Last week, France lit up the Eiffel Tower in the colors of the German flag. A nice gesture, don’t you think. NOT SO FAST!!!!!
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) July 24, 2016
This tweet was retweeted a couple thousand times. There were actually several variations. You can also read a lot of self-congratulation in response to it.
Not only is this a load of crap, but it’s a load of crap based on a very fictitious pretension. We are one world. A life in Afghanistan ought to mean just as much as a life nearer by. Or, I guess, in this case, it’s a 10:1 ratio, but actually the point will still sort of stand. There is the implicit assumption that we should feel lives equally, whether near from afar or whether eastern or western.
That’s a lofty ideal, but has nothing to do with the real world. In practice, it’s more of a pretension than an ideal.
If a close friend dies, and I express grief that my friend died and you point out that a lot of other people also died with the suggestion that I should care equally, I would want to smack you. Nobody but the autistic reporter from The Onion does that. I feel it more directly because it’s somebody I know. Broaden the scope more widely, of course Americans are going to feel a greater sense of tragedy when other Americans die. This is true whether we’re talking about a 1:1 ratio or not. Americans are connected to Americans. We’re a part of the same social compact, whether we like one another or not. Trump’s “America First” may be a bad slogan due to its historical connotations, but if we’re saying that we think the idea is bad, we’re mostly fooling ourselves.
It’s implicit in almost everything we do. It’s why no country on the planet has completely open borders. Argentina comes to closest, but even they have screening mechanisms. But why, oh why, should someone born here have rights and privileges that someone born in Chile? Because that’s how nations work. We offer government benefits to people who are within our borders, and deny them to people outside of our borders, out of an at least theoretical sense that we are in it together. And that their loss is our loss. Restricted trade may be a good idea or a bad one, but the primary (albeit not sole) concern is going to involve the well-being of Americans.
This goes beyond our direct borders to other things. Due to history and geography, we’re going to feel Canada more than Guyana. Despite the lack of geography, we’re going to feel Britain more than we’re going to feel Belize. We might even feel Belize and Guyana more than Morocco. And on and on.
Now, in the case of Afghanistan, there is an argument to be made that France is connected Afghanistan by virtue of their participation in the Afghan War. As Americans, we ought to feel a connection on that basis that may justify more of a response than it got from us. But… I just don’t think that’s what’s going on, really. I think what’s going on is a sense that we care more about what happens to the French than what happens in the Middle East. Which, we do. France is a colleague. There is more common culture and so there is going to be more empathy. Consider that racist or occidentalist or whatever you like, but it’s a fundamental truth. Good for you if you transcend such trivial humanity, but most of us don’t and never will and it’s stupid to expect otherwise.
And beyond that, France might actually care more about Germany due to their both being members in the EU together. This is actually the sort of relationship that fans of the EU (which I would guess this guy is) should want to foster. If you’re going to demand that the French view German lives and Afghan lives with parity, not only are you fooling yourself, you’re actually destroying the European project, which depends on closer relationships between some nations (member states) and others (everybody else).
If the world is your home, you have no home. If the people of the world are your people, you have no people. And if you claim to view all citizens of the world in similar light, you’re either a phony or a robot.
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