Verble Gherulous

This conversation is closed.

American Exceptionalism

The very term brings to the American mind the image of America as a nation of overachievers who either by superior work ethic or divine guidance has made the country the best place in the world to live, and the people inherently more deserving of whatever blessings they enjoy.

If you'd like to debate the very idea of American Exceptionalism, you certainly may, but I would like also to delve deeply into the idea that, whether true or not, this cultural belief promotes an inflated sense of self-worth that is ultimately unhealthy for the psyche of this country.

Basically, where does national pride become an almost psychotic arrogance?

Or am I just not appreciating our inherent greatness?

Closing Statement from Verble Gherulous

Thanks to all for their good comments about American Exceptionalism, most of the strong points reinforced the idea that our strength derives from an emphasis on individual liberty with a responsibiity to work together, and others also pointed out how the idea of being exceptional can lead to arrogance. I especially appreciated the Australian parallel.

All in all, I think it's fine to be proud of the place where you live, as long as you can also be honest about it.

Thanks again, everyone!

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    Feb 17 2012: If I may, I will answer with a parallel. In Australia, our patriotic (largely conservative) press likes to talk about "Australian Values" as if helping out a person in need is some exceptional quality that only exists in this nation. I quite often find myself reading about some national disaster like a flood or a cyclone, and hearing about how "the whole community showed amazing Aussie spirit" by pulling so-and-so out of the flood, thinking to myself "thank God they weren't somewhere like Africa or Asia, where the (un-Australian) people would have obviously left them to drown". People are people, and will do what people do. It is only when they let themselves be organised into nationalistic blocs that it becomes a "them-and-us" scenario. America just has more people, more conservative media (sorry about that) and more bombs.
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    Feb 17 2012: I read your posting and the first thing that crossed my mind was "What neighborhood did you come from?"
    In my mind what is exceptional about America is how we balance our value of individualism while at the same time valuing collective. We can be drug addicts, union workers, businessmen, health workers, prostitutes or whatever our individual choices and circumstances have led us to. But we also have the ability to move as a collective if it is really important - still maintaining individual voice even in a collective movement. And yes, we even tolerate psychotic arrogance. Not many places can pull that off.
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      Feb 17 2012: Ah, but can we still function as a colletive? I used to think so, but now I am having doubts. Our individual voices are becoming so strident and shrill they they tend to drown out all dissent.

      Like you, for many decades I championed this melting pot of cultures and ideas, and i worshipped freely and opened my arms and extolledthe virtues of the freedoms that we proclaim to promote. I stated with pride at every Olympic games that while the athletes of other countries were so homogeniEd in look and name, not so with Americans, where Chang and Johnson and O'Grady and Faisaland Patel and Luong and Achebe and Minkova are all beautiful American names.

      Now, frankly when I hear of American Exceptionalism it is usually fromsome person whose only source of information is Fox News and they bandy the term about in order to call for beefed up border security and a preemptive strike against Iran.

      Yes, American Exceptionalism used to be a term of pride, but I think it is now being used out of context as a propoganda tool. Is that possible?

      But i do like your response, because I truly desire to believe in that America again.
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        Feb 17 2012: “Or am I just not appreciating our inherent greatness?”

        No, just under-appreciating the power of positive thinking.
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          Feb 17 2012: Very nicely put! (see? You've got me thinking positively!)
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        Feb 18 2012: We can still function as a collective... as long as we stop listening to Fox News... and start being proud of Chang, Johnson, O'Grady, and Patel, again. You must constantly remind yourself that Fox News is designed for 100 family towns, in the south... Not New York, Los Angeles, Seatle, Detroit, Boston... or... Anywhere else people think of, when they think America.

        Everywhere in America worth living... Is still awesome. It's just the south that sucks... the same as it always was. People in towns that have 100 families... Hate natural selection, hate freedom of religion, and... basically, hate everyone not in the hundred families. They run our country, because of the great compromise... We need to fix that. California, and New York, are still badass cultural melting pots though... Ignore the haters, parts of America are still fantastic. We just need to start moving to the other parts and take over : p
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        Feb 21 2012: OK you all watch too much TV. Is that what you are basing your understanding of America? You might want to rethink your source and talk with people you can converse with.
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          Feb 21 2012: That's why I'm on TED, to talk with people I can converse with.

          And i base my understanding of America by talking to Americans, with whom I can not have a civilized conversation because they are all so outraged to e point of insanity by media channels such as Fox News (although I will admit that was primarily when I lived in Texas)

          I think it would be splendid if everyone stopped watching TV, until TV came up with something worth watching.
  • Feb 16 2012: As I see it the national pride transform in to a "psychotic arrogance" when the pride can justify going to war over selfish reasons and really set a different value on someone from another part of the world. The list of things I don't like about USA can be made miles long, but to avoid going off-topic I'll just leave this satirical video of how the American Exceptionalism is seen by the rest of the world (WARNING! Offensive language!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWS-FoXbjVI
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    Feb 15 2012: "Basically, where does national pride become an almost psychotic arrogance?"
    Well, I think national pride is only just individual pride with a title.

    "Or am I just not appreciating our inherent greatness?"
    There is an inherent greatness in being able to freely express an opinion.
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    Feb 13 2012: Right now, I think it's an inflated sense of self worth that we are experienceing especially since it was announced in 2010 that we are behind in Education compared to the rest of the world.

