Paddy, Max and other masters of Not Getting It

I’ve had a prolonged absence from Headlife and have started catching myself up. I almost fell off my chair laughing when I read these posts from my little buddies Paddy and Max:

“I would like to remark that some of the comments that have been made by our american cousins reasure me that, yes americans are as dumb as they are made out to be” and”sorry i forgot to ask stuart and his fellow americans to please get out of their bubble they live in and step into the real world.”

I don’t know how Paddy and Max spend most of their spare time, but they seem to work very hard at Missing The Point. In response to a couple of lengthy posts which lay out, in various measures, hard statistics, incontrovertible facts (i.e. the EU economy is, according to its own ministers, seriously lagging), and thought-out viewpoints of the American heartland, all Paddy and Max and the rest of their kennel can manage is a lame suggestion that we “get out of our bubble” and “step into the real world.” Any analysis? Nah. Maybe a basic argument? No need. An answer? Any thought other than a knee-jerk ‘stupid American’ comment? Any shred of evidence that these people are capable of presenting a cogent position? No, no, and no.

Here we have a wonderful symptom of European insularity. Paddy dearest and Max darling–I have no idea who you are. But I am certain that my real experience in the “real world” exceeds your own if you wish to quantify in terms of cultures lived in and worked in. I even lived on (loved and still love) your little island for more than three years. Is it possible that the bubble is your own? It’s not only possible, I know for a fact that it is. I lived in Europe for six years of my life and have watched with mixed amusement and amazement as Europeans have constructed and embraced their own cartoon caricature of the United States. I continue to find it astonishing how uncritically, unthinkingly so many Europeans embrace the Leni Riefenstahl-quality antics of the Noam Chomskies and Michael Moores of the world while refusing to do the difficult work of real issue-analysis. It’s much easier for your species of European to feed your narrow, stupid stereotypes than it is to ask probing questions and form balanced opinions.

Funny, in fact, how similar you actually are to the caricature of the unthinking American you’ve made for yourself.

Are there stupid, head-in-the-sand Americans? Yes, plenty. Are there stupid, head-in-the-sand Europeans? Well, I know lots of them, and I might have discovered two more, since you provided nothing beyond a grunting ad hominem response to a series of thoughtful posts.

I love Europe, I miss it when I’m not there, many of my closest friends are from London, Berlin, Budapest, Vienna, and Bologna. But it’s just time for Europeans like yourselves to step outside your own bubbles and recognize that the world is not yours to define. And if you want to get into what we Americans know as “talking smack” I suggest you follow the wise counsel of our man Jim Rome: “Have a take, and don’t suck.” In other words, have an opinion that you can defend, and frame it in a way that suggests a capacity for sentient thought. You had no take, and you definitely sucked.

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17 thoughts on “Paddy, Max and other masters of Not Getting It

  1. Staurt, Stuart, Stuart – you make me laugh. Yes the comments in question were somewhat lacking in maturity – but please don’t just class Europeans as insular. America is the most insular nation I could of imagined. The lack of news outside it’s borders is astonishing – there is no such thing as ‘world’ news here, unless you turn to PBS and watch the BBC World News.
    Recent(ish) example – massacre of 300 in a school in Beslan, Russia – front story here that day – Bill Clinton needs heart surgery!
    Maybe it’s beacuse America is such a big country, or maybe it’s because no-one really cares what happens in the rest of world (a few like yourself excluded!) 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fheadlife.blogspot.com%2Funitedbrethren" TITLE="">Rebecca<>

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  2. Becky that’s just some anecdotal silliness–the Beslan massacre was absolutely everywhere I looked in the news here, front pages and editorial headlines. I’m not sure which newspaper you were looking at, but given that there are thousands of American newspapers, it’s hardly significant to say that you saw Bill Clinton on the front page of the one you happened to look at. And, BTW, Bill Clinton going into heart surgery could have been big news. I promise you, if Margaret Thatcher or Boris Yeltsin were headed into potentially life-threatening heart surgery it would make the front pages of British/Russian papers along with whatever else was news there, even if there were a massacre under way in Chicago.

