I love Americans, but I hate America


This is a reply to Sean Gabb’s “Death to America?” at http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2016/01/22/death-to-america/.

Sean’s first three paragraphs are surpassingly brilliant. Indeed, when he says:

“every country that ever rose to greatness has combined tendencies to further progress and to disintegration. Until the very end, these forces have risen and fallen against each other.”

he has said all that needs to be said about world politics at the present epoch of top-down governments, nation-states and federations.

Now, I’ve lived in the USA. I went there in 1990, with the intention of staying there, and the right visa to get a Green Card. I learned that most Americans are fine people. For example, I walked through some of the poorest black areas in Chicago, and got nothing but smiles and friendly greetings.

But I came back after a little less than a year, because it was quite obvious to me that despite a healthy economy, the US political system was going down the drain, and the place was becoming a police state to boot. Indeed, the UK didn’t become anything like as bad until Blair got in seven years later.

These days, I am far more negative about the USA than Sean is. I love Americans; but I hate America. For example, the US is the source of the corruption of journalism, which has led to the bullshit with which we’re all fed by newspapers, radio and TV. Of the corruption of academe, which has led among much else to all the “climate change” claptrap, not to mention the rubbish we hear about diet and alcohol. And of routine violations of our human rights in the name of “fighting terrorism” or whatever else is flavor (I spell this word advisedly) of the month. The USA, as it exists today, is a poison sac, hostile to human civilization.

The main difference between Sean’s viewpoint and mine is that he’s a conservative while I’m a progressive. Sean seems to think the nation state and democracy are the bees’ knees; I think they’re (both) aberrations. Sean thinks a post-collapse USA would inevitably be taken over by another state. I think there’s a decent chance it might morph into something better. Perhaps, a lot better. So, I’m afraid I must disagree with him on this issue.

I love Americans, but I hate America.

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11 comments

  • A very good riposte, and rapid. And I suppose I am a conservative of sorts.

  • [quote]”I love Americans; but I hate America.”[unquote]

    This is where I take issue with the piece. Americans are America, and America is Americans. I don’t see how you can separate the two, as you liberals do when you are talking about countries. If you hate America, at the very least that implies you are taking issue with something about Americans. The problem seems to me your refusal to acknowledge this, which may be admirable tact on your part, but doesn’t necessarily help us understand your views or arguments.

    Another example of this is when left-liberals talk about how countries have problems, and they will say, for instance, “India has X problem” or “Haiti has Y problem”, as if the country has agency over social and economic problems. I accept that a nation-state is a legal personality in its own right, but a country is made up of its people. I suppose it might reflect a deep belief in state activism, which is then templated on to the problems of every passing country.

    It’s wishy-washy thinking. If India has extreme poverty, that means there are poor people in India, which might tell us something about Indians. If Haiti is a basket case, that might be because of the people living in Haiti. The problems you list about America have been caused by…….Americans.

    I would be interested, though, to note what better thing you think America might morph into.

    • Tom,

      For me, there is a big distinction to be made between individual Americans and the US political state. When I say I love Americans, I mean that I take a positive view of most of the individuals I have known in and from the land called the USA, and want to see them peaceful, prosperous and happy. When I say I hate America, I mean that I take a negative view of the US political system, of those in power in it, and of the policies it looks to force on the rest of the world. I do not say anything about America “the country” (which, to me, is a piece of land). Nor do I say anything about “the American people” (singular), which I don’t find a very useful concept.

      By the way, I’m an individualist, not a left-liberal. And I could use your argument about India just as easily about Britain. I assume you’d agree that Britain has poverty; for if not, why does it need a welfare state? Well then, by your own argument, that might tell us that this poverty is caused by shortcomings in… the British.

      As to what better America might morph into, I think you already gave a decent answer on the other thread, where you said: “What the Founding Fathers had in mind was the need to enshrine, protect and sustain liberty.” Individual liberty, that is.

