most powerful democracies in history but as responsible global citizens. Responsibility goes with power and responsibility for the whole goes with responsible leadership.

The US can engage in dialogue with other cultures – people who value different things than Americans do, people who do not subscribe to consumerism, eroticized music videos, Christianity, violent movies and television. It can listen to them as if their point-of-view matters. It can pick people to engage in dialogue who are different – VERY different from them – and really listen to them.

Why can’t Americans learn from South Africa, which invoked truth and reconciliation project so the previously warring factions could get on with living together in harmony through forgiveness and honoring their shared humanity? Are Americans too arrogant to learn lessons from other nations? Is their chauvinism so strong that they cannot acknowledge that another country might have something of value, perhaps even an answer that they didn’t invent themselves? (