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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taking Exception to the Concept of "American Exceptionalism"

I've been watching Adam Curtis' four part BBC documentary, The Century of Self, which you can watch here. It's a fascinating, but depressing, look at the history of propaganda and public relations. To boil things down about as much as you can, it tells us how a group of powerful people came to the conclusion -- based on now discredited psychological theories -- that democracy was deeply flawed. The reasoning was based on a belief that the vast majority of people were irrational and had to be guided by an enlightened elite or democracies would devolve into mob rule, which in turn would lead to fascism or communism. The average person, the thinking went, was not persuaded by rational arguments and had to be influenced in their decisions by emotional arguments. Put simply, you are dumb. You're basically nothing more than a clever monkey and, if left to your own devices, you'll eventually wind up throwing your feces at random people on the street.

The problem of course, was that this was entirely wrong. People weren't incapable of understanding rational arguments, what was happening was that many of the arguments put forth by this ruling elite weren't very good. These were simply political disagreements, but the flawed thinking of the time would have it that everything a person did had a psychological basis. So a logical, rational disagreement with a political argument was seen as a symptom of a mental illness that nearly all human beings shared. You didn't disagree because you'd come to a different conclusion based on the set of facts put forth, you disagreed because you were insane -- just like everyone else who hadn't been "cured" of their inherent mental illness.

I don't want to get too far into the weeds with this -- if you're interested in all this stuff, you can just watch the documentary yourself -- I just want to lay down the background to what is happening right now. This all exists right now. There is a would-be ruling elite in America -- an unholy alliance between the corporate and the governmental -- that believes that you aren't rational, that you're incapable of logic, and that you must be tricked into making the right decisions. If you doubt that, explain to me why a majority of voters in the 2010 elections believed things that simply were not true. There's a concerted effort to get people to vote based on fear, because there are those who believe you're not capable of rational thought. Propaganda appeals to emotion, not logic, so whether its true or not is irrelevant.

What brought all this to mind was a Gallup poll on Americans' attitudes toward the concept of "American exceptionalism." Asked if "the United States has a unique character because of its history and Constitution that sets it apart from other nations as the greatest in the world," 73% believed this was so. Conservatives hammer away at exceptionalism, beating the drum to death, for a reason; it's not a rational idea. America has much to be proud of, but it also has room for improvement. The idea of exceptionalism is just another way of saying, "Everything is perfect," when clearly this isn't true. But remember, the elite believes you're incapable of reason, so they avoid making logical appeals. Everyone wants to be on the winning team, so "we're number one! U-S-A! U-S-A!" is offered instead of an argument.

Exceptionalism trumps everything and justifies anything. The greatest country in the world can do whatever the hell it wants -- and anyone who says anything different just plain hates America. We got to invade Iraq, despite what the rest of the world said, because we're a special case. If you don't believe that, you aren't a patriot. You might even be a terrorist. Exceptionalism means whatever the ruling elite wants it to mean, because -- don't forget -- you're basically an insane ape who must be guided by more enlightened creatures. If you don't buy into their arguments -- and you won't, because you're just rabble -- then they'll play along with your psychological infirmity and appeal to your animal emotions, since they're the only thing guiding your decision-making anyway.

And why shouldn't these elites believe this? It works. Again, I point out that most voters believed things that weren't true in the last election. And imagine it from a Republican's point of view; you found yourself speaking to huge crowds with misspelled signs making seriously idiotic and paranoid arguments and, when you told them the most ridiculous BS in the world, they all cheered. Who could speak at a Tea Party rally and not come away thinking that the average American was stump-dumb, crazy, and desperately in need of a keeper?

So you lie to them. You frighten them. You tell them they're the best, smartest, most important people in the world. You tell them they're exceptional and that the rest of the world is subordinate. You whip them up into a mixed frenzy of fear and pride, tell them they're all independent thinkers, then tell them exactly what they should believe. And anyone who doesn't subscribe to this hivemind hates America. In an Orwellian twist, individuality and independent thought become synonymous with believing the exact same things that the person next to you believes. A vast sea of "rugged individualists" who are ideological clones of each other -- one mind, one voice. Ironically, they're exceptional in no way, but identical to the rest of the idiot swarm. All individuals, but all the same individual.

The same poll found that only 58% believe Barack Obama believes in American exceptionalism and 37% disagreed. For my part, I hope the dissenting minority is right. The last thing we need is a president who's a member of that vast, brainwashed zombie hoard.


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