Sunday, April 21, 2013


A popular response to the question, Why are we attacked?, is that terrorists are jealous of what we have. This strikes me as a simplistic, self-serving and dangerously ignorant reply. Certainly it doesn't apply to Islamic extremists, who regard American culture as Satanic, something sinful. Elimination is purification, a righteous act. I don't see envy in this unfortunate mindset.

Nor do less religiously motivated terrorist acts seem motivated by envy. More, I suggest, attack us for what we do, not what we have. We try to influence political behavior in other countries, particularly those useful to our own interests, and some folks there and elsewhere don't approve - and strongly enough to become violent. I see no element of envy here.

What's dangerous about assuming they envy our freedoms is the way this distracts attention away from the current erosion of those very freedoms and opportunities. It reinforces an American mythology that is less true than it ever was. It makes articulating and correcting the serious problems we face less likely.

It may feel good to chant "USA! USA!" in the face of every crisis, but behind our backs the America being celebrated is changing in ways few of us will like. The rich become richer, the poor become poorer. An old, old story, as Norman Brown might say.

And maybe, finally, an irrelevant story, if Nature gets angry enough.

1 comment:

Doctor Panacea said...

I agree with you, Charles. When you have become the world's biggest meddler and bully, people do not like you anymore.

America had many of these same qualities when I was growing up, but at least we were in a Cold War. In retrospect, I think that the Cold War itself was mostly the result of hard-to-control ideologues on both sides. In the west, the influence of business interests was enormous. War and the threat of war created trillions in wealth over the decades.

But at least we had some sense of balance and decency in the past. Now the national political scene is just a sewer of self-interest and corporate power. The poor get poorer, and the upper crust gets richer and richer.