How come it’s so fashionable among the media elite–and the wannabe elites–to blame every bad thing in the world on ordinary Americans and the good ol’ U.S.A.? You could see plenty of this thinking at this weekend’s Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, UNT’s annual gathering of scribes in Grapevine. As usual the confab was wonderful, enabling fledgling writers to learn from and to rub shoulders with some true heavyweights. But its sessions also underscored the tiresome, blame-Americans-first mentality that’s almost instinctive with so many in the intellectual/literary set.
The first instance of this came when Dianne Solis and Alfredo Corchado of The Dallas Morning News talked about a story they’d written on drug violence in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Solis was quick to point out what one Mexican said in the story, a quote that underlined what Solis called the “heart” of the drug-violence issue: “It’s the boys up north who just can’t say no to drugs.”
I’d say that’s part of the problem, but not the key factor. The heart of the problem is drug scum killing themselves and innocent Mexicans. Blaming the United States, rather than the offenders, is like excusing the actions of a brutal, abusive pimp because Johns exist. It’s a liberal cop-out, but received wisdom among the thought leaders.
The second great example of America bashing came from speaker Roger Thurow, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who’s co-authored a book called Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. Wanna guess why people are going hungry in Africa and other places? Because of the agricultural policies of the … United States of America!
Yup. Thurow basically said that if we just didn’t have stuff like ethanol subsidies–and would loosen up our rules about all the free food we give away–places like Africa would be hunger-free. So it’s greedy American corporations, not corrupt foreign governments that wage war on their own people, that are the chief offenders. That’s a new one, to me at least, but it obviously has the potential to sell a lot of books.
Finally, some of the Mayborn wannabes seemed to have absorbed these lessons well. That was evident in a question from the audience after Susan Warren, Texas deputy bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, talked about her new book titled Backyard Giants. In her book, Warren told the stories of a “cadre of obsessed farmers” who competed for a year to grow the world’s biggest pumpkin.
But, Warren’s subject was deemed too frivolous for one budding writer in the Mayborn audience. This person proclaimed that she had “issues” with farmers growing produce that you can’t eat while people in Africa are starving. Warren, to her credit, swiftly put this line of thinking down.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the moral dimension of giant pumpkins,” she shot back. Then she turned the tables on the spoilsport, asking her whether she felt guilty watching television because people in other countries were starving while she did.
For a minute there good old common sense had returned–and maybe there will be even more next year. I don’t think a contract’s been signed yet, but talk is the Mayborn’s 2010 keynoter may be Tom Wolfe.