Intelligence Gap Observed

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Alla yous who don't believe me when I claim people in the Middle East know more about us, by several orders or magnitude, than we know about them, consider this: Last night I caught a quiz show on Lebanon's Future TV. The contestants were a guy sporting a beard, a woman in a hijab, and another guy in a checked shirt. I couldn't really follow the questions, but here is a completely representative sample of answers I wrote down in one two-minute stretch:

"Richard Armitage," "Michael Howard," "Kim Jong-Il," "Ahmed Chalabi," "Hillary Clinton," "Catherine Zeta-Jones," "Master and Commander," "John Abizaid," "Secretary of Defense."

This story by "Spengler" [thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the link] gives a nice rundown on how seriously the U.S. is outclassed in the intelligence game, but I think stuff like these quiz show questions (with which the contestants had very little difficulty) is even more telling. These aren't even people (as far as I know) who make it their business to know about the West. This is just a wide, deep, general, social familiarity that Americans can't hope to match.

Americans' disinterest in the foreign part of foreign affairs is a national trait I not only endorse but participate in fully; if you'd told me two years and three months ago that I would ever have to know or care who Syria's deputy defense minister is (answer: Issa Darwish), I'd have killed myself three times. But as deep as we're in now, and as long as it will be before we can get out, I refer one and all to the great Somerset Maugham story "The Outstation," for a demonstration of what happens to even the most powerful westerners when they aren't duly deferential to the locals.

My fellow Americans: Put down your blogs and hit the books.

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  1. No thanks–blogging is easier.

  2. Al-X: This is Jihad Jeopardy, and I?m Al-X Trebec, so let?s get started. Woman in hijab, you start us off.

    Woman: I?ll take ?Men & Women? for 100 dinars, Al-X.

    THE HUSBAND

    Man with Beard: Who is the Master & Commander.

    Al-X: Very good, Muhammad, you select next.

    Man With Beard: ?Behind the Hijab? for 200, please

    YOU HOPE TO FIND

    Check Shirt: Who is Catherine Zeta-Jones? ? Behind the Hijab? Hijab for 300, Al-X

    YOU ACTUALLY FIND

    Man With Beard: Who is Hillary Clinton? ?Truth Behind The Title? for 400, please.

    MURDEROUS CRUSADER AGAINST ALLAH

    Check Shirt: Who is the Secretary of Defense?

  3. I’ll bet our Jeopardy contenstants know as much about the Middle East as their Jeopardy contestants know about America. And I’ll bet our normal people know as little about the ME as their normal people know about the USA.

    I’ll even bet our normal people have similar levels of misapprehension. Most of it deliberately planted.

  4. More information doesn’t equate to greater intelligence. I’ll bet you I have more gangster rap lyrics, Christian dogma, and PIN numbers in my head than beard boy ever will. And I can think of at least one question or factoid that I can put with each answer except “John Abizaid”, so apparently I’m not just smart, I’m Lebanese smart.

    Alternative snarky summation:
    Q: And all the smarts have gotten them?
    A: A wartorn patch of sand, Alex.

    Alternative snarky summation #2:
    Tim, if you ever go to a fortune teller you are one dead ass… (“…if you’d told me two years and three months ago…”)

  5. You think a single Jeopardy contestant could name a single Egyptian movie star other than Omar Sharif? You think one could name the deputy foreign minister, or even the foreign minister, of a single Arab country? You think any of them could name three Arab heads of state? I watch Jeopardy too, Joe. Don’t blow smoke up my ass.

  6. Acquiring information takes time and effort and thus incurs opportunity costs. It makes much more sense for, say, an Indian during the Raj to know a great deal about England than vice versa.

    Of course we should have people available who study the Middle East, but the implicit notion that our society or national defense suffers from *my* thoroughgoing ignorance of the region is silly.

  7. Who really cares if they know more about Hollywood movies than we do about theirs–every country’s like that. And the same goes for leaders’ names, to be honest. Because when it comes to what counts, they believe a lot more vicious racist lies than we do, so the solution isn’t we learn more stuff, it’s they unlearn what they think they know.

  8. Maybe cause we’re the culture everyone wants to imitate (as per a couple of Reason articles from 6 months ago)?

    Do they have the same in depth knowledge of China or Poland?

  9. I once met a guy who knew more than anyone else–he was a Marxist professor. Trouble was, I still knew enough to know he was wrong, and he didn’t.

  10. One American movie star could beat fifty of their movie stars, one handed.

    Besides, what’s it take to be an Arab foreign minister? ‘United States, we despise your evil ways. Thanks for the check.’

  11. Let me get this straight, Cavanaugh. There are hundreds of countries out there. Are you actually claiming we should spend our time learning as much about each of them as they already know about us? I may not know all the capitals, but I know that’s pretty stupid.

  12. I see everybody is busy reading…

  13. Americans’ ignorance of the affairs of other peoples of the world: evidence of our superiority? Or of our inferiority?

    Maybe Jean Bart can set us straight.

  14. It’s not what you don’t know that’s dangerous, it’s what you know that’s wrong.

  15. It’s not what you don’t know that’s dangerous, it’s what you know that’s wrong.

    Spoken like an expert.

  16. Nice to see these well-reasoned defences of continuing ignorance… Them furrinners know more about us than we do about them cause we’re better than them! (Hold it a second, there are hundreds of other countries out there? When did that happen?)

    D.A.: your thorougoing ignorance is noted and will be resurrected next time you opine on the region (Which is baisically the entire planet.)

  17. xray: Failing to defend rational ignorance would be irrational. The region about which *I* claimed thorougHgoing ignorance was the Middle East. If you’re telling me that that includes Japan, Canada and Peru, I’m more ignorant than I ever imagined possible!

  18. Jean Bart is dead. He came back as Merognian or something.

  19. xray, as far as us Americans are concerned, anyone who spells “defences” with a “c” can’t be trusted.

