I’M A LIBERAL AND I AGREE

TANSTAAFL suggests a quick test for critics of the West:

Take a few minutes today to ask yourself a few questions about where you live, and how you live. Here are a few samples to start you off:
Do I like where I live?
Is there another place substantially different where I would prefer to live?
Do I have reasonably good access to the peaceful means of changing the laws and practices of my society?
How secular is my society? How does it treat gender differences? Sexuality? Race?
How free am I? Can I criticise the Government? The Police? Are my thoughts suppressed by government policy?
Do I have access to alternative sources of information? Can I disseminate my thoughts?
Are the processes of my Government transparent? Am I in danger of random arrest? Torture? Summary execution? Secret imprisonment?
What we’re looking for here is a kind of Aggregate Society Satisfaction Rating. There is no perfect society for all. It’s possible Mrs Kublai Khan and all the younger Kahns complained that Xanadu was too far out in the sticks. But realistic debate cannot proceed without an examination of the values that the Western Society stands for in large part, and a comparison to the alternatives of offer. Take a look at where you live, and how you live. If you wouldn’t live anywhere else, make that you starting point for any and all thought about your country, and keep it in mind before you open your mouth.

As a liberal, I’m constantly frustrated because this is where there is hope for the poor, the marginal, women, minorities. I’ve lived in Europe, and I’ll tell you there are few things I’ve encountered more racist and sexist than a Parisian dinner table in the 16th arrondissement, and relative to most of the world, France is good.
(link via Meryl)

13 thoughts on “I’M A LIBERAL AND I AGREE”

  1. Date: 09/03/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Eric:Not sure where you’re from in Canada, but New Haven isn’t what I’d term a ‘typical’ U.S. City.And while I’ll defend the U.S. record on race, what we have done (for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways) is to facilitate the growth of a large underclass, which is more visible in big cities because of race. And many of the social issues we struggle with are around that underclass. Don’t make the error of assuming that because many of the members of that underclass are black, that the black experience in the U.S. is characterized by the portion of it that is in the underclass.A.L.

  2. Date: 09/03/2002 00:00:00 AM
    ZizkaThe Japanese do not agree with you. They think their rice is the best in the world, and they go on and on and on about how much they miss it when abroad. You underestimate what an incredibly big deal it is to them when they are abroad. “So if people come to the US, it shows how great the US, but if they don’t want to, it shows how provincial and bigoted they are?”Where did I say anything close to this? In any case, by removing economic criteria you are stacking the decks against the U.S. Given that jobs and financial prosperity are major factors in human happiness, this seems like a rather biased move on your part

  3. Date: 09/03/2002 00:00:00 AM
    AL:I already admitted that comparing Toronto to New Haven wasn’t all that fair, but it does seem to be far too easy to name off cities (Detroit, Gary, Bridgeport, Hartford, etc.) in which there’s no comparison at all in Canada.”Don’t make the error of assuming that because many of the members of that underclass are black, that the black experience in the U.S. is characterized by the portion of it that is in the underclass.” I’m intrigued by this assertion, but I’m not sure if I totally understand. It would be great if you could expand on this–maybe by email or on a different thread.Eric

