Saturday, July 7, 2012

American Exceptionalism For Dummies

Here’s some news that you can use, so don’t snooze, ‘cause you might lose. Beware of exceptionalism in all of its forms, because nothing good can come of it.

If one group is exceptional, it makes it too easy to define down the rights of members of other groups, and then to deprive them of those rights. We can see some of this going on already, if we are in the mood to be honest.

There’s a lot of talk these days about how America is a very special place, and it is too, in its way. America has a lot to recommend it, that much is true. For one thing, it’s one of the few countries in the world where being a citizen fails to inform the listener in the slightest regarding the racial and ethnic information of the citizen. That’s a wonderful thing. It allows anyone in the whole, wide world to come to America and become a citizen within five or eight years, and once they get that paperwork in hand they are as much a citizen of America as Thomas Jefferson’s descendants (Black or White). Remember though, there comes a time to draw the line.

Some people are insisting that America was ordained by God for some unique, higher purpose, usually a purpose that is connected somehow to their own agenda. The idea is that America has a special relationship with the mysterious supernatural entity. Some of these people are politicians, some are religious leaders. I don’t know about you, but I don’t put much stock in either group. This beloved-of-God thing is where I would suggest drawing the line.

Mostly it just smacks of elitism, the idea that one particular country is better than the others. I say country, but you could just as easily say race, nationality, religion, culture, or language group, or you could separate out by height, hair color, fashion sense, or musical ability. There are all kinds of groups that get this oh! so special feeling about themselves. They have in common that they are all wrong.

It’s okay to feel this feeling in your own heart, but it’s never a good idea to go shooting your mouth off about how different you are from other people, or how much better you are. “In your heart,” that’s the ticket! Keep it to yourself.

It is possible that the Irish have a secret hunch that they are the people, of all of the earth’s people, that are the most beloved of God, but they are not demonstrative about it, generally. There’s a fine joke that I believe illustrates the Irish character regarding their particular take on exceptionalism. It’s a Pat and Mike joke from the days of the great ethnic Vaudeville comedians:

Pat was walking down the street and he ran into his friend Mike. “So Mike,” says Pat, “I hear you were at Flanagan’s wedding.” Mike says, “sure and I was.” “And,” says Pat, “I heard that you were the Best Man!” Mike stiffens up and says, “that’s a lie!” Relaxing a little bit he adds, “but I was as good as any man there.”

That would be a good attitude for Americans to adopt towards the world. It would be a great attitude for each of the racial groups in America to adopt towards the other groups, that would be a cool breeze right there. We’re not better than anyone else, but we’re as good as anyone. I could subscribe to that.

The Twentieth Century was full of countries that thought that they were so far superior to other countries that they felt thereby entitled to subject the other countries to their will, permanently was the goal, and they actually tried it and it got a lot of people killed, sometimes just to be rid of them and make room for more of the superior group. Exceptionalism led quickly to eliminationalism. That was some of the wrongest shit in the long history of the world, and that’s a tough list to top.

So maybe that’s not a good road to start down.

Last Word

Many of the people who are telling America these days that Americans are somehow exceptional and that we have a God ordained duty to spread our philosophy all over the world are big-time, evangelical Christians. While you Americans are being flattered by them in this way, you should recall that these are the same people who think that only a small number of people who are totally devoted to their particular narrow stripe of the religious spectrum are going to ever get to that Heaven that they aspire to. They believe that almost everybody that ever lived, and damn near every single person now alive, will go to hell for being insufficiently like themselves.

So while they’re flattering you with all of this exceptionalist talk, bear in mind that they are much more exceptional than you, and that you’re going to hell. You’ll be lucky if they say thanks after they have what they want from you, probably your vote.

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