American Exceptionalism

As the Germans say… Eigenlob stinkt.

What that means roughly translated into English is…


Have you figured out yet where I am going with this?  In case you haven’t, let me give you a little more help.  Let me make no bones about it, not beat around the bush, but instead, lay my cards on the table.

I think at this time in the history of my nation, and I am a 9th generation American, the widely held concept and “belief” in  American Exceptionalism is poison.  That’s right, I said POISON and I meant POISON.  I think it is the kind of a poison that first makes you deaf and then makes you blind, before it finally kills you dead.

As the saying goes, “Pride comes before a fall.” If there ever was a nation, a people and an empire overly ripe for that fall….. it’s America.  It is my contention that it is precisely our “pride” and our “belief” in our own exceptionalism that, like a slow acting poison, has reduced us to this state and rendered us incapable of anything even close to objectivity when it comes to not only our past and present, but, our future.

Did the phrase “American Exceptionalism” once have the unquestionable ring or truth to it?  Undeniably!  Did our founding and the rights afforded to Americans by our Constitution and Bill of Rights represent something truly “exceptional” in human history?  Absolutely!  Does the accident of being born within the borders of the United States of America, in and of itself, mean that you are better than another human being born someplace else?  No it doesn’t and that is something America will either come to grips with and internalize, or, it will take its place at the end of a long line of “exceptional” empires, that ceased to be, found today only in history books.

Human beings are funny creatures and a little understanding of just how odd we truly are is essential in making any kind of sense out of where America is today.  All the rest of the living creatures on planet earth exist in what is called a “primary reality”.  What that means is they are, if you like, pre-programmed  to act and respond to what ever life has in store for them more or less without what we understand as thinking.  Their reality is concrete and waiting for them when they enter the world and remains just as unquestionable and concrete right up until the time they exit.  The opposite is true for humans.  We are the animals that create the reality we inhabit.  We do that primarily with a thing we call “culture”.  Culture, you understand, is that big bag of bullshit and lies that we all pretend is absolute truth and promise each other we will teach our children is true too.  It’s what holds a society together.  It is the “reality” we create for ourselves to provide us with rules and guide us in making decisions that will be productive rather than counterproductive in holding our society together.

My purpose with this essay is to prove that our culture of “American Exceptionalism” has passed the point of being productive and reached the point where the smell of the “bullshit” has left us all drunk on our own… bullshit.

So, lets at least try to look at ourselves objectively for a change.  Are we the happiest people in the world? No.  Are we the healthiest people in the world?  No.  Are we the best educated people in the world?  No.  Are we the most law abiding people in the world?  No.  Are we the most optimistic people in the world?  No.

Are we the most in debt people in the world?  Yes.  Are we the most obese people in the world?  Yes.  Are we the most depressed people in the world?  Yes.  Do we have a larger percentage of our citizens in prison than any other country in the history of the world?  Yes.  Can our nation and our government run, for even one day, without borrowing money from other people and other governments that we not only “believe” but teach our children WE are BORN BETTER THAN? …… NO!

So, where is that “American Exceptionalism” to be found other than in pleasant dreams and remembrances of days long past?  Who is that flabby, punch drunk, palooka with the cauliflower ears holding the microphone and telling us that, tonight, he is going to win back the title he once had from the young and still hungry new Champ?  We say to ourselves, “He is so proud” and we comment to each other about how TRULY great he once was and that he still “believes” in himself and that, in spite of the obvious reality that he is outclassed and fooling himself, he STILL thinks he will make it past the first bell.

Is he us?

Place your bets.  As the saying goes, “Money talks and bullshit walks.”



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6 responses to “American Exceptionalism

  1. Robert Redus

    We have not only taken that same BS…covered it in chocolate and nuts…given it a new fragrance that is perhaps a bit more tolerable…but we’ve re-packaged it…commercialized it even more…made it enticing and added a fallen celebrity winner…who gets trophies and the title…you are right…and it’s live every Tuesday at 7PM and Wednesday at 7:30…and although the punch drunk Palooka…did once fight in the games…and fantasy…has become the reality of regaining anything….but damn my friend if “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars”….are not our proclamation of “Exceptionalism” then our Commodus fantasy must be false…as well…and Visa will not…I repeat will not get another payment from me….

