As one born in the United States (specifically a small city
in southern Ohio), the influence of various rich traditions,
and being someone who is fairly open-minded and respectful of the vast diversity that
is all around me in the world, I have grown to find objectionable the notion of
exceptional-ism as it is conventionally attached to the United States. Much has
happened since Alexis de Tocquevill (Democracy
in America, 1840) first attached this term to describe the America he witnessed.
Much has changed since Whitman’s Democratic
Vistas, which read, “Other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but
we have it in the bulk of our people.”
Our democracy is weakened, especially on the over-bearing federal
level, where it seems to be boiled down to a vote of two rascals every four
years who have their coffers filled from the real power, the corporations that embody
the few and reap the most (i.e., a plutocracy). Our political culture has declined into a massive
pit, far from the rich tradition and ideas of America’s past, e.g., liberty, egalitarian,
individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire. The
problem is not solely government; it is government in the
hands of corporations
Marx warned about capitalism at its worst and unchecked. The
higher return on capital means that the share of profits rises and the share of
wages falls, and soon the mass of the population is not earning enough to buy
the goods capitalism produces. And that’s exactly what’s been happening over
the past years: ever increasing income inequality, leading to ever weaker
aggregate demand – temporarily disguised by an unsustainable credit binge –
leading to collapse. You don’t have to be a communist to see that this is so.
We should all be Marxists today.
Of course, the argumentum
ad ignorantiam is the “belief” that American is exceptional because it’s
the “most powerful” nation on earth with reference to its military. I guess so,
when you spend 10 times more than the second highest spending nation, China. The
US is like the small king in the movie Shrek
with the super-sized castle, “over-compensating for something.” Since 9/11/2001
it has been apparent that the US is exceptional in its anxiety. Of course, we
cannot see this. Case in point is the recent revelations about the NSA who have
steeped so low as to gain access to almost all digital communication of its own
citizens—that’s pretty desperate—outright neuroses. Will we ever come to terms
with the fact the world has always been dangerous. We must grow up.
One way to take back America is by one kind of purchasing
power at a time. Dump the corporation; realize advertisements are deceptive (typically
propping superficial motivations such as image and convenience)—at what price? A
good place to start is growing your own food and/or buying local. Another is
using alternative transportation, especially in urban/city trips. The U.S is
the least exceptional country when it comes to the percent of all urban trips
by type of transportation and probably one of the most exceptionally overweight
and unhealthy counties in the world.
Source: John Pulcher,
“Public Transportation”, in Susan Hanson and
Genevieve Giuliano, The
Geography of Urban Transportation, third
edition. (New York: The
Guilford Press, 2004). p.216. Data are from 1995
cover all trip purposes
Of course, it is more dangerous to ride a bicycle when our
communities are filled with cars that are lethal weapons. Turning the tide on
the decline of our democracy means taking control one purchase, one step, one
pedal at a time. It requires doing the harder thing, which in the long run is
the “better” thing. Walking verses driving means breathing “better”. Riding the
bus to work means “better” relaxation (e.g., time to read or to talk to
someone). Riding a bicycle means “better” time (think about it). Taking such bold
steps mean changing our practices so that we have more power over our lives and
the corporations less.
Tocqueville was right, “The health of a democratic society
may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens. . . The
greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation,
but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”
"Respond intelligently even to unintelligent
treatment." ~ Lao Tzu
To respond thoughtfully takes
intentionality and time, e.g., to calm, find rest, or the
collecting of ourselves so as to move beyond reactivity or
What might this look like in every-day life?
·The cultivation of full human capacity vs.
patterns of emotive arousal and reaction (such as dependence on technology, retaliation and war). ·Being reflectively thoughtful and collaborative
with others ·Openness to ambiguity, mystery, and uncertainty resulting in mindfulness and imagination opening up the way to serendipity and hope vs.
fixation on concreteness ·Acknowledgement of human and systemic fragility,
rigidity, anxiety; ergo self-differentiation resulting in compassion
The US being thoughtful via Just War Theory is like a
functional alcoholic using the 12-Step process. Its addiction to war makes it
almost impossible to consider the "12" other strategies that make
more sense. Before you know it, it will head to the store (consumer militarism)
and open the bottle.
The just war tradition is based on a series of arguments to
be tested before using force against another population. Legitimate and
competent authorities must logically argue that the use of force will end or
limit the suffering of a people and these forceful actions are the last options
after all diplomatic, social, political, and economic measures have been
exhausted. (Stanley Hauerwas)
My problem is that I don’t see why this kind of chemical
attack matters so mightily when 100,000 civilians have been killed in Syria
already. It seems to me that you’ve had massive attacks on civilians — with the
world standing aside — that should have been the reason for intervention. But
there’s also a question of proportionality and success, and I think that there
are good reasons to think you might make things worse by a military attack. (Rev.
From a moral perspective, it appears that observers see
killing civilians with chemical weapons as somehow different from killing
civilians with conventional weapons. I don’t know why there would be any
distinction. Egyptians who are killed are just as dead as the Syrians who were
killed, and though it appears that dying of a chemical weapons attack is an
awful experience, frankly bleeding to death from a gunshot wound to your chest
or stepping on a mine that blows off your leg is equally awful. So anyone who
makes an argument that there’s a moral obligation to act has to address that
question: Why here and not there? (Andrew J. Bacevich)
“ . . . By taking technology that the state employs to manufacture secrets
and using it to make state secrecy Iran’s
nuclear program. Forget the rise of China.
