Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Some European Mind-Reading - The House of the Rising Sun

Last night, Steven Den Beste considered some reasons why European popular sentiment might be trending so strongly anti-American. I'm sure it's a combination of factors, but I suspect it's primarily one that Den Beste touches on.

Inferiority. I think it's easy for Americans to forget how strongly people take "humiliation." We can't take seriously Palestinian claims that the "humiliation" of checkpoints or of the existance of a non-Muslim country in the Middle East is so strong that it forces them to kill Jewish children in their beds. We don't see the problem in telling France "you're with us or you're with the terrorists."

I don't mean to say that we're wrong, because humiliation is not a good reason to make life or death decisions. However, we haven't really had to deal with it since the 80s.

Back in the 80s, there was a period where people began to believe that the Japanese economic system and culture, (and to a lesser extent, German economics and culture) were superior to the US economic system and culture. People thought that the US auto industry was dead and the computer industry was next, that the Japanese would soon own every entertainment company, office building, and Picasso to be had in the USA, and that within 50 years, we'd all be speaking Japanese. (Don't believe me? Watch Blade Runner).

Of course, most people kept living their lives, but on the margins, Americans started getting a little squirrelly, and reacted in one of two ways - with anger or imitation. In the (rare) worst cases, anti-Japanese sentiment led to violence. On the other front, it seemed like every third movie was about ninja or Japanese-US cultural conflicts, and every executive seemed to be reading >A Book of Five Rings or The Art of War.

Ultimately, I think Europe is stuck in the same situation we were in during the 80s. Their economy is stagnating relative to ours, their geopolitical influence is waning, and the EU has turned out to be something of an unstoppable bureaucratic monster instead of the economic and political powerhouse they were promised. In response, the Europeans are experiencing the same reactions we did during the "Rising Sun" era - resentment or imitation. "Old Europe" is trending mostly towards resentment, and "New Europe" is trending mostly towards imitation, but I'm sure there's some of each in every country.

Of course, none of this analysis tells us what to do about European resentment, and I don't have any ideas, except to encourage countries to emulate the best things about the US.