    Actually, I read these arguments as saying (quite correctly) that others may have to learn a lot of facts about America, but they actually understand us worse than we understand them, and that’s where the real trouble lies.

  20. D.A.: let me assure, you are no more ignorant than imaginably possible. (Thanks for the help with the typo.)

  21. anon @ 3:47: an American with knowledge of the subtle international differences in English spelling? I don’t think you should even trust yourself.

  22. Tim, come on now. Our number one export is culture. Of course other countries know all about our actresses and politicians – they’re on TV (even Syrian) all the time. Of course young citizens of other countries routinely travel to the U.S. while we don’t reciprocate – the U.S. has the best universities! Of course the world tunes into what the U.S. foreign policy is – we’re the foremost nuclear power, have the most advanced Air Force and are the only Navy who routinely docks in other country’s harbors!

    In fact, since you brought up Catherine Zeta Jones, do a true litmus test of culture. Ask your worldly Syrians what nationality she is. They’re going to tell you Spanish or maybe American. Why? Because of Zorro(spanish) or hollywood(american). She’s actually Welsh. They’re just as ignorant as I was and we both learned from the same source. When Syria has a media get back to me. What you need to do is convince me why Syria is relevant in anything outside of the IsraelPalestine conflict. Then I’ll pick up my history book.

  23. I see this issue as much simpler: they can receive a wide variety of information about America and Americans through our broadcast media, but we don’t receive the same sorts of information about them through their broadcast media (or our own, for that matter.)

    For them, I suspect, they only have to turn on the TV to learn more about Americans, but for Americans to find out about those in the ME? Much tougher. It actually requires a lot of effort to dig some of that information out and most of it doesn’t come from foreign news services.

  24. Lincoln: For a guy defending American ignorance, you sure know a lot about what Syrians think and why they think it.

  25. Question for the group: How do you all know that everybody in the middle east has all these misconceptions about the U.S.? I’m not saying they do or they don’t, but how do you know one way or the other?

  26. My dog knows more about my tastes in music than I know about his. Frankly, I just don’t see that as a problem, either.

  27. I will admit to having absolutely no understanding of middle east.

    After 9/11, I made an effort to familiarize myself with the history of Israel and the Palestinians, and modern governments in the region. I found that mostly I felt more ignorant after I did a little bit of reading than I did before hand. I think my general approach is to look at local history and try to connect it to my view of the human condition to see where people are coming from.

    I found this moderately successful in looking at the seemingly endless appeal of Marxism in South America. Not that I am an expert by any stretch, but I think I can understand the appeal in a layman sort of way.

    When it comes to the Mid East, I just don’t get any of it. Part of the problem is that the only populist movements I have ever read about are clamoring for more repression. Why does the Saudi royalty support terrorists? As far as I can tell, it is an appeal to populism in that region. I just can’t fathom how in this day and age, such a backwards movement can be so popular.

    There are no populist governments to speak of, so looking at governmental behavior seems less than useful if you are trying to figure out what the guy on the street is thinking.

    I’m left with: 1) Governments in the region are thugs that don’t represent anyone except themselves. A study of official policy, then, only gives you insight into the neuroses of the current thug. 2) Blowing people up seems quite popular. No distinction is made between combatants and non combatants until retaliation comes. 3)Repressive theocracy seems quite popular as well, presumably as a cure to repressive monarchy.

    I can’t find any of the common ground that you are supposed to see when you try to understand the unknown culture.

  28. Tim: Cause the USA is the greatest country in the world and everyone else is just jealous. That’s how.

  29. Tim,

    Operating on the theory that Al-Jazeera is out to sell news, the (from my perspective) bizarre spin on that organization’s stories make you wonder about the assumptions of its customers.

  30. Tim, we’re not just talking about the Middle East. Plenty of people everywhere, including the US, have biased, faulty understandings of the actions and interests of other countries. But I think anyone who cares to look into it can see, from polls, editorials, statements, and above all, actions, that the beliefs of people in the Middle East are, on average, more screwed up than most.

    By the way, does learning about others mean we’re gonna have to like soccer–excuse me, football?

  31. I really can’t believe the arguments I’m seeing here. In more than half a year, the entire population of liberated Iraq has failed to cough up the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. The enemy in question in a week’s time has blown up a compound full of Arabs in Saudi Arabia and two synagogues in Turkey. Our glaring lack of human intelligence is publicly lamented even by our own intelligence organizations. And none of you people see this as a problem? Do you want America to win or lose?

  32. America will win when more ignorant foreigners learn more about the USA!

  33. Jason

    Well written post. Like yourself I went looking for answers. At the end of it I have come to the conclusion that religon is destroying these people.

    Mudflap

  34. The reason those Lebanese quiz show contestants know so much about the output of Hollywood, is because the machinery to transport that output is extremely effective; US media is exported globally. I went on a trek in Nepal up to Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas a year or 2 ago, and the biggest star amongst the kids and teens up there was WWF star The Rock, no less.

    I’m sure knowing about current US politics and foreign policy is pretty much a requirement these days in the middle east, too 😉

    Note that the stuff that gets exported isn’t always the highbrow stuff, mind you — it’s Christina Aguilera, Britney, No Doubt, WWF, Cops, and Friends.

    BTW, those are some amazing comments. ‘we’re the culture everyone wants to imitate’ — ‘the U.S. has the best universities’ — come _on_! Do you really believe that?

    I’ve spent most of my life in Europe, and am currently living in the US temporarily, so I can bring an outside viewpoint. And those lines are just so off the mark, it’s not funny. You _have_ to look outside your home turf now and again; otherwise the insularity will kick your ass eventually. Sorry guys, the US is not consistently the ‘best country in the world’ at _everything_. (Healthcare, for example, comes to mind.)

