Monday, May 23, 2005

The prolix American

James Wolcott riffs amusingly on Richard Adams’s riffs on Tom Friedman:

Adams makes the irresistible point in the Guardian that if Graham Greene's The Quiet American were to be updated, Alden Pyle wouldn't be carrying The Role of the West and The Challenge to Democracy in his briefcase to fortify his mind and morale as he went meddling in other countries' affairs and doing incalculable harm with his good intentions--he'd be bearing the gospels of Thomas Friedman, "a contemporary quiet American." Like Pyle, Friedman is idealistic, tireless, and disastrously assured of himself and the America whose interests he serves.

Pyle, however, didn't turn out tracts. He only read them. Thomas Friedman writes them and then autointoxicates himself with his own amazing insights.

Friedman is an exasperating figure: As Adams writes, he's a typically self-absorbed American figure wandering the world squeezing his experiences into tight ideological cubbyholes that appear to be bigger than they really are. Then he turns around and sells this as something new.

I’m generally sanguine about globalization, and its social and economic leveling forces are important, if not well understood. But the really interesting questions have to do with globalization’s speed, rapaciousness and destructive power. They will sow many kinds of instability – including war – in the coming years. How will humanity respond? The nation-state may be on the way out. What kinds of institutions will take shape to address these problems?

Nicholas Kristof has a similar affection for the obvious. Sometimes it's sooo obvious he undermines himself. On Sunday, he wrote from Kaifeng, a Chinese city that was the center of world commerce 1,000 years ago and is now an airport-less backwater. The same could happen to New York, he warns. Okay. But why bother to do what he recommends - abandon our current hubris and pursue trade and technology, yadda yadda - if the forces of history are just going to grind onward no matter what we do?

And I don't know, Rome is still in pretty good shape 2,000 years after its apogee.