Manning and Snowden confront Washington
with something far more worrisome. They threaten the power the state had
carefully accrued amid recurring wars and the incessant preparation for war. In
effect, they place in jeopardy the state’s very authority — while inviting the
American people to consider the possibility that less militaristic and more
democratic approaches to national security might exist.
impossible, they put the machine itself at
risk. Forget al-Qaeda. Forget
In the eyes of the state, Manning and Snowden — and others
who may carry on their work — can never be other than traitors. Whether the country
eventually views them as patriots depends on what Americans do with the
opportunity these two men have handed us.”
Here's a reflective, connective story and personality that helps us to see the need for leakers when democracy at large is asleep.
'Daniel Ellsberg, the military
analyst who in 1971 leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers detailing the history
of U.S. policy in Vietnam, tells NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday that
unlike Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, he "did it the wrong way"
by trying first to go through proper channels — a delay that he says cost
thousands of lives.
. . . Asked whether he thinks Manning and Snowden, the CIA
contractor who leaked details of secret U.S. electronic surveillance activities
to The Guardian newspaper, had been discerning in what they chose to
release publicly: "Yes, that's obvious with Snowden," he says.
. . . Since The
Guardian's exposés, based on information obtained from Snowden, first
broke in June, "the whole focus has been on the risks of truth telling,
the risks of openness, which are the risks of democracy, of separation of
powers," Ellsberg says.
"I've really heard nothing at all about the
risks of closed society, of silence, of lies," he says.”'
The legendary sage in the ancient Hebrew text, Ecclesiastes,
is known for his gentle to almost gloomy cynicism. Yet interspersed within a
diversity of life-giving expressions in the form (genre) and tradition of
lament and complaint, there are peaks of commendations that assist the human
quest against the futility, meaningless and absurdity experienced by thoughtful
beings. The primary question of this text seems to revolve around the question.
“What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?"
The sage provides several responses to this common yet
troubling question. One such response takes on the subject of work itself,
which is a radical, ruthless testing of the traditional views in light of
reason and experience.
The sage finds enjoyment and intrinsic value in work itself;
he commends devotion to one’s work, for toil resides exclusively in the land of
living (9.10); so the positive values of labor are set within the formative
context of rest, refreshment, and fellowship (4.9).
Moreover, the sage, rather than disparage work, redefines it by dislodging it from the realm of the marketplace and setting it
within the ethos of enjoyment. This “work ethic” is profoundly subversive and
relevant in our modern monetary, capitalistic culture, it is necessary for the those who seek to live more fully human.
enjoyment (seven times) is seemingly at odds with the stark sobering, if not
down-right pessimistic, view of life (2.24; 3.12-13, 22; 5.18; 8.15; 9.7-10;
11.8-10). The sage’s tensive reflection makes existential sense, saying that
enjoyment has the power to redeem the notion of toil amid (verses over and
against) the vicissitudes of life, the elusiveness of gain, and the ravaging
power of death.
Perhaps the sage was a self-pronounced “minimalist” when it
comes to discerning what is ultimately worthwhile in human existence. The examples
of the “good life” are simple, unpretentious, and consistently commonplace:
eating, drinking, and finding some shred of satisfaction in one’s toil.
The value of enjoyment (defined negatively in relation to a
valuative scale: “there is nothing better than”) carries superlative force and
set against the bleak landscape of life that is impenetrable to human
discernment (1.15; 3.11), governed by God’s inscrutable will (e.g., 9.11-12)
and devoid of gainful purpose or progress. These commendations are embedded in
examples of absurdity: the arduousness of toil (2.23), the impenetrability of
time (3.11), the fragility of life and ignorance about the future (3.21), the
tragic loss of gain (5.13-17), and the overturning of moral standards (8.14).
Set against these absurdities, joy becomes absurdly minimal yet remains
redemptively significant. “There is joy in the fray.”
William P. Brown, “Whatever
Your Hand Find’s to Do”, Interpretation,
55.03 (2006), 280-281
Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in
DJ Seifert, “Holy Irony”
(2013) Image: Andrew Wyeth, Pentecost, 1989
Think about it! Coliseum sports plus nationalism equals empire,
which presumes the need to unify a people (although more subtle in the U.S.
because of our constitution vs. historical versions of government) and support its
interests: e.g., a military that is funded ten times greater than any other
country in the world (yes! China).
Why is this?
So here we have a giant worship service with football, a
sport now known for accelerating brain damage, and the military of which twenty
vets per day commit suicide. What’s to cheer about? Where’s the good news? It’s
time to lament and complain in Hebrew fashion and follow the lead of the real
heroes fighting day-to-day combat with the American myth that numbs and blinds.
In the words of Walter Brueggemann, “That script of military consumerism cannot
make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in
'Asking for God’s blessing for “us” or “me” ignores greater needs in our
world. We should ask a bigger question: How can we get this blessing to
all? I want God walking with and standing beside every single person on
this Earth — and every country.' - James P. Marsh Jr.,
Published: May 31