  35. Tim, that’s the sort of bad argument that proves our case. 80% of the Iraq is pacified and even the Sunni Triangle is opposed to the terrorists–for instance, they didn’t listen when they were threatened with death if they didn’t shut down their businesses. (Let’s not even waste time with the idea that Saddam’s whereabouts are known outside a small circle he cultivated for years and who know any slip-up means certain death.) Of course we need good intelligence, but you’re confusing it with mind-reading.

    When it comes to “understanding” them, we do, all too well. For one thing, Al-Qaeda and company would blow up the entire US if they could (for bad reasons, by the way, not that that matters), and has millions of members and sympathizers around the world, so pardon us if we’re no more successful at stopping them every time they light a match anywhere in the world as we are at preventing violent crime in whatever town you live in. Honestly, if more American’s knew Iraq’s GDP in the 1970’s, you think that would have made a difference?

  36. Justin, I wouldn’t claim the US is best at everything. But it’s funny that the few things you mentioned are, in fact, what we lead the world in–universities and health care.

  37. Eric Rudolph hid from the combined law enforcement of this country for 5 years. How long was the Unibomber at large? Home team on it’s on soil. So a foreign army not finding someone in six months is not a particularly compelling example of incompetence or ignorance or whatever you’re accusing Americans of. There are American experts on the Middle East and we probably need more of them, but honestly, what problem would be addressed by the average American immersing themselves in the cultural minutia of other countries? If you can demonstrate how me knowing who the chief deputy minister of agriculture in Whogivesafuckastan would have captured Saddam or Ossama then maybe.

  38. Is Nasiriyah part of the pacified 80 percent?

  39. Justin-

    The US has the BEST healthcare in the world, if you can afford it.

    Mudflap

  40. anon @ 4:33: Absolutely. The US has the highest health care spending as a pecentage of GDP in the world, and the most diploma mills per capita. USA!USA!

  41. “I really can’t believe the arguments I’m seeing here. In more than half a year, the entire population of liberated Iraq has failed to cough up the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. The enemy in question in a week’s time has blown up a compound full of Arabs in Saudi Arabia and two synagogues in Turkey. Our glaring lack of human intelligence is publicly lamented even by our own intelligence organizations. And none of you people see this as a problem? Do you want America to win or lose? ”

    It is a problem, but, speaking for myself, I’m afraid that I may not be equipped to understand what all of it means. These are all actions we have seen. What is a proposal to help me understand? Do I tune in to Arabic radio? Does it help to look at tyrant governments to see what their subjects think? It is all lunatic to me.

  42. Mudflap,

    That is exactly the way it should be. What are you getting at?

  43. Time asked –
    “You think a single Jeopardy contestant could name a single Egyptian movie star other than Omar Sharif?”
    You think the contestants of Jeopardy-Lebanon know who “Beat” Takeshi’s co-stars are ? Do they know who the Lithuanian Minister for Cultural Affairs is ?
    People know all about Tom Cruise because of the preeminence of American Cinema. Likewise for nuances of American foriegn policy.
    Sure we need more hard intelligence or whatever but realistically the residents of Nowheristan probably know more about America than Americans know about Nowheristan.

  44. That would be “TIM asked”.

  45. Anon @ 4:33, the US may lead the world in a lot of things, a whole helluva lot of things, but Health Care ain’t one of ’em. Europe regularly humiliates us on just about every quantitative measure of “quality of” health care.

  46. To anon and Tim: the reason I purport to understand what Syrians think about Master and Commander and Catherine Zeta Jones is because both of us are getting our information from the same source – watching the movie or reading the book.

    As far as political leaders go, I know who Ariel Sharon, Gerhard Schroder, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin are because their decisions have a greater effect on my life than those of Syrian leaders.

    Wait, I’m a pig-headed, ignorant, average xenophobic American for daring to suggest I willingly choose to follow only the ‘relevant’ countries? If you believe that then ask yourself this question: who is the Prime Minister of Bhutan? What, you couldn’t name Jigme Y.
    Thinley off the top of your head? Time to stop blogging and start picking up those books.

  47. I want to go on Jeopardy. I won $850 of Ben Stein’s Money a couple years ago, and now I’m itching to win some of Mr. Trebek’s money. I’ll prove to the world that American game show contestants are as savvy as Arab game show contestants!

  48. This whole conversation is a little too much like trying to warn the mayor about the killer shark that is still at large on the Fourth of July. But before I check out, let me again recommend “The Outstation.” I don’t know whether Maugham is an especially good writer, but the two antagonists make a perfect little fable: One guy is a snob, old-boy, public school asshole. The story knows and makes clear that he’s an asshole. The other is a self-made, informal commoner who had to work for everything he’s got. The rub is that it’s the asshole who respects the natives and gives them due deference and correctness in all things.

  49. Beanie-

    exactly what I said. Its the best in the world. Most of the time when I see criticism of US healthcare, its because it isn’t universal. That doesn’t mean it’s not the best if you can afford it.

    Xray-

    I got a diploma. It wasn’t a mill, it was a damn good education.

    Mudflap

  50. The problems in Nasiriyah were started by people who originated in the Sunni triangle. Most of Iraq is glad to be rid of Saddam, but there are still dead-enders, not to mention foreigners, who don’t want to see them succeed. That’s who we’re fighting now.

  51. Mudflap: It wasn’t just damn good, there is absolutely no doubt that if you got your diploma in the USA, you got the best damn education possible on the whole damn planet.

  52. Tim wrote –
    But before I check out, let me again recommend “The Outstation.”

    Screw that. It doesn’t have Ashenden.

  53. Hey, I get to use one of my favorite Ambrose Bierce lines: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography”.

    As for why Americans seem so relatively ignorant. I’d really like to see this studied and quantified. It seems clear that, on average, everyone knows much more about the USA than we know about them. I’d be curious to know whether they know more about each other than we know about them. I mean, do Syrians know more about Sweden than us? Do the Chinese know more about Columbia than we do? Do Brazilians know more about Bangledesh?…. etc.

