Here is another op-ed of mine published at firstname.lastname@example.org on March 30th of this year.
March 30, 2005
We don't understand each other
Much has been made recently about the attitude of European peoples toward the American people. It was said that Europeans couldn’t stand George W. Bush but still respected the American people. This notion had to be tweeked a bit however when a majority of voters gave the hated Bush a second term.
To say there is an ocean of misunderstanding between the two is to indulge in typical British understatement. It’s a chasm and getting wider. But I think it can be explained at least partly by looking back at the way the Enlightenment, which was born in Europe, evolved on both sides of the pond.
The idea that man should be free was spreading rapidly during the Enlightenment. It was considered “enlightened” for governments to allow their peoples to be free and to foster free markets, free press and so on.
But that’s where the evolution of the European Enlightenment stopped and leveled off never to evolve further.
Across the ocean however, the winds of change were still blowing. A small group of men decided to take the Enlightenment one step further. They declared that man’s freedom was his by right and not by permission.
The idea that man had an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that governors could govern only with the consent of the governed, created a whole new mindset in America.
In Europe, the source of man’s freedom was deemed to be the permission of the enlightened and benevolent state whereas in America, the source of man’s freedom is man’s right to life.
In Europe, the mindset that some men are destined to rule others, (thus the institution of royalty), that the state can force its peoples to make whatever sacrifices it declares necessary, is a mindset that was left untouched by the European Enlightenment.
In America, that mindset was destroyed. It was replaced with the idea that if a man whishes to make sacrifices, he is free to do so, but if he doesn’t want to, no one will force him to. His life belongs to him not the state. (In fact, what most people consider sacrifices really aren’t, but are trades. But that’s another topic for another time).
A few years ago about 20,000 Europeans died in a heat wave mostly because they didn’t have air conditioners. To many Americans those people were sacrificed on the altar of environmentalism just as if each one had been laid on a stone altar and killed as an offering to the gods of the wilderness.
Can you imagine 10,000 dying in America from a heat wave? Why the outrage would be heard on Pluto. The powers that be would be no more. They would be recalled or impeached immediately and you would see politicians scrambling to announce: “An air conditioner in every house and apartment guaranteed.”
But what really amazed me was the seeming lack of outrage by the Europeans over the death of so many for such a preventable reason. I was reminded of the movie “The Time Machine” where the protagonist goes into the future and meets a race of people called the Eloi. He encounters the Eloi in a scene where a young female is flailing in the water on the verge of drowning while her fellow Eloi just stood around watching and not lifting a finger to save her. They just turned and walked away as if to say “The Morlocks are providing us with an effortless living. Lets not rock the boat.” The protagonist could not believe what he was seeing.
And neither could I. It was as if the Europeans just turned and walked away as if to say “We have our cradle to grave welfare system. To maintain it, these sacrifices are necessary.”
This is not to say America is without its forced sacrifices. We like however to think we are learning from our mistakes and discovering non-sacrificial ways of doing things.
But I believe it’s this issue of forced sacrifices that divides Europeans and Americans. As long as Americans have lots of material goods, single family homes, SUV’s, air conditioners, etc., Americans will be viewed by Europeans as not sacrificing enough regardless of how much Americans do give away. It’s sad but true.
I’m afraid that if Europeans cannot consider a non-sacrificial lifestyle as moral then the differences between us will have to remain profound. I don’t see us Americans taking any steps back, though there are American voices trying to get us to do so. Even now there are voices calling for “shared sacrifices” which we now know is a euphemism for “forced sacrifices.” I think most Americans would like to see the Europeans join us. To do that, they only need to take their “Enlightenment” that one step further and declare man is sovereign by right.