America is a beacon of failed post-industrial civilization. The beacon might or might not be a television mock-up, but for the rest of us (non-Americans) this glitzy haze is what mostly blurs our horizons. The failure emerges from trying to impregnate the shiny armour of electron technology with pre-industrial, and even pre-feudal values. The bastard child of that union is Darth Vader.
The witless digital pornographers of Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad held up a merciless mirror to themselves, and they are the trailer park trash of American society. All the nice people in America – and of course there are tens of millions of them, including in trailer parks – all these nice people are not nice because they are American but because, things in general being equal, that’s the safest and most comfortable way to live. There are millions of nice people in Baghdad too, as well as in the African Congo, in Afghanistan, Moscow and Brazil. The Darth Vader face of America also has its analogues on every continent. The especially horrible aspect of the American Darth Vader is that it forces its way into the lives of all the Earth’s other peoples, squawking with electronic self-righteousness that it is the harbinger of freedom.
Hmm, freedom. Now there’s a spin merchant’s dream word. Freedom in the name of a country with the world’s highest prison incarceration rate (seven times it’s Canadian neighbour; 2.1 million people, with one of every 75 men living in prison or jail : Yahoo 28 May 2004 ); freedom from a country with seven times the murder rate of Australia; freedom from a country which has forty-one million people without health cover; freedom from a country many of whose city’s streets are dangerous to walk at night, and sometimes in the daytime too; freedom from a country which pays its monstrous army so poorly in the ranks that thousands of GI families have to survive on food stamps for the poor; freedom from a country where getting elected President costs a billion dollars (as if that’s democracy …). We could go on, but what’s the point?
The point of course is that the self-image of America promoted so brashly by its ruling class to American citizens is radically at variance with what the rest of the world sees. What the world often sees is a gluttonous people, eating themselves to death on junk food at an increasingly early age, totally self-obsessed, ideologically blinkered, quite without the manners, civilized consideration or basic international knowledge required of adult members of the global village. If we applied this description to North Koreans (though bark and grass are a different kind of junk food) we could pity the barbarous brain washing inflicted by a criminal ruling clique. What are we supposed to think when such a profile fits our daily media experience projected from the palaces of American propaganda?
What we think of this sulphurous American vision is sure to depend a lot on our own particular corner of humanity’s cultures. I do my best to remain optimistic, and try to apply the tolerance of a liberal education and wide reading, softened by a reasonably comfortable (though precarious) personal lifestyle. Yet I am a teacher. In earlier lives I have taught whole classfuls of Iraqi men, survivors from Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, and to a man they loathed the abstraction they called America. For thirty years I have taught men and women from any number of the world’s so-called failed states, or wannabe states, all hoping for something better out of life. They carried the baggage of their cultures, all the illusions, prejudices and often self-destructive habits. Yet they harboured the hope for something better, and were doing something to find it.
The American Darth Vader has persuaded the American people, and persuaded itself, that what America has is as good as it gets. For Americans, there is no elsewhere – not on this planet. Is that why so many of them are eager join other holy warriors in that great trek to an Armageddon in the sky?