      • Ok, but separating ‘American people’ from ‘Americans I have known’ from ‘America the country’, from [what I presume you mean] ‘America is system’, is a little semantic when considered against your views and the message of your piece. It may look like I am nitpicking, but I think there is an important underlying point here. I think, like a lot of libertarians/individualists, you are trying to have your cake and eat it. You want a society, but you don’t want to acknowledge society organically as a ‘thing’. Yes, systems, bodies of people, individuals, countries, nation-states, are different things, and sometimes we do need to make the necessary distinctions, but your overall point here (if I have understood you correctly) is that America is going in the wrong direction. Well, that must be because of Americans, and even if they are not active agents in the changes, at the least these are things they are acquiescing in, maybe even silently approving of. It is perfectly possible to like Americans (or the Americans you have met, whatever) while at the same time acknowledging their culpability. Even the Americans you like and agree with are, to some degree, culpable.

        Now, I wasn’t saying you are a left-liberal. I might not have made this clear, but in that section of my reply I was giving examples of where left-liberal types use this same woolly thinking a little more egregiously to shift attention from actual problems. You are, however, a liberal in my eyes (for what little that’s worth, since I’m biased) in that your thinking appears to embrace a particular mode of thought, but that is neither a good nor a bad thing in and of itself. It could even be said that I am a liberal.

        The existence of the welfare state may or may not show shortcomings in the British. If it does, then it does. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I suppose it depends on why the welfare state was established in the first place, and why it continues. I don’t want to get too bogged-down in this, as it’s not germane to your piece, but I imagine you think the welfare state exists because of weaknesses in people, which is the classic libertarian view. I’m not sure that’s true. I think it’s a simplification, but I am willing to accept that reliance on welfare might be a sign of weakness.

        But how does that observation, even if true, defeat my point? Surely it reinforces what I am saying, which is that countries are made up of people, and that while we can separate the country (or nation-state, as the case may be) from the people and the individuals, we can’t just say ‘Haiti has problems because of things that are wrong with Haiti’ without leaving a deeply misleading impression of the real situation. The reason Haiti has problems is because of problems with Haitians. I accept it’s not just because of problems with Haitians. I don’t want you to think I am simplying things, but in the matter of your verbal formulations, my point is that in this context, it is incorrect to separate the two conceptually. If there were Little Green Men living in a colony on the Moon, we might say that the reason there are all sorts of problems on the Moon, indeed the reason the Moon is a problem for us at all, is because of Little Green Men. We wouldn’t just say: ‘the Moon has all sorts of problems’, except maybe in casual conversation. But since there is, to our knowledge, no life (no intelligent life, anyway) on the Moon, do we say there are problems on the Moon? No.

        I could go on forever with my crude blaming and scapegoating. You don’t think I’m stopping at Little Green Men, do you? The reason Britain has problems is at least partly because of people who live in Britain, yes? The reason you hate America is, at the very least, because there are some issues with the American people, whom you profess to love. So, though I can appreciate your tact – you’d certainly make a better diplomat than me – it might be more accurate to say that while, based on personal experience, you like a lot of things about Americans, you don’t like what they are doing (or allowing to be done) to their own country.

        • Tom,

          My rejection of the nation state concept is more fundamental than you seem to realize. I don’t want “a society.” I want societies. Societies which people can freely join and leave as they see fit.

          Nation states, in my terms, aren’t valid societies; since if you want to leave one, you have (at least) to physically uproot yourself. Also, nation states claim moral privileges over the “people” they rule; to make bad laws, to impose taxes, and so on. This goes against my philosophical instincts, which tell me that all individuals are morally equal, and so there’s only one single standard of right and wrong, applicable to all.

          As to the welfare state, I don’t think it exists because of weaknesses in people. I see it rather the other way round; welfare states make people weak. I think the welfare state was brought into being originally because the ruling élites thought they could use it to make themselves popular. (And, even better, to increase their power by tying large numbers of people down into dependence on the state). Of course, they didn’t care about the long term costs – those costs are for the “little people.”

          Finally, you seem to see a contradiction between “Americans are mostly good people” and “the American ruling class is bad,” whereas I don’t. For me, it can’t be right to blame individual Americans for what their élites do, when those individuals have never had any choice in or control over the matter. Would you like to suggest, specifically, what you think individual Americans should do in order to clean up the mess the American élites are making of the world?

