}

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Memes and lessons

Yesterday, a friend posted this picture meme to Facebook. I happened to check Facebook shortly afterward, so I saw it, more or less by chance. And several lessons followed.

First things first, and, as I sometimes do, I had to check whether the meme was accurate and true. What I mean by sometimes is that I usually don’t have the time or inclination to check out the accuracy of a meme, however, when I plan on sharing it or talking about it on the blog, I always check it out. There have been too many times that I’ve seen things that simply aren’t true.

So, I did some digging (it was a little more complicated than I’d thought) and found, first, that Paul Thomas is a columnist for the Weekend Herald, the Saturday edition of The New Zealand Herald. To be honest, I’d never actually heard of him and I’m not sure whether I’ve read any of his columns.

Next, I searched for the column the quote came from. It turns out, it was from his July 17 column, “The greatest threat to America? Republicans” and, as the title suggests, it’s about far more than just Donald Trump. In fact, I think it’s a very strong column precisely because it’s about far more than just Trump (I also found a more recent column, “Trump speaks right language to right people” that is also very strong).

So, I found out that the meme was true and accurate, which is always good. I also heartily endorse the sentiment the picture meme expresses.

Then, things got a bit weird.

I shared links to the two columns in comments on my friend’s Facebook post because I thought my friend (and others) might be interested. Later, another comment was added by someone I don’t know: “I don't like him but I also don't care what the New Zealand Herald has to say about the American political process.”

I was taken aback by that—I’d forgotten how parochial some Americans can be. I realised that the person’s attitude wasn’t mean-spirited, just, er, um, unenlightened. So, I responded with a relatively gentle (for me) approach:
Gosh, that's a bit harsh! The PAPER hasn't said anything, of course, a single columnist did. It's no different than a columnist for a US newspaper commenting on other countries' political processes—and they do that every single day! Quite frankly, I can't see what possible difference it makes what newspaper in which country a commentary comes from if it's valid, as Paul Thomas' certainly is.

Personally, I read commentary from newspapers from all over the world to get a variety of perspectives on the issues of the day, and I certainly don't dismiss them out of hand because they come from Washington, New York, Chicago, London, Tokyo, Sydney, or even Auckland, New Zealand.
I added a wink emoticon to make clear I wasn’t angry, but some hours later the person replied, “I did not mean to upset or offend you with my comment. I may be crazy but I still believe that America is exceptional.”

I took that head on:
“I assure you, you did neither. But as an American citizen living overseas, I can also assure you that citizens of every country believe their country is equally exceptional, so in that sense, at least, the USA is completely UN-exceptional.

My point was that commentary on US politics from any source—including within the USA!—ought to be judged on its validity, not its country of origin. The alternative, of course, is that if foreign commentators can't comment on US politics, then, obviously, US journalists would have to be forbidden from ever expressing an opinion of any sort on any other country and its affairs. Fair is fair, after all.”
It had never occurred to me that someone would dismiss what Paul Thomas said, not because they disagree with him, but merely because of where his column was published. I knew that such attitudes exist—I’ve seen them expressed in comments on mainstream news sites, and far more crudely put on very rightwing sites. But until yesterday, I’d never personally experienced the attitude. I was lucky that in this case it came from a normal person, not some screaming irrational partisan, but I still wasn’t really prepared for it.

Maybe it’s just me: I truly don’t care where political commentary comes from—country or ideology—as long as it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily agree with it, of course, just that I won’t arbitrarily dismiss it.

Today, another friend shared the picture meme on my Facebook and asked for my thoughts. I shared the two columns again, but this post, really, is about what I think about the meme: It’s a good quote and a valid point, but some Americans just don’t want to hear that message. I think they should.

We all have lessons to learn about people in other countries and their perspectives.

I’d be curious what others think: Do you have an opinion on whether foreigners should comment on the politics of countries they don’t live in, or should they refrain from doing so? Do you mind if foreigners criticise your country, again, assuming it’s rational, well-argued and based on facts?

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