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World resents America's isolation self-obsession

It seems as if in every corner of the world the United States, its friends, and allies are the subject of hate and what seems to be retaliation. But retaliation for what? Why this hate? What makes those terrorists risk and sometimes sacrifice their own lives in order to hurt the United States, which has done nothing but feed the hungry, help the sick, and protect the defenseless? Some years ago, a friend of mine had similar problems. He complained about continuous harassment not only from neighbors and co-workers. He was a good man, and I was concerned. I suggested that he have a frank talk with the persons involved. "It is impossible, " he said, "because I do not know who they all are and also there are many." "In that case, " I said, "you should have a frank talk with yourself. If those people in many places are showing their dislike and antagonism toward you and taking the trouble of expressing it, maybe you are the cause of the problem, not them."

The case of terrorism against the United States suggests the same conclusion: We should have a long talk with ourselves. In terms of real friends in the world, we have only a few. Why is it that we have antagonized so many people without realizing it?

More than any other nation, we respect the rights of others. In the history of the world, among all nations, ours probably has reached the best relations among its own different kinds of people. We live in peace with each other, protected by a system of laws. The power is in the individuals, not in the Government, the army, or the police. We the people, all of us, elect the individuals that most of us consider to be closest to our beliefs and ideals. Information is overabundant and free from coercion. The press, television, and the industrial complex publish and produce just what we demand.

What can the people of the world have against us? Are they envious? Something is irritating them. What is worse, in many cases they are becoming allied with communism, meaning Russia, which in turn irritates us. In my conversation with ourselves, I have perhaps found the beginning of an explanation: It is isolation.

If we elect those who agree with us, and if the products available are exactly what we prefer; if we determine the kind of television programs to be presented and if the books published are only those of our liking; perhaps this condition, accelerated and intensified by the overabundance of electronic communications, is creating a condition of isolation.

If the thinking in the Government is identical to that of most of us; if the information in newspapers, television, and books is only what we want; if goods produced are only those that we demand, then perhaps we are living in an isolated world. Perhaps we have lost contact with what is happening "out there" that is not to our liking. If we the people lead our leaders, then perhaps we are moving in circles. Perhaps we have become a separate system that moves in a different orbit from the rest of the world.

Throughout the history of nature, whenever plants or animals were isolated they developed their own characteristics independent of the surrounding world. Some birds competed within their own species for beauty and developed a plumage that eventually made it difficult for them to fly. In other cases it was teeth or claws that grew beyond the useful. The development of characteristics, perhaps good in themselves, in isolation can become exaggerated and create handicaps.

We, for instance, are perpetually obsessed with economic facts and figures such as the budget, interest rates, taxes, income per capita, the gross national product, and other worthwhile preoccupations. All are important as the food and digestion of a society, but perhaps we overvalue them. We also indulge in entertainment and remunerate and honor actors and television personalities, perhaps beyond good and common sense.

MAYBE they are all essential, but they are not all there is. When Mrs. Woodhouse, the picturesque English lady, in her recommendation for the better understanding of dogs says that their main interest is not food but love, she is perhaps telling us something about humans, too.

In our obsession with our own economic well-being and entertainment, we have come to believe that the entire world should function on those bases, and perhaps it doesn't. What makes those other people fight and die is perhaps not as simple as taxes, or gross national products. Maybe the trends in history are not all related to economic digestion and entertainment.

My personal opinion is that what moves most people, and has always moved history, is what could be called "poetry." Most of us are moved by ideals, dreams, love, hate, hope, sorrow, or fear, but most of all by the need for a role in the drama of existence, a role that would make us needed, that would explain to us "why?" Not everyone is moved by food, comfort, or entertainment alone. Some are, and they are important, but they do not move history; they just get fat. Perhaps our own drug problem at home is telling us something. Perhaps many, especially the young, are looking for a sense in their lives, and drugs may be supplying it as a substitute.

In our isolation we have developed great things and the most powerful economy, but perhaps we have lost the "antennae" that make for essential contact with other humans. Perhaps in our proud feeling of size and weight we have lost sensitivity and are pushing others without noticing it. Perhaps, when we try to help our neighbors, we extend our hand and step on their flowers.

TO distrust those with whom we disagree has become an obsession. Perhaps we have become isolated and developed blindness and deafness toward other political systems. Our social and political "networks" are feeding our eyes and ears only what we want to see and what we want to hear.

We have outdone the world in the performance of what we consider the most important. Our contribution is of great value to the history of Man. But perhaps there is something else out there that we are missing. Perhaps there are values and needs that other people consider important.

Haven't Faulkner, Eliot, Whitman, James, Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, and Hemingway been telling us something about it? Our blindness and deafness to that something else perhaps is what displeases so many and irritates a few to the point of making them communicate their disagreement and frustration by the only means they can or they dare, which is terrorism.