Wednesday, December 31, 2003


There is some amusing handwringing at The NYT over America's failure to achieve a good image elsewhere in the world. What on earth do they expect? Was the British Empire ever loved by others when it was powerful? Of course not! Everybody tends to dislike people different from themselves and even the tiniest differences can generate great passions.

Let me give an example that shows exactly what I mean but which is so far from world awareness that it can only be seen as amusing: In Australia's island State of Tasmania, the two biggest cities (though both are small as cities go) are Hobart and Launceston. Hobart is the bigger and is the State capital. And guess what? Launceston residents loathe Hobart and all who live there. They perceive haughtiness, arrogance and all sorts of faults in people who are really totally indistinguishable from themselves. Why? Because Hobart is in a different place from Launceston and seems more successful in some ways. Relative to Launceston it is the hegemon (leading, out in front).

So what hope is there of America ever being generally loved abroad? Nil! The differences between Hobart and Launceston residents that arouse great passions are totally imaginary. If even imaginary differences arouse great passions, how much more powerful are going to be the REAL differences between the USA and elsewhere? Even in America's most reliable ally -- Australia -- there is plenty of anti-American sentiment -- almost all just as silly as the anti-Hobart sentiment in Launceston. People just have to live with that sort of thing and fortunately the great commonality of heritage between the USA and Australia ensures that there are many Australians who are mature enough to say that Americans are different but that's still OK.


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