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The meaning of the phrase is disputed ;)
It's X-ray vision. Hope that helps.

Google searches will tend to indicate that [this article by James Moore] is at the heart of what people mean when they say "the SecondSuperpower".  This may well be true when applied to a lot of people.  The article makes for interesting reading, whether or not you agree with it.

However, TheRegister claims in [this article] that it originally had a different meaning, and Google searches only turn up half the story.

Suggest that rather than dicussing the using-search-engines-to-manipulate-people which is being discussed on the Google page, we use this page for discussion of the ideas of the SecondSuperpower itself.

(Which one?)

Well, I was thinking of the general questions of "can popular world opinion face up to the United States?", "can popular world opinion get the United States to recognise the US isn't in de facto command of the world", "can popular world opinion be a realistic counter / alternative / response to the actions of the United States?", and things like that.

The UnitedStates? is, inarguably, the worlds foremost SuperPower.  Whether it's the 'first' superpower somewhat depends upon which meaning of first you use.  The point made was that, since the collapse of the SovietUnion? and until Europe or China gets their acts together, the only remaining SuperPower with the strength to challenge the UnitedStates?' growing hegemony is PublicOpinion?.  Leaving aside what PublicOpinion? is, and whether it really can do that (which is the obvious purpose of this page) - to argue whether it wants to or not is a very odd thing.  After all, an opinion is whatever that opinion is.  You can ask 'does PublicOpinion? challenge the UnitedStates??'  But it doesn't make any sense to ask 'does it want to?'  Much more interesting to ask 'will it?' and 'what will happen if it does?'.  Sadly, PublicOpinion? is that BigBrother is watchable... so don't hold out much hope.  --Vitenka (I'm not AntiAmerican, I'm just AntiSentient?)

They complain when the US is isolationist, they complain when it's active... will they ever be happy?
Like, they're alive, aren't they?  Of course not! :)  --Vitenka

For as long as the US is isolationist in the taking of its decisions about being active, they will not be happy.
Spot on.  The politics of America have at least as large an impact on my life as those of my birth country.  By circumstance of birth, I can attempt to influence the one, but not the other.  This is blatantly unfair.  To put it simply, the ruler of the world should not be elected by an arbitary subset of its population.  --Vitenka
Um... Life's unfair, hadn't you noticed? Most things that impact your life you have little or no influence over.
Indeed. This is not, however, generally thought to be a good thing, and most people complain about it and strive to change it. - MoonShadow
Yes, but every country's actions affect every other country. What happens in SaudiArabia affects you; what happens in Japan too: remember the Asian market crash of a few years ago. What happens in France and Germany affects you, probably more than what happens in America, especially at the moment with the new EU constitution being decided. Do you want votes in all those countris too?

Several answers here.  First of all, we have votes in France and Germany, via the european parliment of ministers.  Not a very GOOD system, but more than we have with the US.  Secondly, yes I want votes there - but SaudiArabia isn't in quite the same position the US is, and thus isn't as pressing a concern.  In the end, of course, I want a WorldGovernment?.  --Vitenka (From your failure to anticipate this "but it's obvious" response, we are arguing from different axioms, I think.)

Um, we don't have votes in France and Germany. We have no control at all over the position France and Germany take at the negotiations for the new EU constitution -- which will have much, much more impact on us than  anything the US does in the foreseeable future.

Well, no.  Nor do I have a vote in NorfordBystead?.  But I do have a vote in (a system that has a vote in) the system that France votes in.  It's obfuscated and nasty - and on some levels yes, I have that same kind of indirect influence over the US - but not in any organised semi-stable way.  Whilst there is no guarantee that I'll have the same influence over Europe next year that I do this year, the chances are somewhat better than with the US.  And as for importance?  Short term sure, but long term no.  On a medium to long term, Europe will have to organise and grow strong if it wants to have a chance of the same kind of force the US can apply - and the US has to let them.  They might sneak it through, but it seems unlikely.  Plus, even in the short term, the US is exporting economic, cultural and legal pressures and structures into Europe.  To be fair, the reverse is also true - and the obvious fair thing is to give the American people the same kind of direct influence over us that we want over them.  There may be no getting rid of the influence, but let's at least make it visible?  --Vitenka

This is quite bizarre. What 'force' can the US apply? Military force? The EU has no hope of building up a force to match the American army in size, ever. Economic force? The US is at the mercy of the markets as much as any other country. They may have more reserves, but they also have a huge trade deficit. A trade war in the current environment would cripple everybody, so the US isn't going to push it too far: they might play brinkmanship but they're not going to go for full-on economic mutual destruction (for one thing the businesses won't let them).
Out of interest, why don't you think the EU could build up a force to match the American army?  The EU has a greater population than the USA.  It has a higher total GDP.  Admittedly it would take time and political will power, but given those, why not?
That would require the EU to agree on something as radical as building up a force that large. I think that the likelyhood of this is somewhat slim.

