Seeing the World Through RedWhite&Blue Tinted Glasses

Not to sound blunt or un-American, but… Americans tend to be rather self centered. Not in a personal or moral way, but in the way that America as a whole tends to be somewhat dismissive and ignorant towards the affairs and needs of other countries. I didn’t really realize the full extent of this until I tried out for Team USA, an American debate team that participates in international tournaments against teams from all around the world. After every round, all of us got the same comment: stop talking so much about the United States and focus more on the world! I then realized how little I actually knew about what was going on in the world, and, more importantly, how little media coverage we really get about international affairs. News overwhelmingly covers domestic issues; international issues are almost exclusively covered if and only if they affect America, whether it be that China’s malicious currency manipulation is hurting our businesses or whether or not we should militarily intervene in a Middle Eastern country and force our form of democracy and free market upon them. In a poll done by the Economist and YouGov only 15% of respondents placed foreign policy as one of their top three priorities. Perhaps it is selfish… but is America unnaturally so?
One thing I’ve found interesting throughout the course of the election and discussions about the state of the economy is that no one ever discusses the state of the global economy. Is it really possible for America to perform well if the rest of the world is collapsing? The Eurozone is obviously having its own problems, with economies like Greece and Spain doing so poorly. China’s and Japan’s growth rates are slowing and India’s faulty infrastructure is becoming increasingly more obvious. South Africa’s economy is sliding backwards and even Sweden, widely considered the most economically equal country in the world, is beginning to shift. I tried to search how the world economy affects America’s, but the only results I got were about how America affects the rest of the world, not the other way around. This perhaps proves my point further.
In America, we tend to see outsourcing of jobs as a bad thing. Companies send their labor elsewhere, and so there are fewer jobs for Americans. Companies do not contribute as much to America’s economy as they should be, and that is seen as negative. Regardless of the fact that outsourcing of jobs helps us since we get goods for cheaper if they are not made in the United States, the outsourcing of companies is actually very beneficial to the countries they go to. When so many American companies outsource to China, migrant Chinese workers are given jobs and opportunities they would not have had otherwise. In my eyes at least, these people are important too, and shouldn’t necessarily be seen as so much less important than American workers. China’s success helps us, too. According to a study by Nicholas Bloom, Paul Romer, and John Van Reenen, increased competition with China can actually boost innovation, and innovation really is one of the most valuable things we can have. They showed that direct competition from China has already generated faster technical change in firms in Europe and the United States through both reallocation and firm innovation, something that is definitely valuable to the United States, which is a country itself built on innovation and ideas.
Then there’s the issue of terrorism. The American government has made it a priority to stomp out terrorism and assure the safety of its citizens… but perhaps the way we go about it is actually more harmful than helpful to our foreign relations: for example, the drone strikes in many areas in the Middle East. Many support drone strikes on the basis that it will make America safer, and often such displays of military prowess are seen as very effective and as a way of asserting America’s power. But is such violence really the best way to accomplish this? From an American perspective, economically it seems to be the best option, and it brings the most immediate gratification. But from a foreign perspective, it is not necessarily the best thing to do. When we use drone strikes, it is inevitable at this point that we will kill civilians. (Keep in mind that while the site I linked makes it appear that many more militants than civilians are killed, militants are often just classified as men over fighting age. There are also many conflicting sources, some even claiming that drones only have a 2% sucess rate. More graphs and statistics can be seen in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.) Aside from the fact that killing civilians is a bad thing in general, it also ignites even more anti-American sentiment. In many areas of the Middle East, though the people hate the Taliban, they hate America even more. This breeds more and more terrorism as the desperate and impoverished turn to extremist beliefs and begin to blame their problems on America. Drone strikes and other such violent attacks on the Middle East may even serve to anger Middle Easterners already in the United States further, who certainly cannot be targeted by drones. Perhaps it would help to address the more structural problems in these countries, such as poverty, or even something more drastic like government reformation, but the approach most cost effective and easy for the United States is certainly not always the one best for the rest of the world or even for itself.
I could go on with more examples, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Aside from potential benefits to other countries, their economies, their governments, and their citizens, there are potential benefits to America for having a more global perspective. It would likely help us with diplomacy – when countries understand that we have their interests in mind at least to some extent, they are more willing to negotiate with us. I’m not asking for America to completely set aside its own interest, for obviously the wellbeing of its own citizens as well as its own success is very important to the people and to the global market – I only hope that America can become more global in its perspective and factor the rest of the world into its decisions and outlooks more. Next time you hear a politician talk about how we must maintain our position as the most powerful country in the world, or how we must make sure we stay ahead of other economies, or how dreadful it is that American jobs are being outsourced and the income that should be going to us is going elsewhere… I encourage you to question why that’s so important.