    The insularity I refer to in Europe is widespread–it is an ignorance of America realities (ignorance of any currents and realities beneath the perceived surface) equal to the levels of American ignorance that I’m aware of. The only difference is that the average European considers his/her self fully informed. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Stuart

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  3. Stuart – you’re a proud citizen of your country and so am I of mine(God Save the Queen!) In general I think I have to agree to disagree with you – you’re a really nice guy, who I can’t agree with on pretty much anything politically. Maybe you should try commenting on United Brethren and see if there’s more common ground!!
    I didn’t say Europeans weren’t insular, just that Americans are too. I don’t think most Americans would think themselves ignorant either. The two cultures really aren’t that different. You’ll always have stupid, ignorant people in any nation, just as you will always have those who are well informed.  

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fheadlife.blogspot.com%2Funitedbrethren" TITLE="">Rebecca<>

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  4. Funny, you’ve actually just made exactly the point I’ve been making all along–see above where I say that both cultures are loaded with stupid, insular people. And I never even implied that Americans weren’t insular–huge numbers of them are, and most educated Americans understand this. But Europeans tend to underrate the extent of their own insularity, or to have double-standards. For example, Europeans might snicker if an American couldn’t name the capitol of Denmark or Poland, but I would guess that an equal number of Europeans wouldn’t know the (roughly equivalent in size and world significance) capitols of Georgia or California.

    Unfortunately, you can’t choose to disagree with me on your point about the Beslan massacre without being wrong–it simply is not true that Beslan was not covered with huge front page press. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Stuart

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  5. (Horrible stereotype alert). Here’s the difference between Europeans and Americans as I see it. Europeans think they know alot about the world but don’t. Americans just don’t care. Major exceptions aside (Headlife), both attitudes are worrying. I live in America and I can vouch for both the ignorance of Americans, whose “world news” on local tv is what happens in another state, and the arrogant stupidity of the British, who think they’re clever because they watch BBC news, but don’t realise that the BBC’s editorial policy is closer to Comical Ali’s than objective journalism. As Obi Wan Kenobi asked, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?” 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?headlife.blogspot.com" TITLE="ronan at jhu dot edu">Ronan<>

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  6. One other thought that Rebecca and I ought probably to admit: we come from educated, middle class backgrounds, and we have spent many years in academia. Our experience of Britain is therefore skewed. I can assure Headlife that there are many, many thick, stupid, crass Brits. Far too many. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?headlife.blogspot.com" TITLE="ronan at jhu dot edu">Ronan<>

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  7. Stuart, excellent points. In fact, I have used the same example you used about the capitols of states in discussions with “enlightened” Europeans in the past. To be sure, California is far more important on the global stage than either Denmark or Poland, or both combined. This is not spoken from a perspective of insular Americanism. As you know (but paddy and max don’t, so I will state), I also have much European experience–far more than most Europeans (even Ronan and Becky) have with the United States. I have spent four years of my life in Europe, living in Holland, Germany, Lithuania, and England. So when I say that California is more important on the world stage than any of those countries (except Germany and England), I mean that from an objective standpoint. California’s economy far outstrips the economies of most individual European countries. Only Germany, England, and France outdo California economically. Well, how many Europeans know the capitol of California? Not many–they will only know of Los Angeles and San Francisco. And yet Americans have to endure the arrogance of Europeans berating them for not knowing e.g. where Brussels is (although very many Americans know where it is). Is Belgium important on the world stage? They like to think so. But can it be said, objectively speaking, that they play much of a role on the world stage? I don’t think so, unless you think that rabble rousing and accusing American leaders of war crimes in Belgian courts is a significant activity on the world stage.

