8 years ago: Nabobs of NABA

June 8, 2005, on this blog: Nabobs of NABA

Good God, is this what America is now reduced to? Do we really have to go all the way over to Stalin or Saddam to find an example of someone whose behavior is reassuringly worse than our own? How are we supposed to maintain a shred of pride in our nation or in ourselves as a people when the best we can say for ourselves is that we’re Not As Bad As the worst people we can think of? Do we really need Stalin in the class to blow the curve so we can pass this course?

We’ve become like Lot, the troglodytic drunk who, while screwing his own daughters, took comfort that at least he was Not As Bad As his old friends and neighbors back in Sodom.

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  • I wonder if the Soviet KGB or the other Eastern European security-state apparatus virtuously told themselves they were NABAs because they were serving the goal of protecting the people from themselves, or some other such rot.

    The population at large in the USA will go on virtuously telling themselves that they are NABAs because they do not let the enduring dogma of the home of the brave and the land of the free be contradicted by actual facts.

  • One of the big things in the Soviet Union was telling themselves they were better than the U.S. because the U.S. was so racist against black people. And, well, they were right about that one thing. But this is always the problem when one boosts one’s self-esteem by comparing onesself to others who are worse than you in a specific way, and ignoring the big picture.

    It’s like Nice Guy syndrome extrapolated to nations.

  • Charity Brighton

    Sure, I do bad things, but at least I’ve never robbed a credit union located in the east coast of the United States on a Thursday afternoon while wearing a V for Vendetta mask and carrying a Glock semi-automatic. I’ve never committed that one specific infraction against society so that makes me a hero.

  • Carstonio

    When I think of antebellum slavery, the brutality against the Indians, Jim Crow, My Lai, interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Tulsa bombings, and so forth, I say that the US should be better than that. Not because of exceptionalism or need to be better than any totalitarian regime, but because I love my country despite its massive flaws and I want it to live up to its ideals and creeds. Those massive human rights abuses should never have happened, and we can’t change that, but we can and should commit ourselves so that such horrors never happen again.

  • FearlessSon

    Let me quote Altemeyer and then sum up a point I want to make:

    Thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev (Thanks so much, Mikhail!) I can show you how thoroughly some high RWAs sop up the teachings of another set of authorities, their government. As soon as Gorbachev lifted the restraints on doing psychological research in the Soviet Union an acquaintance of mine, Andre Kamenshikov, administered a survey to students at Moscow State University with the same freedom that western researchers take for granted. The students answered the RWA scale and as well a series of questions about who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the Cold War. For example, did the USSR start the arms race, or the USA? Would the United States launch a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if it knew it could do so without retaliation? Would the USSR do that to the United States? Does the Soviet Union have the right to invade a neighbor who looks like it might become allied with the United States? Does the USA have that right when one of its neighbors starts cozying up to the USSR? At the same time Andre was doing his study, I asked the same questions at three different American universities.

    We found that in both countries the high RWAs believed their government’s version of the Cold War more than most people did. Their officials wore the white hats, the authoritarian followers believed, and the other guys were dirty rotten warmongers. And that’s most interesting, because it means the most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted. They’d have been certain the side they presently thought was in the right was in the wrong, and instead embraced the beliefs they currently held in contempt.

    The point being, the people most likely to want to defend their own tribe and demonize another as being “not as bad as” will find something to feel superior to the Others. The actual things each tribe does is only superficially related to this.

  • JustMe

    So I’ll probably get yelled at for this, but isn’t that what you’d expect? Isn’t it natural to defend your country and it’s actions? Isn’t that what you’re taught growing up? It seems pretty natural to me that you’d jump to defend your country. That’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

  • FearlessSon

    I doubt anyone will yell at you, because you are right, people are usually brought up to defend their nation. The critical difference is in how much someone accepts whatever their nation says uncritically, how much they just take it on faith that these guys are good and these other guys are bad.

  • arcseconds

    I think I’d want to emphasize too that, notwithstanding the Not As Bad As argument, they don’t seem to think in terms of ‘on average’ good.

    That is to say, the notion is not that the Motherland is usually good, but sometimes slips up, but rather that everything the Motherland does is always good, or if not good, then beyond criticism (the stated reason of last resort being Not As Bad As).

    Everything that is in keeping with the stern, righteous father-figure vision of the Motherland, that is.

    Things like apologising, that’s quite out.

  • Isn’t that what you’re taught growing up?

    … No?

    I was taught I had a responsibility to question my country and its actions. That I’m incredibly lucky to live in a democracy, and that I need to exercise whatever power I have within it to make my country the best I can.

  • arcseconds

    I guess it’s because it’s too scary to separate the good from the bad?

  • EllieMurasaki

    My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right.

    I wish I knew who said that first, though.

  • Justme

    Yes, but…

    The thing is, I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. And nobody would say everything the US does or has done is right.. . .the aforementioned My Lai, slavery, our treatment of the Indians, etc.