Advertisements

17 comments

  1. Hello! I don’t think it’s un-American to criticize the actions our government and people are taking: in fact, that’s about as American as you can get if you consider how our country was founded. I do agree with you that a lot of America is so focused on the domestic news that nobody really knows what’s happening outside of the country. Personally, I’ve taken to reading on sites such as the BBC news so that I can get a better idea of the world news. I think part of the problem with the US is that so many other countries do look at our news and politics. Our economy affects the whole world, our politics affects our neighbors and our allies, and our social climate affects any country that’s involved in our affairs. Other countries are trying to be updated on our news, and there’s so much news about America that it’s hard for a lot of Americans to be updated on their own country and the whole world. I’m sure that this isn’t just a problem for Americans, either. No doubt, there are places in Europe where they know nothing outside of their own country. I think that really, our government is participating in international affairs and that is more important than the whole of America participating. As for the drone strikes, I think that the whole purpose of those is to display our power. We dropped nuclear weapons on Japan not because we felt threatened by them, but because of Russia. We wanted to show the world that we’d cracked the secret to the bomb and we weren’t afraid to use it. Everything our government does is to prove to the world that America is economically stable, militarily strong, and politically correct. It’s not just the American people, but our government.
    – Good post!

    Like

    • Hey Cat!
      I do definitely agree that the United States affects the rest of the world a lot. I just think that there needs to be a little less of a domestic news bias.
      I’m a little confused as to your point on drone strikes, as part of my point was that these “displays of power” are unnecessary. I don’t think there’s any reason for it to be so important for America to assert its power and dominance over the rest of the world. I feel like it simply isn’t necessary and breeds anti American sentiment and hostility from the rest of the world, which is harmful rather than helpful. My point was also that the government also needs to take a more global outlook – my discussion of China and other foreign policy are all things more influenced by the government than by the general people. That’s why I said America – I think a global outlook needs to be applied to citizens as well as the government.
      Thank you for the response!
      Jane

      Like

  2. Hi Jane,
    I agree that America would greatly benefit from a little more consideration of the rest of the world. Being a large country and one of the Big Five at the UN, our economy definitely affects others, but, like you mentioned, many other countries economies affect ours. I feel that all these issues put forth in your post are due to a lack of knowledge of the people. Our government works hard on international relations, but not many people know about the steps America is taking. Being informed would allow for more people to voice opinions, whether positive or negative, which would allow for topics to be discussed. The fact that any man at military age is considered a militant seems like something many people would object to, but they don’t know it’s happening. Syria is in utter turmoil with thousands of people dead with the fighting still going on and it is rarely reported on. This makes me very sad. I feel people need to want to be informed about their country and how we work with other countries. Similarly, the media needs to do its own part by informing the masses.
    -Maddie M.

    Like

    • Hi Maddie,
      I certainly agree that lack of knowledge by the people is a problem. Americans know strikingly little about international politics, though as mentioned by another commenter, this may partially be due to the volume of information we are presented in America, as domestic policy is already such a big issue. I personally read lots of news, but even when I’m busy I read the Daily Beast’s news cheat sheet, and I’m occasionally surprised to see a news story about Britney Spears ranked higher than an article about China’s accelerating economy and how they may overtake us as the largest economy in the world by 2014. I think a lot of the problem though is that people just don’t care enough to read the newspaper or watch the news, thus any attempts by the media to get them involved would be fruitless.
      Thank you very much for the comment!
      Jane

      Like

  3. Hey Jane!
    I have to agree that us Americans can be very self centered, but the world, as well as the news seem to make us feel that way. Our implied role as the world’s peace keeper tends to push all conflicts towards America. The news discuss whether the US should intervene, what would happen if we didn’t, and the treaties that force America’s hand to intervene. The US is always the one needed to intervene, and it is sometimes forced to by peace and protection treaties. The news love to talk about this too, and how it effects the US, but I have some ways to get around those US centered news. I sometimes will watch, or read article from foreign news networks, as they are more centered on their own countries. BBC can be great, as well Al Jazeera as you get the Middle East’s views as well as that of Europe. I get a lot of other views from these, but they still talk about America much of the time because it truly has an affect on them as well. Do you think theres a specific news source that you like to go to, to get other countries’ views? From my experience America sometimes is the center of the world, because our economy, military, and trade are so intertwined with the rest of the world.

