Archive for August, 2010

Why I criticize the USA

August 6, 2010

I am occasionally asked why I am so critical of the United States government, particularly its foreign policy, when there are other governments in the world that are much worse. My response is that I think the US government is under-criticized (at least within the US), so my criticism is an effort to balance the scales between criticism and praise. But even if this were not the case, I can think of three very good reasons to scrutinize the US more than foreign countries:

1) It’s the country I live in. Why should you put your own country under an especially strong microscope? The most obvious reason is to correct the self-serving bias most people hold (including you!……and me [gulp]). Each person likes to think he is the truly altruistic person and everyone else is selfish. This bias extends to the groups we belong to. We are more likely to think of our group as good and the other group as bad for no other reason than that it is our group. Thanks to a century of psychology experiments, we now recognize this behavior as a bias and can thus consciously correct it, which is what I’m doing when I write about US atrocities.

2) The US is the most powerful country in the world. Powerful countries have a disproportionate impact on world utility, so naturally our mental energy should center on their actions. It would be silly of me to write post after post detailing all the misdeeds of Belize while ignoring the two American occupations.

3) Lastly, I focus on the US because I believe its policies are susceptible to change through reason (naïve, I know). I don’t mean that I have the power to end the wars by crafting a knock-down argument and then sending it to Obama. I mean that reasoned argument has some effect on public opinion, and that public opinion has some effect on policy.