Saturday, February 27, 2016

Where to Invade Next?

Michael Moore's latest movie, Where to Invade Next is instructive, disturbing and infuriating, but Moore ends it on a note of hope. He "invades" several countries, supposedly stealing their great ideas about education, women's rights, treatment of prisoners and other topics, but he ties it together in the end with the observation that the rest of the world is simply living by our ideals better than we are. The U.S. needs to re-invent our institutions so that they more closely reflect our true goals and values, as expressed, for instance, in our Constitution.

Moore starts out by comparing how many weeks of vacation the Italian, French and German governments require all businesses to give their employees (it's several weeks a year for all three countries). You have to see the face of the Italian man when he hears that the amount of  vacation time the U.S. government mandates by law that all businesses give their employees It's very funny and very sad for us.

This movie taught me so much, from what French school children eat for lunch (unbelievable) to what Tunisians look like. Yes, one thing this movie is good for is showing Americans different cultures, what their people look like and where these countries are on the map. If for nothing else, you might watch Moore's movie just for some global social studies. 

Moore shocked me with:
  • What Norwegian prisons look like.
  • How Portugal ended its war on drugs.
  • The story of the Tunisian conservative party stepping down from power when it realized its vision sharply differed from what the people wanted.
  • How Germany teaches its children about its role in World War II because it's important to never let such events happen again (while the U.S. tries to forget and/or whitewash our history of slavery, genocide and inhumane treatment of immigrants). 

I marveled at:
  • Iceland's prosecution of the bankers who ruined their economy (we bailed ours out)
  • Finland's free college for everyone (including Americans!)
  • Tunisia's free women's health clinics that include abortion services because abortion is legal throughout that country.

Now that I'm a American culture coach, I've been reading Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind by Geert Hofstede and Gert Jan Hofstede (father and son). The Hofstedes say that all cultures can be plotted along certain polarities: individualist vs. collectivist, comfortable with the powers that be being close to your life vs. far away, uncomfortable with uncertainty vs. comfortable with uncertainty, etc. For instance, the U.S. is more individualist. Japan is more collectivist. Most Americans prefer that our government keep its distance from our personal lives.  Italy is more comfortable with government being more involved in personal life (vacation policies, maternity leave, free college, etc.). 

As I watched Where to Invade Next, I considered how we Americans tend to believe that collectivist societies are backwards, but that when they evolve they'll become more individualist like us. We think northern Europe's tendency to be in the personal lives of its citizens is too much like a "nanny state." But those opinions are just American arrogance. Most countries in the world are centuries, if not millennia, older than the U.S. and they've developed just fine without the U.S. around to serve as a model nation. Collectivist cultures don't evolve into individualist cultures. It might even be the opposite. American individualism resembles the self-centered behavior of children who haven't yet learned awareness of the needs of others. (This is an especially easy argument to make after the extended tantrum that was the Republican debate this past Thursday night.)

At 240 years old, the United States is an infant country compared to almost every other. We're still discovering our values and common ground. We're trying to reach agreement on the definitions of words like "marriage," "American" and "family." We created a ground-breaking document called The Constitution and we're still figuring out how to live by it. Considering how mature other countries are, maybe it's not surprising that they've taken our best, most idealistic notions and implemented them so much better than we have. But we can still get there. We have a long way to go, but we're evolving.

I wish I'd seen this movie sooner when there was more time to urge everyone to see it in the theater. As Edward James Olmos once said, seeing a movie while it's still in the theater is like casting a vote. So go! But if you miss it in the theater, at least see it on Netflix or On Demand. I predict that when you do, you'll want all Americans to see it. Let me know if you don't feel that way.

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