Thursday, January 04, 2007

What is

I don't discuss politics on this blog. But a series of graphs in last Sunday's New York Times broke my heart.

The graphs track world opinion of America over the past six years, as measured by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. They show favorable opinion sinking dramatically, particularly among our traditional allies. About the only country where respect has risen is Pakistan, presumably (according to Pew) because of American aid the aftermath of the 2005 Kashmiri earthquake. (In this regard, I remember a segment on 60 Minutes about volunteers from the New York City emergency services who went to help quake victims. Ordinary Joes. America at its best.)

Anyone who loves America can't help but be heartbroken to see our nation so uniformly disrespected around the world, especially those of us who long (forlornly, to be sure) for the day when all of humanity will recognize ourselves as one family, brothers and sisters.

I think of what might have been done with the hundreds of billions of dollars we are currently exhausting on a counterproductive military adventure: disaster relief, schools, clinics, safe water, internet connectivity, research on infectious diseases, affordable pharmaceuticals, mosquito nets, collective UN-sanctioned responses to local genocides, and so on.

But most important, I think, is the attitude we project toward others. Americans tend to think those pale blue helmets of UN peacekeepers are for sissies, and the UN a trap where the God-blessed, red-white-and-blue colossus is pulled down and nibbled at by lesser beings. There is way too much feeling that our religion is right and all others are wrong, that our language was the one used by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (which was probably somewhere in Kansas), that Jesus had white skin just like Britney Spears. All of this, I think, is a minority view, but it looms large because of the way politicians pander to our base self-interest. Where are the likes of George Marshall and JFK, who appealed to our generosity and sense of common humanity?

One bright spot is science, where people of all nations, religions, races and ethnicities work together with astonishingly little friction. When the focus is on "what is," not "what we want to be," it is amazing how quickly we learn that we are all one under the skin.