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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

In a Spin(oza)

As predicted, this blog has been a bit quiet of late. Unlike life, where the Boxing Day priority was finding my brother in Phuket. This could have got frantic had he not phoned me from Bangkok airport to say he was stuck there and going north. A lucky upgrade meant he missed the tsunami and let me know he was okay before I had time to panic. Meanwhile the British government is making up its policy on the hoof. The initial aid contribution was less than gets spent on condescending initiatives on drinking, and dwarfed by public donations.

Here the South Florida weather compares nicely with winter in London, even a mild one. Yet back home those wretched anti-Americans are at it again. So says Mel Ayrton on History News Network. He's clearly not much of a historian, omitting the Soviet Union from the big battles of WW2 and thinking that Australian soaps have fuelled British teens' intellectual turn down under. The striking thing in his diatribe, like a number of similar ones over the past three years, is his attempt to play the victim. Ayrton willfully conflates legitimate objections to US foreign policy with the nihilistic Bush-bashing that sees all US voters as rednecks, apart from that nice Michael Moore. If you must be so whiny, it says more about your loss of confidence than about your opponents' mindless lashing out.

Compared to Europe, one of the strenghts of the USA has been its historic ability to incorporate new arrivals. 'Proud to be American, proud to be Sikh' said a banner I saw on a New York parade in 1999, in contrast to the snootiness of British cricket clubs complained of in Bend It Like Beckham (2002). In its day, America as an idea was basically an ethical one, not unlike a secular version of Spinoza's take on God. 'In so far as we conceive things adequately, we understand them as flowing from God', explains Roger Scruton (p.29). Take away the almighty and substitute 'society' and you have a universalist basis with which to observe your fellow or potential fellow citizens. The United States has done a better job of inculcating this idea than much of old Europe and its legal system, to the point where radicals like E. San Juan Jr. see Spinoza and universalist notions of citizenship as allowing us to resist the 'war on terror'. European anti-Americanism and Ayrton's US wittering and whining both erode this potential, by throwing out the universalist baby with the imperialist bathwater.

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