Luv USA, hate USA?
Dr. Niaz Murtaza
Executive Director, INSPIRING Pakistan
How would you view a person who slaps you on one cheek and kisses on the other regularly? A few Christ-types may offer both cheeks for slapping. But most would be angry, even if the kisses exceed slaps. Psychologists say this is a natural, not thankless, reaction. Evolution has hardwired our brains to prioritize harmful stimuli, as this ensured survival while we lived exposed in jungles. Many nations face such a dilemma with the USA–the biggest source of aid, capital, visas etc. But, like a mad elephant hurtling through villages oblivious to the damage, this bumbling mammoth often devastates others as it blindly pursues its interests.
Contrast US, the global hegemon which practices and preaches democracy, with China its challenger which does neither. One expects a despot to show more cruelty globally in trying to win. Yet, despite its dodgy global economic policies, its global politics is genteel compared with US atrocities like attacking countries and aiding despots crush dissent. China negates the logic that big powers must do all this to rise. Instead of aiding despots to survive, it quickly charms successors.
Why does USA display such split psyche, and tone-deaf, blinkered behavior? Split-brain occurs when the two hemispheres get severed and act on their own urges, as if two persons occupy one body. There is not one, but two different Americas today, drifting apart, not talking mutually and physically divided like severed hemispheres. The “good” liberal USA largely covers its two coasts and the Mid-west, votes Democrat and produces most of its wealth, creativity and humanity. The “bad” conservative USA, much of it agrarian, covers its remaining vastness. It produces less of its wealth but most of the support for its elephant-like acts. It votes Republican, whose party symbol is aptly an elephant! Both are delicately poised electorally. Who prevails will decide America’s and the world’s fate.
The contrast is vivid in this election cycle, with the foul-mouthed Trump reflecting the extreme crudeness, racism and greed of right-wing USA but Democrats showing some sense. In fact, the fair-minded Bernie’s strong showing may signal the eventual rise of a third USA more progressive than half-way Democrats, since the division here is not physical but temporal. His supporters are mainly youngsters. While Trump courts votes by blaming US problems on migrants, Muslims and China, Bernie correctly links them mainly to the unfair US economic system.
Should outsiders not feel ire at US slaps, given its kisses? Beyond the evolutionary subjective bias towards negative stimuli, even the cold objective calculus is damning. Stiglitz, the iconic US writer, calculates that it recovers twice as much through unfair aid, trade and investment policies, and capital and brain in-flight than it gives poorer states. The damage from its global politics worsens things. So if USA wonders why so many dislike it globally despite its many goods, it is because so many states receive “bad” USA’s slaps more than “good” USA’s kisses, e.g., Latin America and Muslim states. Those receiving far more kisses than slaps have more positive views, e.g., Europe and India. But not all anti-Americanism is justifiable, e.g., terrorism or rabid conspiracy theories about US complicity in 9/11 and Malala’s attacks. Pakistanis also wonder why it keeps asking them to do more on terrorism like a mother-in-law despite their sacrifices. But evolution has hardwired American brains to prioritize negative stimuli too. Like US policies, many Pakistani policies are bad too. But obviously when mammoths go berserk they cause far more damage.
So, people have the right to express ire at bad US actions. But does this right extend to unrepentant dual-citizens associated with UC Berkeley? Many feel that for anyone living, studying or even holidaying in the US, criticizing it is sheer hypocrisy. This is like saying that anyone associated so with Pakistan must not criticize it. Bad rulers would surely relish such rules. The anti-colonialism Jinnah studied in UK and even planned on settling there before returning to lead the freedom drive. People have the right to go abroad and still criticize the host state’s bad policies so long as they do not implement them. Criticizing bad policies is no hypocrisy but a democratic right. And I use this right with relish against both my governments for both deserve criticism: one a global bully, one a regional wannabe. Obviously, both have many pluses too. As for the “killer” question about whom I back when both often clash, the answer is easy: neither, but the truth, as per Islamic and other ethical guides. And the truth usually is with neither fully. So when my PM (Sharif) met my President (Obama) recently, teary-eyed though I was due to the twin patriotism involved, I could still see the follies of both.
This leaves the title question still pending. That answer is easy too: love “good” USA, confront “bad” USA peacefully and hope for the fast growth of their “beautiful” toddler sibling embodied by Bernie.
The writer is a political economist and a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley. firstname.lastname@example.org
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