  2. Hi,
    I don’t think as many people are drunk on the bullshit of American exceptionalism as you think. I see an awful lot of collective low self-esteem, feeling like we’re the worst pieces of shit on the planet, because we are told so every minute of every day. It would be remiss of me to not consider that I may be overly sensitive, but even so, it’s not healthy for any nation.

    I have no idea how to stop this vicious cycle of self-hate, get fatter and more depressed, self-hate, get fatter, self-hate…

    I just found your blog and plan to explore it further. I am fascinated by culture and I see a lot of rational thinking in your posts (the kind that bear several readings!) It’s refreshing to read perspectives new to me, so thanks.

  3. There are two Americas and two versions of American exceptionalism.

    The right-wing version is that that a strong military makes America “exceptional.” That we don’t take any crap from anyone is what makes America great. That’s why they liked President Bush. It doesn’t matter that the two wars cost America its standing in world affairs and some three trillion dollars. We blew up a lot of people and they won’t mess with us again, or so they believe. Or if they do, we’ll blow up a bunch more and it will make us feel good doing it.

    Why do right-wingers feel so strongly about the military making America “exceptional?” It’s something they can achieve in their lives. They can join the military and follow orders. It’s not so easy to go to college and actually create something great, so they place more importance on military might.

    Right-wingers are all about emotion.

    The left-wing version of American exceptionalism is much different and diverse. It’s about making a better planet, improving living conditions for the poor, helping people achieve the American dream, innovation, preserving nature, being the first in technology, our national parks…

    We saw examples of American exceptionalism with the space program back in the 60s, in the 30s with our PWA and other New Deal programs.

    Now, all that our country stands for is making money. And that doesn’t make us exceptional.

  4. Robert Redus

    Perhaps “American Exceptionalism” is much like an art movement that just didn’t/doesn’t really take hold…there are those willing to die for the cause yet…few producing the work to perpetuate it…I agree with Ben…at some point we had exceptional thinking and action…and the division clearly defined what the thinkers were thinking…the doers…doing…seems now a days…it’s a land grab…witch hunt mentality all in the name of some degree of righteousness…

    The recent “what was” can by no means be our bar of comparison…rather our point of departure…things need to change….and in a big way…revisit the ideas/actions of being exceptional…without wearing the trappings of being exceptional…maybe take it to a more Taoist perspective….rather than hoping for longevity…like the Shakers…

    Funny how stagnant water still breeds a variety of creatures….

  5. Robert, could you clarify what you mean by a “more Taoist perspective”?

    I see what Ben is saying. I’m not so sure there are two Americas, other than the one that makes huge profits from war and the other that provides the meat to keep the wars rolling. But, I think both together make up but a small fraction of the population. The majority just pledge allegiance to the flag, think God is perpetually on America’s side and don’t stop to consider that the wide open frontier overflowing with untapped resources that permitted our rise to greatness is gone. The world playing field is a lot more level.
    In short… WE are now the “soft” ones.

    Stagnant water does indeed breed the largest and the deadliest variety of creatures.

    • Robert Redus

      We appear to be at the end or at least close to the end of the “Empire” and I very much agree with you regarding the nature of those that profit, make war and support conflict to move themselves to some height of “Success”…as well as those that are mindlessly walking through life saluting and defending anything American…aligning themselves with everyone else who will eventually gather at the the lone faucet to watch the last drip of potable water stain the dirt …and wonder WTF…

      The Tao always returns to this notion that the small is the large…the making of the whole requires all of the smallest pieces to be…and perhaps American Exceptionalism has lost any semblance of reality or truth on a grand larger scale…yet “Exceptionalism” in itself is the spark, the key…the small…that if accentuated will flourish…..into the large… this place America finds itself in…is nothing more than a reflection of the people who puff out their chest and proudly call themselves Americans…add “O” to English words and….think it might be Spanish!!!…

      We are the soft ones no doubt…but we have been working towards that since we got here…it’s hard to stomach the idea that those who created the monster…are somehow surprised…when it’s discovered to be a… monster….
      Be well my friend…I trust the new year will bring you what you want…

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