When Los Angeles erupted into riots in 1992, it obviously caused a lot of heart-searching in America. Were these riots a symptom of something deeper? Were the riots caused by something inherently deficient with America?
The general answer to these two questions, I think, was "yes" and "no". Yes the riots indicated something that was wrong, but was it something about America itself that was being shown to be deficient? No, of course not!
The problem with this reading of this particular historical event is that it is tainted by people's own view of their nation. Patriotism, nationalism... whatever you want to call it, means that people often do not see what is quite plain to outsiders.
Take the recent Paris riots. The amount of crowing and France-bashing in the American media was incredible. Mind you, that's actually to be expected - Americans have a deep-seated history of racism that is based on institutional slavery - so their racist comments about the French are unsurprising.
What is interesting, however, is that when such major events occur outside of America, there is usually some editorial that probes the deficiencies of the nation which proves why the event occurred and why, either implicitly or explicitly, America is superior.
So with the Paris riots, it was simply a matter of blaming historical socialism. "These European nations have generous welfare support, high taxes and a more regulated economy. The reason why these riots occurred is because this form of economic and social system is inherently deficient." would be a typical response.
So what caused the LA riots, was it because America has a system that promotes a massive disparity between rich and poor because it is based on a capitalist system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor? Some would say "Yes" to this.
Interestingly, some American leftists blamed the Paris riots on the economic changes that France had begun - changes that liberalised their economy to be more capitalist. So while American conservatives were indulging in anti-socialist schadenfreude, American progressives were arguing that the riots were actually due to conservative policies.
So how are we to make sense of all this? Is there any way of making correct assumptions? Can a person still be "objective" and have a well-thought out point of view - an opinion? Of course.
Opinions and points of view need to be informed by facts. And the facts are that the Paris riots, while certainly big news, were nowhere near as bad as some of the riots in America in recent decades. Moreover, France has a much lower crime rate, lower deaths due to gun violence and a much better health system. Are these just opinions? No, they are based on facts. If you do the research you will find it.
You'll probably also find that progressive American states - those who have stricter gun-control laws, higher taxes to pay for better health services and who have also banned the death penalty - are also probably better off (generally) than the conservative American state.
When it comes down to it - many progressive policies actually work. And this does not mean a wholesale communist revolution (as some conservatives fear) but simply a matter of ensuring a balance between the realities of the market on one hand and the needs of society on the other.
From the One Salient Overlord Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.