Monday, April 27, 2009

Shocking behavior by French citizens, 1871.

(cross-posted at Cancer Logic)

I think I just discovered the reason why the "common knowledge" in American society is that the French are "arrogant." I was thinking a few days ago about traveling abroad for graduate study with hopes of repatriating elsewhere after finishing the study. As I was looking through different schools' information, I ran across a Student Guide to Americans studying at an UK university (it was either Sussex or Edinburgh). In that Guide it said something to the effect that the American student should be careful to avoid being loud, pushy, overbearing, impatient because those are the traits that the locals most dislike about Americans in general.

That such an attitude would exist among locals in a country that is a lot like the USA in many ways (especially government-wise, economically, foreign-policy-wise in the past few decades) isn't all that surprising. Our national character may be touted in our public schools as self-reliant, entrepreneurial, hard-working. How it plays out in reality is different. Loud, pushy, overbearing, impatient -- all true. Aggressive, violent, disdainful, sociopathic even... also true.

Would it be such a surprise for another country to find this behavior so unwelcome as to develop a dismissive, even arrogant attitude toward the American government and, by extension, its people?

Especially if that other country happens to speak another language. I mean, it's a common American form of arrogance to be insulted in another nation when someone won't understand the speaker's American-language questions or statements. Especially when the native's failure to understand American is greeted with impatience, rather than patient attempts at bridging the gap in language.

Small wonder, then, that an American in Paris would find Parisians "arrogant." I find most of my fellow Americans astonishingly boorish, pushy, arrogant, impatient, ignorant, self-centered, culturally-narrow and Amerocentric. I can't say that I'm all that proud to be an American when I see the frequency with which other Americans behave as complete assholes on the global stage. And yes, I think our Angel Obamoroni is an utter asshole on the global stage. As was his predecessor Gee Dubs, and his predecessor Slick Willie, and his predecessor Poppy Bush, and his predecessor Ray-Gun. Even James Earl Carter did some stupid stuff, or at least looked the other way when our Military and CIA did stupid stuff. In fact, American presidents have behaved as assholes almost without exception when it comes to foreign relations -- an Imperialist, militarist arrogance has been the underlying theme. Even where we pretended to enter WW 2 to save the world "from Hitler," our leading businessmenFN at the time were profiting mightily by investing in the Weimar Republic (and surreptitiously thereafter in Nazi Germany), or by selling weaponry and other machinery of war to the Weimar Republic (and secretly thereafter to Nazi Germany). And it's pretty hard to call the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki global humanitarianism, isn't it?

I think the real reason it's a "cultural truism" in America to assume the French are arrogant lays in something else entirely, though.

In 1871 there was a revolution in France. In the wake of the revolution, the interim Paris Commune government decreed the following (among others) to restructure the French government (per Wikipedia):
* the separation of church and state;

* the remission of rents owed for the entire period of the siege (during which, payment had been suspended);

* the abolition of night work in the hundreds of Paris bakeries;

* the granting of pensions to the unmarried companions and children of National Guards killed on active service;

* the free return, by the city pawnshops, of all workmen's tools and household items valued up to 20 francs, pledged during the siege; the Commune was concerned that skilled workers had been forced to pawn their tools during the war;

* the postponement of commercial debt obligations, and abolition of interest on the debts; and

* the right of employees to take over and run an enterprise if it were deserted by its owner; the Commune, nonetheless, recognized the previous owner's right to compensation.
What do you think would happen in America if the citizenry were to argue for such measures to be adopted here?

Do you think the Obamessiah would invoke his Divine Power and restructure things with a thunderbolt emanating from his right index finger?

What if we engaged in a letter-writing campaign sending letters to the US Congress. Do you think they would listen to the working and middle class citizens, instead of the rich citizens, corporations, businesses, PACs who ply those Congresscritters with money, toys, whores, food, trips, booze and cocaine?

