Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Taking Exception to Exceptionalism

It happens on the net all the time. You get an e-mail or some kind of message from someone you don't know giving you a compliment of some kind, more or less stating that you're an exceptional person, because of your blog or website, or because of something more vague than that. And then, of course comes a sting of some sort. So when somebody says that you, or your family, or your country is exceptional, keep a firm hold on your wallet and wear a helmet. That somebody is trying to scam you.

When you think about it, "exceptional" doesn't mean anything at all unless it's defined. Otherwise it can be argued that everybody is exceptional or, contrariwise, nobody is.

Lithuania is exceptional, because no other country speaks Lithuanian. Kind of a trivial exceptionalism, but it'll do if you want to run a con game on the Lithuanians. In like manner, Lithuania isn't exceptional, because it shares one characteristic or another with lots of other countries.

Now, then.  American exceptionalism. Frankly, most of the people who use the term really have no idea what they mean by it. They just think it's a way of saying that America is good. But some of the people who use it are those con men. They want to talk us into doing something really stupid and self-defeating, as a nation, by appealing to this undefined exceptionalism. Syria, you see, is no threat to us in any sense whatsoever, so it's kind of silly to push for war to defend our own interests (though they do it, of course — some people will fall for it).  So you have to appeal to a weird American exceptionalism wherein we don't do things for our benefit, but for everybody else's benefit. If that's being exceptional, I'd rather be mediocre.

Anyhow, I have an insight on such matters now and then, but Steve Sailer has more insights than most of us have had hot dinners.  Here's his latest on this subject:

The estimable Charles Murray has published a new pamphlet, American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History. It builds on the section in his 2012 book Coming Apart explaining what European visitors to the early Republic, from De Tocqueville and Dickens on down, found unique about our country.

The notion of “American exceptionalism” is highly contentious. Republicans leapt upon President Obama for not being sufficiently gung ho about the concept when he replied at a NATO summit, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

In response, Murray notes that his survey of the first century of US history demonstrates:

American exceptionalism is a concept that was shared by observers throughout the Western world, not just Americans.…[It] is a fact of America’s past, not something you can choose to “believe in” any more than you can choose to “believe in” the battle of Gettysburg.

I was impressed with Murray’s approach even though I’ve found most talk about “American exceptionalism” pernicious because it tends to imply that America needs to be exceptional to deserve what other countries rightfully take for granted.

America is definitely exceptional in our recommended daily intake of flapdoodle. To Finns or Japanese or other sensible folk, their countries don’t have to be special proposition nations, nor cities upon a hill redeeming the world, nor the rightful destinations of other countries’ huddled masses, nor the scourges of wrongdoing in the Levant. Instead, they are the past, present, and future homes of their own people. So their responsibility is to be good stewards for their heirs.

In contrast, the vague grandiosity of the ideology of American exceptionalism makes Americans easier to manipulate with contrived narratives. After all, the past is so vast that interested parties can pick and choose nearly any historical details they want in order to control the present and the future.

American exceptionalism is especially popular with proponents of the Grand Strategy of invade-the-world/invite-the-world. For example, neoconservative chest-pounder Jennifer Rubin introduced herself to Washington Post readers in 2010 with: “What do I believe in? For starters: American exceptionalism.…” It offers a magical excuse to not have to explain the implausibilities in one’s policy: What, don’t you believe in American exceptionalism?

While getting militarily involved in interminable Middle Eastern feuds might seem like something a prudent Western Hemisphere nation would sit out, that’s because you don’t understand how different we are. Common sense doesn’t apply to us.
(Steve is the closest thing we've got to Mencken these days.
Read the rest of this HERE.)

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