The danger of nationalistic-coloured glasses

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/

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Chestertonian Rambler said...

Good point regarding the progressive policies, however....

1) What race are the French?

2) Is it really true that the mainstream press is entirely ignoring the fact that the French have opressed Muslims in ways that would be blatantly unconstitutional in America, such as forbidding ethnic garb in any work or school environment? I'm not saying that America doesn't have any huge problems (the income gap is a seriously damning evil), but I'm not sure I'm convinced about the superiority of France when it comes to the racism card.

One Salient Oversight said...

What race are the French? I'm not too sure what that question means. I'm assuming that, racially, they are very similar to most white people who live in Western Europe.

As far as racism is concerned - I have been reading that most of the rioters were actually 2nd or 3rd generation French-born citizens, not migrants who have been in the country for ten years or less.

It is true that France does not allow Muslim women to wear their headscarfs in school. The reason they give is that school is an entirely secular institution. Strangely enough, Turkey - a mainly Muslim nation - also has a ban on headscarfs for the same reason.

Does racism exist in France? Absolutely. Does it exist to the same extent as we have in America / Australia? I don't know, but I would gather that the problems are less pronounced. The reason why racial minorities are not officially recognised is because they are considered to be "French". In the same way, African-Americans and Native Americans are regarded as "Americans".

Look... I'm not going to present France as the paragon of all virtue etc etc. There are serious problems in the country that need to be dealt with and their politicians appear to be either too self-absorbed or too gutless to do anything about it. Yet, when you look at certain measureable social statistics, France has a lot of good things going for it - much better than our own countries.