    Like

    • Hello!
      I definitely agree with you, it’s not just that America is America-centric, it is that the world tends to be. I admittedly see other countries as having quite an advantage in the type of debate I do that I discussed in my post as they are allowed to talk about American and we are not… America is such a factor in so many things, it is very hard to avoid talking about it when discussing world politics!
      However, America as the dominant world superpower is definitely changing; I just started reading a great book by Fareed Zakaria called “The Post-American World” that discusses this at length, but it’s evident that our America-centric view will not continue to work for us for much longer as China is projected by many to overtake our economy by 2014 and other countries are quickly gaining prominence as well.
      I’ve been meaning to start reading Al Jazeera, but I haven’t gotten the chance. For world news, I tend to read The Economist, UN Wire (a daily newsletter I get by email), Foreign Affairs, and Der Spiegel.
      Thank you for the comment!
      Jane

      Like

  4. You had a great post and I really enjoyed reading it.

    I’ve thought a lot about this topic; and for the most part I agree with you.

    Politicians often like to say that America “is the greatest country in the world”. This arrogance undoubtedly offends many people who don’t live in the “greatest” country in the world. America may be a superpower, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently perfect. As in the case of Rome, arrogance could lead America to downfall. (I know! I know! Please don’t send the CIA after me!)

    The most powerful force in the end isn’t having a powerful military; it’s having a powerful economy. While I don’t really believe in American Exceptionalism, there is a point at which we need to act in our own self-interest. For the most part, I agree with you, although personally I think it’s less important that people like us than that we continue to be a leading power.

    I also agree with your point on cooperation with China. Protectionism never works, although it would be nice if state-run Chinese companies didn’t hack into the databases of American ones.
    In the book “Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World”, the author William Bernstien makes a very good case against protectionism. At some point it will be required reading for Mike’s Age of Ex class, but I’ve read it before and I just think it is interesting.

    America really does need to start looking around. The most successful countries aren’t the ones that focus inward.

    Like

    • Hello,
      I definitely agree with you! I lived in Greece for a few months in elementary school and I knew even then I was resented for being American, partially due to the fact that George Bush was our president at the time and he was greatly disliked in Greece but also just by nature of being an “arrogant American.”
      I also think you’re very right to say having a powerful economy is much more beneficial than a powerful military. It’s perhaps not that I believe people liking us is more important than maintaining our power, but rather me trying to figure out why I feel that maintaining our power is so important. When I read projections about other countries surpassing America in terms of economic growth, I automatically get worried… but why? There isn’t a lot of logic behind it, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. I think maintaining power and the ways we do it are something that need to be questioned by people, and if they end up agreeing that America is doing the right thing then that is fine, I just think it is important that Americans question things like that that they have been brought up to believe.
      I’ll definitely look into the book you mentioned, I would recommend “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria if you haven’t read it. I started it fairly recently but I love it, it’s very interesting and informative and Zakaria is very intelligent, and it ties in nicely to the discussion of America’s status as the most powerful country in the world.
      Thank you so much for the comment!
      Jane

      Like

  5. Hey!
    I loved reading your post. It was very thoughtful and well drawn out with very interesting conclusions that made me think about your topic. Many people have mentioned over the years that “America is one of the greater nations if not the best” do you think this is still the case? In addition you mentioned that drones may only have a 2% success rate, is this statistic proven? If this is true, what steps do you think, should be taken to avoid such a high failure rate?
    All things aside, I really enjoyed reading your post, very interesting topic.
    Matt