    I’ve seen many mentions of our culture being exported globally, but what about our language? That there is a closely related subject.

  54. If you want to see how ignorant non-US people are about us, watch the show “Street Smarts” with some people who’ve spent most of their lives outside the US. Anyone from around here should get ~100% of those questions right (they’re really really easy… they have to find morons on the streets who might miss) and foreigners will likely miss most of them. It was extremely funny (and maybe a little shocking) when I watched that show with a French girl and a Mexican guy… they both missed a whole lot of the questions.

  55. Tim, please, you embarass yourself. When has mastery of trivia ever been seriously equated with intelligence, except by the too-too-educated and overly zealous gameshow contestants?

    This is a measure of attention and interest, not intelligence.

  56. Good god, what a lot of bloviating. Oiomai eme ouden eidenai, and that’s about as much as I can hope for at the moment.

  57. To Justin on American health care,

    I helped put my wife through medical school some years ago, and in all the time since I have met scads of medical students and doctors from foreign lands who came here for their medical education and stayed on to practice. My own doctor is Lebanese. His partner is Egyptian. Their office is a block away from that of three India-born physicians. Go another mile and there’s the office of a husband-wife physician couple, also from India. Another mile to the north is a cardiology office run by two Indian physicians, while a mile to the south is a very successful family practitioner who was born in Mexico. Out on the city limits there is a Nigerian-born pediatrician. All this in a town of about 6,000, with about a dozen other “American” docs scattered hither and yon.

    Since 1988 I have yet to meet an “American” doctor who, for other than medical missionary work, has sought to practice in a foreign country.

    Speaks pretty well for American health care in my book.

  58. Actually, it speaks pretty well for the American economy.

  59. So if I understand correctly, the issue here is that I – as a reasonably representative American – am ignorant of much of the political structure of the Middle East whereas the people who live there are far more informed about the structures under which I live.

    However, that begs a second question. The ME worldview is often completely whacky – the Jews control everything, Princess Diana was offed by the royal family to avoid the scandal of a part-Arab child, 4,000 Jews were told not to go to work on September 11, and so on. This sort of craziness is apparently accepted as absolute truth by a significant fraction of the ME population.

    So am I more educated if I can name off the heads of foreign countries but believe they are robots controlled by Israeli outer space mindrays?

    I think the underlying point is right: this particular area of the world is of vital interest to all of us and remaining willfully ignorant in the face of that is pretty dim.

    But I don’t believe that a superficial ability to name American public figures represents any especially deep knowledge or understanding of the West when you consider the sort of conspiracy theory baggage even the best educated of middle easteners seem to carry around.

  60. It’s not that we need to have a general knowledge of all other parts of the world, it’s that we need to have a knowledge of the events that affect us directly. I think most Americans still don’t know about our shenanigans in Iran’s internal affairs which eventually led to the Islamic revolution and the taking of American hostages. Nor do they much care. When the hostage crisis happened, they were mostly content to put it down to the Iranians’ being violent fanatics and left it at that.

  61. Mark,

    I would classify that American ignorance of American government (or culture, if you will), not ignorance of ME culture.

  62. American ignorance of our own affairs and those of foreign countries is legion.

    If you believe that better information = better decisions, its easy to see why we’re in such a mess. And George W. and co. take advantage of this.

  63. Europe regularly humiliates us on just about every quantitative measure of “quality of” health care.

    I note that those studies are invariably put out by European organizations or the UN.

    I also note that, for the most part, people who can possibly afford it come to the US for their medical care, given the opportunity. It is very rare for Americans to go elsewhere for medical care, unless they are trying to sponge off of foreign taxpayers.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  64. I’d be satisfied if the average American knew as much about AMERICAN history as Middle Easterners do. I know a Palestinian who was educated in the Jordanian school system. When he enrolled in college in this country, he tested out of his American history requirements. By way of comparison, the average American cannot place the Civil War within fifty years.

    It’s one thing to know less about foreign countries’ histories than they do ours. But to know less about YOUR OWN history than the average foreigner is pretty shameful. Jeez, I’d hate to see how bad we’d be without the homeschoolers bringing up the average.

  65. Newsflash for Kevin Carson : Foriegn students who enroll in the American schools have to endure a battery of qualifying exams & have to be in the top 10-20 percentile in their schools. These are NOT your average foreigner unless all foreign lands are like Lake Woebegone where every child is above average.

  66. The US spends spends a higher percentage of its GDP on health care than any other nation.
    Yet the US trails other developed nations on such basic health care stats as life expectancy and infant mortality.
    We Americans are paying more and getting less for it than people in other countries. That doesn’t sound like the greatest health care system in the world to me.
    That the best is available to those who can afford it is irrelevant. The rich have always had the best of everything, in all countries and all times.

  67. “I think most Americans still don’t know about our shenanigans in Iran’s internal affairs which eventually led to the Islamic revolution and the taking of American hostages.”

    I see, what we did in 1953 directly caused the events of 1979. Tell me. now that the mullahs are highly unpopular, if they get overthrown and replaced by a democracy, can we take credit for that?

  68. Excitable, part of the the point is the rich AND AVERAGE in America get better health care than anyone else anywhere can get except for the richest (who can afford to come to America).

  69. dunno about all of this.
    how much do these lebenese or wherever else know about Iceland? it’s real easy to have some sort of familiar knowledge with the economically largest and noisest country out there. being stationed in germany there was nothing spectacular about the locals’ knowledge about other european countries or affairs. jorg haider was not that well known until feb 2000, for example. Uffe Elleman Jensen is not that well known in europe and he was a finalist for the NATO top spot a few years back. someone in vermont would know more about ny than the other way around. most don’t know who michael portillo is outside of the UK.
    size matters.

    as for the healthcare, yeah — i guess that’s why king khalid went to the us for his heart issues. good ol yeltsin got a team of us docs. saddam hussein needed us care. king of jordan… yeah — those coulda gone anywhere in the west. and they sought out us care. justin — i think you’re confusing “publically funded” with “quality”. same with U of chicago or Stanford and other schools. (student.ulb.ac.be/~tcoupe/ for references to economics, for example.) i’d rather go there or to one of the fine country day prep schools than to a european public school, too. or are all the nobel prizes at u of C “cultural imperialism”?

    quick, what’s the largest state (land area) east of the mississippi?

