I’m odd and complex.
As complex and odd as I think I am? Probably not.
Do I romanticize my oddity and complex nature? More than a bit.
Are you complex and odd too? Probably.
In reality, I’m a typical human growing up with a list of ultimately meaningless First World problems. Society works because we are a hodgepodge of overlapping and mutually supporting strengths and weaknesses. Our educations, backgrounds, and experiences are different but are not unique.
Although no two snowflakes are alike, they survive only within a narrow range of conditions for varying periods of time. We’re all snowflakes sharing similar needs, desires, and abilities.
Admitting we’re more alike than not, makes for a dull life, so humans are raised to believe our generation, our nation, our time, and our religion is uniquely exceptional. The moment I argue I’m unique, I’m elevating myself above humanity and denying yours.
American evangelical fundamentalism, Nazis, and ISIS all hold the same core belief in their Uniqueness: we’re unique to God, you’re not, the ends justifies both the means…and meanness. Timothy McVey, Larry McQuilliam, and Wade Michael Page all self-identified as protectors and patriots. In truth, they are merely insecure and frightened human beings. They are cowards full of self-aggrandizing fantasies tilting at windmills.
Attacking unarmed and uninvolved human beings is the act of the emotionally immature and self-important. The actions of Dylann Roof is no different than an ISIS soldier beheading a doctor or the attacks on 9/11. It is the same identity sickness hiding behind a Terminal Uniqueness turned outward. It is Personal Exceptionalism run amuck.
These outcasts see themselves as victims in a Us vs. Them world. They would be martyrs for self-serving mythology and zero-sum worldview. Acts of terrorism, whether by Al-Qaeda or the Klan, are rooted in a pervasive undercurrent of cultural Exceptionalism.
Historically, the distance between, “I’m unique” to slaughtering other human beings is a terrifyingly short trip. The Nazis formally adopted the final solution to the questions of Judaism in ten years. There were five years between Stalin’s ascension to power and the beginning of a state-managed Ukrainian genocide continuing today in Putin’s Russia. The bastardization of Dylan Roof’s humanity only took 21 years.
Every Nationalist social media feed or Breitbart post is chucked full of flag-wrapped posers fluffing one another and high-fiving selective ignorance. America First and Make America Great Again are a cover for an ideologically empty and self-serving cultural narcissism. From Napolean’s France to Jefferson Davis’ Confederacy to Hitler’s Germany, Nationalist litter history with blood and their self-defined Exceptionalism and oversized ambitions. There is no historical basis for believing Nationalism creates more stable, prosperous or free societies.
Press the Nationalist if “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and the result is parsing of the same old tribalist refrains of religious, gender and cultural Exceptionalism. Nationalists are continuously misquoting the founding documents but flail about intellectually when pressed on details.
Are some men more equal than others? Or is it only Americans? Only a specific gender? Do just Americans agree with you? Are humans from Syria and living as refugees created equal? Are young humans fleeing from the gang wars in El Salvador equal? Are these people not humans first? Which group of fallible humans get to decide?
Are non-American humans also “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”?
Nationalism always attracts opportunistic, power hungry, ideological and morally bankrupt zealots; eventually, everyone will fail someone else’s sharply pointed purity test. In the end, nationalists are forced to enforce their twisted ideology and empty mythology using the pointy end of a very sharp stick and the shelling of villages from a great distance.
In America, nationalism is tribalism hiding behind the facade of Exceptionalism. Every nation has their version of this terminal uniqueness. It is merely identity politics appropriated and misused by the self-proclaimed Patriot. They are children clutching to their blanket, afraid of shadows.
Exceptionalism is the appeal of nationalist propaganda such as Making America Great Again; it is an intellectual binky for the ideologically intemperate. Nationalism requires the adoption of distorted science and history to justify inhumanity to humanity. Pundits and propagandists use the language of Nationalism to soothing the fears and insecurities of the Terminally Unique.
The mainstreaming of Trumpisms allow nationalist devotees to mythologize a time, place or Uniqueness that doesn’t exist anywhere other than in their imagination. Nationalism is throwaway rubbish always yielding to the harsh realities of universal truths: you aren’t unique, just dangerous. The linear nature of time conspires with the tides of change working against those embracing nationalism.
Unfortunately, Nationalism — and its muses Ignorance and Hate —
make demagoguery profitable for those who will never really suffer any consequences. Nationalism provides comfort for national and personal not-so-unique sins. As the Russian writer, Anton Chekhov observed, “Love, friendship, and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.”
Nationalism sells books, improves ratings and plays to our egos. Nationalism appeals to the shallowest and basest of human qualities.
I’m not attacking the humanity of Nationalists. I’m attacking the childlike clutching to their Uniqueness narrative. A narrative rejecting the commonality of the human experience and the inherent value of all humans to be themselves. The distinction is lost on those afraid the universe is indifferent to their place in humanity’s pantheon.
All objects, ideas, and institutions are merely a derivative of something that came before. People are the same. We don’t admit this of course because, as Anaïs Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” We’ve been conditioned to see ourselves as unique when in truth there is nothing exceptional about our existence or identity. As a result, we don’t see people as they are, we only value the nouns used to deify or denigrate people: gays, blacks, poor, liberals, thugs, conservatives, criminals, rich, slut, terrorist, traitor, leader.
We may be a complicated hodgepodge of feelings, ideas, biology, and experiences but we are not unique. We share genetics with parents and their parents and their parents back to the dawn of time. We are the naturally occurring derivative of natural selection.
Our parents define our religious beliefs. Our tribal alliances are geographical. Our interests are cultural. Whether living in Surakarta or Miami, the long shadow of cultural and personal legacies block us from seeing our biases and prejudices in the realities of the sunlight.
While many Americans would argue the Declaration of Independence is a Divinely inspired text they continuously debate who it is intended to apply. A perspective will be defined by the arguer’s relationship to humanity and humility – or lack of. Culture and pride create an inability to see beyond a self-defined Exceptionalism. As such, we are unable to look beyond our Uniqueness and cannot see things, as Nin said, “as they are.”
If humankind is a joyous song of love from a divine Creator, embracing Uniqueness makes one tone-deaf to God’s melody. Being American is like music. Jazz may reflect the American soul, but it’s still music. I may be American, but I’m still human.
Being born in America doesn’t make me unique or exceptional. Being born in America is merely the randomness of a cosmic lottery.
American Exceptionalism is a form of cultural propaganda declaring my importance on a self-defined Uniqueness scale. There are no virtues in American Exceptionalism if it requires blind allegiance to symbolism, unquestioned fidelity to law enforcement and adoption of archaic and superstitious religiosity. There is no virtue in American Exceptionalism if it needs a fiat and bayonet to guarantee recognition. These requirements do not define American Exceptionalism. These conditions represent American Tyranny.
A nation embracing their legacy and their Exceptionalism wouldn’t behave like cowards but would live the values of their convictions. Instead, we stuff refugee children in detention centers and hide prisoners of war in perpetual prisons on a Caribbean Island. We elect an unrepentant draft dodger and sexual predator while demonizing children, the sick and the poor.
Perhaps it’s time we admit we’ve traded our convictions for our comforts. Maybe we’re not as unique as we claim. We are no more unique than the other peoples, cultures, and civilizations that came before us.
In a modern America, on a fast track to fascism and neo-theocratic rule, perhaps we’re just better branded and armed than others. That would create at least two of the few unique things making America genuinely exceptional.