And all that stuff, continued

What should we do when people don’t like us — as a person or as a country?

Take, for example, the troll who has been coming into my comments lately trying to find reason to disagree with everything I say and insult me at every turn. Of course, I have no problem with discussion and even passionate disagreement; otherwise I wouldn’t blog and wouldn’t have open comments — I wouldn’t engage in the world. And, naturally, it’s good for me to hear people correct me or show me new ways to think. But that’s not what’s happening here. This is just personal. This guy obviously doesn’t like me. So what am I to do? Thank him for the abuse? Tell him that, of course, he’s right about everything and I’m wrong about everything and I should just shut this down now and hang a sign around my neck saying that this guy says I’m a horse’s ass? Should I just sit silently and take it? That’s what it seems we Americans are supposed to do with those who feel so free to sneer at us these days. But, of course I won’t just take his abuse. Instead, I chose to ignore him and when he wouldn’t take the hint, I called him out. And now I see no reason to pay attention to him. If this were a party, I’d find an excuse to go to the bar, get away from the jerk, and not come near him again.

So what are we to do with nations of trolls repeating that they don’t like America and Americans? On July 4, I wrote about how it is becoming politically correct to dislike and attack us — while it’s still politically incorrect to dislike, attack, or note the sins of our attackers. On July 4, the Telegraph ran a YouGov poll that declared “Britons have never had such a low opinion of the leadership of the United States” — and, it appears, of Americans, too.

[T]he poll found that only 12 per cent of Britons trust them to act wisely on the global stage. This is half the number who had faith in the Vietnam-scarred White House of 1975.

Most Britons see America as a cruel, vulgar, arrogant society, riven by class and racism, crime-ridden, obsessed with money and led by an incompetent hypocrite.

A few days later in a heartwarming — for an American — column in The Times of London, Gerard Baker summarizes the poll this way:

[It] purports to suggest something much worse: that it’s not just this Administration’s bungled war and slightly unsettling attitude to the rule of law that gets British goats. It’s the whole damn, four wheel-driving, McDonald’s-munching, Starbucks-slurping, Barbie-fondling lot of them. The polls found that substantial majorities despise American society, believing it to be divided economically and racially, violent, uncaring, ignorant.

I won’t show pictures of poor homes in Britain, or link to stories about racial — especially Muslim — division there, or show maps of all the Starbucks I found an alternate corners on my last trip to London, or point to fatty pub grub menus. I won’t do that because I like Britons and because this is their problem, not ours. Says a Telegraph editorial:

To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts. What binds its people together is an ideal encoded in America’s DNA.

Conceived in a popular uprising against autocratic government, the United States has a natural sympathy with self-rule, personal freedom and representative government. To this day, it is guided by the Jeffersonian ideal that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people they affect.

And hear Baker’s stirring conclusion to his column:

The US is a large, chaotic, complex, multifaceted, constantly changing society. It defies simple characterisation. But it is its very openness, its very willingness to examine itself and have others continually pore over it, that makes it so easy to characterise. Americans are often criticised for lacking nuance. The world could do with a tad more nuance when it looks at America.

Thanks, we needed that. And that’s why it’s still worth engaging with the world. Not everyone’s a troll.

  • “To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity between its coasts. What binds its people together is an ideal encoded in America’s DNA.”

    Now that is writing after my own heart. That’s what I often try to explain to non-American friends why America is great. Not because of a lot of money and military power.

    Well put jeff.

  • Well, Jeff, you’re probably going to have to take it. You are a blogger that’s influential. You have a ‘voice’. Unlike an uknown schlep like myself.

    You’ve made it. You have a nuisance on your hands. Your own personal heckler. Congratualtions. Most of us are looking to build an audience. Looks like you’ve got one too many.

    It’s Ed, right? Or is it Edd?

    But the reason you’re going to have to take it somewhat is because you’ll have a lot of your readers reading his responses to your posts. It may change the tone of the discussion. And it may be a case of ‘ignore him at your peril. But better yet, let your readers respond to him if he gets out of line.

  • Synch … I spent a couple of hours deleting SPAM on the FSM/GPL3 wiki earlier, cleaned up a few pages on my own (what’s with the bots that leave only an 11 digit number?!) and had a chat with a fellow who runs a double handfull of sites. The point I made with him was that, likely, we’ll have adequate means to secure our sites soon, but what about input from n00bs or anon?

