Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/21/14—Becoming Global Citizens

I no longer live in the country I was born in.

Geographically nothing has changed. But geopolitically and geo-socially and geo-significantly, everything is different. I was born in a country so powerful and so far away from any threats that it was impossible to touch us. We had fears, yes. Missiles from Russia or Cuba. But most of my life you could walk down any street in America and feel confident you were safe from foreign attack.

The country I was born in was also undeniably THE center of the world, according to pretty much anyone you would ever meet. (Because you were likely to only meet other Americans or polite visitors.) And, besides, back then we were the strong, rich, noble and powerful child in the world’s family. Our leaders were respected, as were our politics, economy and freedom.

I don’t live in that country anymore. In fact, I don’t live in that world anymore. The world has become a much more dangerous place. My country has become more callous in response. And with opinions about my country—as well as circumstances in countries all over the world—as close as my nearest computer or TV screen, it’s clear that the world doesn’t revolve around us anymore. In fact, it never really did.

With each day, I become more and more a world citizen. We all do. It’s unavoidable. Our nationality is still a source of pride, regardless of where we’re from. But, for Americans especially, there is a “learning curve” of sorts that we’re navigating as we become less insular and more established in the global arena. Americans are stubborn, though. And spoiled. So it’s not going easily.

Case in point is this issue with the Seth Rogen movie, Sony and North Korea. In the US, we have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect things like slander, verbal abuse or threats against people’s lives, however. For example, if a child wrote a detailed story about the planned killing of the principal of their school, that child would be expelled from the school and put on psychological watch. What a child might call “fiction” is thought of as a threat in this day of school violence that goes from fiction to reality very quickly. Same would apply if an adult sent Obama a video depicting how they would murder him. It wouldn’t be considered freedom of speech. It would be considered a threat to national security and that videographer would likely never been seen or heard of again.

In converse, consider North Korea. In their country, there is no freedom of speech. In fact, if you say anything negative about their leader, you’re likely to get killed. So we all know that whatever negativity is put in their face about their ways is considered an insult, a threat and a crime. And knowing that, most well-adjusted adults would be sensitive to it, regardless of whether North Korea is our friend or not. After all, we all have to live together on the same planet. Just as you wouldn't intentionally offend or make enemies of your neighbors, we also don't do that in the world. It's part of being civilized. 

In a global context, America’s freedoms mean nothing. You can’t go over to North Korea and insult the leader and expect him to honor your American freedom of speech. When you put something out on the global stage, that’s what you’re doing. It’s like going into a bar in Russia and mocking Putin’s man-boobs and pasty demeanor. They’re going to beat the shit out of you and calling out “freedom of speech” is only going to get you beaten harder. And nobody is going to come to your rescue, either.  And it’s not because Russians are barbarians. You can see something similar here in the US if you go into a bar in Boston and mock the Red Sox.

Freedom of speech is an American thing that is not necessarily valued in other countries.  And, even in this country, freedom of speech is not without consequence.

So when we put out a movie into the world that depicts the pre-meditated and violent murder of a world leader, it’s not odd that the leader in question would see it as a threat. If France put out a movie about the assassination of Obama, you can bet that the CIA would be all over their French asses before the final credits were able to roll. You can also be sure a number of other countries would stand behind the US and criticize the bad judgment of the French. Actually, like the Interview, we would have hacked into their systems long before the movie was released and dealt with it before it was even an issue. Because we’re squirrely that way. And we would then celebrate it as an American win. Because we're arrogant that way. 

So how come when the shoe is on the other foot, it becomes a freedom of speech issue? And the decision to not air the movie becomes “knuckling under to terrorists”? Nobody gives a crap about our freedom of speech in the global community. And besides, the one who makes the threat is the terrorist, not the one who responds to it.

It’s not like I don’t know who Kim Jong-Un is. He is the Supreme Leader of what some call a Socialist state and what others call a dictatorship. He runs his country in a very different way than the US is run. He’s not what would be considered a “warm and nurturing” leader. There are many countries out there that most Americans would not want to live in. North Korea is one of them. As global citizens, though, we need to respect the ways others live and lead. If we insult a leader and they hack into computers to obliterate the insult, we’re culpable and can’t go crying about our consequences. Both sides are wrong. But playground rules state that the one who started the fight is wronger. 