Right now I would say that they are pressing with almost overwhelming cultural force with almost no resistance, and that the economic forces are, as you say, roughly evenly matched.  Militarily, they are far ahead but losing ground and seem unwilling to use it.  Will that summation do for this discussion?  Suggesting that the EU is helpless and will always remain so is somewhat fatalistic - my impression was that the EU was practically helpless and likely to remain so unless it can somehow sneak its self improvement past an unwary US.  Nonetheless, I think this relationship should be made open and decided upon by the people within it in some organised democratic fashion - rather than by the vagaries of a few people who happen to find themselves in axial positions by chance (and who, usually, act for their own interest, rather than that of any actual overt power block - thus leading to somewhat confused 'policy')  I didn't say I had a practical plan to achieve this.  (Of course, if I did, I'd hardly be revealing it here, would I?)  Merely that it would be a good thing.  (And heck, maybe getting everyone to realise that it is a good thing is the entirety of my plan and I still have a shred of regard left for TheInherentGoodnessOfHumanNature?.)  --Vitenka

The idea of 'cultural force' is an interesting one. How can it be used? It's not like military or economic force which can be used as leverage to achieve an end. Neither is it controlled by the government at all, so what difference us having 'no votes' in the US to it is lost on me: the Americans themselves have no votes over their culture and, while they do 'control' it in the sense that what is produced by Holywood is what Americans want to consume, the international market is becoming more and more important for major films so we actually do have influence over what you say is America's main 'force'.

And I'm not sure in what way the relationship isn't 'open'. The treaties which both sides have signed are pretty much available, the newspapers report on their economic policies: how much more 'open' could the relationship be? And of course the relationship is determined by the people within it in an organised democratic fashion: we elect our leaders, the Americans elect theirs (in elections less dodgy that those in, say, Zimbabwe), and then they negotiate. That's a pretty organised democratic system, isn't it?

All empires are transient. The US may be on top at the moment, but so was Britain a hundred years ago, Spain before that, go back and you'll find Rome, Greece... these things all pass. There's no need to get het up about them. Hey, in a few centuries Washington could be in the same situation as Babylon is today. Look on George Bush's works, ye mighty, and despair.
I like that style of philosophy. "We're not gonna be able to change anything anyway, and hey - in a thousand years' time everyone's gonna be dead; so who cares? Let's just all sit here like doormats and let people who aren't as doormattish as us trample all over us, 'cos it makes no difference in the long run." It's a very relaxing, humble and meek way of looking at life. And now you don't know whether I'm being serious or sarcastic, either :) but why should you care? After all, it can't change anything. - MoonShadow
Well, it is.  And, as summer waxes and I can spend more time dozing on the grass and "lie down in the sun, or moon, or rain" it is one I will adopt more and more.  But right now, I'm going to take the stance that the future history of this planet is important in some fashion and thus worth arguing about.  That other empires were on top in the past is something I cannot affect.  That other empires, or styles of rule will be on top in the future is a likely thing.  But it behooves me to attempt to improve what I can, here and now.  By the way, I don't see that there is anything wrong with keeping things changing - just that it is a bad idea to allow any single group too much control.  Doubtless if it were the French, or the Arabians, Iceland or Poland reaching ascendancy, I would have the same dislike.  --Vitenka (But boy have we drifted off topic)




Can PopularOpinion? actually change anything significant at all when it's not backed by strength? Some here would argue that it is not a good thing for it to be able to.

Probably not - a point might be made that PopularOpinion? can be ridden in order to create a position of strength (if those currently occupying that position are unwary) - as is being done with the current hijacking of the AntiWar? movement by whatever the Socialists are calling themselves this month.  I would argue that in general - no, mobs should not rule.  But in the specific - I'll take whatever I can get to dethrone our current tyranny.  --Vitenka

Never dethrone tyranny unless you have a viable alternative. Chances are you'll wind up with something worse. Forcing a tyranny to change to survive is a better alternative. Not necessarily working inside the system (that can work sometimes though) but by playing power games to make it do what you want. It is an unfortunate fact that while persuading people what is the generally right thing to do sometimes works. Forcing them by manipulating circumstances works a lot better. (See: politics) --Edith

There are a number of ways to allow popular opinion to rule, these boil down to: Anarchy: no government, no problem! Republic: Elect your governors, insult them, lose faith in them, elect another governor, repeat. Athenian Democracy: Mob rule with a parliament. I think this pretty much sums up the problem with public opinion. As for Public opinion vs. the US government, public opinion has to work through some other body at some point, in the US through an election, outside the US through a national government or NGO (which is a general term ranging from Greenpeace to the IRA in this case. A little unfair to Greenpeace but it's a nice catch-all thingy) --Edith


hart writes: I think that what people are missing the idea that public opinion, both inside and outside the US, directly affects US government by affecting the US vote.