  4. Date: 09/02/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Based on what I know, I’ll grant that, outside small towns and the South, the US is one of the least racist societies. This is because we’ve been working on the problem for 30 years or more, and is partly evidencethat the things multiculturalists, liberals, and anti-racists have been doing have been working — rather than a proof that they are wrong. (However, “racism” is a mushy term. American racism is intensely focussed on African-Americans more than non-whites in general, and that hasn’t disappeared as a major factor. Plenty of Americans have little problem with black Africans but still don’t like African-Americans). And I will say — this is one of the concessions I’m being asked for, I think — that yes, I prefer a liberal secular society with protections for individual rights, and that the US is a preeminent society of that type, and that when non-Western societies move in that direction it’s a good thing and by and large something learned from the west. Nonetheless, as we see in Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea, Singapore, etc., this doesn’t amount to Westernization but more like hybridization. The US is the core of a world system (jargon) and all good things come to us. Just as they went to Rome, Paris, London, Baghdad, Damascus, Alexandria, Ch’ang-An, Lo-Yang, Nan-Ching, Lisbon, Madrid, or Amsterdam at various past eras. Our dominance is in part the result of our virtues, but it is also the result of various historical and geographical contingencies. It’s dangerous to pump up our self-esteem excessively. Earlier I remarked on the Taiwanese respect for education. Carrying this a little further — one of America’s strengths is its ability to draw on a number of Asian talent pools. Taiwan and many other areas of Asia have geared significant parts of their educational system (and family structure) toward emigration to the US. In this case we, as the center of a world system, are compensating for some of our cultural weaknesses (neglect of primary and secondary education, cheesy youth culture) by relying on the strengths of other non-Western nations. (American college and graduate education is not neglected that way). I can’t quantify our dependency on foreign talent but it’s enormous. So what’s the lesson from this?

  5. Date: 09/02/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Zizka,?So the US is the place where ambitious (or desperate) people come to better themselves, but that doesn’t quite translate into a proof that the US version of Western Civilization is superior to all its competitors. (In the Middle East, the place people go to is Saudi Arabia).?It is precisely because the US has more opportunities that it is better. If and when the US declines, it will no longer have that title. No one is claiming that there aren?t other aspects of other cultures that are preferable. However, all things considered, when a country is structured in such a way that it generates economic opportunities, it is doing something right. I don?t think Saudi Arabia is a good example. Yes, there are people who go there for jobs, but it is not anywhere close to a first choice. Immigrants have no chance to work their way up in society. Most of them are doing menial labor and always will be. In America there is always a chance (as opposed to a guarantee)of moving up. I am not sure what your point is with Japan and other Asian countries. Are you saying that a country would not be the best place to live unless the entire world wanted to liver there? If that is your definition of ?best place to live?, there is no “best place to live”. By and large, people would like to stay in their own countries if possible. Most people are incredibly attached to their food and customs. Japanese get homesick just for their rice. However, the attitudes that create the environments they like at home are connected to the reasons there aren?t as many opportunities. Also, the same closeness and communal feeling they love manifests itself in a deep suspicion of outsiders. They love their country because they love the comfortable feeling of being on the ?inside? of their groups. But the real question is how outsiders like their country? America (and Canada and Australia) are probably the best places to be an ?outsider? because you really can become an insider in a generation. In Japan, even Koreans whose grandparents were born in Japan, speak only Japanese, and never plan to move to Korea are called ?zainichi-kankokujin?, meaning ?Koreans in Japan.? You are born Japanese; you can?t become Japanese.

  6. Date: 09/02/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I just lost a lengthy comment, again, to my dial-up. If my ISP was here in this room, I would be a murderer. To recap: I am dubious about multi-culturalism, but also dubious about proofs that the American version of Western civilization has been shown to be the best. Lupinek — if the only choices you allow me are mainland China or the ex-USSR, isn’t that stacking the deck a little? In response to a specific question, I said that I would rather be a European or a Canadian, and would be happy to live in one of those places as a resident if allowed. This thread has several levels rather confusedly interwoven: “Where do you live?”, “Where would you like to live?” “where do people in general want to live?” and “Doesn’t this prove that Western covolization in its present form is superior to all other civilizations”. The last point is the one I have problems with. From a free-market ideologue’s point of view the US is almost certainly the best place in human history, but I’m not a free-market ideologue. The ills of our system are evident enough, and free-marketers generally just say that the victims (leeches) deserve it. In point of fact, few Japanese permanently emigrate to anywhere, even as stagnant as Japan is now. Even job-motivated expatriation is less than one would expect. Unless I have my facts wrong, the Japanese have given a very clear answer to the “vote-with-your-feet” question. They prefer Japanese civilization. America is an opportunity society and for that reason people come here. European societies are more restrictive. When a Mexican decises to stand on a streetcorner in LA looking for under-the-table day labor, maybe that’s a good thing, but it’s not that he asked himself first whether he should go to France. So the US is the place where ambitious (or desperate) people come to better themselves, but that doesn’t quite translate into a proof that the US version of Western Civilization is superior to all its competitors. (In the Middle East, the place people go to is Saudi Arabia). Opportunity and economic incentives govern migration generally. My migrations will be determined by possibilities, and will not be the simple outcome of a decision on my part as to which is the best place in the world to live.

