ANTI-AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL MECHANISM #1: the U.S. college experience can set off ugly reactions in foreigners. Perhaps the most disastrous example: the Egyptian fundamentalist ideologue Sayyid Qutb, the "Philosopher of Islamic Terror" who became "the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda," according to Paul Berman. In the New York Times March 23, 2003, Berman writes:
"[Sayyid Qutb] even traveled to the United States in the late 1940's, enrolled at the Colorado State College of Education and earned a master's degree. In some of the accounts of Qutb's life, this trip to America is pictured as a ghastly trauma, mostly because of America's sexual freedoms, which sent him reeling back to Egypt in a mood of hatred and fear."It's hard to predict what will outrage visitors from other cultures. Qutb's conversion from modernizing to jihad is sometimes said to be a reaction to the lasciviousness of a church dance he attended in Greeley, Colorado!
Perhaps the most detailed account of this alienation process at work in a foreign intellectual is John Updike's 1978 novel The Coup. Written when Updike was at the height of his powers, it might be his most spectacular (if hyperbolic) effort. The Coup consists of the extraordinarily articulate memoirs of the revolutionary dictator of an impoverished African country.
Colonel-President Ellellou is a fervent Muslim, Marxist, and black racist. He's perfectly aware that his three faiths are contradictory. But, since they each give him additional reasons to indulge his consuming hatred of America ("that fountainhead of obscenity and glut"), he luxuriates in them all.
Ellellou traces his obsession with America to the four seemingly-pleasant years he spent at a liberal arts college in small-town Wisconsin in the 1950s, where he made blonde Candace the second of his Prophet-sanctioned four wives.
How can America's openness backfire so badly? Well, American universities specialize in leftist indoctrination. Maybe their foreign students, well, study.
And foreigners living in America are constantly confronted with America's superiority over their homelands. It would be wonderful if every visitor to the U.S. reacted as objectively as Alexis de Tocqueville. But don't count on it.
For instance, years later Updike's Ellellou is still driven into a rage by the thought of how well stocked a Wisconsin drugstore was compared to the shops at home:
"Hakim's instinct was to smash, to disarray this multifaceted machine, this drugstore, so unlike the chaste and arcane pharmacies of Caillieville, where the sallow Frenchman in his lime-green smock guarded his goods behind a chest-high counter showing only a few phials of colored water."I sympathize. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and went to college in Houston. On any kind of rational scale, the difference between living in suburban California and suburban Texas is minimal. But so what? I was young. I missed my home. The testosterone was flowing. So I just decided I was going to hate Houston. I spent four years, objectively as enjoyable as Ellellou's, searching out reasons to despise Texas.
If I could succumb to pointless anti-Texanism, how much more understandable is the anti-Americanism of many immigrant students?
ANTI-AMERICAN PYSCHOLOGICAL MECHANISM #2: the option of immigration to the U.S. can turn those who stay home against America.
I call it the Big Leaguer Syndrome. A few years ago, I moved from Chicago, the third biggest city, back to Los Angeles, the second biggest. I noticed that a lot of ambitious people in Los Angeles (at least those outside of the entertainment industry where LA is the Big Leagues) worried that if they were really, truly Big Leaguers, they would move to New York.
You know - if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
These Angelenos want to think of themselves as Big Leaguers. But they don't want to go to New York. This psychological stress leads Angelenos to slander New York to justify their staying in L.A.
On the other hand, Angelenos almost never say anything bad about Chicago (other than expressing sympathetic regret about the weather). This doesn't mean they think Chicago is equal to L.A. In fact, it means the opposite. Angelenos don't think of Chicago as a rival at all.
Chicagoans worry about Los Angeles, though. When I lived in the Windy City, the locals vilified both New York and Los Angeles.
But Chicagoans seldom say anything bad about Milwaukee, since it's further down the Big League totem pole. (I imagine Milwaukeeans put down Chicago as much as the citizens of Green Bay must dump on Milwaukee.)
The key to this psychological discomfort: there's nothing blocking the ambitious from moving to NYC or LA or Chicago - or Milwaukee, or wherever is the next step up. Because you are free to go, you need reasons not to. So you think a lot about the hatefulness of the cities above yours.
In contrast, while Tokyo and Hong Kong are legitimate contenders for Big League status, they don't excite resentment in America. That's because Americans are not very free to move there. The language and cultural barriers are huge – and the governments don't much want immigrants, and are mysteriously able to enforce their will.
On the world stage, the U.S. is, in almost every field, the Big Leagues. Because emigrating to the U.S. is a reasonable possibility, the most talented people in many foreign countries endure festering anxiety over whether they should stay or go.
They know former friends and colleagues who moved to America and now brag to them that they are in the Big Leagues.
How do proud homebodies justify not emigrating?
You guessed it: by making up stories about the horridness of America.
Of course, this means immigration is not working the way immigration enthusiasts said it would.
But when does it ever?