Friday, October 04, 2002

My contribution to a thread on Maxspeak
Among the differences between the US and Europe we can list these: the US as a state is based on citizenship not genetics; we rule the world by offering others the chance to join us or be swamped, not simply by stealing wealth. The country thrives on a social mobility that's rare in other countries, The drawback is that most of the mobility is exhibited in the immigrant populations. It would be interesting to know if there are any studies on this, but my impression is that the American born poor are more likely to remain so while the immigrant poor tend to move up. Unlike Germany or France where poor (dark skinned) foreigners are not accepted, there's a real sense in this country that it's laziness that's frowned upon not foreignness. What this means, however, is that those who don't climb quickly often don't climb at all. I'm witnessing this now in my neighborhood where there's a real tension between the children of immigrants from post-war Poland and the generation who left Poland at the end of the cold war and who are incredibly aggressive in their drive for wealth.  America welcomes adventurers.  But it should not be a crime to be other than rich and want to be content.  In the new hyper capitalism, "you're either a suck-up or a fuck-up" is the line of the day. Nonetheless it's the strength of America in relation to Europe, where instead of complacent poverty there's a complacent bourgeois. Europe is becoming as racially diverse as America, but I still get the impression that while immigrants come to America to get rich, immigrants go to Europe simply to have a decent life. Indeed I know many who only come to the States for the jobs and the money, planning to move to other parts of the world, back to their home, or to Europe is possible, as soon as they can.

On China, I'll say something else entirely. I read an article by Ronald Dworkin on his visit to the mainland and his conversations with political figures, intellectuals and students. He made an interesting comment and what he thought of their hopes for the future, and for political change. They were optimistic he thought, even though they knew things were moving slowly. He worried that their optimism was over-confidence given the youth of China's new leaders; but as I read the article, I got the impression that they might have thought 30 years not too long to wait, or that perhaps their children would reap the rewards of their patience.

Patience is not something America understands. We've conquered Europe. Our version of modernity born of youth and revolution has made brashness and enthusiasm both popular and intellectually respectable. And if ever brashness and enthusiasm described our political philosophy it does so now, as evinced in the policies of our current president and his companions. But George W. Bush represents our national philosophy in all it's weaknesses, and none of it's strengths. Arrogant but not streetwise, rich and spoiled, badly educated and unintellectual, both boorish and contemptuous.

I'm looking forward to the next generation of modern civilizations. The age of revolutions is over. Contrary to what you hear on the radio, the romance with youth is ending. China's students struck me as patient. Iranians are patient. Stability not as decadence or power but as maturity is a value to them. I take that very seriously. And I respect it.  30 years ago someone asked Zhou En Lai what he though was the significance of the French Revolution. He said it was too soon to tell. He was right.

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