    I am not anti-European. I am very pro-European. I am an Anglo-phile to a very large degree and would gladly live in England for the rest of my life, if there were some prospect of doing so. That is not a possibility, apparently. But just because I am a huge fan of England, Germany, and Holland, among others, does not mean that I have to tolerate the hypocrisy of European insularism, as you have well described Stuart. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fheadlife.blogspot.com%2F2004%2F11%2Fpaddy-max-and-other-masters-of-not.html" TITLE="john dot fowles at gmx dot net">john fowles<>

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  8. Excellent points Ronan, and extra scoring for you for efficient references to Comical Ali and Obi Wan Kenobi in consecutive sentences.

     

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Stuart

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  9. Sacramento. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?headlife.blogspot.com" TITLE="ronan at jhu dot edu">Ronan<>

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  10. Good work Ronan–although you probably cheated. Can you send me John Fowles’ email?

    I think much can be learned about the contrasting American/European approaches to each other from what books you find prominently displayed in their book stores. Educated Americans (like John F) are generally very interested in European thought, history and politics. And if you walk into Barnes and Noble and check the European history and current affairs section you’ll find a wide range of works, but many of them of a very high quality.

    Last March I was in Berlin and spent a few afternoons in some German book stores. Everywhere I looked under the headings of American history current affairs I saw Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore on prominent display. These two are a couple notches below David Irving in terms of accuracy, citation, and objectivity. But millions of Europeans can’t get enough of them and they aren’t interested in checking counter-arguments or verifying sources, they just want something to feed and sustain their stereotypes.

    The really worrying fact is that it’s a huge percentage of educated Europeans who buy the Chomsky/Moore garbage–this is a big part of how European opinions of America are being formed, so it’s no mystery why the whole continent went suicidal when Bush was reelected. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Stuart

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  11. Question: how many AMERICANS know the capital of California? And is knowing the capital of California important?

    I mean, it shows that you know some trivia (here’s a fun parlor game: name as many states/countries as you can where the capital isn’t the largest city. I’ll start: Scotland. Next?), but if you’re a factory worker in, say, Michigan, does knowing that Copenhagen is Denmark’s capital mean you’re better in touch with the world than the Romanian factory worker who knows only three US cities: New York, Texas, and LA? At some point (it seems to me) knowing Sacramento’s status in California is about as valuable as knowing Everest’s elevation.

    Maybe… 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Lance

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  12. I agree, Lancer. I don’t think any one ever meant to say that knowing state/national capitols was a meaningful measurement of useful world knowledge. It was just suggested as a proxy for looking at comparative knowledge of the ‘other’ between Europe and the US. The point is that European knowledge of the US is not nearly as full or accurate as Europeans generally imagine. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Anonymous

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  13. Well that’s probably true. In part, this is our own fault, though. Or rather, the fault of our media exports. Do you know how much of our junk TV and movies they see over there? Seriously, aside from sports and news, I’d say that Italian TV has to be something like 60-65% old US dramas and movies (fantastically dubbed into Italian). I think Mrs. Lancer and I watched the whole first season of CSI in Italian over there. And train stations are plastered in ads for the lastest US film.

    If their picture of the US comes from ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘X-Men’, it’s no wonder they have a skewed picture of us! 😉 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Lance

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  14. Lance, it’s also why 99% of Europeans think that living in an American city is dangerous or that every American city is a war zone. That is what they learn from Hollywood, their ultimate source on “international” information with regards to America.

    As to knowing the state capitol, you can’t seriously believe that the example was also the substantive argument. I assume you realize that, so I won’t go further into it.

    As to a factory worker in Michigan–you are exactly right. Let me take it one step further (look away Europeans, for this will upset you): why should a factory worker in Michigan know <>anything<> about international news (or the attacks in Beslan, for example)? It is completely irrelevant to a factory worker in Michigan. This is someone who wakes up, has coffee, goes to work at a mindless job for 7 hours a day (plus a one-hour lunch), comes home, eats dinner, then watches TV for five hours (sports, reality shows, sit-coms, etc.) The only way that anything “international” could possibly affect the life of this factory worker is if some international change made his job go away.