  70. Pennsylvania, I’m sure… but Georgia feels like it when you’re driving across it on I-75 at night.

  71. Good point, Anon. Who was that masked man? I didn’t even get a chance to thank him.

  72. Georgia’s the biggest. It’s much bigger than Pennsylvania. Not even close.

  73. Georgia, Michigan are top two. NY and PA are nine and ten… huge difference in land area. although Michigan tries to sneak in its water area, too.

  74. Hey, Cavanaugh, check out the real Naziriyah:

    http://iraq.sgtstryker.com/mt/old/000091.php#000091

  75. Georgia has more land than PA? Whacko.

  76. I am an American who studied the Middle East and Southeast Asia and learned several of the languages in both regions. I lived and studied in the Middle East for 2 years. I lived, studied and worked for American corporations in Asia for 6 years.

    I can say from first hand experience that, on average, people in most other countries know more about the U.S. and their own countries than most Americans know about the U.S.

    The big question is “Why is that important?” Lots of reasons. I think the most important is that the U.S. goverment is probably the biggest political, economic and military force on the planet. Without knowing what is going on in the rest of the world, how can you know about and understand the actions and motivations of the U.S. government outside the U.S.?

    The U.S. government is only accountable to the citizens of the United States. If most of those citizens are only dimly aware of what goes on outside the country then the government has a much freer hand to pursue actions/policies that are at odds with the ideals we say we value.

    This should be a Libertarian’s worst nightmare. It is also many Conservatives’ greatest hypocricy. I am continually astonished by those who rail against the government’s incompentent meddling domestically and then hold it up as a worthy representative and protector of our society/freedom/values internationally.

    This is the issue that finally made me a Libertarian. The U.S. voting public does not have the interest or the capacity to keep track of everything going on in the world. If we just had a strictly limited foreign policy we could deal more effectively and cheaply with the handful of real enemies out there rather than wrestle with them PLUS the many the government helps create.

  77. PA is the tenth largest state east of the Mississippi. Not even close to number one.
    GA (57,919); Mich (56,809); IL (55,593); WI (54.314); FL (52,997); AL (50.750); NC (48.708); NY (47.224); MIS (46.914), PA (44.820) square miles.
    Of course IOWA! is much larger. Thank you very much. Not all of us are anti-globalization, anti-free trade, incompetent, poorly educated yahoos. Like some Hawkeyes on this board are.
    As for the Conservatives and not appreciating the whole wide world out there, that can be summed up in the term by Geert Hofstede:
    Uncertainty Avoidance, basically how much absolute strict black-white rules they have. The theocratic right wing is chock full of that. At my church (St. Petri Evg. Luth.), the Pastor rails against globalization and Stem Cell Research and “liberalism” in all forms. Basically, it’s an assult against learning that he is unable or unwilling to undertake. He uses words and phrases that sound like Economics (they are not at all) ; he commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent almost every sermon. It’s a joy to watch. But anything that is beyond his comprehension becomes immediately and instantly damned.

    Finally, those state run schools here: Patrick is correct that we are not learning what we should. People do not know or remember. “Those who forget history are probably not doing well in English or Math, either”.
    –MV

  78. Excitable, part of the the point is the rich AND AVERAGE in America get better health care than anyone else anywhere can get except for the richest (who can afford to come to America).

    Wrong, anonymous poster! On average, babies born in the US are less likely to see their first birthday than babies born in the UK, Japan, France, or Canada. Nor does the average American live as long as the average Briton, Japanese, Frenchman, or Canadian.
    These statistics are considered a rough indication of the kind of health care available in a country. If you want more detailed data check out nationmaster.com.
    And for this not-so-great health care, Americans pay a higher proportion of their GDP than the people of any other country. In other words, we’re paying more and getting less for it (I’m still talking about the average American).
    I can’t take any pride in the fact that rich foreign tyrants can get wonderful medical care in the US when millions of Americans get little or no medical care at all.

  79. I suspect that the element in the discussion that has most of us foreigners stunned is not the level of American ignorance of world affairs: that has any number of reasonable explanations. It is the defense that not only does this ignorance exist, it is desirable! It’s not the ignorance that is (to some eyes) quintessentially American, it’s the stiff defense about how it’s a good thing.

    Ignorance is strength. Where have I heard that before :-)?

  80. By Average I meant the vast majority in the middle, not everyone thrown in.

    But you can pick whole communities–not especially rich–in America that do better on average than Europeans. The trouble is, for historical reasons, certain other communities have greater problems, even when more money is spent on them. Europe, for more recent reasons, is starting to see these problems in greater numbers as well, and they’re not reacting too well.

    By the way, good work on killing your elders, France.

  81. As for health care, I suspect that both USA/non-USA divide are arguing at cross-purposes. Let me inject how I see the divide, and why you both sides are not arguing the same thing.

    For just about any part of the developed world outside of the USA, a base level of medical care is now considered a human right. The idea that in the United States you can *die* because you aren’t wealthy enough has about the same visceral impact on a non-American as if an American visited an industrialized nation and were told that of course only land owners are allowed to vote.

    It is, to foreign eyes, barbaric, especially in a country that is, and has been, an exemplar for so many other advances in human rights.

    For non-Americans, it should be realized that a basic tenent (and truth to at least some extent) of American society is the idea that you can work your way up the ladder (especially compared to many European countries). In other words, if you do not have money for health care, *it is your fault*. The great thing about American society is that *anyone* can be a success. This means that being a failure can be blamed on only one thing – yourself. So, why should American health care be judged by the care afforded to those who failed to work hard/smart enough to merit such care?