    Every three years, the International Student Assessment Report compares the knowledge and problem solving skills of 15-year-olds around the world.

    "Where does the US stand?
    Average performer in reading, 14 out of 34 members of the OECD,
    in science in the middle, 17 out of 34,
    and U.S. drops below OECD in math 25 of 34,"
    said Angel Gurria, the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development.

    It's time to take a good look in the mirror and see the truth. We need to open our minds to serious education and get off of the "Greed is good" mentality of the 80s!
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      Feb 15 2012: What is education? Is it only achieved by performance in reading, science and maths? I am not trying to open another debate but i think there is a serious problem in what we presently call education.
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    Feb 13 2012: I've never heard of the term "american exceptionalism" before, but an image of american success is not what first springs to my mind when I hear it. What comes to my mind is an image of american ignorance. It is quite easy to believe that you are the greatest ever, if you ignore every instance which shows that you're not. The american medical system would be a prime example of this. Claiming that capitalism is so much better then socialism, because socialist countries in europe are having a financial collapse. Do these people not notice the fact that america too is in a financial crisis?

    National pride turns into psychotic arrogance when rational thought gets thrown out.

    A recent example of this which I felt was over the top was when Texas was talking about seceding from the USA. During the news coverage, you could hear the crowd chanting "USA! USA!" in the background. These people no longer want to be in america, and want to leave it... Yet love it so much that they chant of its greatness. How can you think that something is great, while at the same time state that you don't want to be a part of it.
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    Feb 12 2012: America is an empire - plain and simple. There is no inherent greatness anywhere my friend . .Empires rise and fall. Do not delude yourself. 'American Exceptionalism' is a term employed by republicans to bully other countries. I am sure the British thought they were exceptional when the controlled the known world.
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    Feb 26 2012: There are good aspects and there are not so good - like income inequality.
    I note racial equality - in theory is 50 years ago only.

    Also reality is you need to be strong to be safe.

    It's not the only country or culture to have pride in itself.All have good and bad.

    Nice if that is balanced with some self reflection but that tends to be seen as unpatriotic everywhere.
  • Feb 23 2012: I tend to believe that America was an exceptional nation, and not because we "stopped the communists" or any other ridiculous threat, but because we were, for a time, the most free and and therefore the most prosperous nation on the planet. Our Constitution's understanding and protection of individual liberty is second to none. The laws of the free market and our limited government along with our gold backed currency set America up to become the most powerful nation in the world.

    However, since that time, America has slipped far from the exceptional nation it once was. The introduction of the Federal Reserve in 1913 along with the income tax were the first and most essential measures to destroy our liberty. As soon as the central bank was created (not to mention the income tax... an amendment based on the premise the government owns what you earn and lets you keep a portion of it) the machinery for government growth was set into place and as a result the freedoms and liberties that once made this nation exceptional have been slipping away from us over the past century. Another byproduct of a central bank is the ability to go to war. Never forget war is the health of the state and we will never spread our "exceptionalism" through bombs or force. Only after the fighting when the markets have been set free into a nation has the exceptional idea of freedom and liberty spread.

    Furthermore, at home, when the government suddenly has the power to seemingly create "wealth" out of no where, the political system and the public treasury becomes a public trough for any organization to try to get a piece of this so-called wealth. We have all seen what that does to a political system... look no further than our Congress and the state of our union today.

    TL;DR: We were exceptional because of our freedom, we are not exceptional anymore, and by no stretch of the imagination should it ever be accepted that we can successfully spread our "exceptionalism" through bombs and bribes.
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    Feb 15 2012: USA the land of opportunities and promises only was an empty country to be filled up.
    As times goes by it becomes ever more like the old world, struggling with space and an ever growing population.
    People are the same everywhere as are the problems they create.
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    Feb 14 2012: Well... I'll try to explain, what people normally mean by the term, and then I'll explain what I think it actually means. The basic idea of American Exceptionalism, is tied to capitalism, and a lack of social welfare programs, because, the whole idea of the American experiment, is that people don't need the government. The idea of America, is that we will have absolutely no safety net, and everyone will still survive. We believe that every human being on the planet, is capable of making it on their own, without the help of government... At least we did, and that's what most neocons, want us to get back to.

    They see free education, and food stamps, the way most of us see "enabling" a child. Life's hard, wear a cup, and don't tread on me. There is some merit, to a few of their arguments, but they are living in a fantasy past, that wasn't so great to begin with, and is impossible to recreate. Where they make points; we went to Wal Mart, we used to pay a local guy a little extra, that's a shame. We went to Subway, good deli's went out of business. We went to McDonalds, now we don't have local burger joints with fresh seasoning.

    There was something exceptional about capitalism, when local business didn't constantly compete with international, government subsidized conglomerates. We could go back to that, through intelligent purchasing decisions, and this would become a pretty great country again. There's nothing exceptional about abandoning public education.

    The one thing I think however that is actually still objectively exceptional about America is our diversity of culture. You can believe anything you want here, and we have an incredibly free, low tax, but slow to evolve public sector because of that. We can't legislate to the masses, because people live here, from every country, culture, and religion, in the world. It's really hard to pass any legislation in such an open, and unique culture... but it's worth it.