If you’re a long-time reader of my blogs, you know that I spent about two decades living the life of an expatriated American.
I am proud of that time in my life. I first went abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer, to Poland, not long after the collapse of the Soviet system, and then lived in the UAE, Turkey, and Egypt.
Prior to my leaving America to serve the good people of Rzeczpospolita Polska as an educator and educational consultant, I was a typical ethnocentric American.
I can share an interesting example of this. The Peace Corps folks in Washington, DC, prepped me for my service overseas by sending me a bunch of educational materials so I could start learning about Poland, a country I knew little about, prior to my departure. Those materials included the responses to a questionnaire given to Poles. One of the questions asked was the open-ended “What do you think of Americans?” A good number of Poles responded by saying that they had a favorable view of those hailing from the United States but also found many Americans naïve.
I remember feeling a little upset while reading that. How dare the Poles think Americans are naïve! After all, as everyone knows, America is the greatest country in the world. It is a shining city upon the hill, a beacon to all, so how could those hailing from such a perfect place be naïve? Furthermore, Americans had sent other Americans to the moon where they had actually walked upon the lunar surface (as well as planting an American flag). And that was only one notable example of how exceptional Americans are. So, Americans naïve? No effing way!
Of course, my knee-jerk response was proof positive that the Poles had hit the nail on the head.
I currently live in the United States with my Egyptian wife. I miss those jet-setting days of my former life, and I often worry that I will slip back into old ways of thinking, including becoming too American-centric in my outlook. To guard against the occurrence of such a regression, I make sure that I am careful about the sort of news I consume. After all, it can be argued that humans are little more than a physical body plus the thoughts they think and the values they live by. If this is true, then we must all be careful about the information we take in and how we process it.
I get most of my news by reading, especially foreign sources. For example, for the very best reporting on Russia and Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, I read Meduza. (More Americans need to be aware of what’s happening in that part of the world because Ukrainians are at the front in the global war against the forces of totalitarianism.) And when I want to get my news via television, I favor Al Jazeera in English. (If my Arabic were better, I’d watch the Arabic-language version.) Just for the heck of it, click on the link I’ve provided and note, by either reading the site or watching the live telecast, how different Al Jazeera’s coverage is from any other American news source. If you are an American and watch only American news, you couldn’t be faulted for thinking that the world ended at the borders of the United States.
With this being the case, is there any wonder that Americans are as naïve as the Poles told me they are?
Thanks for reading!
23 thoughts on “Beware: Garbage In, Garbage Out”
I cannot tell you what other European people think about America(ns)! Great post Troy, I enjoyed it a lot!
This anonymous reader it’s me Troy, Cristiana! It’s the second time today it happens to me! I will call the helpdesk.
Hi, Cristiana. Thank you. That is strange. Yes, contact the helpdesk or perhaps log out of your WordPress account and then log back in. That might help.
Thank you for this blog. I was born in Europe and I think that the Americans are naive. They don’t mean to be, of course. But they are not connected enough with the rest of the world. Because they are isolated, their thinking is often one-sided. It is interesting that once they start travelling, like you did, they do understand what the rest of the world means by them being naive. Great post!
In New Zealand, we get a very distorted view of the USA. It is typically quite polarising, and we are meant to take sides in the Trump Vs whatever debate. Other than that, it’s all about shootings or whatever
Hi. Sorry for the very late response to your comment. I guess most nations are somewhat insular. That’s why travel is so important. I was lucky to have lived for nearly 20 years abroad and those experiences changed me so much. I now find that I don’t relate very well to many Americans who are very ethnocentric. America definitely has a gun problem. You probably know that guns were mentioned in the American constitution which has caused all the problems we currently face. Thanks.
Looked at the Meduza site. It is interesting. Some would consider it too one sided. The problem is that you don’t find pro-Russia sites that discuss the actual day to day progress in the war. That, in itself, is telling. I have a few sites of my own that are somewhat objective even though the sympathies of the person producing the posts are pretty clear.
