A few minutes later I said to Coren, "I've heard the French have a reputation of looking down on foreigners who don't speak French very well." He said, "That's true." But he didn't seem to understand that I was making an argument against his earlier statement. So I added, "It's pretty common for Americans to criticize America whenever they get the chance."
Samuel looked up from something he was working on and Coren looked surprised. They both looked at each other and then Coren said to me, "I wasn't criticizing America."
"But didn't you just say that Americans are less forgiving of people that don't speak their language — less forgiving than people in other countries?"
Coren said, "I think that's true." Samuel added, "I think it's true too."
I said, "Isn't that criticizing America or at least criticizing Americans or American culture? I've noticed that many Americans go out of their way, whenever they find an opportunity, to put down America."
They both started to protest, but before any sound came out of their mouths, I said, "I have a theory about why people do that." They both looked interested, so I said, "I think some Americans see that there are people in this world much worse off than we are, and they feel somewhat guilty about it. Sort of like survival guilt — people who have been in a plane crash or other horrible event where people die, but they survived, can sometimes feel guilty about it. They think, 'There is no reason I survived and the others died. It isn't fair.' And it makes them feel undeserving and guilty.
"We just got lucky," I said. "We were born here. We didn't do anything to make that happen. And we are no more deserving than anybody else in the world, so we're sure not going to boast about this great country. We're not going to be patriotic. In fact, we'll find opportunities to point out what's wrong with our own country or culture. Kind of like a rich person does when he's hanging out with people who aren't rich. He will mention his shortcomings. He will go out of his way to point out his own deficiencies. It makes others feel more comfortable around him, and he doesn't feel so guilty being around people less rich than he is."
They both jumped in and said, "I don't think that's it at all." Samuel said, "I love this country. I'm very patriotic. But I think we could do better."
"I agree with you," I said, "for sure. But you know, I never hear you say anything good about this country, and I hear you say negative things about it all the time."
This got his blood boiling. I could see it on his face. I don't know if it's because what I said was true or because he just hates being called "unpatriotic." He has proudly told me before that he is a "progressive liberal." But he loves America.
He spoke, about two octaves higher than before, and said, "I think there are a lot of people in this country who don't care about other cultures; who just live their lives and don't try to help others."
I said, "Did you know the United States gives financial aid to 96% of all the countries in the world?" I had just read this in Forbes the night before (see it here). I was looking up how much money the U.S. gives in financial aid to Muslim countries. Out of the top six recipients of foreign aid, five are Muslim countries, but that's a topic for a different discussion.
Samuel said, "I'm not talking about what our government does. I mean the citizens of this country."
"Well you give money to charities and try to help," I said, because we've had many conversations before, so I knew that about him. "And I do too. So what Americans are you talking about?"
"There are plenty of people," he said, "who don't care."
"Aren't there people who care and people who don't care in every country?" I asked. "Or do you think there are a higher percentage of people in America than in other countries who don't care?" I said this in a friendly way. I wasn't angry with him. I just wanted to point out this phenomenon that nobody seems to notice. And I don't think this is a uniquely American thing. I believe it happens all over the free world. In Australia, in the UK, in Canada — I read an article the other day that said it happens in Israel. Israelis, the author implied, are the biggest critics of their own country.
The reason this is important is because Islam is an ideology that aims to replace all other cultures with Islam. People who don't vigorously defend their cultures will succumb to Islamic pressure. People who defend their culture have a chance of keeping it. This characteristic of people who denigrate their own culture seems like a weakness to me, a vulnerability. It seems like a characteristic that would prevent someone from defending their own culture.
When another culture comes into contact with Islam, Islam forces the issue and creates a condition where one of the cultures must yield to the other. Islam does not live side-by-side in harmony with other cultures as equals.
So when I am talking to Americans and they jump enthusiastically on every opportunity to put down America or American culture, it bothers me. When push comes to shove, will they defend American values? Or will they yield? They are so habitually critical of their own culture, I think they will yield. But I want them to hold the line. Freedom of speech, human rights, equality of all people — these are values that need to be defended. We should never yield to an inferior set of values.
Anyway, Samuel said, "I don't know if there is a higher percentage or not."