I'm not talking strictly about public opinion within the USA, though that is the fulcrum of the argument; the opinions held by the voting public in the USA determine the way in which they vote, which in turn determines who is in control of the US goverment. 

In the internet age, international political opinions are easy to gain access to.  The mass media out here is asinine, but if you're willing to do a little digging on the net you can find out exactly how other countries view the actions we're taking.  The government may be able to spin stories in the New York Times and the major news networks, but they have no influence over publications outside their shores.  This has always been the case, but with the advent of the internet, specifically wikis, blogs and forums, information flows much more freely.

The converse is also true.  There are so many big-mouthed, self-centered American bloggers who want desperately to be real journalists that any hint of conspiracy immediately has attention drawn to it.  The government essentially has to outsmart the entire public media corps in order to get away with anything, which is a much different situation than during the Nixon or Kennedy era.

Because information is so freely exchanged on an international level by those in the know, I believe it is only a matter of time until these types of media become more prevalent and direct communication between the people of various nations is made possible; at that point the only thing getting in the way of international public opinion directly ruling the American voter is the language barrier. 

You may not have a say in the actions taken by the any one government directly - but neither do the citizens of a given democracy.  The only, and I really do mean the ONLY thing we can do is choose to vote or not to vote for a given individual.  We don't even have the freedom of assembly anymore, as a large group of unarmed people is apparently considered to be a national security concern; so marching on the capitol doesn't exactly work the way it might have once.  Since you can directly influence the opinions of the American public by expressing your opinion in online locations they frequent, you really do have an influence on the American vote - just that it's indirect, much like the effect of the American vote on American goverment. --hart

(PeterTaylor) Two things. Firstly, you're right in saying that USians can find out about international opinion if they want to, but how many want to? (That is, BTW, a genuine as opposed to rhetorical question). Secondly, does the US system  of government really allow the people to express their opinion? I don't think the British system is at all good at that, and it's approaching being a three-party system.

To answer your first question, certainly not as many as we'd like.  I think I can pretty much speak for Americans as a whole when I say that we want everyone who votes for the President to be aware of the international consequences of the choices he makes.  Each political party is certainly going to spew their spin on events throughout the media centers in an attempt to curry votes - but honestly, self-perpetuation at the expense of the people is what political parties do.  I'm pretty sure everyone wants everyone else to know about international opinion; how much of their own time they're willing to spend seeking this information for themselves is a better question.

That being said, it's really having more of an effect than you might think.  CNN occasionally runs stories about international opinion on US actions - typically sensationalistic fluff about unpopular US actions.  This is a good thing however, because it clues people in to the fact that US folk wisdom doesn't necessarily mesh with international opinion, and that international opinion is available online.  Now, the reason this matters is because we all know the media is lying to us, so we're apt to look up the different viewpoints online if the situation is important to us.  Admittedly, right now, there aren't many of us out there looking; but it's important that these opinions be made clear so that when we do look, we get the truth instead of a misrepresented or incomplete story.

As far as whether the US system allows us to express our opinions, I believe it's a little trickier than that.  The system creates our opinions.  You've heard the adage about two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner?  It seems that everyone either votes the party line or assumes they are that sheep.  If you're not going to be making a differance either way, you vote for the candidate that offers you the best lie, even though you know it's a lie, because you know both candidates are lying and you know one of them is going to win.
Voting is more anonymous than the WolvesAndSheep? (which was a new one on me). --B

This also has something to do with who is doing the voting in the US.  I don't vote; I don't know anyone who votes; I've never known anyone who has voted.  Concious, thinking people are outnumbered, and we know it.  We're outnumbered by people who vote the party line because they honestly believe their party will always make the right decision - they never even see the individual propositions they've voted into law.  We're outnumbered by welfare recipients, who clearly have their own agenda which doesn't consider international ramifications.  We're outnumbered by immigrants, who can sum up their opinion of international politics with three spanish words.  We're outnumbered by special interest groups, religious groups, K-12 educators, firefighters and policemen.  There are so many factions pushing their own agendas which have nothing to do with international politics that this bigger picture gets lost; we can't see the forest for the trees.

So, in the end, you're not literally trying to influence an individual; you're trying to express your opinion clearly and concisely, and get said opinion in front of the people who run these factions.  If you get an individual to vote your opinion you've done nothing; if you get a group to vote your opinion, you've changed American politics because the powers that be have to react to that vote.  The groups won't change their point of view unless the relevance of international politics to their area of interest can be made clear to them, and that interest won't be made clear unless the information is freely available; they internet makes this possible.  So yes, the US goverment does allow people to voice their opinion; however, it still doesn't allow a person to do so. --hart



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