          • [quote]”Nation states, in my terms, aren’t valid societies; since if you want to leave one, you have (at least) to physically uproot yourself. Also, nation states claim moral privileges over the “people” they rule; to make bad laws, to impose taxes, and so on. This goes against my philosophical instincts, which tell me that all individuals are morally equal, and so there’s only one single standard of right and wrong, applicable to all.”[unquote]

            It’s actually good we’re having this exchange, because this is where we come to some of my issues with libertarianism (or individualism – I’m not quite sure how you would label your beliefs). I can’t quite figure out whether for some of the more extreme libertarians, their beliefs amount to just an interesting academic exercise – similar to how naive classical economists model societies – or a real belief system with some practical applicability, but whatever it is, I am not going to nitpick over your post. I could, but you’d most likely find that intensely irritating, and I also know from experience that it can all get a bit tiresome because libertarian answers, especially about the concept of a ‘state’, tend to rely on semantics and an ahistorical view of things (as I see it).

            Where I would focus here is on this assertion of yours that all individuals are morally equal. You say this is part of your ‘philosophical instincts’, which doesn’t sound like a firm belief, more of a hunch about the way you would like things to be.

            Some questions:

            (i). If, as you imply, nation-states should be abolished, or at least greatly diminished in scope within their societies, are you saying that the resultant stateless or minarchist societies could only operate with individuals who accept the same standards of right and wrong and bear the same moral responsibility for their actions?

            (ii). If the answer to (i) is in the affirmative, then do you also accept that such a society would most likely only arise on the basis of an ethnically homogeneous population, or is it your view that all people anywhere in the world are capable of living to the same universal moral standards wherver they may choose to live?

            (iii). If you accept that some homogeneity is necessary, how will your society allow people to “freely join and leave as they see fit”? What body will decide who can’t live there, and how will this be policed and enforced?

            [quote]”Finally, you seem to see a contradiction between “Americans are mostly good people” and “the American ruling class is bad,” whereas I don’t. For me, it can’t be right to blame individual Americans for what their élites do, when those individuals have never had any choice in or control over the matter.”[unquote]

            I disagree, and yes I do think there is a revealed contradiction here. It’s simplistic just to say that ‘elite people’ are bad and ordinary people are good. That’s Robin Hood-style folk morality, and it’s not true anyway. Why would we think that, say, Donald Trump, has a lower standard of morality than, say, a factory worker? How do we know it’s not the other way round? You know, it’s just hit me, I think the mainstream Right have had a point all these years when they talked about the ‘politics of envy’. What this is really about is resentment of the strength and success of others, a sort of inverse morality. Strong is ‘bad’ and weak is ‘good’, right? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Shouldn’t we despise the weak? Personally, I would expect the more moral person to be Trump, but anyway, I would argue that elite morality is a reflection of provincial morality. if the elites are bad, that must mean ordinary people have problems too, even if it’s just that ordinary people are allowing certain deceptions to continue. It’s not a popular view, but I’m not standing in an election. My point is that I don’t see how things can change unless people accept responsibility.

            It could be that you’re right, and that individuals have no control over the situation, but you can’t just limit your analysis to select individuals you happen to know. If we see things in more collective terms, we can recognise that, yes, the masses might be inclined to follow and be conformist, and as individuals we might not be able to exercise control or significant influence, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility.

            I would apply the same points to Britain. If we think the British elite Establishment is basically corrupt and traitorous, then what does that say about British people on the whole, that they allow this to continue? Are you going to tell me now that the ordinary British public are all sweetness and light? And don’t tell me they only allow it by ‘force’. The system is cardboard. The ‘force’ you might speak of is largely a confidence trick. The point is whether there are sufficient people to, literally, vote away the system. That was the major concession entailed in mass enfranchisement: it provided the masses with a potential ‘off-switch’, if they achieve the consciousness to use it. Or they can just bypass that and use more direct methods. But as matters stand right now, the masses are weak and frightened. That being the case, I refuse to say I ‘love’ the British people and ‘hate’ the British elite or whatever other simplistic, folksy moral formulation you might use. It’s not true and I reject it.

