Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July (And the Meaning of America)

To my readers in the United States: Happy 4th of July!

To my readers in South Africa and anywhere else on the globe: Happy Friday!

In the last dozen years I believe I have spent more American Independence Day holidays outside of the United States than within it, with most of those spent here in South Africa. Being abroad usually provides an interesting perspective on one's own country. I consider myself to be patriotic in the most important and perhaps least jingoistic sense in that I love my country but I see its flaws. I honestly have no idea what people mean when they say that the United States is the "best country in the world." I guess I do not dispute the assertion at its essence, but I have no idea what "best" means, and why those who make the assertion do as much with such totality. The best at what? The best by what measurement? Is patriotism simply the willingness to rank arbitrarily one's country by some sort of flow chart or Olympic medal chart? I will grant that the United States is the most powerful nation on earth militarily, politically, economically, and culturally. And as a result I think it can be argued, and I would, that the United States is the most important nation on earth. But nation-states not being reducable to one's favorite sports team or top-five pop bands, I see neither utility nor meaning in the "best country in the world" mania that strikes my most jingoistic countrymen and women.

At the same time, it is always telling to see what others think of one's own country. I have found the supposed anti-Americanism that is supposedly pervading the world to be vastky overstated. I am certain there are places where that sentiment is strong, such as in much of the Middle East and in certain quarters in Europe, say. But on the whole what I find, especially once I convince the listener that I am not an agent of my state and that I do not represent American policy (even if I may defend elements of it or the larger framework within which that policy operates) I will have engaging, if occasionally lively, conversations.

The fiasco in Iraq has not done the US any favors abroad, nor has the arrogance our current administration has put forth in presenting the American face to the world. But at the same time most people in South Africa and elsewhere understand that our administrations are temporal where the American state is not. And so what I hear most often are questions about the current campaign for the presidency, and whether Obama can win, and if McCain is a Bush clone.

It is my experience that the rest of the world is very much interested in the United States and its role in world affairs and looks at America with a combination of awe and fear and respect and admiration and concern and envy. This may be impossible to quantify, but it is a lot more interesting, and telling, than simple assertions that America is "hated" or loved.

[Crossposted at the FPA Africa Blog and the FPA South Africa Blog.]


Andrew said...

Sain bainuu! (San ban no)

Greatings from Mongolia.

I as well have spent the Fourth of July abroad!

dcat said...

Andrew --
I hope your 4th was as interesting as mine. Thanks for reading!