Speaking of playgrounds, remember the big kid on the playground who pushed others around and then when they pushed back, cried about it? That kid was called a bully. And then when he ran crying, he was called a pussy. We’re acting like bullies and pussies in this situation. Nobody likes a bully or a pussy. And we can’t afford to be the hated kid on the playground in today’s unstable world. We poked a dude that we know is kind of trigger happy when it comes to protecting his ego and now we’re saying “how dare he be offended?” “How dare he respond back just as aggressively?”

C’mon, people. Grow up. Really. One of the first lessons all of us learned in life is that we have to respect others. Another is that we have to learn to think of the consequences before we act (“well, you should have thought of that before you did it, missy!” Remember that?) We don’t get to do anything we want to do in a global community. The US is no longer the country you were born in. It was NEVER the center of the world. You just had the luxury of believing that was so. But times have changed.

We are more citizens of the world than ever. That comes with both benefits and consequences. In any community, there are certain social mores you follow. We simply no longer have the luxury of being the “rude Americans” the rest of the world has put up with for years. It was fine back when we didn’t have to interact with each other very often. But the world is changing and America has to change with it. We can’t live by our own rules alone. We have to respect the mores of the global community. And putting out a movie about the assassination of a sitting world leader is totally irresponsible redneck behavior unbecoming of the country we would like to be.

See, I was blessed to be born in what I think is the best country in the world. As I grew older, I began to see that we weren’t the only country in the world with a groovy thing going. But I also got to see how truly blessed I am, because there are places on earth that brutal to live in. The fact is, our relative safety and isolation as a “strong” country sandwiched between friendly borders, is the very thing leaving us way behind the curve when it comes to being global citizens. We have three large countries over here dominating both North America and the western half of the Northern Hemisphere, insulated from the all the rest of the world by two large oceans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has had to learn to live within a massive string of different countries, customs, languages, etc. for all their lives. Not just for all their lives, but for centuries of border conflicts and strife that we have never had to deal with. Americans are WAY behind the curve when it comes to adjusting to a global community. And because we’re late to the game, we’re not in a position to tell others how it’s going to work. We are absolutely a bull in a china shop on the global stage and we need to check ourselves. And some humility wouldn’t hurt, either.

Nor would it hurt to apologize to North Korea for our buffoonery, rather than whine about terrorist threats, Sony. Because that’s what assholes do when they realize they’re being assholes and starting international incidents with their irresponsible behavior. We Americans get what you were doing. We understand the immaturity of American humor and our hillbilly ways. We know you weren't trying to insult anyone or put Americans at risk. But a line was crossed, nonetheless. A nation was offended. You don’t get to cry because you poked a rabid dog and it bit back. It’s not the rabid dog’s fault. It’s your bad judgment’s.

Nor do the rest of us Americans get to whine about Sony being hacked or Sony pulling the movie. We are the aggressors here! In the eyes of North Korea and, no doubt, many others, at best we’re being assholes and at worst, we threatened the life of a world leader—something considered an act of war. Our job right now is to use this as an opportunity to stop being so darned myopic and pull back and see some of the consequences of our behaviors. I’m sorry, but no stupid movie that we now know is seen as disrespectful and threatening is worth standing on principle for, especially when the principle is a lamely muttered “freedom of speech” in defense of irresponsible “speech” or a stubborn “we won’t bow down to terrorists” when we’re the ones that started the whole thing in the first place.

Freedom of speech isn’t free. It comes with responsibilities and consequences. Words have power. Bandy them about irresponsibly and aggressively, and you can expect consequences. But keep in mind that the US only gets so many byes in the eyes of the global community for any good works we’ve done. If you pay attention, you’ll see that the world is losing its patience with us and some of the ways we’ve been behaving over the past couple of decades has rubbed the gilding off our “good guy” reputation. I’m not willing to risk whatever respect our country has left—not to mention countless lives—for the honor of a sophomoric comedy (not to mention the crassness of its planned HOLIDAY release. For Christ's birthday, no less. Because this is how we honor such things.) 

We have a lot of growing up to do in this country. It’s time we get started on that.