TCS Daily


Hating Why They Hate Us

By Iain Murray - February 3, 2003 12:00 AM

Why They Hate Us is a new study from two professors at Boston University that supposedly demonstrates a deeply-held dislike of American culture among young people around the world (including the United States). There are two major problems with this study of teenagers' attitudes: the methodology and the logic. That doesn't leave much. The report isn't even particularly attractive graphically (in fact, to paraphrase the first line of the online press release linked to here, "I've seen the report, and it's not pretty").

The report purports to find that high-school age children in twelve different countries around the world are viscerally anti-American. This isn't about politics. They dislike our materialism, our religious views and our sexual morals. Only in Argentina do they have a generally positive view of America. Elsewhere they are neutral or downright hostile.

To be valid, any survey that attempts to measure attitudes has to be done from a sample representative of the population as a whole (or, in this case, of all high school age children in the country). However, the professors were unable to draw up a representative sample of high-schoolers, so they got Boston University students to ask their old high-school teachers to recommend students to talk to. The problems that the researchers allude to with drawing up a representative sample are indeed difficult to surmount, but the solution they came up with devalues their work immensely. The selection bias possibilities, for instance, are obvious. Methodologically, all we've got here are some focus groups that may or may not have had teachers' political viewpoints superimposed. The overall results might therefore form the basis for a proper study, but in and of themselves they're not much use.

But let's assume they are valid. What, then, do they tell us? First of all, we should note that Americans actually rated themselves negatively - at about the same level as the Pakistanis. Nigeria, Italy and Argentina are all much more favorable to the U.S. than Americans themselves. American high schoolers believe that Americans are materialistic, do not respect - and indeed like to dominate - other people, are unconcerned about their poor and engage in too many criminal activities. It's a litany of indictments of which Noam Chomsky would be proud. If this is the baseline against which to judge, it is remarkable that anywhere held a positive view of America, never mind countries from Africa, "Old Europe" and Latin America.

Second, the negatives are different in different countries. The teenager in Bahrain believes Americans don't have strong religious values. The South Korean thinks they do. Leaving aside the objection that asking such questions about religion is a little loaded in the current global environment, it is probably not surprising that the Muslim countries are scornful of the religiosity of America. They would probably have the same view of any largely Christian country.

Returning to the difference in views, Pakistanis, Dominicans and Nigerians believe Americans are peaceful and care about their poor. The Chinese, Spanish and Mexicans believe the reverse. There's too much of a spread here to derive any single message from it.

Nevertheless, the professors try. And here's their logic:

What teen-agers seek is American popular culture in all its familiar forms-movies, TV programs and music. These are easily available and enjoyed greatly all over the world. Even if forbidden by their governments, such entertainment products are readily obtained on the street, often in pirated versions. Virtually all families except the desperately poor have, or have access to, a television, radio, CD player, VCR and even a DVD. And like teen-agers everywhere, they do not avidly follow the news. If they did, they would see a lot of "infotainment" stories about crime, sex and corruption (staples of journalists since mass newspapers began).

Over a long period of time, those who produce and distribute popular entertainment worldwide have sought maximum profits (an approved idea in a capitalistic society). To attain that goal, what they produce must appeal to the largest possible audience-which means the young people in any society. It is their tastes and interests that dominate entertainment products, not those of the older and more conservative.

So teenagers want so much to see American culture, which they despise, that they break their countries' laws to obtain it. Presumably so they can tut-tut and remark how shameful it all is. This argument isn't even circular, it's inherently self-contradictory. This study and the conclusions drawn from it are meaningless in every sense.
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