Saturday, June 28, 2008

Exception

"American Exceptionalism," is a characteristic of Americans that supposedly says that we're a unique nation, better than all the others, with a unique place in history and world affairs. And so forth.

It's certainly true that many, if not most, Americans believe this is true, at least at some level. And it does lead to all sorts of pernicious behavior and attitudes, including denial of all the tragedy that our country has wrought over the years, decades, and centuries.

[Here, incidentally, is where I'm supposed to insert something about all the good that America has done, in order to prove that I "don't hate America," that I do love my country, and wouldn't think of living anywhere else, etc. etc. Then we all sing The Star Spangled Banner. But I'm kinda tired right now, and I'm not sure I could hit the high notes].

It seems to me that there are plenty of other countries that think they're pretty special. Britain once "ruled the waves," and the Brits certainly thought they were better than the "wogs [who] begin at Calais." China has always seemed pretty full of itself (in so many ways). I promise you that the Japanese feel plenty exceptional. The French? Do tell. Germany? You don't try to take over Europe if you feel ordinary, and the hair shirt they've worn for the past half century was tailored just for them. Israel? Check. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran? Check, check, and check.

People write about these different exceptionalisms to varying degrees, and the U.S. gets the lion share of ink. But every country seems to have a exception clause built into its national character, as nearly as I can tell. I would be interested to hear of some country whose inhabitants all say, "Ah, our little country is pretty ordinary. We exist more or less by accident, you know, and if we vanished tomorrow as a nation, history and the world would probably never notice.

I mean, that would be quite extraordinary, wouldn't it? Even exceptional.

2 comments:

black dog barking said...

American Narcissism.

I'd say we grew up in an exceptional country. Due to some accidents of geography and some world class stupidity from our European forebears — not recognizing homegrown talent, encouraging said talent to emigrate, engaging in a death spiral of nationalistic self genocide — we ended up as the place to be if you wanted to get things done. I graduated from high school six or seven weeks before an American walked on the moon, a challenge accepted and met in a single decade.

It's taken an exceptional talent to squander the enormous advantages we built up over the rest of the world but I have to tip my hat to the boys in charge, they're up to that challenge.

James Killus said...

I just guess it was our turn for some of that "world class stupidity."