Johnno

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I wish I wrote that.....


Brian

I did a piece about Brian Eno a couple of months ago. Found this at TIME magazine via google which I am going to reproduce in its entirity. Yep it's bad form..... but hey it's my blog!

Europeans have always looked at America with a mixture of fascination and puzzlement, and now, increasingly, disbelief. How is it that a country that prides itself on its economic success could have so many very poor people? How is it that a country so insistent on the rule of law should seek to exempt itself from international agreements? And how is it that the world's beacon of democracy can have elections dominated by wealthy special interest groups? For me, the question has become: "How can a country that has produced so much cultural and economic wealth act so dumb?"

I could fill this page with the names of Americans who have influenced, entertained and educated me. They represent what I admire about America: a vigorous originality of thought, and a confidence that things can be changed for the better. That was the America I lived in and enjoyed from 1978 until 1983. That America was an act of faith — the faith that "otherness" was not threatening but nourishing, the faith that there could be a country big enough in spirit to welcome and nurture all the diversity the world could throw at it. But since Sept. 11, that vision has been eclipsed by a suspicious, introverted America, a country-sized version of that peculiarly American form of ghetto: the gated community. A gated community is defensive. Designed to keep the "others" out, it dissolves the rich web of society into a random clustering of disconnected individuals. It turns paranoia and isolation into a lifestyle.

Surely this isn't the America that anyone dreamed of; it's a last resort, nobody's choice. It's especially ironic since so much of the best new thinking about society, economics, politics and philosophy in the last century came from America. Unhampered by the snobbery and exclusivity of much European thought, American thinkers vaulted forward — courageous, innovative and determined to talk in a public language. But, unfortunately, over the same period, the mass media vaulted backward, thriving on increasingly simple stories and trivializing news into something indistinguishable from entertainment. As a result, a wealth of original and subtle thought — America's real wealth — is squandered.

This narrowing of the American mind is exacerbated by the withdrawal of the left from active politics. Virtually ignored by the media, the left has further marginalized itself by a retreat into introspective cultural criticism. It seems content to do yoga and gender studies, leaving the fundamentalist Christian right and the multinationals to do the politics. The separation of church and state seems to be breaking down too. Political discourse is now dominated by moralizing, like George W. Bush's promotion of American "family values" abroad, and dissent is unpatriotic. "You're either with us or against us" is the kind of cant you'd expect from a zealous mullah, not an American President.

When Europeans make such criticisms, Americans assume we're envious. "They want what we've got," the thinking goes, "and if they can't get it, they're going to stop us from having it." But does everyone want what America has? Well, we like some of it but could do without the rest: among the highest rates of violent crime, economic inequality, functional illiteracy, incarceration and drug use in the developed world. President Bush recently declared that the U.S. was "the single surviving model of human progress." Maybe some Americans think this self-evident, but the rest of us see it as a clumsy arrogance born of ignorance.

Europeans tend to regard free national health services, unemployment benefits, social housing and so on as pretty good models of human progress. We think it's important — civilized, in fact — to help people who fall through society's cracks. This isn't just altruism, but an understanding that having too many losers in society hurts everyone. It's better for everybody to have a stake in society than to have a resentful underclass bent on wrecking things. To many Americans, this sounds like socialism, big government, the nanny state. But so what? The result is: Europe has less gun crime and homicide, less poverty and arguably a higher quality of life than the U.S., which makes a lot of us wonder why America doesn't want some of what we've got.

Too often, the U.S. presents the "American way" as the only way, insisting on its kind of free-market Darwinism as the only acceptable "model of human progress." But isn't civilization what happens when people stop behaving as if they're trapped in a ruthless Darwinian struggle and start thinking about communities and shared futures? America as a gated community won't work, because not even the world's sole superpower can build walls high enough to shield itself from the intertwined realities of the 21st century. There's a better form of security: reconnect with the rest of the world, don't shut it out; stop making enemies and start making friends. Perhaps it's asking a lot to expect America to act differently from all the other empires in history, but wasn't that the original idea?

5 Comments:

  • He's got a new album out, too. I differ a little with his take on the decline of the left. The biggest flaw was attempting to work through the Democrats. Far too many let themselves get scared of being labeled anarchists or socialists. There was tremendous pressure to do that; ironically. in the universities and labor unions that are supposed to be strongholds of radicalism.

    The biggest killers were:

    1) accepting the role of the union leadership in anti-democratic union elections and allowing themselvs to be used to fight the alleged communist menace.

    2) Foolishly trusting the leaders of the left movements after they took jobs in the liberal patronage networks.

    When he looks across the left landscape, he only sees liberals frittering away their energies because they're the most mediagenic.

    By Blogger Deleted, at 10:45 am  

  • The thing about the States these days - and I've just about given up even thinking about "The States", much as I have thought about "Canada" for the last twenty odd years: I just don't - is this: Everything is completely meaningless, and yet there are consequences.

    I can't put it any other way.

    I've become numb to the absurdity. It's like watching a sitcom with a huge laugh track going off on the setups not after the unfunny punchlines. And Stone Phillips is the lead actor.

    Theres' some heavy inbreeeding going on behind those walls, in the gated commnunities, a kind of social eugenics based on the cult power of personality, egoism, money, and paranoia. America is probably the first complete and total visual society, where icons represent nothing but their own idle idol.

    By Blogger Brian, at 11:28 pm  

  • The new album is VERY good.

    The safety net is much like Europe's downunder although things are more heading towards the US. Single mothers and the unemployed are such easy targets to blame.

    But still, Oz would be considered socialist by US standards. then term "elagatarian" is used rather than "socialist". :-)

    And on a two party preferred basis you have the choice of right-of-centre and way-out-there-right. The way-out-ther-right guys are setting the controls for the sun at the moment.Their current objective is dismantling the industrial relations system which has seen the wealth spread around for the past 100 years. So a working poor group is on the horizon.

    And yeah Eno is a little subjective on the left landscape in your country. I see them as more punch drunk, unable to deal with the latest shit sandwich the neocons are going to hit them with.

    Moff, I remember an article some time ago where the "Go west young man." ethos is particularly strong in the US. Instead of every young mans dream of finding riches in the Californian goldfields, it has now become one of seeking the fame and fortune and stardom of the Californian movie industry. Schwartzenegger has become the role model for what is "good" about the USA. All muscle and little substance.

    And I'm still wrapping my head around the concept of actually PAYING for getting locked up at night. It's a throwback to the old seige mentality of the middle ages.

    Yep, they're attacking them for their freedoms alright.

    By Blogger Johnno, at 7:25 am  

  • What's most stunning to the left is the way immense wealth and cheap entertainment as a substitute for having a life make a post-rational society possible. I, myself, never cease to be amazed when someone recounts something to me from that's obviously and provably taken from a television show and then condescends to my "ignorance".

    By Blogger Deleted, at 1:55 pm  

  • "Baby's On Fiiiiyaaaahhhhhh"

    Eno is da bomb

    All is delusion. I am always amazed at how many Yanks believe they actually experienced this story: "A bully was harassing me on the way home from school. I told my dear ol' pop and he says "son, you just give a him a biff and he'll be gone". Sho' nuff, next time I see that bully coming at me I hit him right in the nose and he ran off crying, never to bother me again". They actually believe they lived that television show!

    By Blogger Peter (the other), at 12:20 pm  

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