The Light of the World

I love Americans, I really do. But there’s one thing about them that bugs me to no ends, and it’s a wide-eyed, happy-clappy belief that theirs is the way and they are “the light, and the life, and the truth of the world.”

See this link and watch the short video at the end for a glaring example of what I’m talking about. There are no words to express how annoying people around the world find this burning need to lecture, reform, and improve them.

18 thoughts on “The Light of the World

  1. I don’t think it’s specific to just Americans. It’s a special breed of useful idiots (who like to call themselves idealists) that have always been expedient to regimes and militant religions. Think of all kinds of missionaries, enlightened teachers, suicide bombers, etc. Moral high ground is probably the least tolerant and flexible place.

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    1. No, it is absolutely specific to Americans. We’ve had our own breeds of useful idiots that were expedient to regimes and militant religions, all kinds of missionaries, enlightened teachers, suicide bombers etc, and absolutely none of them would have reacted with thisisfine.txt to the audience’s reaction at second 31. And I say this as someone who really digs Duchamp’s Fountain. I don’t know any other species, including Soviet apparatchniks, that can maintain this level of self-delusion. Moral high ground is, indeed, a familiar spot to people all over the world, but it’s a specifically American thing to react so little to people rejecting your framing of the situation entirely.

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      1. Yeah, what Stille says. It’s the earnestness, the sincerity, the complete lack of a sense of humor that gets to me. That’s what scared me at the struggle session yesterday. Everybody was so earnest, they looked like kindergartners talking about Santa. I felt really old, in spite of being one of the youngest people in the room. Old, jaded, and cynical.

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    2. It’s specific to some people in England and even more in the US and derives historically from a specific strain of Protestantism which then came to dominate mainstream British and American culture. It would take too long to explain in detail, therefore let a sole example suffice: it’s that type of culture whose people think that when they go abroad to work they are [self-entitled] expatriates while all others, non-Anglos, are immigrants or, in today’s parlance, “migrants”. Oh, and before someone pips anything: Europeans are honorary Anglos therefore they are extended the courtesy of being considered expatriates, but only while abroad. As soon as the Anglos are back on home terrain, Europeans are returned to their non-privileged status: effing Krauts, bloody Dagos and bleeding frogs and f***ing wogs etc.

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      1. “specific to some people in England … derives historically from a specific strain of Protestantism”

        Back when I knew some British people, there was a subset of them that tended to treat me the same way they treated Polish people (lumps of clay to be sculpted into something useful). Lots of interactions like:

        Me: A funny thing happened on the streetcar to work today.
        British Rando: (short pause) We call them trams (pronounced very clearly followed by a short pause…. for me to repeat?)

        This was different from the usual hiccups that happen when different language norms meet… it was very didactic and very annoying.

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  2. “short video at the end”

    minor quibble… the lecturer who thinks that Afghan women have an urgent need to know about conceptual art (through an interpreter!) has a British accent and it’s from a British documentary by special favorite of mine Adam Curtis (kind of an abstract emotional and conceptual filmmaker…. you just have to watch him that’s all).

    So this is less American and more English speaking (you find it in all the core English speaking countries to various degrees)

    IIRC the Chinese-born psychological anthropologist Francis L. K. Hsu hypothesized that it originated in England which took a very weird cultural turn several hundred years ago (prioritizing personal interests over family ties).

    My idea is that this creates a missionary mind set as individuals have to explain themselves to most people they know and get them to accept their universe and weltanschuung.

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  3. It looks like Adam Curtis made a whole documentary about the Afghan disaster several years ago and it’s available (with a few cuts) on youtube. I plan on setting aside a few pressing tasks to watch it tomorrow….

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  4. I watched the video. It made me think of the discussions about the value of a liberal arts education, with all the enthusiasm, sincerity, and idealism you’ve referenced above.

    To me, it was always a luxury for the rich. I had a grand total of 5 electives, and I have fond memories of the intro courses on Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Anthropology. I also had to take a number of science courses, and ended up loving the Earth Sciences course I took, probably because of the great prof.

    There is also the fact that all that education is a complete waste if you’re not ready for it (with this video being an extreme example). I think of people saying that kids need to study literature because it teaches them empathy, and that’s not how it worked for me at all. Many of the literary lessons of my youth were completely lost. I see the characters completely differently and understand their motivations only now that I have some life experience.

