There is a blog I read with some frequency, about issues facing foreign born residents of Japan. It is written by a US born Japanese citizen by the name of Arudou Debito. While I don’t agree with all of his methods and views, I do think that he is sincere and insightful. He made a post recently about the idea that Japan’s only religion is “Japanese-ness”. I found this entry on his blog fascinating. I started thinking about if this was a trait inherent to the Japanese, or if it existed elsewhere. The answer of course was a quick one. Yes, it does exist elsewhere, and in ways more devastating than the effect that Japanese nationalism had on the world. I am talking about the idea of American exceptionalism.
You can’t hardly have a political conversation in the US without a reference to so called American exceptionalism. Now, most people would think that this idea is firmly a province of the far right, surely liberals and leftists wouldn’t be taken in by such nationalistic tripe. This is not the case, this idea permeates American society, dripping into every facet of government and political thought.
Take MSNBC for example, and also the MSNBC TV host, Chris Matthews. In a promotional spot he makes a point about how Obama, the son of an immigrant, became president, touting that fact as a proof for American exceptionalism. You may argue whatever you like, but the moment you try to stray from the idea that the US is the greatest country the world has ever known, you get attacked with the ferocity of a thousand Spartan armies. Why is this? Why is the idea of America being better than everyone else such a sacred cow? Why is it that when you suggest that the US faces a multitude of problems, not only in politics, but economy and society, that the knee jerk reaction comes out so fiercely? “Why don’t you move to Sweden/N.Korea/Cuba/Russia/Zimbabwe?” Ok, I’ve never heard the Zimbabwe one, but the point stands. Why are we so damn afraid of a little criticism? And why are we so unable to admit that the phrase “best country in the world” is not only a logical fallacy (i.e what constitutes the title of best country in the world, upon what metric are we basing this assertion?) but by almost any standard, we are definitely not.
We don’t have the highest standard of living in the world. We don’t have the longest life span. We don’t have the highest quality of life. We don’t have the highest, or even halfway respectable, educational standards in the world. We don’t have an open, fair, and democratic political system, we don’t even directly elect our president. We have the highest economic disparity of any OECD nation. We have the highest rate of incarceration per Capita of any country in the world, we have high rates of substance abuse, murder, rape, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency. We have a crumbling infrastructure, trains that are 50 years old or more, collapsing bridges etc.
I could go on for pages with that. By almost any standard, other than our bloated military, we are far behind most of the developed world. So why the ridiculous, chest thumping pride for such a failure of a nation? After WW2 we couldn’t even hardly finish a war properly. Korea, failure. Vietnam, failure. Iraq, tried to label it a success but clearly a failure. Afghanistan, probably another abject failure. Millions of lives lost for what? For a trumped up ideal of nation worship?
See, this is why I don’t make a good American. I don’t blindly follow celebrities while I consume all I can and work till I die, grasping an American flag, of course. But I digress.
So why all the American exceptionalism talk? It’s very powerful. It silences dissent. The moment you try to point out the vast problems the US is faced with, you are shouted down with unparalleled vitriol. “How dare you suggest that America is not the greatest country in the world?” You try to point out that we are indeed, one of the most problem prone countries in the world and get the same response. Why can’t we have a rational and humane healthcare system? What are you saying, America just isn’t good enough for you? Fine then, move to Canada. Why do we have to be involved in so many wars? What’s that? You’re not grateful for the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform spending Christmas away from their families? When you point out that corporations in the US are working Americans to the bone while they reap record profits and refuse to pay taxes or hire anyone: Why do you hate those Americans who are successful? You see, we have an ego problem in the US. We cannot ever admit that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, that maybe, just maybe, we have a load of problems in the US that can’t be solved by corrupt politicians who do the bidding of corporations.
We have a religion problem in the US. I’m not talking about Christianity, although it’s part of the problem, no, I am talking of our worship of the country we live in. Our red white and blue bunting, our flags and parades and our mindless love of a political entity.
It makes people forget that we were not founded on Christiantiy, but on free thought. It makes us forget that we were founded by slave owners, who made a country where only land owning white males could participate in government. It makes us forget that this whole country is stolen land, taken from its rightful owners hundreds of years ago by murderers and rapists who came to spread Jesus and find gold. It makes us ignore that we killed 3 million Vietnamese in a war to deny them the right to self determination and freedom, that we killed 1 million Iraqis to expand our influence in the middle East and gain more power over fossil fuel resources. It makes us ignore the fact that we are THE ONLY country to have ever used a nuclear weapon in a war, and that usage being on civilian cities with the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children on our hands. It makes us forget the hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans we wrongfully imprisoned during WW2, as well as lesser numbers of Italians, and Germans. It makes us forget stories like the Trail of Tears, and the underground railroad. It makes us forget the tens of thousands and more who have died as a result of our wrongheaded war on drugs, that war that had no effect but to increase drug use among Americans. It makes us forget that the USSR was the country that marched into Berlin, liberating it from the Nazis. It makes us distort history, and ignore reality.
The only way we are ever going to get better as a nation, atone for past mistakes and build a better future is this:
Stop worshiping the flag. Stop bowing down to your nationality. In fact, burn a flag, just to show that you are not enslaved to a piece of cloth. Stop supporting the military and it’s crimes. Stop supporting a government that doesn’t represent you. Declare your independence from this country, declare your autonomy as a human being.
Once we have freed ourselves from the tyranny of nationalism, we can proceed to join the rest of humanity, not as Americans, but as people.
Thanks for reading.