            If anything, I hate the people and love the elites. I love the elites because they are strong and triumphant. The masses are weak and pathetic.

            [quote]”Would you like to suggest, specifically, what you think individual Americans should do in order to clean up the mess the American élites are making of the world?”[unquote]

            What I think Americans should do is overthrow their government, as a first step to breaking up the United States into a loose confederation of white ethno-states. That’s what the Founding Fathers would tell them to do. After recovering from a long and arduous journey in their steampunk time machine, they would assess the situation and judge the present circumstances not as a disaster, but as the simple playing out of what must inevitably happen to any man-made polity. Their response to the mess that the USA has become would be: “So we were right!”. They were pessimists about human nature, Actonites before Acton, but also optimists about human potential. They would dismiss Trump out of hand as a simpleton and laugh at his money, which is funny money anyway. They would say: ‘You can’t make America great again. America must now be destroyed by its own people and something new made in its place, based on the eternal principles we elucidated in 1776″. In short, the Founding Fathers would be calling for a Second American Revolution – and they would be right.

            Don’t think, by the way, that I am naively romanticising the American Revolution. Gore Vidal called the Founding Fathers a bunch of felons and tax-dodgers, and they probably were, but I do see it as a radical event, not just something motivated by narrow self-interest, commerce or economics. I am aware of the backdrop to it and the true motives of those involved, and we must acknowledge that history is full of lies and men are selfish and imperfect, but the Revolution stood for self-government. It was a quintessentially English Revolution – the revolution we should have had here at home – and it’s time we, and you, had another one.

            • I, too, value this exchange. Tom, I thank you for being polite, articulate and thought provoking.

              On moral equality, my reasoning is thus. Either everyone is morally equal; or they aren’t. If not, then some must be, in Orwellian phrase, more equal than others. And, presumably, there must also be those who are less equal. So, if you want to show my thesis of moral equality to be wrong, you must say, first, precisely who should have moral privileges, and why those individuals and not others. And second, why you yourself should not be thrown down to the bottom of the heap.

              To give as good answers to your questions as I can:

              (1) I’m not saying that societies of the future wouldn’t have criminals. But everyone should bear responsibility for the effects of their actions, no?

              (2) I agree with the second half of your proposition, not the first. Tribalism is old hat. What should bind people together is culture and values, not race or birthplace.

              (3) “What body will decide who can’t live there?” The property owner; who else?

              You’re right about the politics of envy. Resentment of success is indeed one of the big problems we face. But the resentment isn’t against those that get their success by force or fraud. Nor even against those (like lottery winners) who get it by luck. The main resentment is against those who earn their success. And the political right are just as bad as the left on this score.

              And… you love the élites? You’re a “might makes right” man? You support the power of Kim Il Pong, or whatever the current North Korean dictator is called?

              But to end on a positive note, on the subject of American revolution we aren’t far apart at all. And I ask, which is worst: George III, George W. or O’Barmy?

              • Regarding ‘moral equality’, your position seems to be based on malleable constructions: equality and ‘moral’ need to be defined, but how they are defined is going to depend on who does the defining. For me, equality is susceptible to racial and cultural matters. I would support your idea of equality only in a community where, in general, people have the capacity to live as equals. You might call this Hegelian equality, or Aristotelian equality; I prefer to call it ‘dialectical equality’. It can be explained in practical terms this way: a tribesman from the Kalahari presumably does not have the capacity to live as an equal in a technological society. At the least he would encounter some very serious problems in his quest to form and sustain ordinary social relationships. He would probably be reliant on charity and goodwill from others to an extent most ordinary functioning people would find undesirable. In short, to implant him in our society would be cruel and unfair, not just for him, but also for us. If people like him were brought here in large numbers, then this would clearly threaten your notion of moral equality because the incoming population would need support from the rest of the community, thus encouraging the moral privileges that you oppose as the immigrants would take on the characteristics of a lower caste. That of course is pretty much what is happening in reality.

