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April 08, 2004

Literary Metacrique

Jay, first off, I think Metacritic would be an awesome new category for this site. We could have a lot of fun specifically criticizing critiques. I'm going to start here, with my critique of a critique of Jean Francois Revel' book Anti-Americanism which was published last week in the Asia Times.

The book abut which the criticism is offered is a refutation of the legitimacy of what is, according to the critic, a global religion of America hating. And, apparently, according to both critic and criticized author, more a wrong-headed global cult than anything else. A complex and psychologically perverted spectator sport, if you will, a la The Running Man, I suppose, in which the participants try to absolve themselves of their insecurities about the failings of their own societies by imposing those despicable traits on a socially acceptable devil and then revelling in all the ways we Americans continually prove our own unworthiness.

I'm unconvinced. First of all, both the book author (a Frenchman) and critic (an American expat) seem to make the assertion early on that the biggest flaw these anti-Americans make in their logic is that of assuming the view of America the world develops from exposure to the media (which focuses on the actions of our government) is representative of the character of the individual citizens. The refutation then goes on to describe not how we Americans, as individuals with free will and freedom of speech, are as complex and diverse a lot as any other group of human beings sandwiched between two oceans, but rather how the American government's actions, which have inspired so much recent anti-American sentiment, are entirely justifiable.

There seems to be much begging of questions (and I mean that in the true sense of the expression, of using as evidence to back up an assertion, statements that in themselves require some serious backing up) in this review, and one suspects in the book as well, since the author of the critique seems to have been converted to Revel's own cult of anti-anti-Americanism with a born-again fervor that leads him, more than three quarters of the way through the review, to admit that there are some flaws in the book, including writing issues and factual errors, that he doesn't really want to bring up because other than those things, he's so enraptured.

For example:

Examples of this psychopathology are almost endless, but the Iraq crisis has certainly provided a profusion of new cases. For example, during the 12 years after 1991, the anti-American press was filled with self-righteous hand-wringing over what was billed as the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people under UN sanctions. But when the administration of President George W Bush abandoned the sanctions policy (a policy that, incidentally, had been considered the cautious, moderate course of action when it was originally adopted) in favor of a policy of regime change by military force - which was obviously the only realistic way to end the sanctions - did these dyspeptic howler monkeys praise the United States for trying to alleviate Iraqis' suffering? No, of course not - instead, without batting an eyelash, they simply began criticizing the United States for the "terrible civilian casualties" caused by bombing.

This type of logic is applied several times throughout the review. The Americans created a bad situation, and everyone hated them for it. So the Americans did something to change the situation, and now everyone hates them for it. Therefore, Americans can't win. That another way of looking at the situation would be to say that the Americans took a bad situation and created an infinitely worse one, however, is not explored or refuted. The assertion that we had no way of getting rid of the sanctions without bombing Iraq to kingdom come is at worst Bush Administration--shoveled horsehockey (with apologies to Sherman Potter), and at best, one point of view that might merit examination but is a far cry from qualifying as a foregone conclusion.

A little later in the review he asserts that "referring to anti-war banners that proclaimed 'No to terrorism. No to war", Revel scoffs that this "is about as intelligent as 'No to illness. No to medicine'." Uhm, well perhaps, if you take as a conclusion that war is the most effective means to bring about the end of terrorism. On the other hand, it seems that any truly meaningful examination of the anti-war faction's point of view (in my understanding of scholarly discussion, a prerequisite to refuting an opposing perspective) would bring up the questions of whether war is more effective at ending terrorism or at breeding more of it. Again, questions being begged like a dropped porterhouse in a dog run.

The review goes on to criticize the anti-Americanites for criticizing Americans for being unpleasant in ways that they themselves are. He gives as examples Mexico criticizing the 2000 election, Arab writers critizing the current administration's abrogations of press freedom, and others who he can easily point a parallel finger right back at. That these things might be true isn't addressed, nor apparently is it a concern. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, so just shut up already.

It's a weird review. The book purports to be about the wrong-headedness of global anti-Americanism, but the review seems to be largely using it as evidence in an apology for the Bush Administration's bad mishandling of, well, everything, since it took office. So much so, that I'm almost inclined to read the book to find out if Revel really supports the critics pro-Bush credo or has been badly represented in this review.

Regardless, all of this global anti-American sentiment covered here makes me think it might not such a bad idea to claim Canadian background next time I travel outside our borders.

Posted by paulette at April 8, 2004 05:23 PM | TrackBack
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