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    1. Being able to derive pleasure from art is a skill. You need to learn it and, like any skill, it’s easier if you start younger when the brain is still growing. It takes decades of intense, daily practice, for example, to enjoy literature in a way I enjoy it. Most people are deprived of this pleasure, one of the greatest that are possible for a human being, and that’s because they haven’t put in the time and the effort into practicing.

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        1. There’s nothing moral about this, just like there’s nothing moral about learning to drive, swim, or speak a foreign language. The early stage is quite unpleasant for all these skills but they are all easier if you start practicing them earlier in life.

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      1. // It takes decades of intense, daily practice, for example, to enjoy literature in a way I enjoy it.

        It also takes an inborn talent and years of education in the history, literature and culture (in the wide meaning) of counties which works of art you enjoy.

        // Most people are deprived of this pleasure … because they haven’t put in the time and the effort into practicing.

        It is a matter of inborn abilities, imo.

        What is practicing? I did MA, yet am not sure it helped to become a better reader.

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        1. IQ is real, genetic, and measurable. But, in my opinion, art appreciation is not.

          I don’t know what it means to be a better reader but the capacity I’m talking about is being able to derive an intense, almost physical pleasure from reading, looking at paintings, music. It’s the experience of the sublime. It’s what mystics felt when they prayed. It’s an ecstatic convulsion of great intensity. And in me it developed with age. My main goal in life is to help Klara develop it because, God, it feels so good. I feel the deepest compassion for people who don’t know how to feel it or can’t access it often.

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          1. TLDR: I disagree with you on art appreciation.

            There is a lot of individual variation in humans and we derive pleasure and meaning from different things. It’s a combination of your genes and experiences. Some humans are not capable of experiencing what you describe. Some people derive that from other things. Some derive it only from some forms of art – e.g. music, but not literature.

            Learning to drive, swim, or speak a foreign language is pretty different – you learn to drive because you need to get places, not because you’re trying to learn to enjoy driving.

            I agree with you that “most people are deprived” of this exact kind of great pleasure you describe. But I think for the vast majority it’s not because they haven’t put in the time and the effort into practicing.

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            1. Well, we are not brain scientists, so we can’t settle this debate. 🙂 But I think what’s really important is at least to let people know that this pleasure exists. They can’t seek it out if they don’t know.

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    2. I quite agree with MT on “I think of people saying that kids need to study literature because it teaches them empathy, and that’s not how it worked for me at all. Many of the literary lessons of my youth were completely lost. I see the characters completely differently and understand their motivations only now that I have some life experience.”

      When I was taking Lit classes in college, which I’m still not quite sure how they justified requiring it, but I digress. When I was taking said classes we would write a paper on short stories and poems we were reading for the week, on what we saw in them and concluding by defending our position. The teacher who was one of my favorites was a very happy lady and really liked choosing cheerful, happy, stop and smell the flowers short stories and poems. I remember doing my best to connect every single one to some form of death and destruction, and successfully defending my position. I have loved reading since I was about 5, that has never changed. However like MT said we see things differently and understand things differently at various times of our lives, and at the time I hated such writings with a passion and would have been perfectly sealing said books up in a vault somewhere to be forgotten till the end of time.

      Today while I still don’t really care for such stories I can see where the authors are coming from. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I can see their point. Again though like MT mentioned “life experience” is the real key needed, and quite frankly the kids in college today like those in my generation at the time haven’t got much in the way of said experience.

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  5. If this is not colonialism, I don’t know what is. And typically practiced by a sel-entitled clueless white woman, the vanguard of Wokism!

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  6. I thought of bringing Afghan women European art depicting interactions with Muslim world, but then remembered depicting people, let alone the prophet, was forbidden in Islam, so inanimate objects are the only safe subject remaining.

    A comment from Rod’s blog:

    “There’s a comic called “Anish and Antony take Afghanistan” by a British artist. It’s a parody of big-time British modern artists Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor. In the comic President Obama commissions the two to create an art piece in Afghanistan to improve morale and jump start the Afghan economy, as the two have dubiously claimed to do for failing British cities. In the end their (very egotistical) effort is so insulting to the Afghans it leads to a wave of terrorist attacks around the world. The comic was quite controversial but was displayed at some art museums.”

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