Dienstag, Mai 29, 2007

One man's myth and journalistic ignorance...

So, in today's FT we have this lovely start off line (behind the subscriber line, but you can see what is the problem from the teaser):

I really like the US. It is the American dream that I cannot stand.

Well, gee, Gideon Rachman, thanks for letting us know that you not only haven't understood what the American dream is all about, but even worse, aren't afraid to let the world know that you don't. This is virtually a textbook case of journalistic ignorance.

He goes on to call the American dream, defined by him as "you can be whatever you want to be", a self-evident untruth.

How sad. How sad that he first of all doesn't understand what that simple concept means. It's sad that he doesn't even have the imagination to understand what this very simple concept means, and it is sad that he really, really, really doesn't understand what makes America the most desirable place to live on this planet for the vast majority of humans.

It doesn't mean, as he apparently believes it to mean, that a dishwasher can become Miss Universe: after all, our imaginary dishwasher is male and Miss Universe contestants can't be surgically modified to *that* degree.

It's simpler than that: it means that in the US, no one is going to tell you not to pursue your dreams. If that dishwasher wants to be Miss Universe, there is no way for him to actually become Miss Universe, but there is nothing stopping him from dressing in drag and pretending that he is Miss Universe.

But that's not the fundamental either: the American dream is that the second youngest son of a Ukrainian farming family can leave the farm. His future would have been only a tad better than that of a serf, as his 8 brothers - no sisters - would almost always be ahead of him in the inheritance game. Three of his older brothers entered the military, joining the cavalry with their own set of horses, and his youngest brother entered the priesthood to get away from the drudgery of farming.

He left the Ukraine and emigrated to the US, working first as a day laborer. He could read and write, as well as being able to do his numbers, and went to classes in the evening to learn English. He worked and saved and after learning English started going to evening classes to learn how to be an engineer. He graduated with a BS in engineering from a small university, not particularly prestigious, but he was a good engineer: he left New York and went to Chicago, where a job was waiting for him. He married, set up his own company and became a millionaire.

Not because he wanted to become a millionaire: he just wanted to do what he was good at doing and make a good living. He met payrolls and employed dozens of people, and gave as much back to the community as he could. He had three kids, each of whom went to college.

He was my grandfather, and all he wanted to do was to live the American dream. Which he did: he became what he wanted to be, he became what he worked hard to be: a typical American.

Now, I could repeat this for almost all of my family: we all became what we wanted to be. I live in Germany, but I am also living the American dream. I set goals for myself and I've largely reached them. Where I haven't, it's either been circumstances or my own damn fault.

My wife just yesterday asked me why the US had so many creative and innovative people: did it depend on the school system, did it depend on seed money being available. I simply answered that it depended on the American system simply letting people do what they want to, with no guarantee of success but no shame in having failed.

But apparently Rachman would have preferred that my grandfather stay down on the farm, where he apparently belonged. Better that than taking the chance of falling down flat on your face.

Now that is a case of journalistic ignorance: I can't imagine the man's excuse, as he is the Chief Foreign Affairs columnist for the FT since July of 2006. What a shame the man hasn't even the most basic understanding of what makes the US tick.

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