Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Vision Thing

It's easy to mock former colonial peoples for their aping of their former masters' ways: The Senegalese being oh so French, the Ghaniana, like the Indians, taking to democracy and bureaucracy with such earnestness. But there's another perspective.

Say that some space aliens came down and offered you good money to go round up your neighbors and sell them to said space aliens who would then take them to some far planet to be lifelong slaves. Would you do it? What if others were doing it around you? What if your close relatives had already been sold? Would you then have a very high opinion of your own culture?

And it's easy to mock the 'benefits of civilization'. But you live in a world where the trains and buses have always run on time. Where you have trains and buses. I can find it funny that the police have to be bribed $2 every five miles, but I don't have to look forward to that every day of my life.

Of course the French and British didn't deliver even close to 100% on their promises of education and progress. But the intelligent Christian understands that their Church is imperfect, and even if the Africans and Indians and all ended up hating their hypocritical masters, they still loved the dream that the British and French were selling.

The point of all this is that for the past thirty years or so America has, rightly or wrongly, provided that vision for the poor and benighted of the world. Sure, some of their (to us) slavish admiration for all things American had to do with a childish love of flash materialism, but there were two other factors which were much more important.

The first had to do with their belief that in America hard work and virtue were rewarded not with just material wealth, but with a system that included justice, fair play, racial tolerance (!), and intelligence. (If you find this hard to believe, look at our multi-racial cast movies with their messages of justice prevailing, etc. If you ignore all the sex and violence, they present a pretty nice picture.)

The second point is that Americans don't put on airs, and in the third world anyone with any power or money does. A hotel owner in Senegal was telling me how a former American ambassador had just stayed there the week before, and how amazed the hotel owner was that he just acted like a regular guy. It would have been ludicrous to think of a French ambassador acting that way.

Anyhow, just about the worst long term effect of these Bush years is that this beautiful, wonderful (if to us somewhat unrealistic) vision of America is being torn up in front of the eyes of the rest of the wanting to believe world. Here in Africa they don't follow the news too closely, so their eyes still light up when they hear I'm from the U.S. It's so sad that that probably won't last for long.


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