Above Photo: Daniel Borchers/Flickr
“David Swanson touts his book, ‘Curing Exceptionalism,’ in a press release where he claims American Exceptionalism is ‘no less harmful than racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. The purpose of this book is to persuade you of that statement.’
In forming his opinion prior to reading the book, using “no thanks” as both a shield against learning anything and a supposed argument for refuting what he hasn’t learned, Michael Goodwin of the New York Post supports the book’s argument that exceptionalism is largely disconnected from facts. Quoting from the book:
“Out of the Constitution and Bill of Rights came the wonderful benefits of the (always partial) recognition of freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, etc. But out of these, and an infinitely complex collection of other factors, came also some perverse results. Freedom of religion became the freedom to invent and buy into new religions, which amounts to the acceptance of claiming things without evidence, choosing to believe those things, and treating that choice as your sacred right. Believers that Saddam Hussein had nukes in 2003 and Barack Obama was born in Nigeria and climate change is not real and Vladimir Putin stole the 2016 U.S. election exercise this same right.
“So do believers in U.S. exceptionalism. If you give someone their first donut and they declare it the greatest donut in the world, you can probably make them see the weakness of their claim. But if someone who’s never lived outside the United States (or its military bases) claims that the United States is the greatest country on earth, good luck trying to change their mind. They’re probably not making an empirical statement at all. They’re exercising their inalienable right to believe what they feel like believing. And since their opinion doesn’t harm you, what right have you got to object to it?”
The book goes on to explain exactly how exceptionalism severely harms those who engage in it and those they have an impact on. Michael Goodwin, judging by his columns, is working to provide us with a demonstration of some of the harm done. For example:
“Already there are rumblings that Russia, China and North Korea won’t be happy to see Bolton having the president’s ear — which proves Trump chose wisely.
“Then there’s Iran. Trump has made it clear he won’t recertify the deeply flawed nuclear deal this year without major changes, and he’s not likely to get those changes because Europeans are leading the talks. Enough said.
“Nor is Trump likely to keep tolerating Iran’s regional aggression when our most important allies and the most unlikely bedfellows — Israel and Saudi Arabia — are united in their desire to stop the mullahs. If this is not a coalition worthy of American leadership, what would be?”
If a war monger disturbs other countries, you’re doing well. In fact, that’s how you tell whether you’re doing well. “Why do they hate us?” Well, measuring success based on whether you can get them to hate you might have something to do with it. And how better to get people around the world to hate you than by declaring the most worthy partners in war making to be the Saudi Arabian and Israeli governments? Who could be more worthy? Oh, I don’t know, maybe someone not using starvation as a weapon in Yemen, or in Gaza.
My book outlines the course it takes in the introduction, explaining there that it begins with factual information, in contrast to the approach of many:
“The first section of the book is a glorified list of statistics with minimal discussion. Its purpose is to examine as fairly and honestly as possible, with the most reliable data available, how the United States compares with other nations. Is what is often called the ‘greatest nation on earth’ actually greatest in any measurable category? Is it, in fact, the least great in some ways? Is it, in many ways, just kind of average? I think it’s important that we first learn these facts and only afterwards discuss them — even if the more popular order of operations may be just the reverse.
“Having established some knowledge of how the United States actually compares with other countries, we’ll move on in part two to an examination of how exceptionalists think, relying heavily on their own words. Exceptionalist thinking turns out to have rather little to do with facts, and a great deal to do with an arrogant attitude.
“In the third section of the book, I argue that this attitude is not harmless, that in fact it brings a great deal of suffering to both those who engage in it and those impacted by it. Given this understanding, I am compelled to attempt in the book’s fourth and final part to suggest what I see as the most promising steps for curing exceptionalism, for developing better ways of thinking and for taking the actions those new thoughts lead to.”
I enthusiastically welcome informed dissent from anyone who has read the book.