                That need not make us think of the Kalahari Bushman as inferior, any more than a polar bear is inferior to a chimpanzee. He can just be seen as different, and anyway there will be things he can do that we can’t, simply because he has adapted to his local environment. We could even say that people have an ecological relationship with their environment, just as any other animal might be attached to and depend on their habitat. ‘Equality’ is therefore a particularistic thing, or at least it is to me. I imagine you and I can potentially be equal in the moral and civic sense because (I assume) we come from the same habitat and belong to the same culture, and thus share the same or similar ideas. In ideal circumstances, neither of us need exercise moral privileges over the other.

                These and other observations lead me to think that equality – moral, civic, economic, and any other kinds – is neither possible nor desirable in any universalist sense, but is possible in a communitarian setting. ‘Everyone’ cannot be equal, but groups of people can share internal conditions of equality.

                I’m not side-stepping your questions, though. Let me deal directly with what you say:

                [quote]”On moral equality, my reasoning is thus. Either everyone is morally equal; or they aren’t. If not, then some must be, in Orwellian phrase, more equal than others. And, presumably, there must also be those who are less equal. So, if you want to show my thesis of moral equality to be wrong, you must say, first, precisely who should have moral privileges, and why those individuals and not others. And second, why you yourself should not be thrown down to the bottom of the heap.”[unquote]

                It follows from what I am saying that, from a global perspective, moral equality/inequality doesn’t make much sense as a concept and has little or no practical relevancy. Each group will have its own notion of what constitutes personal sovereignty, freedom and responsibility, and the only circumstances in which moral privilege becomes a significant issue would be those of forced integration. This, I hope, also answers your question as to why some groups should have moral privileges over others. I am not suggesting they should. Thus your last question, why I should not be thrown to the bottom of the heap, is also answered.

                However, I think we now come to a problem. There is a rather uncomfortable but necessary reality that we have to confront. Global inequality between different human groups is inevitable because different groups have different mean capacities. I view this as desirable because if we are to progress as a species, then it is necessary that some groups are more advanced intellectually and culturally than others. But even if you don’t share my view and wish everyone was equal, I don’t think you can deny that inequality is the reality. You can wish for equality all you want, but it does not exist. There are significant differences in average intelligence between different human populations, which is reflected in the capability of each group in building and sustaining civilisations. I am sceptical about the concept of IQ, but I don’t need it for my arguments anyway – we can rely on observable reality.

                What this means is that there is the potential for your moral equality doctrine to be undermined, unless we are willing to enforce some moral inequality at the perimeter of our civilisations. This looks like a paradox, and it is. Ideally there would be a mutual understanding between groups: the Kalahari Bushmen would keep us out of their community, both for our own good and for theirs. Likewise, we would keep them out of our society. We know that they are not equal with us, and we recognise that any attempt to integrate them would result in conditions of internal moral inequality, in which one group would assume moral privileges over others. So we inflict moral inequality externally in order to protect moral equality internally.

                On your other points:

                [quote]”(1) I’m not saying that societies of the future wouldn’t have criminals. But everyone should bear responsibility for the effects of their actions, no?”[unquote]

                Yes, but societies only work and remain stable when people have shared ideas about what is right and wrong, both in the broad sense and in the particulars.

                [quote]”(2) I agree with the second half of your proposition, not the first. Tribalism is old hat. What should bind people together is culture and values, not race or birthplace.”[unquote]

                But if you believe that moral values are universal, then that means you don’t believe in culture or values at all. If both I and the Kalahari Bushman believe the same things about what is right and wrong, then why am I and why is he? Why are we who we are? Why don’t we all live in caves? Why bother with sky-scrapers, jets, mobile phones, computers, automobiles and houses? Why not just live in a tent and hunt lions with spears? Clearly there must be differences in our moral ideologies because our material conditions differ, as do our genes. To force us to live together would be rather silly and cruel. The inequality between us is necessary, real and desirable. It is necessary that we are intellectually superior, otherwise there would be no progress and we’d all be living like Fred Flintstone. Of course, that’s an extreme example. In most real-life examples, it is more about shades of grey, but the point needs to be illustrated in stark terms so that I am understood (I hope). Inequality and discrimination aren’t nasty, cruel or demonic things. They’re just part of life. They are necessary to sustain progress.

