Sunday, December 18, 2011

Berlinski on America

Her message works well with those who have known nothing but irrational criticism for it, and anything and everything about it. You know the type. The ones at home and worldwide who emit a Pavlovian response to any subject eliciting a through on the United States. If you’re lucky, you might get some partially rephrased variation on the canned argument that you will hear used again a block away wherever you happen to find yourself.

America is like no other place on earth. For all the talk of pessimism, recession, decline and fall, this remains--so clearly!--a country of mad, nutty, innocence and optimism; it is a place where everything works; it is a place where every man feels in the depth of his soul that he is the equal of every other man, and it is a country so free, in so many ways, that I doubt I will ever be able to convince anyone who hasn't seen it with his own eyes that this kind of freedom really exists.
That’s the quality of life thing like no other – the one that relates to life itself. It’s normally accompanied by a tut-tutting retort related to anything the critic thinks their nation does well, such as high-speed trains. Trains being a suitable retort to someone, somewhere being happy about the feeling that they have in the depth of their soul which the critic for no particular reason feels a need to retort. I hear engineering can do that for ya.

She does have words with something in the US that doesn’t work, though:
And this brings me to the First Law of Journalism. For some reason, American journalism's just not working. I figure we'll solve this problem; that's what we do. But as of now, it's broken. Exhibit A: Time Magazine's US Story of the Year. The Occupy Wall Street Protests Spread. Well, here I am on Wall Street, or very close to it, anyway, and if this is someone's idea of the top story--or even a major story--he's crazy as an outhouse rat. The top story? In a year, say, in which the United States, for the first time in 62 years, has become a net energy exporter?

So here's my advice. You know what you hear in the news? If you haven't seen it with your own eyes, don't believe it. And don't worry so much about America, it will probably be fine.
It’s worth noting some of the characteristic features of this non-operative piece of gear: its willfully developed its’ disingenuousness through a political ideology that has specific motives and largely looks to two general areas for affirmation: within its own ideological echo chamber, and to specific societies outside of the US that are conspicuously hostile to any outlook that hints at the curtailment of the power of the state or the crowding out of the individuals’ opinion by socially favored castes and ideologies.
But the most astonishing thing about America is this. I know full well that I can go on television, with millions of people watching, and say anything I please about the American government--anything--and even if for some malignant reason I feel like saying something false, gratuitously insulting, bad for the stock market, ruinous to a politician's happy marriage, or frankly seditious, I can just say it, and when I walk out of the studio, whatever I said will be between me and my conscience. It won't even occur to me that I may have exposed myself to an unpleasant risk of a pre-dawn police raid and a show trial. Possibly I'll get a few indignant e-mails.
The color coded-public-conveniences, the high-speed trains, and the stylized buzz of generic modernity are nice, but that isn’t the least bit meaningful where the dominant theme of the information set and public intellectuals is that of the demonizer or the bully.

The stylized buzz of generic modernity does not actually indicate that you’re in civilization.