The Incurious American

Bruce Apar is Editor + Associate Publisher of River Journal North

If you’ve logged a decent number of miles, chances are “The Ugly American” is a familiar phrase. Derived from the title of a landmark 1950s bestseller about America’s misadventures in Southeast Asia, it soon became a redolent epiphet that evokes, to this day, a strain of boorish behavior toward foreign cultures when visiting their lands.  

Writing from their personal experiences, two Navy veterans depicted our incipient Vietnam military advisors as self-regarding elitists not curious enough to understand the very people they were supposed to aid and comfort.  

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It’s not unlike how, today, on our own soil, we lack the humility or curiosity to understand each other’s self-interests, also known as politics. We may as well be strangers to each other in a strange land, ever poised to lock horns rather than interlock hands 

Social media insidiously twitches our superficial impulses, inviting incuriousity. To be intellectually curious won’t get you far with the rabble rousers who thirst for blood in the caged world of mixed martial media.   

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In her book The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World (Little A, New York 2020), Katilin Ugolik Phillips writes, “In a world in which we’re increasingly individualistic while also being constantly tethered digitally to others, everything is presented as extreme and binary.” 

Being incurious paralyzes us in the simplistic, either/or illusion of believing we have to decide between Trump or Biden, red or blue, left or right. It gamifies the complexity and the mystique of human relations. It crushes nuance and amplifies brainless distortions 

Curious is wanting to understand how others think, and consider the world through their eyes, if only to widen your world view.  

On that hopeful note, I was just steered to an omni-partisan group that proclaims, “At this time of crisis, we need more than civility, empathy, and goodwill. We need courage.” Curious? Go here > braverangels.org.

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About the Author: Bruce Apar