Last Saturday, my Bro and I partook in Safe Democracy’s International Conference, Three Years after March 11: Regional Challenges for a Globalizing World. I was part of a round table discussing immigration in Europe and my Bro was on the one discussing Africa. Afterwords, my Bro and I reflected on some of the “cultural” differences we noticed between the United States’ worldview and that of the mainly European and Latin American experts present at the event.
My Bro mentioned two. First, in a similar conference in the U.S., a significant majority of those present would have been female; and second, that people were much more left-wing than he would have imagined (and he is VERY left wing). Here are my general impressions:
- The grave harm that George W. Bush has done the United States is that the rest of the world interprets the views of Americans with immediate mistrust. As a matter of fact, almost any input from an American is seen as suspicious and having alternative motives. Europeans, especially, are not crazy about learning from the US model.
- Europeans, especially Spaniards, see the U.N. as playing a positive role in the world, and that without the U.N., there is no legitimacy for any international actions and intervention. On the other hand, Americans are incredibly suspicious of the U.N., and the U.N. is almost always dismissed as a joke, a farce.
- People were looking for governmental and political solutions to certain problems. I explained how in the U.S. (and as described eloquently by President Reagan), the government is seen as “part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Americans like to see how civil society can solve problems so as to avoid the government from screwing things up. Even Clinton declared, “the Age of Big Government” has come to an end. No one believed me. But, whether this is a reality or not, the U.S. is a nation that sees government intervention as an unwanted vestige of a colonial past.
- Europeans are incredibly liberal (in comparison the US) on many issues, especially with regards to government hand-outs and social welfare, but they are incredibly protective and conservative when it comes to their own “culture”. With the exception of those at my table, Europeans do not welcome the idea of a multi-cultural Europe where European culture may have to incorporate the cultural identity of non-Europeans. And while they are often forgiving of other countries, they are extremely intolerable of American culture.
- Being left wing or a socialist in Europe and Latin America has a positive romantic feeling to it. When one of the experts complained about how the Left in Spain had become too right wing and how he yearned for the good old days of when the Left actually stood for something positive in the world, I joked to a gentleman beside me about how growing up in Cold War America calling someone a “Communist” or “Commie” was like insulting someone’s mother. Those were fighting words. (“Commies eat your mommies). We had a good laugh.
Another thing that I have often noticed here in Spain is that most Spaniards believe that Jewish Americans are right wing, war-mongering Bush-voting extremists. When I explain this to people in Spain that this is in fact completely false, nobody believes me. They hate Bush, and although no one will admit it, I think they are also very anti-Semitic; hence they put their two hatreds together and assume that the two must be sleeping in the same bed.
[M]ost Jews are fairly left-wing. Fully 77% of them think that the Iraq war was a mistake compared with 52% of all Americans. Eighty-seven per cent of Jews voted for the Democrats in 2006, and all but four of the Jews in Congress are Democrats.
I recall something that a friend of mine once told me about Europeans. Europeans receive much more information about the United States (than vice versa), through movies, music, and TV, and yet are unable to decipher what is real and what is fiction. With this information they build all of their prejudices. The are not ignorant about the US, per se, because they have plenty of information. What they are is ignorant about is themselves, for they are confident about the information they have and how they interpret it, the latter of which they too often do through unknowing, biased eyes.
Now, I don’t mean to give a negative impression. The Conference was a fantastic experience and a success. My round table was fascinating and the group of experts were knowledge and insightful. I hope to keep in contact with them and to continue to learn from them. More Americans would benefit from attending these types of events. At a minimum, Americans should witness how their image in the world has deteriorated even further during the past 6 years.