I said, "That's what I'm talking about. Your natural and automatic point of view is that Americans aren't as good as other people in the world, when in fact, they are just like other people in the world. Some of us are good people who try to help others, and some are more selfish. So why call the bad part uniquely American?"
Samuel looked exasperated. He said, "I'm just saying that Americans don't seem to care about the rest of the world. They don't even know the rest of the world exists!"
I said, "Of course Americans know the rest of the world exists."
"But Americans don't try to learn about the rest of the world," he persisted.
"So do you think," I countered, "someone living in a remote village in India knows more and cares more about the bigger world than the average American?"
"No!" he said.
All this time, Coren had been listening to this exchange. And he suddenly piped up: "I think Americans have raped the world."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"They exploit people all over the world," he said, like it was an obvious fact.
I said, "Do you exploit people? Are you busy raping the world? Am I? Is Samuel? Who are you talking about? Wealthy people? Corporations?"
"Yes," he said, and he was about to say something else but I interrupted him.
"Aren't there powerful people and wealthy corporations in every country who exploit others? Do you think that is not being done in Nigeria? China? Russia? Japan? Europe? Aren't you describing a human thing? Not an American thing?"
He said, "Yes, but Americans set the standard!"
I couldn't let this pass. "There have been powerful and wealthy people throughout history," I said, "long before the U.S. even existed, who exploited and dominated others. You can't call that an American invention!"
Then I remembered that Coren had read the book, The Righteous Mind (when I'd recommended it to him), and one of the studies in the book is a survey of the moral standards of wealthy, educated people and poorer, less educated people in two different cities in Brazil and in an American city. So I said, "Remember how they found that the wealthy, educated people in the three different cities were much more similar morally to each other than they were to the poorer people in their own country?"
He nodded. "Yeah," he said, looking like he was remembering.
"So isn't what you're talking about just human? Not American, but human?"
Then he said, "America was founded on raping the world. It is the foundation of this country."
"What do you mean," I asked. I thought I knew, but I wanted to make sure.
He looked at me like, "I shouldn't have to tell you this because it's so obvious," and he said, "We massacred the Native Americans."
"First of all," I said, "we weren't there, so we didn't do anything (as I pointed to him and then to me). I don't even know if our ancestors were here yet, and besides, the Native Americans did some massacring of their own. There were alliances between Europeans and Native Americans against other alliances of Europeans and Native Americans, and 95% of the Native Americans died of diseases, not massacres." I brought this up because of another book both of us have read, entitled 1491, which is about what the Americas were like before Columbus arrived. New evidence shows that the number of Native Americans who died of disease was much greater than originally thought because when Europeans touched down on the coast, the diseases went inland and caused mass plagues. By the time Europeans actually traveled to the interior of the country, what they saw was the decimated ruin of what had been a much larger population, but they didn't realize the extent of the decimation at the time.
"And besides," I said, "can you name any people on earth who have not been invaded, dominated, pushed into other areas, attacked, overrun, or conquered? Isn't that the history of people on earth? Is this somehow uniquely American? Hell, even the Native Americans did it. Tribes conquered other tribes, killing them off and invading their lands. You and I are also descendants of people who were conquered and whose culture was lost."
What struck me about what he said was how closely it followed the story laid out in Dinesh D'Souza's movie, America. D'Souza says for the last 30 years or so a new story has been told to our children in school, and the story imparts a whole lot of guilt to young Americans because "we" massacred Native Americans, enslaved Africans, plundered everyone and everything, etc. Coren's point of view was almost verbatim what D'Souza had said. Coren is 33 years old.
As we were talking, other people had come to sit nearby to listen to this conversation.
"All I'm saying," I concluded, "is that what you're describing is simply human; not uniquely American. And that there's a reason you two have such a strong desire to put down your own country: You feel guilty. You know about the inequality in the world, but you don't want to just give away all your possessions and money to people who are in need. You want to keep it and enjoy your good fortune, so you assuage your guilt by 'dissing' America."
I didn't convince them, but I definitely disturbed them. I don't know what will eventually happen in their minds, but for sure they will become more aware of their compulsion to trash their own culture, their own people, their own country, and hopefully they'll think about why they seem so intent on doing it. Hopefully it will eventually lead to two more people in the free world who will be willing to appreciate their own culture and value it enough to defend it against an aggressive ideology hell-bent on annihilating it.