How about our Supreme Court? Would it honor such radical changes? Or would it nullify them with a loud chorus of banging gavels?FN2

And what of our soldiers, pressed into "emergency" duty as police and headbangers attacking their fellow citizens? Will we see Kent State repeat itself on a broad scale? Or will the Military refuse to do such an amoral thing? And that's not even considering the mercenary goons employed by Blackwater, Aegis, and other like businesses where the business is murder-for-hire and all other forms of violence falling short of murder, also for hire.

You tell me, reader.

Wouldn't it be seen as "arrogant" to want to wrest some power, money and control away from those who have held it for so long? Wouldn't it be seen as arrogant to have a nation where the "little people" have actual input and the government actually takes care of the poor, rather than the rich?

I wonder.


FNFor example, finance house Dillon Read was an aggressive investor in the Weimar Republic & Nazi Germany; DuPont sold explosives and other material to the Weimar Republic & Nazi Germany; Poppy Bush's daddy Prescott Bush was one of the architects of the plan of investing in the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany while also being pivotal financially in scaling up American war operations at home -- double dipping at its finest! Playing both sides of a battle, while sending your countrymen off to die at the hands of those you have financed and given weaponry and machinery necessary for war... a moral example for the aeons!

FN2This has modern relevance for states that have suggested a desire to part company with the federal government on questions of National ID Card requirement, or abrogation of the 2d Amendment gun ownership right. Also relevant for states where there is an active secession movement.


At April 27, 2009 6:33 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

It’s definitely a cultural aspect of America Micah. In effect we are trained to be that way and I think one of the cornerstones of our culture is to be that way – aggressive, pushy, and self-important and all that you mentioned. That Americans have pretty much always been like this is given credence in that Mark Twain wrote about it several times a long time ago. There is little doubt we inherited it from our European roots at a time when European imperialism was in full throat.

That aggression is rewarded is an integral part of the U.S. makeup. We celebrate violence in so many ways, from organized sports to the graphic violence of movies and television where the answer to any problem is the use of violence. Sometimes I’m disgusted by our culture as a whole yet the exceptionalism so often on display is not unique to the U.S. by any means. It may be much more prevalent in the U.S. but we really aren’t exceptional at all.

I’ve noticed that it is fractal in nature. People who live in one town think they are better than the people living in another. Same thing with the different states, not always, but often enough. Then we take it to the national level, same thing. Tribalism.

At April 27, 2009 6:38 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Micah,
Not all Americans are arrogant of course, and large numbers of us are genuinely embarrassed by that type-- as you well know.

It's interesting you should riff on this today, as I saw this on youtube yesterday:"In Cutlass, Robin remembers what it's like to want something really, really badly. Featuring Dakota Fanning, Virginia Madsen, Kurt Russell, Kristen Stewart, Chevy Chase and Sarah Roemer. Directed by Kate Hudson. Playing at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival."

I had to turn to sound off a couple of times. One of the commenters said it had "a good message", which absolutely floored me. The only "message" I could detect was

be obnoxious to merchants. Shower approval on your kids when they are too. Equate consumer goods with love. Buy, buy, buy.

How do you explain to people that they don't "hate us for our freedoms"(or our vintage guitars and cars), but for our raging sense of petit bourgeoisie entitlement?

At April 27, 2009 6:40 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Also, it was those awful French that came to the American embassy in droves and left flowers on the steps after 9/11 and then we turned around and called them cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys or something like that. A real nice touch there. Sometimes it goes beyond embarrassing.

At April 27, 2009 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rob -- yes, it really is tribalistic here, and elsewhere on Earth. What surprises me is that there is no need for tribalism once the basic reason for tribes -- attack from other tribes -- is not a present threat. I want to imagine that there are enough of us who see these problems, that enough can work together to help change things. But the more I witness, the older I get, the more unlikely that outcome seems to me.

jonathan -- it was the sense of entitlement that made me think of this essay. I got the bug to write it just as a product of lazy reading on the French Revolution. I was curious as to how (at least per Wikipedia) the shift to a socialist-leaning system was implemented. I think our arrogance is so integral, our selfishness so essential, that if we ever had a revolution of sorts here, the most aggressively sociopathic would end up in power.

It's pretty frustrating to watch all this stuff unfolding, while having no real input into how it's going to end up.


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