The Bikecast Episode #51: American Exceptionalism
“American Exceptionalism” undergirds nearly every channel of information and every aspect of political discourse in the United States. It is, at its core, the belief that the unbending laws of nature and the consistent historical forces that have affected every institution throughout human history are not and will not be factors in the history and future of the American people.
One aspect of this delusional concept comes immediately to mind and wouldn’t be disputed by readers of this blog, though it would be by most Americans. American Exceptionalism is used to recast the aggression of our rulers against foreign peoples as wars of liberation, humanitarian interventions, peace keeping, police actions and the like.
Every ruling class in recorded history initiated wars to accrue control over additional resources, territory, slaves, and tax base to themselves. This expansion of power always takes place at the expense of the subjects who produced and had expropriated the materiel for war and who are called on to fill the ranks of the army. Nobody seriously disagrees with this most basic, obvious, and repeatedly demonstrated fact of human history.
The popular narrative, however, exempts the United States from this ironclad historical pattern. Illumination collapses the dichotomy and returns us to the reality in which the aggression of our current rulers and the sacrifices of the workers parallel those of rulers and subjects throughout history.
The domestic facet of American Exceptionalism is even more widespread and is more immediately dangerous to those of us living here. Behold the remarkably clear analysis of one Anne Applebaum:
The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.
As IOZ points out, and let me state again that each and every one of you should read IOZ every day and send him threatening letters on days that he doesn’t post (don’t really do that last part). Anyway, as IOZ points out, “with a few tweeked adjectives,” the above critique fits the United States to a T. He also observes that she, and I will add most Americans, would dismiss such a claim as absurd.
We’ve recently seen European social programs stripped down and eliminated, food and energy prices increasing and the rising up of people against their governments. Many Americans are already facing the challenges of getting by without regular work while prices increase and state assistance becomes increasingly scarce. Somehow, the idea that a confrontation is coming between the state and the people remains popularly inconceivable.
Even when the world is watching the rulers of a country shut down the country’s communication infrastructure, systematically imprison popular leaders, and send para-military “security forces” out to do battle with those demanding very basic institutional reform, the myth of American Exceptionalism keeps most people from seeing the connection to domestic events.
The myth is pervasive and deeply ingrained. Anyone who even suggests that “national security” policies (for example, the internet kill switch, massive increases in security infrastructure/personel/armament, the elimination of habeus corpus and basic legal principles) aren’t intended to protect us from terrorists, but rather to protect the ruling class from future domestic dissent is immediately labelled paranoid, a wingnut, a conspiracy theorist.
We who live on the North American landmass are not immune from any of the historical forces that govern the dynamics of human interaction and have special predictive powers around human systems premised on violence. We are not protected by the rulers. The “defensive” apparati that we are taxed to build are intended to protect the rulers from expressions of our discontent.
The ruling class has disassembled and replaced voluntary social networks with compulsory institutions that they control. They’ve syphoned off so much wealth and warped the economy to such a degree that they can no longer afford to stuff their pockets with gold while maintaining payments to those that have come to depend on them. Thus, the payments will dwindle or cease (what? you thought that they’d stop stuffing their pockets?) and, out of desperation, people will take to the streets, demanding a restructuring of the social order.
They will be met with the tear gas, batons and bullets that they’ve spent their life funding. They’ll be tossed into the prisons they’d imagined were meant for drug dealers. Their communications will be disrupted by technologies sold as protections against terrorism. This is a historical inevitability. This is the ironclad dynamic of societies whose “order” is premised on violent domination of one group by another. America is no exception.