Tuesday, May 20, 2014

American Exceptionalism

After watching Rocky IV, I imagine most people feel like working out and getting pumped. Or if you're Russian, I suppose you might feel a bit put-upon first, then kinda want to go work out and get pumped.

For me, though, the movie kicked off some latent, potentially unpatriotic thoughts.

To be clear, there isn't any other country I'd want to live in. Despite the huge cultural differences from one corner of the United States to the other, I feel like I could comfortably live anywhere in the country due to a strong overarching culture that blankets the entire nation. There's a way of talking and treating each other which, even if I don't always agree with it, I'm at least familiar with it, which makes me confident that I can manage myself in this culture.

I don't have that same, shared cultural understanding in any other country. I'm a fan of the United States out of familiarity, not out of any perceived superiority.

The concept of American exceptionalism is a pervasive one: it's the idea that the United States of America is fundamentally different than every other nation due to its culture, its size, the way is came to be, etc. Some believe this exceptionalism to be true, making us inherently superior to other countries. Some believe this exceptionalism to be true, though it doesn't make us inherently superior. And still others believe that this exceptionalism is false.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I reject outright that Americans have figured out the one true way to live and govern or that we are closer to figuring out such a concept than anyone else. A simple search will find countless researched examples of where we fall short: in the areas of education, economy, civil liberties, and pretty much every other area beyond military power, and even that's thankfully unproven.

I can understand the other side, that every country practices some form of exceptionalism since, really, every country is different: they all came about in different ways, absorbing different cultures, and creating a country that feels distinct from the rest. They are all exceptional, making none of them exceptional.

So, really, what makes the United States special? I don't have a solid answer to that question, since for every possible answer I can counter it with an example from other countries.

The only thing that keeps bubbling up to the surface for me is our immigration: people want to come to America, so they do, and we end up with a mix of cultures not easily found in other countries. I'm not sure, but I think the United States has one of the easiest immigration policies in the world which, combined with a large desire to move here, makes our mix of peoples something special. The United States has a little bit of everyone here, and I'm not sure any other country can claim that.

That said, some people would like us to crack down on our immigration policies and keep foreigners out, which is weird to me: we're a nation of foreigners, and I think that's our strength.

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