Sunday, April 27, 2008

The future of American ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism refers to the tendency of people to evaluate the ways of others as inferior due only to the fact that people are familiar with their own ways. Americans, in large part, due to their relative geographic isolation and an incredible lack of curiosity about the rest of the world, is a very ethnocentric nation. This is not usually a topic or even a concern that many recognize. But the Christian Science Monitor ran an article on exactly that topic with a twist.

The author, Helena Cobban, makes similar points that former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made when I heard him speak st DePauw University on March 3. As I listened to Prime Minister Blair, I though to myself, "we could learn much from Britain's transition from empire to one of many nations. While we are not a classic empire, we do act imperially." Cobban, in her article suggests a strategy for US to "repair" our relationship with the rest of the world:
A smarter approach would be for us to build a new relationship with the world that embraces the key principles of human equality and mutual respect among all peoples.

Many who hold fast to American is always right, who represent exactly the kind of attitude that is the problem, or the ethnocentric attitude, will howl at the comparison she makes:
Here's another imperfect (but also helpful) comparison. America's current relationship with the rest of humanity has much in common with that between South Africa's apartheid-era whites and their disfranchised non-white compatriots. Back then, most white South Africans argued that they were more civilized and more educated than the others; thus it was "best for everyone concerned" if they dominated national decision-making. A far-fetched analogy? Perhaps. But there are echoes of that mentality in the way some Americans still talk about Washington's role in global affairs.

Oneof the things I like about this article is that the author points out that actually what she is suggesting is, is not foreign for the US, she points out how we did things post WWII.

We are going to have to pay more attention to the world on its own terms. In the current Time magazine, there are some startling numbers. 220 million Americans, 71% of our population has internet access. About the same number of Chinese do. But that is only 16% of their population. The Chinese market and the Indian market will swamp the US. The needs of those countries, the wants of their growing middle classes are going to set the prices for us.

I do wonder, however, how successful the Chinese and Indians will be using our energy intensive model for development. There may not be enough petroleum to do it. In the competitive world we live in, those markets could drive our technology development for alternative energy, etc. Or else, those countries might develop it and then America could find itself in a real hard place.

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