    Instead, judge American health care on those who actually deserve it. And on that basis, American health care is second to none.

  82. Tom, it’s not about American ignorance, it’s about the outrageous things those “smart” foreigners believe. Europeans are bad enough, with their sophisticates believing nonsense that would destroy them if it weren’t for our protection (and they still might be brought down.) But that’s nothing compared to the insanity coming out of the Middle East–who cares if you can name Paul Wolfowitz if you also think he’s part of a Jewish cabal running the world and making you impotent. Who cares if you can name historical places and dates if your doctoral thesis supports Holocaust denial?

  83. I agree with those who are not surprized at the lack of American knowledge in all things Namibian. However, what upsets me more is the ham handed defenses. They believe in these other incorrect and racist beliefs, so all beliefs and behavior from that culture is worthless. In a related note, at my high school 5 people had top scores on the AP US History test. Four of them (including myself) were children of immigrants. Just because other cultures are ignorant and misinformed about some things doesn’t mean that being more knowledgable about other cultures, not to mention our own, isn’t a good idea.

  84. So, why should American health care be judged by the care afforded to those who failed to work hard/smart enough to merit such care?
    Instead, judge American health care on those who actually deserve it. And on that basis, American health care is second to none.

    Not necessarily, Tom. I could easily apply your specious yardstick for judging the quality of health care to, for instance, Haiti. Haitians who are wealthy enough to pay for good care get good health care. And all those poor Haitians who get sick and die of preventable, curable diseases? By your standard, they don’t count, because they failed to work hard/smart enough to merit medical care. Hey, presto! By ignoring everyone who gets sick, we prove that Haitian healthcare is just as good as that in the US.
    I’m not buying it, Tom. I still maintain that the best standard for judging the health care of a nation is the health care provided to the average citizen of that nation, and that by this standard the US lags behind other developed nations such as the UK, France, Japan, and Canada.
    And did I mention that Americans spend a higher percentage of their GDP on health care than the people of any other nation? We’re paying more and getting less.

  85. Jeebus, I can’t believe I spelled misspelled surprise as “suprize.” It ruins my legitimacy before I could make my argument. My atrocious grammar doesn’t help. That’s what I get for posting after having a few too many beers trying to make the MNF (Monday Night Football) game watchable. Ah well.

  86. That last one was from me. Hit post too soon.

  87. I want to be a Turk. I want to learn to
    speak Turkish. I want to marry a Turkish
    girl. I love Turkish Taffy. My children
    are Turkish. I want to live in Constantinople.
    I want a Turkish Towel. I want to have
    Turkish grandparents. I want to give birth
    in a Turkish Bath. I am a Turkish peaseant.
    I want some Turkish Delight, right now. I
    wear a fez in the house at night. I want to
    listen to Serdar Ortac records. I am eating
    a beetroot salad. All my neighbors are Turkish.
    I want to spend time in a Turkish jail. I want
    Latife Mardin to notice me. I am listening to the
    Voice Of Anatolia. I want my name to be Yasayan
    Turk Siiri.

  88. Tom West, your Vulcan purism gives libertarianism a bad name. Normative judgements masked as Hit & Run pragmatism: sorry, the ploy is as stinky as your social arch-conservatism.

  89. 1:09 am by me, proudly.

  90. To paraphrase an old SNL bit: If it’s not USA, it’s crap! That seems to be the overwhelming thought process, even on this site. Americans simply cannot conceive that someone might prefer a different model than the American one. That is where the disdain/hate/objection comes from. You are not always right, nor are you always the best. You are merely dominant.

  91. nm156 demonstrates, alas, the faulty thought process through which so many come to their foolish anti-Americanism. If anything, Europeans are much more snobbish regarding their worth, and for sure many in the Middle East are a lot less tolerant of opposing viewpoints.

  92. I am not anti-American. I merely think that the vast majority of your population should take the blinders off. While your points about Euros and Middies may have some validity, they do nothing to address the point of my post: Namely that having the biggest economy/marketplace, or the dominant media culture does not make you the best answer to every question. I have said it before: There is much to admire about your country and it’s people, but there is much that needs improving as well. This is not Anti-Americanism, it is a friend pointing out your foibles.

  93. What is really considered to be a right is access to free health care.

    You are, of course, correct.

    Second, we need to find out how long the involuntary uninsured are in that condition. Many people are uninsured for brief periods while they change jobs.

    Actually, to non-Americans, that’s almost irrelevant. Much the same way that you might be taken aback at “only a small number of citizens are prevented from marrying freely, and most only for a limited time”.

    I find it fascinating that people are willing to put themselves completely at the mercy of a state monopoly in order to receive what they claim is a “human right,” and will tolerate being denied access to care that is their “human right” by the state through its bureaucratic rationing systems.

    Not that surprising. If the health coverage is deemed adequate by the many, then there’s no drive to obtain more access that could only be afforded by the few.

    On the other hand, socialized medical schemes do face the so called second tier question. Should citizens be able to buy more medical care within the system. In general, the feeling is often no, because if too many people purchase additional care, then it becomes easier for governments to reduce basic care.

    In some ways, it becomes a question of who loses: either the poor, who might not otherwise obtain care, or the wealthy, who could otherwise purchase more care. For the American, the choice is obvious: the one who has earned their money deserves the opportunity to spend it. For the rest of the industrial world, it is also obvious: money buys many comforts, but it should not necessarily buy life itself.

    I will say that the USA acts as a safety valve for socialized medical schemes by providing a “phantom” second tier. There might be much greater opposition by the powerful to socialized medical care if they could not purchase additional health care in the USA. However, this medical care is far enough out of reach by average citizens that the government cannot use this second tier as an excuse to reduce medical service availability.

