Some random, and quite possibly incoherent, thoughts:
America is great. Seriously, I love the place, and would spend a lot more time there if I could. There's a lack of pretension that, coming from a nation stifling under centuries of an arbitrary feudal class system, is refreshing.
However, that's also one of America's biggest failings. It's a young nation by global standards, only around for a heartbeat in the grand scheme of things, and yet you hold all the cards. It's like a moody teenager with a gun - old enough to be dangerous, too young to show restraint. And I don't mean that in a patronising way, just that US history is short and (for the most part) sweet. World War 2 left you pretty much unscathed, and while Europe and Asia rebuilt themselves, America steamed ahead into the boom years of the 50s, emerging on top in a new political landscape. With history comes perspective, and America can sometimes appear rash or selfish when acting on the global stage.
As terrible as 9/11 was, it seems that this one incident has bred a certain "with us or against us" attitude that the rest of the world is finding increasingly galling. Especially those that have suffered terrorism for far longer without a peep of sympathy.
There's a new wave of national fervour in America that has slipped from patriotism into nationalistic jingoism. A sense of "we're the beacon of freedom and justice, and if you don't like that then shut the fuck up, or face the consequences". A sense of "we must protect our freedom, and if that means denying people freedom then so be it". The fact that so many miss the irony in this saddens me. The fact that criticism of government is seen as un-American is so self-contradictory it's bizarre.
The readiness with which people have swallowed the idea that America is "hated" disturbs me. It's like the biggest, richest, strongest, most popular kid in school being suspicious of all the other kids, just because one of them sucker-punched him into a bloody nose. America rules the planet, basically. You're top of the heap. This doesn't jibe with the kneejerk victim mentality that some people now exhibit. Yes, America is a great place. But accept that it's not immune to criticism, and accept that having immense power and a high standard of living doesn't make you exempt from hypocrisy, doesn't earn you the automatic title of "The Good Guys" in whatever you do.
America was founded on lofty and noble ideals, but I fear that many people simply pay them lip service, a banner to be used to make the ends justify the means. Because, right now, the terrorists have already won. The "War on Terror" can't be won with bombs, because "terror" doesn't exist as a tangible target. It exists in the hearts and minds of people, and that's the battleground where America is losing.
Every time America redefines the human rights of a captive because of "terrorism", every time certain freedoms are curtailed to help fight "terrorism", every time there's a blackout in New York and people's first thought isn't "Lousy fucking power company", the terrorists goal is achieved.
America is in danger of killing the very ideals it claims to represent, throwing punches at ghosts, shadow-boxing with an enemy that's already injected poison into your bloodstream.
Find these people, reveal them to the world as the monsters they are, but if you damn yourself in the process, how can that be a victory?
On the subject of "pride", I'm with Jacob. I'm not proud to be English, or British. It's where I was born, a piece of soil in the ocean. I love the place. The countryside, the cities. But as for some vaguely defined notion of "England"? Fuck that. I'll fight to defend my family and friends, but not to prop up some archaic notion of national identity. I don't find much to be proud of in "England". Plenty of good things have come from here, certainly, but I'd rather attribute them to the people who actually made them happen than to the meaningless boundaries they happened within. Maybe it's because "England" has a longer, murkier history, but I feel no allegiance to the piece of cloth we call a flag. In the modern world, it's meaningless. We're a mongrel nation, made up of remnants from dozens of cultures we now consider ourselves superior to. My family comes from England, Jamaica, Africa and Iran. Our society is a tapestry of every nation and culture on the planet and so, in 2003, "English" is useful only as a convenient geographical description, nothing more.
The West is affluent and comfortable, and America has much to do with this (although maybe not as much as some would like to think). Being the biggest fish in the pond, and also the loudest, I suspect that when many people express a problem with "America" they actually mean "The West" in general, with the US making a convenient "face" for all the wealthy nations of the developed world. America is the figurehead, not the sole offender.
The analogy of the Roman Empire is apt. All political systems adapt and evolve, or they stumble and fall eventually. Revolution from the bottom up only occurs when the working classes reach a point where poverty and inbalance in the system drives them to organisation and opposition - either through traditional political channels (the formation of the Labour Party in England) or violent rebellion (the Russian Revolution). What we have today is a situation where the very people who should be clamouring for change are trapped in a world of "comfortable poverty". Poor, yes. But distracted, satiated by meaningless baubles. Would the poor of America (ie The West) ever join together, rise up and demand a better world? Not as long as reality TV and fast food are around to keep them in a limbo state of apathetic, impotent discontent. Instead of engaging with the world, we withdraw from it. Why vote? Why worry about things you can't influence? Fuck it, we've got entertainment and cheap food, so we stick to grumbling and grizzling.
Western politics are on a downward spiral. Voter apathy gets worse every year, and the candidates reflect this. Maybe it's always been this way, and we're only now realising it. Maybe things really are worse now than they used to be. I doubt anyone could seriously argue that modern politics are better than what went before.
The myth we need to let go off is that politics is about appointing people to do our bidding. Politics is a self-sustaining machine now, in which our votes are a vestigial requirement, kept in place because it gives us the illusion of democracy.
Politics is about business. It's about perpetuating the parties, the institutions, not about making real social change. That's something that needs lip service paid to it, but never in any way that can't be reversed or counter-acted at a moments notice. Our world is governed by the needs of business now, and goverment is one of the tools they use to facillitate their needs. In the not-so-distant future, government will simply be the old-fashioned name for the organisation that empties the trash and fixes the street lights. All the important decisions will be made by CEOs. Many would say we're already there, we're just waiting for the Wizard of Oz to step out from behind his curtain.
As long as political parties burn through millions just to razzle-dazzle us into choosing them over the marginally different opposition, they'll always be beholden to the corporations and lobbyists who make these cash injections in order to grease the wheels of their own operation. This is who politicians now serve. Us putting a cross on a piece of paper every four years is a quaint tradition that means less each and every year.
Will it change? Nope. Because as I said above, revolution comes from the bottom, and those at the bottom in the West are too lethargic and bored to care.
Like the Roman Empire, our way of life will come to a slow, gruesome demise as it rots from the inside out. I don't know how far down that road we are, but we're definitely well into the journey. And why? Because we expect politicians to lie to us. We know the inequities of the system, but can't be arsed to do anything about it. It's too big, too complicated and besides, American Idol is on in ten minutes. It's become par for the course. Maybe a few corrupt politicos will get crushed under the wheels, sacrificed for the illusion of justice done, but most - on all sides - get away with it simply by riding the storm until the headlines shift to something more titillating.
Because nobody cares. Look at political scandals from the past, and you'll see that people were dragged over the coals for things that wouldn't even make the headlines these days.
Am I cynical. You betcha. The system sucks, and change will only come through slow decay. Protest? Sure. I've done my fair share of marching and banner waving. But, if I'm honest, the biggest benefit was to myself - the slightly self-satisfied feeling that at least I'd done something. Things may not improve, but it won't be my fault.
But I will never say that protesting is useless. Those who throw barbed remarks at those malcontents with placards piss me off. Rights are like muscles, they need to be exercised if they're to be useful, and that's why I have nothing but respect for those who march and protest - about anything - because even if it never solves the problem, it at least shows that the human spirit is still beating under tons of burger fat.
Shit. I have no idea if any of that even makes any sort of sense. Consider it stream-of-consciousness riffing on the things that bug me. I'm glad I live where I do. I'm glad I was born into the part of the world where I don't have to worry about landmines or cholera. But that doesn't automatically make me think that everything we do to perpetuate that state of affairs is the right thing to do.