Saturday, January 31, 2004


Although I am an Australian, one thing that really annoys me is the constant refrain among non-Americans to the effect that Americans are stupid. How did a stupid people get to be one of the most prosperous on earth? How did a stupid people get to be the world's only superpower? How did a stupid people avoid ever having their cities bombed flat? How did a stupid people produce military equipment so advanced that no-one else can hope to match it? The Iraqi army put up a tenacious fight against the Iranian army but it just went home when a much smaller American military force arrived. How did a stupid people come to dominate the world with its cultural products? Ever heard of Hollywood or American popular music? And even Italians now make "Western" movies. How did a stupid people get to dominate the world with its products and business systems? Ever heard of Coca Cola, McDonald's or KFC? How did America get to dominate the world with its intellectual products? Ever heard of Microsoft or IBM or Intel or all the American Nobel prize-winners? How did a stupid people get to integrate successfully within their ranks large numbers of people from every country in Europe? South America and North America are both large continents well-endowed with natural resouces so how come there is no South American equivalent of the USA? How come prosperity stops at the U.S.-Mexico border? And how come it is Europe that invented both Communism and Fascism and that it was America that had to rescue them from both?

The truth is that Americans are a very wise and sophisticated people who very often affect a folksy style -- such as the style we see the high-achieving President George W. Bush or in the incredibly high-achieving investor Warren Buffett. But the REALLY stupid people are those who cannot see past the folksy style to the hard-working, dedicated, careful-thinking people beneath it. Only people as stupid as most Europeans could mistake style for substance. Really smart people would try to understand Americans rather than condemn them for having their own ways. They would see the folksiness as a sign of a less elitist and more democratic society rather than as a sign of stupidity.

And it is not only Americans who affect folksiness. Australia's most popular Prime Minister in the last 50 years was "Bob" Hawke -- a conservative in most ways but the leader of Australia's major party of the Left. Although he was so thoroughly bourgeois as to be the son of a Protestant clergyman and brilliant enough win a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford university, he normally spoke during his political career with a broad working-class accent. He certainly wasn't stupid but Australia too is a very egalitarian country where people of all classes are treated with respect.


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