Thursday, August 22, 2002

There has been a mad furor over the "open letter to America from a Canadian" that was published in the Baltimore Chronicle a little while ago, one that I've noticed and followed with some interest, considering that I was "outed" by SDB as someone who uses Rogers, a Canadian ISP. I've refrained from commenting, though, partially because I didn't want to add ammo to that "TransProg" accusation, but also because I wasn't quite sure how to put my reaction.

It was with great surprise, then, that I discovered that my reaction to the letter was pretty much encapsulated by a very thoughtful and introspective article by, yes, Wil Wheaton. I'm not a regular reader of his blog, although I have nothing against it, and it was by random chance that I actually discovered his reaction.

The letter reminded him of a similar letter he received at what was probably the height of his fame in the late 80's from a girl that he had an enormous crush on. It told him delicately as possible, that she just couldn't be around me any more. I was arrogant, rude, ungrateful for what I had, and I treated her like property. I was demanding, overbearing, unwilling to listen to or respect other people's opinions. I was a dick, an ass, a jerk. She described to me a person I wouldn't ever want to sit next to on a bench, much less be.
Wil's initial reaction was outrage and anger, and it was with the expectation of sympathy that he took it to one of his best friends. Instead, his friend read it, gave it back to him, and said "Wil, you should read it again, because she's right. [She]wrote you this letter because she cares about you, and she doesn't like what you've become. Frankly, none of your friends do. So you can read it again, and take it to heart, or you can blow it off, and continue to alienate yourself from everyone who cares about you, including me."

This revelation stunned and shocked him, but he couldn't simply dismiss it, and the more he thought about it the truer that it seemed to him. He took a lot of it to heart, and credits it as the reason he's not dead, drugged out, or imprisoned right now.

In a lot of respects, the open letter reminds him of this, but I'll just quote him directly instead of trying to paraphrase good prose:

back to the Open Letter. Do I agree with all of it? No. I think some of it is wildly off-base, and I think the message would be listened to by more people who need to hear it if it wasn't so inflammatory.

On the other hand, I think that America has an opportunity to walk through an open door, and take a long hard look at ourselves. The simple fact is, America, most of the world really doesn't like us. We're arrogant, irresponsible, and unaccountable. We loudly an constantly remind the world that we are a Superpower...well, with great power comes great responsibility, right?

The great thing about America is that We The People have a voice, and the louder that voice, the more insistent that voice, the harder it is to silence.

Let's raise our voice, and walk through this open door. It's scary. It is uncertain, but it is vital that we do. It will be a long process, but we can do it.
This very closely approximated my reaction to the Open Letter. When reading through it I noted a ton of scattershot accusations that were either wildly exaggerated, overgeneralized, or ideology masquerading as criticism, but on some level I agree with Wil- its central concept (that the United States is utterly alienating its foes and allies alike) is substantially true. This, as well as that missing coincidence of interests that begs the question of a lot of the "moral equivalence" arguments, is, I think, at the heart of the widespread criticism of the United States. Even if the hawks are substantially correct about the United States not needing allies to protect their interests (and I don't think they are), Wil's observation that "most of the world doesn't like us" because "we're arrogant, irresponsible, and unaccountable" makes such arguments somewhat irrelevant. Any nation that defines itself by something above simple national interests is inherently vulnerable to such critiques, because sooner or later the balance of "moral equivalence" is going to tilt the other way. I don't think anybody in the United States wants that. I know I sure don't.

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