Wednesday, 28 July 2010

We Are Not Special, and There Is No Happy Ending: The Blood-Drenched Darkness of American Exceptionalism

You may not regard the two propositions in my title as deserving of any special attention. You may think, entirely correctly, that if we as Americans are special, it is only in the way that any human being is special: that each of us is unique and irreplaceable, that each of our lives, and the lives of all of us, demand reverence for the unrepeatable value of a person's brief passage in this world. And you may recognize, also correctly, that certain actions lead to destruction and loss in a manner and on a scale that forbid correction and amends, that on some occasions we can only accept the certainty of negative consequences that cannot be avoided. Human beings may be capable of remarkable, even wondrous achievement, but limits are inherent in existence itself. Sometimes those limits mean that wounds will never heal, that the pain will never end.If you view these observations as unremarkable, even mundane, that is because in certain crucial respects, you are an adult. Such a healthy perspective -- "healthy" designating that which proceeds from demonstrable facts -- enables us to see the extreme nature of the delusions necessitated by an unquestioned belief in the myth of American exceptionalism. Despite the events of the last decade, the myth remains the heart of American culture, of American politics, and of the American State. Our politicians still regularly assure us that "America is the last, best hope of Earth," and that "the American moment" will extend for the entirety of "this new century." Americans remain "the Good Guys: "The emphasis is not only on 'Good,' but on 'the': we are the Good Guys in a way that no one else is, or can ever be."
When we believe that America and Americans are unique and uniquely good in all of history, we will also believe that there is no problem we cannot overcome. Our political leaders tell us this fable time and again; many Americans are eager to believe it, in the manner of a damaged child who appeals to mysterious powers to vanquish the dangers lurking in the shadows of his room. We witness this mechanism in connection with a wide range of problems, even when those problems reach the catastrophic level. Here is Obama on the continuing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico:
President Barack Obama struck an optimistic tone over the ongoing oil disaster Monday afternoon, saying that "things are going to return to normal" on the stricken Gulf Coast after much pain and frustration, and that the polluted waters will eventually be in better shape than before the leak began.
These are reassurances offered by parents to children whom they treat as doltish objects fit only to be manipulated. The parent or other authority figure -- here, Obama -- does not expect his words to be credited after a process of independent evaluation. He expects, in fact he demands, that you take his word for it, that you believe him without question or challenge. He demands that you obey. This is the way our political leaders treat their subjects both abroad and at home. (In addition to rejecting this method of forcible "persuasion," I also reject such reassurances for further, more specific and compelling reasons, as do many others. I recognize that we are provided only such information about the Gulf catastrophe as the government and BP, which are one and the same in this context, wish us to have. We have close to no idea what is actually going on, or the damage that has already been inflicted and that may manifest itself in the future. Moreover, I recognize the dangerous folly of entrusting any kind of solution to a crisis of this kind, or to the crisis of climate change however one may conceive it, to an inherently, fatally corrupted corporatist State.)...
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Arthur Silber @'Once Upon A Time'

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