For day to day coverage of the front lines, there are any number of sites that cover “the map.” It based on open source intel which is pretty easy to come by on the Ukrainian side. However Ukraine has just made a decision to restrict detailed information on troop movements and positions which seems perfectly reasonable. The general outline of the map remains public. ISW map seems the most reliable.
Russians are pretty closed lipped about their battlefield progress – or lack of it. Right now they seem to be making a concerted effort in Luhansk province but not getting anywhere with it.. Ukraine is trading microscopic bits of land for time and pushing forwards a couple of klicks costs Russia very dearly.
But if you really want to understand this war in microscopic detail from every aspect and not just track movements, there a guy who goes by Perun who is some kind of very high-level logistics analyst from Australia who has a definitive series of videos on the subject. I would never have imagined a dozen hour-long PowerPoint presentations on logistics to be exciting but this guy managed to do it for me.
And I almost forgot. Oryx is the best source for quantifying Russian equipment losses in the war so far. It isn’t complete, it only documents losses that are visually confirmed by some kind of imagery. Actual losses are probably much more. It also discusses international support for Ukraine among other issues.
Needless to say the same, Ukraine nor Russia both exaggerate good news and lowball bad news so their official numbers are useless.
Thank you, Troy, for sharing this wonderful post. It was great to learn more about your background, and also about some of your beliefs regarding the distorted views that are offered at the media cafeteria to those who consume whatever is being offered.
Most Americans will probably remain America-centric and somewhat naïve, but I doubt that most of them still believe that America is the great shining example to the rest of the world that they used to be able to believe.
You bring up a very good point Troy; it’s crucial to know who is writing your news. News is typically biased so it’s important to take a look at both sides of the story to have a better idea of what is actually happening.
I’m so sorry that I failed to respond to your comment when it was made. I couldn’t agree more. To know what’s going on in the world, I’ve pretty much given up on American news. It’s so American-centric that it’s not even funny.
Yeah, traveling and/or living abroad for an extended time makes it hard to regurgitate the “America is the best at everything” rhetoric we’re fed. Although I never felt that way, I was nervous going to certain countries. Our “News” is biased, our politicians are beyond biased, our education system is biased, and people that have never gone anywhere have a means of spreading their biased ignorance through social media. As a result we are either stagnant or in decline in areas we should improve upon.
I’m terribly sorry for the lateness of this response. I’m glad that I’m married to a non-American woman. We plan to move abroad soon. On top of all the shortcomings you mentioned in your comment, America is just plain boring–at least as far as I’m concerned. I feel so much more alive when I’m abroad. I wonder why that is?
A former coworker of mine is from Australia. And while she enjoyed living and working in America well enough, she would tell me story is about how her family back in Australian you so much more about what was going on in America that we did.
The American news media is an absolute joke.
Sorry for the lateness of this response, Sadly, I would very much agree about the poor quality of the mainstream American news media. I find it funny (and sad) that most “international news” broadcasts on US TV last for a couple of minutes or so. Is there any wonder Americans are so insular?
Well, I can say that Turks think everything revolves around them too. Is this a general human thing?
Hi, Betul. Somehow, I forgot to respond to these comments. I did notice that Turks were pretty nationalistic when I was there. I guess that might be related to Turkey having been such an imperial power in the past. I guess all “great nations” have a bit of an arrogance complex.
I think you are right. Not a trait I am proud of.
Ethnocentric is one of my favorite words! Thank you for the cultural context of your writing Troy.
It’s one of my favorite words too! Sorry for the very delayed response. Thanks so much for reading.
When my anyone makes negative comments about the US, I struggle to refute them. I usually end up replying that there have been contentious and discouraging times in our history, and the good times always followed. I surely hope that I am right!
Hi, Cheryl. Sorry for the very delayed response. I no longer try to debate with people who make negative comments. I just listen carefully and keep my mouth shut most of the time. In some cases, I actually agree with them. Of course, every country has its faults, I guess. I’d live in Denmark, though, in a New York second, if someone would kindly give me a Danish passport.