    A few minutes ago, before visiting my technorati faves and finding this post, I came across “And Why Not Wiki?” … one of the comments there reported how “After an intriguing start, The Times shut down the feature over the weekend “because a few readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material.” And so … there’s the challenge!

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  • Jeff,

    I read the comments from Ed the troll, and they have no merit because he is annonymous. Why doesn’t he mention who he is? He just lobs hand grenades and leaves.

    I know you talk about openess and tansparency, but let Ed build up his own platform and get his own readers like you have done. I would just delete his comments and be done with it, until he lets us all know who the person is behind the moniker.

    Yes, the walled gardens will continue to collapse, but you don’t have to let him play in your sandbox.

  • I’m using the troll as an illustration; otherwise, his snarking is not worth the effort. This is really about nations of trolls.

  • Jeff, this is another one of your entries that should be dipped into bronze; yes, it’s another Keeper! I don’t know where to start. And I was laughing so hard. I read that Times piece last night, but brushed it off, because there’s an obligatory P.S. that needs to be appended to it:

    P.S.: There are lots of Brits living here in South Florida. So, obviously, they wouldn’t be living here if they despised America. Just like in the U.S., it depends on which circles you socialize in.

    We have a significant element of British content in our media. For example, I’m a big fan of Mystery! on PBS. Since I was born during WWII, they’ve always been our English cousins: they drive on the wrong side of the road and talk a bit funny sometimes. And, oh, yes, we bicker. But, in the end, I don’t think we dislike each other. And, I forgive the Yobs (or is it chavs?), upper class or lowly, who are griping about us at the moment :-)

  • I know Jeff, but I have been waiting for a good spot to comment on Ed:-)

  • Yeah, but [email protected] is still blacklisted for calling Conde Nast a house of goobers.

  • Thanks for this post, I have squirreled the text away and will be using it with some students next September to get them talking and writing (don’t worry, they won’t be commenting).

    I’ll be waiting to see how they react to your masterful slide (glide; seque?) from a person at a party to international politics – especially the way you seem to be addressing countries as persons (but that might be my mis-interpretation).

  • “To dislike a country as diverse as America is misanthropic: America, more than any other state, contains the full range of humanity…”

    Sounds reasonable, but…

    “I’m Joe Smith, I live in Brroklyn, and I’m invading Iraq?”

    Nope. It doesn’t work. The fact is, there is an entity called the United States, it does often act as a single entity, and it does things – like invading Iraq – than can be disliked or even hated.

    To be sure, stereotyping and prejudice based on nationality or culture would be narrow-minded. I’m sure I need tell no American that!

    But this does not render impossible criticisms of the nation as a whole. And when someone posts explicitly defending the nation as a whole, it seems to me, it leaves one open to just such a response.

  • Rich Banner

    I won’t do that because I like Britons and because this is their problem, not ours

    That’s the problem in a nutshell. If you counter attack, you may well offend some of your other British friends. But you simply can’t spend all of your time defending, it’s impossible to win any debate or even just a friendly discussion.

    But the overriding problem with the whole state of affairs is that it’s exceedingly boring. The Brits just don’t know how mind numbingly banal they are when it comes to being “witty and cutting” about setting Americans right.

  • Will Pollard

    Jeff, I think there is a difference between someone who comments on your blog to insult you and people who give an honest answer to a polling question. As someone who lives in the UK I reaaly like your Guardian coloumn as you understand what a citizen is. Not sure most UK journalists are with you on that one. But, there are some people who don’t like the Iraq war or the way the UK government seems to just go along with whatever Bush wants to do. Sorry if this is a shock to you. I honestly think it has been reported somewhere. This week on Radio 2 Bob Harris did an interview with the Dixie Chicks (live session included may still be on the web somewhere for a few days only) Point made was that they don’t think of themselves as ‘anti-American’. They actually like Texas and don’t know that many people in Nashville.

    In the UK we realise they are not typical of anything.

    Not meant as a trollism


  • Will Pollard

    Found a link to Radio 2

    There are about three or four tracks till you get to the discussion.

    Maybe they do represent something, but I’m trying not to assume anything.

  • I live in NY, a reliably Democratic state, in a solid Democratic district. So, if I don’t like US policy what are my options?