                This brings me to the point about race. In this context, words like ‘identity’ and ‘culture’, and even the word ‘race’,are just euphemisms for the most elemental force: sex. Humans select and discriminate among each other. That leads to races, which are groups that have the fittest adaptation to their environment. Race isn’t old hat. It’s what we are.

                [quote]”(3) “What body will decide who can’t live there?” The property owner; who else?”[unquote]

                Are you saying that you do favour national borders, albeit private ones, or would you just individuate the whole question? I think even the most extreme libertarian would have to concede that it is not realistic to defend a culture using just private property. A group would have to recognise itself as such and act collectively. Even if we allow for your rejection of race as a relevant concept, you have admitted that your worldview relies on collectivism in so far as people would need to adhere to a culture. You may not accept my view that moral inequality is the ubiquitous condition of Man, but even if we assume that universal moral equality is possible, there are going to be differences between different group. Or do you completely reject any possibility of group allegiances?

                [quote]”And… you love the élites? You’re a “might makes right” man? You support the power of Kim Il Pong, or whatever the current North Korean dictator is called?”[unquote]

                The doctrine of ‘Might Is Right’ can be interpreted in different ways. I think you could argue that mass democracy, which is a tyranny in all but name, is an example of ‘might is right’ in practice. The might of the masses, expressed through occasionally plebiscites, is used to impose the will of a minority. But I do love the elites in the sense that they are to be admired as successful, whereas the masses seem to just exist to be manipulated. I think if we’re honest, we would have to admit that most political ideologies, including some strands of libertarianism, are about obtaining and wielding power over others.

                [quote]”But to end on a positive note, on the subject of American revolution we aren’t far apart at all. And I ask, which is worst: George III, George W. or O’Barmy?”[unquote]

                George III would be the least worst of the three you mention.

                • I probably expressed this particular matter better in the Anarchism paper. And I think I’ve answered most of this comment in my response there. So please take the two together.

                  You’re right that equality between individuals in different cultures is susceptible to cultural matters. For example, in the long term (centuries), better political systems tend to triumph over worse ones. That’s how the West beat the Soviet Union. It’s also, on the flip side, how the USA got to be the world’s biggest bully. The freer a market internally, the better off people become; so, the harder they work; and so, the less (proportionately) the feds need to take in order to build the biggest possible war machine.

                  You’re also right that different groups have different capacities. Mathematicians, for example, are on average more intelligent than bricklayers. (Where “celebrities,” or politicians, come in comparison is an interesting question!) Whether such a division can be applied on a racial basis – or even on a national one – is a question that really doesn’t interest me as an individualist. If Nincompoops are generally stupid and Pogopogos generally brilliant, that won’t affect my view of an intelligent Nincompoop or a Pogopogo moron.

                  And when I talk about moral equality, I’m not talking about customs. Not about whether groups of people bury their dead or cremate them. Not about whether groups of people drink beer warm, cold or not at all. I’m talking about fundamentals of civilization like peacefulness, honesty and respect for the rights of those who respect your rights.

                  Oh, and you’re right about George III being the least worstest.

                  • You can’t just base an entire society on basic ideas like “peacefulness”, “honesty” and “respect”. Societies are too complex for this. People develop allegiances and identities, not least because they want to have some certainty and stability in their daily lives. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and find a brace of Kalahari Bushmen outside my front door, handing me a spear and instructing me to go and kill a lion as a male initiation rite – or else. It’s just not something I’m used to. Different population groups develop different ideas and morals about things, based on their conditions and experiences. I accept these will not be radically different comparatively. The Kalahari aren’t aliens from outer space, they’re just aliens from Planet Earth, but they’re aliens all the same and different enough to make any attempt to universalise values precarious, at best, if not silly and cruel. They are an extreme example of course, used here to make the point. Inevitably, if one or the other party were forced to integrate, I or they would have to adopt moral privileges. I do think your concept of moral equality has potential, though.

  • America’s problem is leftism and the Federal Tyranny.

    To use the American idiom:Fuck them up before they finish fucking you up and things will be OK.

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