Thursday, April 03, 2003

I was just reading I'm Ashamed to be British and had a few thoughts.

First off, I'm not ashamed to be American because I've never felt proud to be one. I am an American. That's enough (sometimes too much, but more on that below). I can feel shame or pride regarding my own actions or the things I have supported, but taking responsibility for whatever the government of the state in which I was born does would be as silly as taking credit for it (I think, for example, that the internet is cool, but I can't be "proud" about it, as I had nothing to do with making it happen). I will also not be ashamed of my useless brother, or proud of my impressive parents. I'm happy that I have the parents I have, and sad that I have the brother I have, but that's it.

What's really eating at me, however, is an email exchange I've been having with my parents regarding the war. My mom is somewhat confused and admits to not "know[ing] what to think." My dad is along the same lines, although he was semi-opposed to the war before it started. The problem for both of these deeply-moral and better-informed-than-their-average-fellow-citizens people is twofold.

One fold is that they REALLY want to believe that their government is doing the right thing. Dad has always had a bit of a gung-ho streak to him (he will only barely admit, with great hesitation and reservations, that he and his fellow sailors, soldiers, and airmen were horribly misused and abused by the government during the Vietnam war, for example). My folks really have a hard time accepting that members of their government would lie to them about something as important as war (not being liars themselves, they are generally trusting: witness my brother [you can't, and you shouldn't, but if you could and did you'd know what I mean]). They also don't have my background in history so they don't know that lying about this sort of thing is the rule, rather than the exception. So they just trust in their president and god and hope for the best.

The other fold is propaganda. I'm not in the US right now, and have spent very little time there since last July, so I only get a bit of second-hand experience with the depths to which the US mass media have descended. While I was in the US, for that matter, I got most of my genuine news (as I do now) from a wide variety of internet sources. Still, enough stuff has trickled down (literally) for me to get a reasonable notion of what they are hearing and reading. Basically my parents have heard little more than the official lines regarding this war and the Afghanistan war (I do what I can, but Rupert Murdoch is a mighty and fell warrior: it was only after a long and strenuous effort that I got them to vote for Nader, and that didn't seem, at the time, to involve the question of patriotism in the common sense of the word). What all this has resulted in is that my parents can only think critically with great difficulty about this. They've had the same lies and half-lies shouted at them for so long that anything contradicting those lies just doesn't fit in.

I can tell, however, from the tone of their emails (if emails have a tone) that they are struggling. They read to me like modern Winston Smiths (from "1984"), who hear little more than fiction but are gnawed at by a vague sense that somehow, something just is NOT RIGHT. They can't put their fingers on that something, however, since the "news" and commentary to which they are most often exposed has already had the memory-hole treatment.

Ignorance is not strength. Ignorance is deeply troubling.

Since I'm tossing around literary references, here's another. Every time they get a salvo of my version of the truth they are like the dude in the "Allegory of the Cave" who, having just been given the option of turning around and seeing the rest of the world, struggles with the temptation to keep his eyes focussed on the wall.

As to my remark about being American: I've said before (on another blog) that I long ago grew weary of being expected to explain/defend the US to people abroad (and I am abroad now, have spent much of the last decade abroad, and I will be abroad for the forseeable future). I do still explain, but I do not defend. How does one defend something indefensible? I'm decent in an argument, but I find it impossible to play devil's advocate on what is going on right now. I won't do it.

As I said to Scott yesterday, I'm so disgusted right now I've forgotten what it was like to be gusted.


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