Saturday, December 28, 2013

Americans Abroad! And While I Hope I'm Not Like Them, I'm Not So Sure

Morris Berman:

On the ride back home, I reflected on how awful Americans are as people--really, a disgusting collection of human beings. Whereas I literally never have interactions like that with Mexicans, this sort of thing is coin of the realm in the US; I probably had 2-3 exchanges like that per week when I lived in DC. I tried to recall the last time someone was this rude to me down here, and then I remembered that it was about 6 months ago, in the same town, and also in an incident involving a gringa. I realized that in the more than 7 years I’ve lived here, no Mexican ever cussed me out--not once; and the only such behavior I witnessed between Mexicans themselves was when I was in a taxi in Mexico City and someone cut my driver off. He leaned out the window and yelled “pendejo!,” or something like that. That was it: one time in 7 years.

Back home, I went to a supermarket to get some groceries, and as I walked by a 20-year-old Mexican woman coming from the opposite direction, I unexpectedly sneezed. “Salud!” she cried. And it was such a wake-up moment, for me: Yes, this is how people in a decent society treat strangers—not like strangers. We’re all in this together, is the feeling; your health is my concern. You can say that this is "pro forma," but man--it counts.

...Sitting in that café, and reading about the “culture of confrontation,” I couldn’t help thinking: What was God up to, when he made the US? Did he decide to gather up all of the trash, all the human garbage from the planet, the dregs of humanity, and plunk them down in one particular country? Was this His idea of a joke, or was he trying to create an object lesson for the rest of the world: Don’t be like this!? It makes you wonder.

...I finished the New Yorker article, and felt so happy that I was not living in the US, or in that pathetic mini-gringolandia where I have my mail drop. I have no interest at all in the culture of confrontation, in a society described by the biologist David Ehrenfeld as "a collection of angry scorpions in a bottle.” Let them attack each other all they want; I'm not part of that sad, destructive way of death anymore.

So, I'm just reading along, mildly amused as ever at the cane-shaking, self-parodic fury that's become increasingly characteristic of Berman's output. But then I come to that last line, and the faux-high-mindedness of it strikes me unexpectedly, making me snort with surprised laughter that burned my sinuses. Oh, man. Yes, rumor has it that when his noble savage Mexican friends ask him if he'd like sugar in his coffee, Morris replies, "No, thank you, I'm sweet enough!" Dude doesn't come off as bitter and resentful at all. He's the word made flesh, that is, if "the word" is every worn-out "get off my lawn" joke on the Internet.

I can't believe I passed up the chance to go see him rant live and in person when he was within driving distance.