  94. Tim,

    Go ahead and fucking kill yourself already; either that, or stop using that stupid phrase.

    Re: Regarding “Working Your Way Up The Ladder” in Europe

    Its common.

    As far as health care is concerned, I find the French and US systems comparable; though I do think health care in the US is much more expensive than it needs to be and I would hate to lack insurance here. BTW, anyone who thinks that there is some sort of universal, public-only super-health care system covering Europe is obviously ignorant. France is a public and private mix; and is nothing like Norway’s or Sweden’s. France, Spain and Germany in my mind ahve the best health care systems in Europe, BTW. What I dislike about the US system is the byzantine nature of its adminsitration.

  95. One final note:

    Deep or even cursory knowledge of another people’s culture is not really required for the citizens of a hegemon. 🙂

  96. The idea that in the United States you can *die* because you aren’t wealthy enough

    WTF?? This is completely bogus, at least with respect to health care. Anyone who believes this has been chugging the Chomsky kool-aid.

    By law, you cannot be denied emergency care because of ability to pay, or even asked about your ability to pay until you are stabilized. By law, thousands of hospitals and health systems must provide “charity” care or lose tax exemptions. Many of these are religious organizations with genuine missions to care for the poor. And, of course, by law anyone who is destitute or old is entitled to health care paid for by taxpayers.

    In this system, just who is going to die because they are poor?

  97. For those of you who agree with Tim that Americans should be more knowlegable about foreign lands, may I recommend the following:

    http://www.nationallampoon.com/nl/02_fb/foreigners/02_foreigners.asp

  98. “In this system, just who is going to die because they are poor?”

    The people who cannot afford preventative care so they wind up in the emergency room in the advanced/harder to cure/less survivable stages of whatever condition. American ER’s see much worse average cases, because poor people wait until they’re vomiting up a lung before they go to the hospital. That’s what kicks socialized medicine’s stats up, the preventative care doled out catches and corrects a lot of stuff earlier, and compensates for inferior ER care.

  99. A running theme here at Reason.com is that we should use American culture to further American values abroad – and that this is a good strategy because our relatively free society allows for this.

    It seems strange that a post would suggest that Americans are somehow deficient for not pouring over famous names from authoritarian regiemes that repress any content that I might find worthwhile or interesting.

    I don’t know much about Arab culture for the same reason I’m not an expert in “Worship Music” or French film.

    Reason says that Rock’n’Roll & Blue Jeans brought down the USSR, it’s all about getting your message in front of the people who will elicit change the most.

    We need to put an Xbox Live in every home in the middle east. And from the looks of it, we have a lot of work to do.

    If you’re busy downing lamers in Crimson Skies, you don’t have a lot of free time to get into mischief.

  100. I try not to agree with the Merovingian too often, so I will only kind of do so here.

    Americans know less about other countries because we can. Culturally, movies from outside the US have little to no audience within this country, music gets more traction, but only if it isn’t too foreign sounding. One group might say that it is cultural imperialism that American exports have more success in other places, but really it is just the global marketplace of preferences.

    Our trading partners speak English, and there is no compelling reason for the average American to study the culture of Zaire. The US is one of the most powerful economies in the history of man, has the most powerful military in the history of man, and if nothing else, is nearly 300 million people with cash to spend.

    Prediction: We will become drastically more educated about China and the Chinese in the near future. Despite their large numbers, it is economic significance that matters, and Mao had ensured their poverty for decades. With market reform comes disposable income and the possiblity of trade. With trade comes a self interested reason to become educated.

    India will be next.

    So why not the Middle East? They are a security threat, if not an economic powerhouse. My guess is that most Americans can understand that some folks eat with chopsticks and maybe don’t like America for reasons similar to why the USSR didn’t like America, but a casual student (like me) will tend to find nothing but confusion in a culture that glorifies having children blow themselves up so as to kill civilians. The tendency will be to simply accept the loudest voice as the one that counts. That voice calls us an enemy, and that is something we can understand. I’ll learn about the fellow who threatened my life after I am secure, thank you very much.

    Maybe Americans need a narrative that gives us anything other than an enemy.

  101. A minor note on the healthcare stuff being discussed here. Things like infant mortality and life expectancy are poor measures of the quality of a healthcare system. There are far too many confounding factors. The first that comes to mind is American obesity. We eat unhealthy food, we don’t exercise enough, and we get fat. With such a wide obesity gap, it’s amazing Americans can come close to keeping up on life expectacy. Comparing the raw numbers is statistically unsound. If some methodological statisticians can separate out all factors but health care and still come to the conclusion that US healthcare is less effective at preventing early death and infant mortality, then I’ll start to worry.

  102. junyo, that’s a fascinating theory, but I thought the evidence was pretty clear that socialized medicine forces people to wait for all kinds of care as a means of rationing it. You seem to be saying that delaying care is a characteristic of the American system, when the studies I have seen show that Americans get their care much quicker than most other folks.

  103. evidence was pretty clear that socialized medicine forces people to wait for all kinds of care as a means of rationing it. You seem to be saying that delaying care is a characteristic of the American system, when the studies I have seen show that Americans get their care much quicker than most other folks.

    You are quite right that socialized medicine does use delays as a means of rationing. More importantly, it allows the doctors to triage on the basis of their expertise.

    A common scenario for rising health care costs is that a hospital can literally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to preserve the life of a patient for a few days or weeks because no-one wants to say “let Dad die”. In a socialized medical system, the doctor would merely say “there’s nothing that can be done” (which is technically not true, it’s “there’s nothing we will do”), but this allows medical resources to be devoted to where they will make a large difference.

    There is little doubt that some patients do suffer enormously because of state imposed delays. However, the size of the delays actually causes much less patient harm than it might seem. Patients are usually triaged effectively.