    But it comes down to underlying attitudes. To be overly simplistic, maybe, it’s the question, “Is the US a good country that does some bad things sometimes, or is it a bad country that does some good things sometimes”? In other words, is your underlying view of the country basically positive or negative? Because the problem is, when you focus a lot on the country’s flaws (which is, of course, necessary if you want to fixt them, you run the risk of being seen as hostile to or critical of the country itself, and I think it’s important to avoid that. So, it’s really about finding a balance. And maybe a lot of it is just a rhetorical thing. How to criticize without seeming critical?

  • JustMe

    Carl Schurz. It was his take on Decatur’s toast.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • christopher_y

    “Oh my name it means nothing,
    My age it means less…”

  • Why is it a bad thing to be seen as critical of the country, especially if it has done a lot of really shitty things, is continuing to do a lot of really shitty things, and has a rather large political party who seems dedicated to ensuring that shitty things will continue to happen for the foreseeable future and they think that’s just awesome?

  • That said, there are many people raised on the founding dogmas of their nation, and who accept them even in the presence of evidence to the contrary.

  • I think it’s a mistake to focus on the question “Is my country a good country or a bad country,” if only because that line of questioning goes nowhere good.

    The statement is, “It’s *my* country, and I want to be proud of it.” From there follows being proud of its achievements and working to correct its flaws.

    Thing is, you can’t correct a flaw if you’re not aware of it. And you can’t correct flaws if you’re convinced that “focusing a lot on the country’s flaws” makes you “run the risk of being seen as hostile or critical of the country itself.”

    I don’t care how I’m seen. What I care about is taking action which effect change for the better. Because corrective action, not image consciousness, is what’s going to make life suck less for the people whom our country’s flaws affect.

  • Carstonio

    The second sentence reads like an anti-jingoistic amendment. For many years I only heard the former used.

  • Carstonio

    Nicole pegged it. Nations are neither good nor bad, and this holds true for individuals as well. Applying those terms to entities wrongly reduces morality to simple allegiance. (I’m reminded of Judge Smails’ lecture to Danny in Caddyshack.) The issue is really about actions – we want the nation to do better in how it treats citizens and other nations.

  • A country is not a small child whose self-esteem needs to be cared for. It’s not even an actual being. It is a conceptualization, and in terms of how long humanity has existed, a very recent one.

    I am perfectly fine with being constantly and extremely critical of the actions of the government and/or people of a country. This is something that has the power to drop bombs on people. It is not a fanfic writer.

  • Beroli

    “Being seen as”? Passive voice alert. Who is doing the “seeing” in this idea?

  • arcseconds

    OK, I think I have an explanation as to why jingoists can simultaneously refuse to admit any fault with their nation on some dimensions while shrieking blue murder as to how it has fallen completely from grace in others.

    It’s like narcissistic personality disorder.

    I recall reading something somewhere to the effect that a theory or model to explain NPD is that the narcissist has this ideal self-image that they’re enamoured of, but have a deep insecurity that this self-image isn’t true. Their social interactions are to a large extent driven by the need to have other people validate their ideal self-image (narcissistic supply). If they don’t get this, it’s narcissistic rage time.

    With a couple of small modifications, this corresponds pretty well with what we see of jingoists. Their image of, say, the USA, is some kind of John Wayne-type figure who gets to do what he likes, who smites the bad guys, doesn’t have to take shit from anyone, and everyone looks up to and admires. Whenever people don’t think the USA is like that, or don’t think that it should be like that, or whenever the USA isn’t actually like that, they go into something like (and it really is quite a lot like) narcissistic rage.

    That alleviates the difficulty of supposing that they believe both that their country is the greatest thing ever, and at the same time believe that it’s in a piss-poor state having been ruined by pinkos. It’s not about the actual USA at all: it’s about them and their fantasy-USA.

  • Illuminating. I regret that I have but one “Like” for this. :)

  • Personality disorders aren’t quite common enough for this to be true of everyone who does it, and yet at the same time, this is disturbingly close to plausible. It has the right ring to it.

  • arcseconds

    ta :)

    i’m glad it’s ‘illuminating’ and not ‘why bother mentioning this? it’s obvious’ :)

  • arcseconds

    Well, I’m not claiming they actually have NPD

    (also, the personality disorders are spectrum disorders, no? The number of people with narcissistic traits is fairly high. )

    The obvious difference is that there might not be anything wrong with their self-image. I’ve not known many full-on jingoists, but those I have are reasonable otherwise, even when talking about their own abilities (this is again like NPD, of course, my point is just that the sensitive topic is different).

    Most of them probably don’t actually show the jingoistic traits quite to the extent of textbook NPD, either. They don’t go to huge efforts to punish people for interfering with their narcissistic supply, for example (though for sure, they might do something that looks like that on the internet).