By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
To be sure, however, politics is part of everyone’s conversations, everyone’s concerns. I think the current (perceived) apathy [in the States] is shocking and incomprehensible to the French. Every one of my friends is left, either Socialist or Green or even Communist. Work is important and, amongst the people I frequent, critical, but for many it is not the center of life. You can easily spend an entire evening talking with someone and never find out what he or she does for a living. The education system is intense, it is not unusual for children to be stressed over school, and as a teacher of business English I have seen many a traumatized former student.
A friend and I discussed some of the more general systemic differences the other day, and her analysis was very interesting. Protestantism, as we know the foundation of U.S. culture, has pillars in material gain or achievement as a sign of being selected, chosen, by God. In other words, the work ethic that binds Americans together and is responsible for the beauty of the American dream stems from the desire to be recognized and elevated by God and that in the afterlife this success, or achievement(s), will lead to heaven.
In France, the Catholic heritage is still, despite a much more clear and enforced separation of church and state, very present in the underlying behavior patterns of the people, especially pertaining to economic gain. For even if we take into account the riches of the Vatican, the underlying message retained and reinforced is that the meek shall inherit the earth, that those who focus on material gain will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
I don’t have the theological or economics background to get into this argument in detail, but what strikes me as a truth is that somewhere between the unbridled capitalism and consumerism of the U.S. and the protectionist and socialist components of the French economic system sits something pretty interesting.
How did being in Paris on September 11, 2001, shape your reaction and your perception of that event, and how it has changed over time?
As a New Yorker, I felt personally wounded and terrorized by the event and, admittedly, deeply guilty for being so far away. At the same time, I’m pretty sure being here through that period enabled me to maintain a certain degree of distance from the collective victimization complex and the demonization of dissent I was reading in the Timesand other newspapers, which has greatly contributed to the U.S.’s demise in standing vis-à-vis the rest of the world today. For example, Susan Sontag’s piece in the following week’s New Yorkeron cowardice and bravery seemed to me to pose perfectly reasonable — if philosophical and rhetorical — questions. Yet she was declared a traitor for even daring to pursue alternate perspectives.
Thomas Friedman, the highly esteemed N.Y. TimesMiddle East specialist, was writing in a tone that overflowed with his own pain, but it came across as someone standing in a corner stomping his foot in a tantrum, when in one of his columns he spoke about bringing U.S. history books to Saudi Arabian schools. I think these were moments when I saw hints of the consequences that this event could (and would) have on the press and its ability and desire to move freely, fulfilling its responsibilities to the public, and remain an objective information source.
Since then, the world has so obviously changed. What I experience now is through the filter of that dark day — I imagine I am not alone. I work to not think about the state of things, and simultaneously I read more news online than ever before. The question of what would be different were I living in the U.S. looms large, mostly due to the global economic fallout and compounded by the cultural differences of the two countries regarding work.
But the U.S. as I knew and felt it doesn’t really seem to exist anymore. The abuse and glaring dishonesty of the current administration have, for me, diminished most of the social and political pluses of the world’s foremost democracy. Had I been there at the time, perhaps I would have different feelings. But I wasn’t.
Being exposed to other viewpoints and immersed in another way of living has enriched my life in myriad ways, which I wouldn’t trade for anything. While logistical issues have obliged me to consider going back to the U.S. since then, I cannot say I have truly felt the desire.
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