    The American system does not serve the uninsured terribly well because many non-emergency conditions (cancer for one) can kill you. As well, even in near-emergency cases, the uninsured must choose between obtaining care and possibly bankrupting their family.

  104. Deep or even cursory knowledge of another people’s culture is not really required for the citizens of a hegemon.

    I think that’s slightly unfair. It’s not just the power inequality that means American citizens are unlikely to amass knowledge of foreign states, it’s also that the USA is physically and population-wise large enough that it can effectively be its own world. A cosmopolitan American must still actively seek out foreign knowledge while in much of the rest of the world such a person would automatically gain such exposure.

    From a foreign perspective, such ignorance probably not a bad thing. It helps (slightly) diminish the otherwise overwhelming dominance of America in the world arena. In some ways, it’s history’s natural equalizer.

  105. RC, you are talking about medians, and you are probably right. However, there is a large “spread” in the American health care system, with a lot of people getting little or no care, people who are very far from the median. So I completely agree with your information, but question the conclusions you’re drawing.

  106. By ignoring everyone who gets sick, we prove that Haitian healthcare is just as good as that in the US.

    Wrong. In the American cultural perspective, America is *unique* (or nearly so) among nations on the earth in that *anyone* can succeed. In Haiti, such mobility is not available, so the same standards would not apply. You must remember that American exceptionalism is strongly ingrained in American culture (just to state the obvious, these are generalizations of culture, not statement of the individual beliefs of all members of the countries, etc., etc.)

    As regards to standards of “average” or “median” medical care: this is irrelevant to most foreigners. The fact that only 10% or 20% of the population does not have access to regular medical care without serious financial consequence is as barbaric to them as the idea that “only 10% or 20% of a population is not allowed to vote because of monetary/employment status” would be to Americans. Outside the USA, some reasonable level of medical care is considered a human right. And human rights are not observed as “on average”.

  107. Outside the USA, some reasonable level of medical care is considered a human right.

    First, lets be clear. It is not “access to health care” that is considered to be a right. If that were the case, then all that would be needed would be prohibitions on the state interfering with your access to health care. What is really considered to be a right is access to free health care.

    I find it fascinating that people are willing to put themselves completely at the mercy of a state monopoly in order to receive what they claim is a “human right,” and will tolerate being denied access to care that is their “human right” by the state through its bureaucratic rationing systems.

    It seems to me that socialized medicine is completely inconsistent with health care as a right, because socialized medicine is insitutionalized interference with your right to access health care. To my mind, anyone who really considers access to health care to be a human right would be adamantly opposed to socialized medicine.

    I guess there are some gaps in understanding that cannot be crossed.

  108. Tom West wrote –
    “I suspect that the element in the discussion that has most of us foreigners stunned is not the level of American ignorance of world affairs: that has any number of reasonable explanations.”

    Most people here have been arguing that Americans are no more & no less ignorant of foriegn affairs than any average foreigner. Every foriegner from every nation thinks that Americans should be as knowledgeable in the affairs of their country as they are of America. But is said foreigner likely to be knowledgeable about a third country ?

    I spent a good bit of time in the UK. As an Indian, i was appalled by their poor knowledge of all things Indian, a country about which they should arguably have known more. But there it was. I bet these are the same folks who complain about American ignorance vis-a-vis brit matters.

  109. However, there is a large “spread” in the American health care system, with a lot of people getting little or no care, people who are very far from the median.

    Well, no one is denied emergency care, and the destitute and elderly are not denied care based on their ability to pay, so I guess we are talking about the working poor who are uninsured.

    First, we need to find out how many of these uninsured are uninsured by choice. I assure you that a great many of them are. Second, we need to find out how long the involuntary uninsured are in that condition. Many people are uninsured for brief periods while they change jobs. Hell, it happened to me a couple of years ago, so I showed up as one of the 40mm uninsured that year even though I had insurance for 50 weeks of the year.

    Most data on the uninsured includes everyone who was uninsured for even a day during the past year or whatever, and includes those who chose to be uninsured, and so produces a grossly inflated number.

    What I have never seen is an analysis of how many people are involuntarily uninsured by private or public payers at any given time. If anyone has that data, I would love to see it.

  110. I like the suggestion someone else had of testing how much we know of other countries against how much they know of countries other than themselves and America.

    I suspect that Americans would lose that test, and again, not out of willful American ignorance. An educated American can easily spend their entire life without ever leaving their country, a situation that is vastly less likely for residents anywhere else.

    Essentially, if you live in a small house, you’ll know *all* your neighbours. It’s why it is common for Europeans to know at least 2 languages, and often 3 or 4. And no, it’s not just the native language and English…

    If it is really necessary that Americans have superior knowledge, then look at it this way. Americans probably have more thorough knowledge about 300,000,000 people than those of any other industrial nation. (I will bet that most Coloradans have a better knowledge of Texas than a Spaniard has knowledge of Finland.) Of course, political/cultural uniformity certainly makes it easier for the Americans :-).

  111. Mo,

    “I agree with those who are not surprized at the lack of American knowledge in all things Namibian. However, what upsets me more is the ham handed defenses.”

    So you’d no more expect Americans to know about Namibian history, politics, and culture than you’d expect Japanese to know those things…

    but we alone must be deeply ashamed and humiliated at this.

    I like the suggestion someone else had of testing how much we know of other countries against how much they know of countries other than themselves and America. Unless there’s such a thing as Namibian anime fanatics, I’d bet a small sum of money it would be yet another area where Americans dominate everybody else.

  112. And if no one takes up the bet, I’ll celebrate by putting on one of those giant foam hands with “We’re #1” printed on the upraised index finger and chant “USA! USA! USA!” for a full minute.

  113. Tom West;

    I hate to sound like a multi-culti, but that argument’s a little, uh, Eurocentric for me. Sure, a guy from Belgium knows more about France than a guy from America, but what about India? Or Saudi Arabia? Or China? Or Japan? Europe is not the world, just a part of it.

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