Monday, September 16, 2013
American Exceptionalism -- Another View
"America IS Exceptional And That Needs to Be Cured"
By Rob Kall of Op Ed News:
(About the author)
Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of OpEdNews.com, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of Storycon.org, President of Future health, Inc, and an inventor. He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com
Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.
Russian head of state Vladimir Putin wrote, in a New York Times Op-ed,
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,"
But the need to feel superior seems to be very strong, for many people. Throughout history, writers have spoken of ways that "man" is superior to all the other animals, or species. But primatologist Frans de Waal has said, "humanity never runs out of claims of what sets it apart, but it is a rare uniqueness claim that holds up for over a decade." He has shown that primates demonstrate caring, sharing, fairness and many kinds of cognition that have been attributed to "only humans."
I asked him why people have the need to feel superior to animals. He didn't really have an answer. After all, he studies primates, not people. Of course, there's religion, which puts man ahead of animals, claiming that only man is moral. But de Waal and other researchers have clearly shown that, indeed, animals are also moral, that it's built into the DNA, not just of primates but of all mammals and even birds. Still there are probably hundreds of millions if not billions who feel they are superior to animals, more deserving of being treated specially.
Daniel Quinn wrote a best-selling novel, “Ishmael” that described leavers and takers. In my interview with him earlier this year, he described what they are:
"Leavers are people who leave the rule of the world in the hands of the Gods, and takers who've taken the rule of the world into their own hands."
Quinn points out that there have been religions, animistic religions that took that "leaver" approach, but they have not fared as well as religions that advocate that humans are superior, and deserve to be the "superior" "takers." He told me, in our interview,
"I have this theory that there have been hundreds of more religions than the ones we know about, and the ones that survived are the ones that fit in with our cultural mythology: that fit in with the vision of humanity as the most important thing in the universe, that endorses the idea that humans are here to rule the rest of the living community. The ones that didn't, for example, Animism, which was the practically the universal religion of Leaver Peoples, and still is, wherever they are still found, does not support it [our cultural mythology], and so it is not one of our religions. It's hardly known, but it doesn't say anything about that. Animism is a religious world view rather than a religion, a world view that sees the world as a sacred place, and humans as belonging in a sacred place. This is not an idea that fits with our culture's vision of the world and humanity, and so it doesn't appear as a religion to us."
I asked Quinn, who also wrote a book, “Beyond Civilization," Do you think there's a possibility that the next stage beyond civilization could be a spiraling evolution up towards another bottom up way of being?"
He replied, "It has to be. Hierarchy is the disaster."
"Hierarchy is all about superiority in different forms, about power, wealth, and control. We live in a nation that celebrates hierarchy, supposedly based on merit-- a meritocracy. But Chris Hayes, in his book, "Twilight of the Elites," and other writers and thinkers, have torn that American claim to shreds. It is an illusion and a fraud."
Perhaps the selling job that has been done for capitalism and consumerism has worked to get many Americans to have a greater need than other nationals to feel superior to the people of the rest of the world. I would agree with Putin that this is dangerous, particularly for the ninety nine percenter Americans who have bought into this view of America, tying it to their egos and identities.
Putin says, "There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too," he wrote. "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."
I've come to believe that American exceptionalism is bad for America. It creates a sense of privilege and a dangerous jingoism that American politicians, TV pundits and some religious leaders, in particular, seem to need to manifest. (Emphasis added)
Putin is far from a saint. But his words are wise and worth heeding...
... Perhaps we could set some new exceptional goals-- to be humble, to be kind, and to treat all living creatures as deserving to live in a safe, ecologically healthy environment. There ARE visions out there, of equality and justice.
The fact is, the world has radically shifted, over the past two hundred some years from feudalism, monarchy and authoritarianism to democracy. Democracy its regulations and rules have been put into place not just to create fairness-- like Frans de Waal and other researchers have shown "lowly" animals demonstrate, but also to protect the majority of people in the world from the predators-- the psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists and paranoids who live to embrace hierarchy and rank, control over and domination.
We have progressed dramatically in the past two centuries. But that progress has always been fought by the top down powers, the "takers," as Quinn describes them, and in the worst cases, the psychopaths.
When it comes to Obama tapping that idea of American exceptionalism to sell his goal of an attack on Syria, he is drawing upon the darker side of America. Mythologists, symbologists and poets explore the "shadow," which we all have. The energy for American exceptionalism comes from America's "shadow." Wise, evolved, mature people get to know their shadows, and learn to manage them. America needs to do the same, starting with our leaders, instead of pandering to our shadows.
Still, there are American exceptionalism realities that we SHOULD face and talk about. There is American execeptionalism we should do something about.
We have more prisoners than any other nation-- and most of them haven't harmed anyone, but prosecuting and jailing them keeps them off the voter rolls in many states.
We have the largest military and largest military budget-- which means more money going to expenses that do not grow the economy or build the nation's inner resources and strengths.
We spend more on healthcare than any other nation, yet we are the only first world nation, the only member of the G-20 nations which does not provide health care for all citizens.
We are a nation that spends more on spying on citizens than any other nation.
We are a nation that uses more psychiatric drugs than any other nation.
We are a nation that sets the standard for voting corruptibility, with electronic tallying that is impossible to reliably recount.
The list goes on and on, and then there are all the other list items where we are low, like infant death rate, access to WIFI, educational skills...
There are people-- conservatives, liberals, Democrats-- who will say that we are the best country because of our freedoms, that we have the best medical system.
... Now, there are well over 100 democracies in the world, some with greater press freedoms, where reporters are not prosecuted for reporting the truth, or prosecuted for refusing to provide sources.
Most of the positive American exceptionalism claims apply to the one percent-- and yes, we do have more billionaires than any other nation, and we have some of the worse income inequality and inability to leave the income level you are born in, than other nations.
But most of the illusions of exceptionalism that conservatives think we have are easily disputed when cast in the light of reality.
Perhaps that's another one -- Americans are among the most duped and deluded people in the world-- by our politicians, our economic system and our mainstream media.
Putin is far from a saint. His treatment of gays and critics is abominable. His goals for writing his op-ed probably include protecting Assad and impeding Obama's efforts to support Assad's opposition. That doesn't change the fact that [some of] what he's written [has truth.]