    My elected officials (mostly) support the same policies I do. So my vote is effectively wasted. There is no alternative to vote for. As the minority party they don’t control any policy anyway.

    I give money to other candidates where this might help influence the outcome. I write letters to politicans and express my opinion on line (letters to the editor are useless in NY). I could wave a sign on occasion, but this seems to have a marginal effect.

    Now the government goes in a direction I don’t like, and as part of the American public I get blamed. Unjust? There is a lot done in the name of the “people”, but in how many cases do the people really have a say.

    For example, if “the people” were listened to we would have had universal health care starting in the Truman administration. The US is only a nominal democracy.

  • bit torrent

    Jeff you have the nerve to comment about ‘poor homes’ in Britain when your own country looks after the poor so inadequately. Like a third world country in places.

    In Britain we have a health care system that is free at the point of need, minimum wage of £5.05 (about $9). No one goes hungry here.

    We were nearly bankrupt after World War Two. But we still started The National Health Service.

    Why exactly is there such poverty in the rich USA?

  • bit torrent

    And the ‘fatty’ food in Britain? What planet are you on? Did you look around at your obese fellow citizen in the States lately? You are deluded and it is precisely these double standards that everyone hates about America.

  • Rich Banner

    Bitty, I think the obesity level in the UK is either ahead of the US or almost close to the same. Yes, when it comes to extremes we do it right and have the overall fattest! Don’t try to compete with the US on this one sunshine. But have you ever had a deep fried mars bar in Scotland? I hear the ladies up north can keep their lithe figure and yet eat hundreds of these babies.

    But come one….fat starving people?

    I know 100’s of Brits and none of them seem a need to go home to the wonderful NHS. It seems they would rather go to the doctors’ right here in Asia. Something about they have better things to do than wait a year for a basic operation. And of course, all the nurses are cute and RN’s to boot!

    Bitty, are you a Brit? Just wondering. Yes? Say something British and funny then!

  • Gene

    We were nearly bankrupt after World War Two. But we still started The National Health Service. — bit torrent

    We know, bit — my grandparents likely helped pay for it with their tax dollars.

    First off, nothing is “free”. Someone has to pay for it. And you also get what you pay for. Could we do a better job of dealing with the uninsured? Sure. Second, I once ended up dealing with the NHS when I ended up in the hospital while on vacation in London and all I can say is I’ll take the US system any day of the week. I’m not saying it was a bad experience, per se, but for all of the praise heaped on socialized medicine, I kept wondering what everyone was speaking so highly of. And I have pretty low expectations of just about any large corporation/government entity.

    Is the US perfect? No way, no how. But, all in all, I see us as being a far more positive role model in the world than we’re ever given credit for.

  • Caley

    The right has so conflated anti-Americanism with criticism. As you say there is nothing wrong with debate, unless you choose to call the folks that are offering criticism as being anti-American, or America haters. This is a mild form of McCarthyism. Some buy into it. Don’t criticize the President or his policies or you hate America. Perhaps this is what the world finds so distateful. The US pretends to support democracy, and human rights in Iraq, while they try and stifle them at home. It is really very simple if you take off your partisan shades.

    Are you a patriot or a loyalist? Dissent IS patriotic. Marching in lockstep with folks that have seemingly no respect for the constitution is loyalism and does a great disservice to the nation, not only here but abroad.

  • jb

    Hi, Caley?

    Who’s being stifled, exactly? All I hear is yammering about Bushitler and neo-con imperialism. And the drive-by media is just as bad. The NY Times just published classified information, apparently without consequence. The networks feel free to absolutely make stories up (The Memos, the latest “Massacre” in Haditha). Who is being stifled, exactly?

    And. There’s a difference between reasoned criticism and mindless hatred. “Bushitler” is not criticism. “Bush LIED!” is not criticism. Cindy Sheehan’s “Bush is the biggest terrorist on the planet” is not criticism. Clintonistas going overseas and trashing the current President and his motives? Not criticism. Claiming that we want to take over the world, or the oil-bearing part of it? Not criticism. Yammering on and on about torture? Not criticism.

    Here’s an example of reasoned criticism: “We should have gone to Iraq with more troops.”

  • It’s no wonder that Anti-Americanism, or even American trollism runs rampant. When you consider the glaring anti-conservative bias of news media in this country is exceeded by the anti-American bias of foreign media which finds it easier to point fingers, mostly out of envy and ignorance, towards the U.S. to distract their readers/viewers or listeners from the shortcomings in their own countries.

