Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Conservatism is never having to recognize a paradox

(I was going to delete this post as I don't think I got a complete grip on the handle; I don't make my arguments with sufficient force or clarity and yet at the same time am over simplistic and lay myself open to easy sniping. Still, I'm going to let it stand as in my defense I knocked this out while the dogs wrestled distractingly in the background and an appointment with Mrs Weasel, the DVD player, and Wings of Desire gained on me rapidly.)

I just got through listening to Lynn Cheney (the Tin Man's wife) talk about her new kid's book about famous anti-occupation insurgent George Washington and his decision to take his army across the Delaware to attack the British (actually German Hessian mercenaries, but lets not quibble) during the Revolutionary War.

The interview wandered into the area of ideological battles over the teaching of history and as is common among many "March of Time" simpletons on the right Mrs. Cheney advocated teaching through the prism of American Exceptionalism; the idea that America was and is endowed by God with singular powers and abilities. As Listmaker noted in an unrelated but precient comment below, its a land where men are 'super'. While most people in the world will concede that the USA is indeed blessed by geography*, geology**, and population*** if it has been given a divine mandate it has spectacularly failed to live up to it.

Personally, I feel that Christian Conservatives (the most slavish adherents to American Exceptionalism in its most literal sense) have backed themselves into a paradox by embracing this conceit. If God is infinite, compassionate, and infallible, then he would have known about American Exceptionalism from the onset of time. What are we to make of, say, the Greek, Chinese, Roman, Persian, Ottoman, Portuguese, Spanish, and British Empires; world-dominating geopolitical entities who were equally the match of the modern United States in economic reach, power projection, arts and letters, technical innovation, and cultural effect? Those who would argue that the United States is the most powerful country ever to exist are correct in the Newtonian but not in the Socratic sense. Stealth bombers may make our enemies tremble in their beds but in their day so did trimerene war galleys.

If other nations and empires even held the precursors of American greatness, there can by definition be no American Exceptionalism, thus God either is fallible or incompetent, and therefore cannot exist. Its either that or American Evangelical Protestants are not the chosen people, and I know more than one conservative fundamentalist would have to think long and hard before choosing between those two concepts.

Let us then move forward with a new standard, American Accidentalism; a sort of Jared Diamond advocated approach to viewing the currents of human fortunes.

*Except for those deserts, swamps, bug infested northern forests, barren, tundra, land so unsuitable for farming in blows away when you plow it, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, earthquakes, and mudslides.
**Not as blessed by geology as those Arabs though.
***Unless you ask Native Americans their opinion. Or the illegal immigrants, poor, and sick.


jamie said...

i wish i had an hour right now to go on about this, but this concept is so prevalent right now that it's injected itself in everything from sporting contests (where God is deemed to have a vested interest, at least when convenient) to the sort of crass individualism ("i gotta get mine") that permeates everything in our culture from Wal-Mart to those horrendous contestants on American Idol. the world (or other suitably vague terminology) owes you nothing and neither thinks you're special nor is it out to get you. the forces of Providence or what have you are completely disinterested or if they're interested in anything it's in you not acting like a self-important ninny.

i think is should start calling this effect "The Cult of Self-Esteem" or "Egomaniacs, Inc." or something.

weasel said...

Jamie, I agree: and the keys to the cult are a complete lack of perspective and an almost complete insularity. A flippant argument for the transformation of American global reach into Empire can be made on the strength that the conquered have as much effect on the culture of the conqueror as vice versa.