    I speak fluent German. A few years ago, BYU was training foreign-language teachers from different countries in administering language proficiency exams based on a protocol created by a BYU French professor and widely used at many universities. They called me up to come in and function as a guinea pig for these teachers, who were learning the protocol, to interview me in the language and then practice grading my performance so that they could correctly use the protocol.

    In one of the interviews, three German teachers (two were native Germans) sat in the room while one of them interviewed me (the other two observed). One of the questions, absurdly, was “why do you think that Americans should start learning foreign languages?” This was wierd considering that I was conversing with them in fluent German. Apparently, I didn’t count as an American for purposes of this question. My answer was controversial: I gave the same example of the Michigan factory worker that Lance gave above (except that it related to learning a foreign language rather than reading international news). I asked the interviewer: why <>should<> a factory worker in the American mid-west learn any foreign language? Such an individual is <>not analogous<> to a factory worker in the middle of France (who nevertheless knows no other language than France and who also knows nothing about America except what he saw in Daredevil or whatever the most recent American movie was that he saw). This is because a foreign language like German or English would actually be <>useful<> for the French factory worker, whereas an American factory worker has no use for it. Even in spite of the rise of Spanish as a large language group in the United States, the country (and that means the whole continent, with respect to the US part of North America) is linguistically homogeneous. Whereas Europe packs numerous language groups on the continent, the US does not do so. As you can imagine, this line of reasoning was not appreciated by the interviewers who wanted to hear a scathing denunciation of ignorant Americans who don’t speak any foreign languages (as if the factory worker in France, Germany, or anywhere else in Europe does, and there, there is actually a reason to do so). 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fheadlife.blogspot.com%2F2004%2F11%2Fpaddy-max-and-other-masters-of-not.html" TITLE="john dot fowles at gmx dot net">john fowles<>

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  15. JF, a good and realistic comment. The same could be said about a factory worker in Birmingham. But whereas such a person does not <>need<> to know a foreign language, perhaps he <>should<> anyway. There are only a few things I need to do in life to survive, but I am grateful for an upbringing and an educational system that taught me that there was more to life than survival. But I’m not a factory worker, so this could (and maybe should) be denounced as snobbery. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?headlife.blogspot.com" TITLE="ronan at jhu dot edu">Ronan<>

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  16. Ronan, good point, and I agree with you. This was the other half of my argument in the interview. I personally also (in theory) would have had no <>reason<> to learn a foreign language except that I wanted to early on because that type of thing interests me. So in my own personal life, learning foreign languages has been enriching and a great experience, but that is because that is where my interests lie. Thus, I would recommend to anyone that they <>should<> learn a foreign language, assuming that they have any interest in doing so (need is completely irrelevant for most Americans since they are, practically speaking, not in any geographic or cultural proximity with foreign-language groups, something that they cannot possibly be criticized for since they cannot control where they are born or the geopolitical realities of the world). Even though I would recommend learning a foreign language to all Americans because I personally have found it enlarging, I would also say that no American should be criticized for not learning a foreign language if that does not float their boat. On the other hand, the French factory worker can appropriately be <>criticized<> for being insular, since they do not live on an island but rather on a linguistically and culturally heterogeneous continent and their ignorance of foreign languages and international cultures is truly an indictment on their ethnic and cultural arrogance/imperialism. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="http://www.blogger.com/r?http%3A%2F%2Fheadlife.blogspot.com%2F2004%2F11%2Fpaddy-max-and-other-masters-of-not.html%23c110071659586484900" TITLE="john dot fowles at gmx dot net">john fowles<>

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  17. RE “Lance, it’s also why 99% of Europeans think that living in an American city is dangerous or that every American city is a war zone.”

    Having lived in two major American cities but also having seen fewer than my fair share of Hollywood films, my own feeling is that it is kinda dangerous. Much more so than living in Oklahoma, anyhow.

    Just as an adise. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Lance

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