Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pride and Prejudice

Experts and non-experts often describe the behavior of both people and nations using the same terms.  A country can have its ego broken or act childishly.  Likewise, their relations with their peers are often affected by deep, long-standings perceptions of the world.  In the case of a country, clearly each citizen may have a somewhat different concept of the world around him or her, but some kind of underlying approach or consensus often dominates its culture.

For example, the United States carries with it this ingrained belief that America and American values are good and beloved.  This naivety may result from the perception that God is on its side in reflection of its heritage of being a haven for overly fervent Christians or from the sheer lack of personal knowledge of the rest of the world resulting from the fact even today many Americans have never left the country.  This faith is not by definition negative either since that the optimism has made it a pioneer in many fields of endeavor. On the other hand, American presidents, products of this ethos, always seem to be shocked that the rest of the world doesn’t want those American values, lies to America and solves political and diplomatic disagreements by violence, to name just a few disappointments. So, to be American is to believe in Pangloss’ optimism and expect that same from others.

Russia, currently known as the Russian Federation, has a completely different history.  A product of an Asian people, the Tartars, married to Europe by Peter the Great, it has always has a love-hate relationship with Western culture. These two poles are reflected in its two historical capital cities, Moscow and Petersburg (Leningrad).  In practice, Russian feels strong in its place in the Asian world, imposing its will with ruthlessness if required, as what happened in Chechnya.  By contrast, its relations with Europe, and by extension to the United States, are characterized by an inferiority complex, resulting in defensiveness.  Like a child unsure of itself, its behavior to the West goes from aggressive, i.e. threatening to invade Europe after World War II, to passive, the most famous example being Stalin’s agreement with Hitler.  Russia’s leaders, whether tsars, general secretaries or presidents, have to show its people that they are strong vis-à-vis the West while hiding its relative economic weakness.  Dealing with Russia is like handling a very prickly pear.

Israel behaves like an orphan.  On the one hand, it wants to be one of the nations. On the other hand, it doesn't feel like the rest of the world wants it to join that club.  This conflict leads to a perpetual internal debate whether Israel should be a “light to the (other) peoples” as the Bible says, showing them the ethical way to behave or do what it wants since it makes no difference anyway.  Israel and Israelis are baffled by the international criticism of its policy toward Arab countries and the Palestinians in particular since, in its eyes at least, it gets blamed even when it tries to do the" right” thing in European and American eyes, whose vision is quite impaired according to local opinion.  Israel is the tough kid with a wounded soul.

Thus, while a country is made up of a multitude of individuals, some kind of group pathos seems to pass on from generation to generation, creating a repeating pattern of international behavior.

I would be interested in hearing your reactions and psychological profiles of other countries.

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