    Like

    • Hello Matt,
      Thank you so much!
      As for your question – I do think America is the most powerful nation in the world at this time, and I suppose that would make it one of the “best.” So many markets hold their currency up to ours as a standard and our decisions affect global politics everywhere. We have a label as a global peacekeeping force and our military is incredibly strong. However, I do think this may change in the near future – other nations are certainly catching up, as I’ve explained in a few other replies, especially now that economies like India and China are accelerating so quickly.
      As for drones – the 2% statistic was something on CNN, and I am not sure of its validity. As I said, other sources do contest this, and it’s very difficult to know for certain. I just felt it was important to present both sides in my post. What we do know for sure is that civilians are killed, whether it be large amounts or smaller ones. I have mixed feelings about drone attacks in general and their effectiveness in ensuring national security. In no way do I consider myself an expert on the subject, so it is very difficult to judge… drones really are some of the most precise weaponry we have at this time, so it would be very difficult to increase accuracy.
      Some would say that the killing of civilians is justified for the greater good of eliminating threats – war is hell theory would even say that killing civilians is the most effective way to achieve the desired ends in war as it motivates governments and people to act faster. It all depends on what moral system you ascribe to and whether or not you think drone strikes are effective in general… and that’s something that’s extremely hard to test!
      Thank you so much for the comment!

      Like

  6. Really enjoyed your post.
    I liked how you realized your own fault by the comments you got back from the debate team. It shows that you are being very aware. This was a very well-written piece which captured a perspective that I think more Americans should become aware of: our ‘self-centered-ness’. I was interviewing an immigrant from Germany last month and she said that she still doesn’t understand (after 20 years) why USA has to be the #1 country in the world, and why we can’t work on making all the countries in the world just as good as our countries. Do you agree?
    Great post!
    Grace

    Like

  7. Hey!
    I really enjoyed reading your post! It was very well done and very easy to read. Your information was well presented and easy to understand. I think we all see the world through some sort of lens and I think this post really highlights that point. What do you think the world’s lens is? How should we view ourselves?
    Great post!

    Matt

    Like

  8. Hello Jane, I think that it is un-American not to want to address global issues. America should not only set a model for other nations but it should aid other countries in their attempts to improve, whether they are futile or not. However, there must be a line drawn somewhere otherwise we will see corruption within America. Which is exactly what we are seeing today. The US may seem like the most powerful/influential country economically, but it is a country non the less. This means that it can’t just go out and help other countries as needed because it will result in some loss within the US one way or another. But I do agree that the self centeredness of the US helps nobody. I think once we can open our eyes to global issues we, as a country, can start solving our own.
    Thanks,
    Will

    Like

  9. fantastic post! “Americentricism” certainly seems to have gotten us in a lot of trouble… abroad, and at home, especially since as a culture, we have become so ridiculously uninformed about the political, social, economic, even geographic structures of the world outside our own! I would say, however, that part of a reason for that may not remain totally the fault of obsession with ourselves, but also the issues we’re having to face, especially now… to put it bluntly, we’re in bad shape. I think, to some extent, it makes sense that so much of the media and politics has focused on American news, because they probably are under the impression that the more “American” the initiative or topic, the more informed and secure people will be about our country’s direction. (I’m personally not too sure that’s working,…I’m not feeling very “informed” or “secure,” to be honest…) But either way, you’re right… we are self-obsessed and waaaayyy too self-glorifying. I think though, at least currently, there are enough issues with/cracks in our home-front structure to warrant a little self-obsession, if NOT self-pride… your thoughts?

    ~Mi

    PS – your post title is AMAZING, I love the allusion…

    Like

  10. Hi Jane,

    Wonderful post! I often find myself thinking the exact things. It’s all too common for American Exceptionalism to become the primary method of thought and for the United States to turn a blind eye to the needs of the world. What is even more frightening is that children are now being taught with this American exceptionalism constantly in mind. Do you think that increased media coverage of global issues could help American’s become more globally inclined, or would people tune it out, like they already do?

    Like

  11. Hello Jane,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I thought it brought up some very relevant points. Coming from India and being on Indian news sites more than American ones, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I can freely admit that India has problems, but it got to where it is now partly because it is different from America, not because it was flawed in its approach. In the end, economy is more important than military. Why do you think Americans have begun to ignore the workings of the rest of the world? Might there be advantages to america-centrism along with the disadvantages?

    Like

  12. Hi there,
    Awesome post! You argue your point very well, although I can understand why only 15% of those polled people thought foreign policy was one of the most important issues. Especially now that we are not in the best economic times and because we have such a big influence on the world economy, it is understandable to me to want to focus on our own economy. However, I definitely think we need to focus more on the global aspects of politics than those of our own country. It seems to me that most of our actions as a country serve to benefit ourselves without thinking much of the rest of the world. I can see now why other countries see us as selfish. What steps do you think we can take to get us to think more about other countries in our own politics and to become more globally aware as a nation?

    Really good post!
    -Kevin

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s