Yesterday, on the eve of the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I taught separate undergraduate classes on anti-Americanism and the presidential election campaign. An antipathy towards those Americans who continue to believe in ideals that these diverse students considered as limited was a clear theme that ran through both classes. Americans observed at their party conventions and preparing for the remembrance of 9/11 were identified as Other that irrationally clung to a faith in a false exceptional identity grounded in absolutes of God and History. Questions were asked of those Americans who continued to perceive the world that they could plainly recognise as a constructed “reality”. But as Slavoj Žižek urges, maybe is it not wise to transform an American Other into a ‘subject supposed to believe.’ What if constant confrontations with the void in this constructed “reality” continue to sow doubts in many of these seemingly ardent believers? Are the patriotic outbursts at symbolic events of party conventions and 9/11 memorials simply used as means to settle these doubts by externally asserting belief? Witnessing signs of an ‘unbearable truth’ that disrupt the American Dream are repressed through the performative act of reasserting the splendour of that very dream. Emersion in a presidential campaign or the rhetoric of the War on Terror contains the uncomfortable uncertainty of their own identity.
But are those of us in comfortable ‘Western’ lifestyles in a position to immediately denounce those betraying their own interests and the ideals of universal liberation through accepting the functioning of an unfeasible democracy and submitting to the materialist pleasures of an exploitative capitalist system? Is it enough to continue our participation in a “worthless reality” by cancelling it out through the clinging to an idea that we can withdraw to the inner knowledge of the way things “really” are? Has the naive view of the world that is rejected for a more “realistic” understanding already become a part of us? As the Indian scholar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggested shortly after 9/11 – maybe the antipathy towards America for many is derived more from the knowledge that its way of life has been invited in and cannot be escaped. Can anti-Americanism simply sustain an appearance that allows continued enjoyment of the good life? How many are actually willing to fully embrace the fetishised path to political manumission that enables the conviction that we are not “really” living in this “reality”? Courage is not just in questioning in the attitude of those Americans we study, but more in questioning our own positions. This is a call for reflection rather than relativist demand to accept the wrongness of any belief. Half an hour before lessons began yesterday, scientists at the European Organisation of for Nuclear Research successfully completed their initial tests of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. It has been refreshing to read about those retaining a readiness to continually reconsider the theories that guide the journey into the complex and unknown.