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Archive for Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Nobody roots for Goliath’

December 10, 2002

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You may not realize it, but Turkey has had quite enough of your attitude. And Brazil also has issues with you. In fact, the whole world is less happy with you than it once was.

That's the gist of a new survey published by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. You can download a copy of "What the World Thinks in 2002" at www.people-press.org, and I recommend you do. It makes for fascinating reading, a statistical snapshot of world opinions, problems and fears at a critical juncture of international history.

The survey, based on 38,000 interviews conducted in 44 countries between July and October of this year, touches on a bewildering array of issues. From Japan's pessimism over its stagnant economy to Angola's thirst for clean drinking water and from Mexico's preoccupation with crime to South Africa's AIDS epidemic, the world, as the study authors note in their introduction, "is not a happy place."

There's much more here than you and I can reasonably chew over in a few inches of newspaper space, so I'll confine us to what the study revealed about the world's view of the United States.

If you were to sum it all up, it would go something like this: Though there is still a reservoir of good will toward the United States, anti-Americanism - among both our friends and foes - is up sharply since 2000. Forty-seven percent of respondents in Bangladesh hold an unfavorable opinion of the United States. Seventy-three percent of Canadians say our foreign policy decisions fail to take other nations into account and 70 percent of Germans fault us for increasing the gap between rich and poor. Perhaps the most striking finding is that the world's appetite for American music, movies and technology remains strong, even while the world complains about the spread of American culture, customs and ideas.

Talk about love-hate.

America, of course, is hardly likely to lose sleep over what the world thinks of it. And perhaps disinterest in international opinion is only to be expected in a nation where some high school graduates think "Uganda" is the beginning of a question that ends with "eat the rest of that pie."

But that's only ignorance - lack of knowledge. Lack of caring springs from a different source.

The fact that we don't care that the world thinks what it does is, I suspect, part of the reason the world thinks what it does. Call it the giant's prerogative.

If you've ever driven a compact car on the same road as a semi, you know what I mean. You react to them far more than they react to you. Similarly, the average American ignores the rest of the world because she can, because it has little effect on her daily life.

At least, this is the perception. And though that perception was severely rattled by the events of Sept. 11, I would argue that it remains fundamentally intact.

The problem is that the world is a small place, made smaller all the time by advances in technology and communication. And when giants move in small places, they break things. They find it difficult to appreciate the effect of their movements on others.

There is always jealousy, too, where giants are concerned, an envy of their power and size and a desire to knock them down a peg. I don't know that anyone ever truly loves the giant. We instinctively empathize with the underdog, and as Wilt Chamberlain said, "Nobody roots for Goliath."

The Pew study offers valuable insight to those Americans who wonder why the good intentions and decency that are obvious to us are not always as apparent to the rest of the world. There are reasons even our friends sometimes regard us warily. They might call it our arrogance, they might call it our greed, but I think at bottom it's our obliviousness. Our ability to not even know, much less care, what they call it.

So the Pew survey comes into this time of tension and probable war as a timely tug on a giant's coattail.

With apologies to Lionel Richie, we are not the world. We just live in it.

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