  7. Date: 09/01/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I’m originally from Toronto, Canada, and I’ve lived in New Haven, CT for the last 2 years as a student. I know it’s not a completely fair comparison, but I have to say that the racism and socioeconomic disparities, as well as the religious tensions, are palpably worse in the U.S. As glorious as New York City is, I personally have little doubt which society better realizes the ideals of justice, equality, and freedom in general. Canada is certainly not perfect (especially, for example, with regard to our treatment of aboriginals), but it lacks two historical elements that stain America’s desire to realize the values expressed in its Constitution: slavery and the possession of a de facto empire.Oh, and I have to note that the last set of questions on TANSTAAFL’s test don’t afford the unambiguous answers that the author thinks it does: as an alien on a student visa, the recent activities of the U.S. justice department suggest that as long as I live here, I am a member of a class of individuals that is at a non-negligible risk of random arrest and secret imprisonment, due to a branch of the executive that has over the past year aimed to reduce its transparancy as much as possible in the name of security.Eric

  8. Date: 08/30/2002 00:00:00 AM
    I live in Portland Oregon. I was born in Minnesota, came out here for college, and stayed. The only job skill I have which might allow me to emigrate is ESL teaching, which might get me permanent residency (but not citizenship) in some Asian country, but probably not in Europe. I’m definitely thinking about it. My brother has been in Canada for a decade and is going for citizenship. From what he says, I can’t go there.I’ve also thought of retiring (I’m near that age) to Latin America for financial reasons (stretch the dollar). For almost everyone the financial reasons (and also, simple possibility) have a massive influence on these decisions. I would be happy to be an average Canadian or European with the rights, benefits, income, and taxes of everyone else there. But that’s not a real option. As far as Latin America or East Asia, I would love to live there on a day-by-day basis but would have doubts about living there under their legal and political systems.

  9. Date: 08/28/2002 00:00:00 AM
    A wiser man than me told me, “No country in the world represents Islamic values better than the U.S.” This man grew up in the M.E. and spent the last 24 years here. I would have to agree. TANSTAAFL’s best point to me was, “any group of critics of the West, and offer them free passage to another culture, none will go. Offer the same deal to the people in the other culture, and you risk being hurt in the rush.” Tru dat.

  10. Date: 08/28/2002 00:00:00 AM
    Life has always been strange here. Thomas Jefferson wrote(with a little help from Franklin): “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s easy to forget just how audacious that statement was and is. I can’t help loving him for writing that, as aware as I am of his faults.My sister spent the summer working for a legal clinic dealing with(or rather “struggling with”) the Louisiana juvenile justice system. So let me tell you, our society has a lot to be ashamed of. But, goddamnit, I can’t help loving this place for its virtues despite its faults.

  11. Date: 08/29/2002 00:00:00 AM
    The multi-cultural and the anti-imperialist, anti-market critiques of the West can be diametrically opposed. It has to be argued case-by-case, but certainly a Chilean would have very ambivalent feelings about the fact that Americans are freer than Chileans. There seems to be a tendency on this site toward global arguments lumping together large numbers of things into one or two categories. Not unique to this site of course. Several nations of East Asia, under US auspices since WWII, have put together partly-Westernized ensembles that most of them, especially in Japan, prefer to the American way. It would be interesting to do a study of emigrants, especially from S. Korea and Taiwan, to the US, with regard to their motives and ultimate satisfaction with their decision. As for the US vs. Europe or Canada, I’d prefer Europe or Canada.

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