Thanks to Robert Wright

Until I saw his gracious "Signing Off" message yesterday, I had not realized that Robert Wright was stopping his (almost) daily postings here, so that he could instead concentrate on finishing a book about Buddhism and teaching at Princeton. It is piquant to reflect on a world in which those are the options -- Buddhism book+Princeton on the one side, daily in-the-fray postings on the other -- but I think things have always been that way, with allowances for differences in the technology of each era, for people with diverse interests.


My purpose in noting this is to underscore the quality, depth, and seriousness of what Bob Wright has contributed here during this past year. (That's his official author-pic at right.) We don't agree about everything, and on occasion over the decades and in this past year we have differed, even sharply and unpleasantly. But he has brought a sophistication and grown-up-ness to almost every topic he has dealt with, which is worth recognizing because it's another sign of how serious discourse can adapt to each new technological vehicle. Also, it's a sign of what the Atlantic aspires to! To be honest, Bob Wright and I also agree in many more areas than we disagree.

I hope you'll read Bob's entire sayonara post -- and just in case, here's the link again. In case you don't, I'll highlight these two aspects.

First, his three-point action plan about America in the world rings true to me. I've spent a lot more of my life outside the U.S. than Bob has, and when we disagree it's often because I think he is being too theoretical or idealistic about how things are elsewhere. But I certainly agree with these points of his:

1] The world's biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups--i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of "the other." ... For Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America. [JF: I would say "inability" to look at things from the other's perspective, rather than "failure" to do so. But that's a detail.]

[2] Grass-roots hatred is a much greater threat to the United States--and to nations in general, and hence to world peace and stability--than it used to be... [P]ublic sentiment toward America abroad matters much more (to America's national security) than it did a few decades ago. [JF: This also applies to China, and is a big failure of Chinese "soft power," FWIW.]

[3] If the United States doesn't use its inevitably fading dominance to build a world in which the rule of law is respected, and in which global norms are strong, the United States (and the world) will suffer for it. [JF: Amen!] So when, for example, we do things to other nations that we ourselves have defined as acts of war (like cybersabotage), that is not, in the long run, making us or our allies safer...  

The other point that caught my eye in Bob Wright's post was this:

To be honest, I'm looking forward to getting up in the morning without feeling I have to develop an opinion about something and then publicize it.

I avoid the mon semblable, mon frère! reaction here by telling myself that the web life is still not part of my "official" job at the magazine but just on the side. If I weren't doing other things, there are so many interesting topics I'd love to spend more time going into on line. (Not looking for sympathy, but I manage to feel simultaneously behind-the-curve in sharing reader reaction and news updates on the aviation front, and the beer front, and the boiled-frog front, and China, and filibuster, and the Atlas Shrugged guy, and so on.) Still, I know what he is talking about.

It may be better for the world that Bob Wright will finish this next book. Certainly it will be better for his Princeton students. I am sorry that he won't be writing here as often, but I am glad that he has given us all this past year.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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