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Perceptions of America 2

An alien's journey from cultural

cringe to cultural shock (cont.)

Shared realities Many identical political realities are faced by people here and in Australia - e.g. severe disillusionment with government and the major political parties; poll driven, spin-doctoring politicians; abuse of power and unreformed democratic processes; not to forget the seemingly inherent corrupting influence of power and money coupled with the ethical bankruptcy of many major corporations. Both countries are also still dealing with the legacy of living on stolen land. But these systemic and historic issues should not be so quickly confused with, or override, the often differing personal ideals, hopes, concerns and values of substantial sections of local communities and substantial numbers of well intentioned citizens. And this is where the challenge in America begins. Many people are less readily categorized. Many appear to possess their own individual mix of values and beliefs – e.g. they may be ‘conservative’ on finance issues and ‘radical’ on the environment, or strong on law and order and the right to bear arms, but very ‘liberal’ on social security or health issues

Shared cultural complexities

America, it seems, possesses just as many - if not more - cultural and social complexities and paradoxes as the land down under. If anything I find the easy divide in Australian beliefs (between loose left or progressive and loose right or conservative) leaves us looking somewhat more one-dimensional. Australians don't like standing out from the mob in many respects (for fear of a 'tall poppy' lopping?) and seeking out commonalities and the like- minded tribe is a natural response.

America's so called 'liberal' media and    

'public' opinion

By contrast, at the personal level Americans can feel comfortable holding more individualistic views. However, paradoxically, in the context of public debate much more simplistic and sharper divisions of opinion are fostered by not only radio shock jocks and talk show hosts, but by the success of self serving, right wing political machinations aimed at having all oppositional viewpoints (and there are many!) instantly painted as bleeding heart liberalism - and therefore something to be condemned and disregarded.

The overlooked right to effective free speech

The sad flaw with America's First Amendment on the right to free speech is not the right itself, but its lack of a meaningful context. It is the right to effective free speech (in a world in which so much of the media is monopoly controlled) that really puts any such constitutional right to its true test. Australia by contrast has no such guaranteed right to begin with, and archaic libel laws are flagrantly being used to further limit the free flow of opinion and any serious attempts at exposing major wrong doings - no matter whether criminal or moral/ethical in origin.

Overwhelming goodwill towards Aussies

Cultural cross comparisons are always rewarding. I too subscribe to the notion that many of non-Aboriginal Australia's insecurities - particularly the 'cultural cringe', which despite some change still exists in counterproductive new forms, are to do with its relative youth. Compared to the USA, Australia as a fellow 'new world' nation is still a teenager, but more and more appears to be moving towards adulthood. Hopefully part of this process of growth will ultimately involve reciprocating what I find daily to be most American's overwhelming sense of goodwill to Australians. It is in this context in particular that intelligently separating party and state policy from the people (particularly during the Bush era) remains as meaningful in the USA as it is Down Under.

The value of learning from each other

To conclude, I'm beginning to feel that America and Australia really could learn much from the best aspects of each other’s cultures, social outlooks and policies. It would seem that - more often than not - where the approach seems weak in one, there is often a lesson of value and strength available from the other - Bruce Dickson "I'm one of these people who do shout the virtues of America ... which a lot of my friends don’t understand because they tend to see some of the kind of harsh policies at times. And I’m always saying yes, but you need to look at the fact that it’s an incredibly interesting, diverse country with a lot of diverse views on these things.” (And I agree that many of the people who talk negatively about the United States have never been there.)  - Marion Wilkinson, Washington Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald, August 2004 
“Both countries are fad prone - Australia with fashion, new technology and 'foodie' foods, and Americans with diets, makeovers, celebrities and top-ten lists.” "It is the right to effective  free speech that really matters." Quotes from others: (On the USA and Australia) “ .. Americans, have this great generosity and a sort of interest in people that I don’t think we have.” - Australian cartoonist, Bruce Petty ABC Radio National, Feb 2004  "I think Australia is more in the British tradition where you don't have all these American anti-stateist hang-ups about big government. Australia is willing to just go and train civil servants and get public services going ..." - Francis Fukuyama    SMH, August 2004   (Explaining the success of Australia's 'soft' intervention to help restore peace and order in the Solomon Islands.)