    And I see you even attracted a Brit-Troll, or was his name bit torrent? B.T. for short. All these U.S. folks living in poverty? You mean the ones with cars, cellphones and color televisions living in government paid housing? I bet they’d rather be poor here than middle class anywhere else.

    I personally don’t put much stock in these “polls” which claim such antipathy towards the U.S. Sure, it exists. But frankly, who cares? There’s never been a time when the U.S. was doing the heavy lifting to make the world a better, safer, freer place when we didn’t have alot of Euroweanies, and Ameri-weanies whining about we should be doing it THEIR way.

  • Warren Bonesteel

    Nations of trolls, indeed.

    I think that you have all proven Jeff’s point quite well.

    By the second post, the “thread” was already off-topic…

    Jeff tried to get it back on topic and the first post thereafter was off-topic again…

    …and from there it devolved into an “us vs. them” schoolyard game of “King of the Mountain.”

    Aside from the possibility of a few lurkers, did anyone stop and honestly ask himself,
    “Am I a ‘troll’ on the national stage?”
    “Am I a ‘troll’ on the world stage?”
    “Do I do more good than ill in what I share?”
    “Do I speak without thought, promoting my own selfish desires and interests, no matter what anyone else is saying?”

    Jeff’s article is thought provoking – on a personal level – when read with comprehension.

    Nations, you see, are made up of individuals. In America, the individual is what has made us great as a nation. At best, trolls despise individuality and seek constant attention and conformance to a single ideology and agenda.

    Over the last few years, there have been many ‘trolls’ from every part of the political spectrum – and from every nation – who are like the trolls in the comments section of a blog. They seek to suppress individuality and impose conformance to a single ideology.

    When we accede to the demands of ‘trolls’, we surrender our individuality and our self-sufficiency for the ideologies promoted by a stranger. At that point, we are no longer Americans.

  • Thanks, Warren.

  • EricPwJohnson

    Thank you for the article, and please indulge me these two stories of trolls. as I was attending night school at Tulane University I had a Cambridge University visiting professor who was bitingly sarcastic and abusive to the students – after berating one girl to tears I finally rasied my hand, he sneered at me

    I asked him was it true that he was from England he said yes I am, then I asked him if England is “where Great Britain is now” got a “D” on the report card overulled by academic committee who restored my “B+”

    Recently 20 years later, my 13 year old middle daughter was being examined by the British Dentist here and he was going on and on about George Bush this and America that.

    He had the nerve to ask my daughter when were we going to leave Iraq

    Before I could even reply she shot back – when you leave Northern Ireland.

  • Gene

    I personally don’t put much stock in these “polls” which claim such antipathy towards the U.S. — Mike’s America

    I feel the same way. I went to four countries in Europe in 2003 (post-invasion of Iraq) expecting to find a great deal of anti-Americanism. Not being one to ruin my vacation, I promised myself I wouldn’t let that get in the way of my vacation and that I wouldn’t discuss politics with anyone. I was very surprised to find a fairly positive attitude about the US amongst people I socialized with — even in gay bars. I have to admit I was pretty surprised.

    There’s a difference between reasoned criticism and mindless hatred. — jb

    So, so true. I also feel the same way about the constant complaint from some about the wave of “censorship” sweeping the country, especially from Hollywood and the media. Ever hear of criticism? There’s a huge difference between criticism and censorship. The Dixie Chicks fiasco was a perfect example — only three pampered American celebrities with Texas-sized ego’s and nothing else to worry about would consider someone criticizing them to be “censorship”.

  • Jon T

    I was very surprised to find a fairly positive attitude about the US amongst people I socialized with —

    Because most people realize the difference between individuals and governments. And most people tend to be polite to individuals.

    I also feel the same way about the constant complaint from some about the wave of “censorship” sweeping the country, especially from Hollywood and the media.

    Yup, we would never hear calls to send reporters to the gas chamber or to publish their home addresses. NEVER. Thats just well meaning criciticism anyway.

  • Gene

    Jon — they had a fairly positive attitude about our government AND our country in general. I didn’t encounter much in the way of an anti-Bush attitude.

    Now I gotta get back to deciding which journalist we’re going to send to the gas chamber today…