August 25, 2006

Whiny Freedom-Loving Americans

I’ve been involved in many conversations (and been privy to many conversations) about our freedoms here in the United States of America and changes in those freedoms since we were attacked by al Qaeda operatives 5 years ago.

Some of these conversations have been with immigrants to this country. Immigrants are often fiercely loyal to their country of choice, and many of them have come from countries where they were suffering under restrictive governments. Many of them are fiercely loyal to the government, and some of them become Republicans.

More than once, I have heard someone say something like this: “I came from a country with an oppressive government. I’m glad to be here in the USA and it is not oppressive here. George Bush is not a dictator.”

When this is said in direct response to a liberal person who is expressing distress about losing freedoms he was used to having and thought were important to this shared idea we have of America, there is a subtext. That subtext is: “I know what a dictator is and you don’t. I know what an oppressive government is and you don’t. USA is better than the country I came from, therefore it is not oppressive. You’re overreacting. You don’t appreciate your country, and I do.”

I’ve got some problems with these opinions.

First, I want to talk a little bit about my observations regarding human nature and how people react to authoritarianism. Many people hate authoritarians. However my observations of people and relationships tell me that having a relationship with an overbearing authoritarian trains you to accept relationships with future authoritarians. I’ll admit that I’m not a psychologist, I’m talking about my own observations. And let me explain.

I think people who grow up with authoritarianism grow to expect it. And when they grow to dislike it, I think they are more comfortable with another authoritarian who is less oppressive than the one they’re used to. However, they have a high level of tolerance for an atmosphere of authoritarianism.

This allows the person who previously lived under rigid authoritarianism to embrace an authoritarian administration (the comfort and familiarity factor) while holding the opinion that people who feel they’re losing their rights are ungrateful, or whiny, or just plain wrong.

Of course, not everyone fits this mold. I’m not saying this is true for every immigrant, or every oppressed person who reaches our shores. And, in fact, there are counter-examples.

The woman went away for 3 minutes, and she came back with a gray t-shirt reading “new york”. I put the t-shirt on and removed the price tag. I told the four people who were involved in the conversation: “I feel very sad that my personal freedom was taken away like this. I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the US was that I don’t want an officer to make me change my t-shirt. I will pursue this incident today through a Constitutional rights organization, and I am sure we will meet soon”.

I think there is at least one other dynamic at work.

Maybe the ones who come here from other oppressive governments, the ones who are used to authoritarianism, the ones who didn’t necessarily love the freedoms that citizens are losing, the ones who embrace authoritarian policies here… maybe they have less of a problem with authoritarianism if they’re not in a group targeted for scrutiny.

Posted by James at August 25, 2006 12:19 PM
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That story is sad and infuriating at the same time.

Posted by: briwei at August 25, 2006 1:27 PM

I think that last paragraph hits the nail on the head. "It's a nice change to see someone else being oppressed instead of me. I don't feel badly about that because I (or someone else) had it worse." Rather than, "oppression isn't acceptable, even if it's only happening to other people." Especially when the oppression is being done in your name.

I see enough of this in people who have *never* been oppressed. "Well, it's not like they're gassing Jews," or whatever. So what? I think it's reasonable to hold your government to a higher standard than that.

Posted by: Julie at August 25, 2006 1:44 PM

Yes - our standard of comparison should not be to some 3rd world dictator.

(obligatory joke: no, we should aspire to a goververnment that compares with only the best dictators.)

Posted by: James at August 25, 2006 1:52 PM

it's ridiculous that that man was asked to change his shirt. There is so so much that is right about this country, but there are also things that are wrong and it's sad that people in authority don't push harder to change them.

Posted by: Wormie at August 25, 2006 2:20 PM

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