Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Greatest Nation E-V-E-R

Trey Smith

Glenn Greenwald has penned another superb column on the subject of American Exceptionalism. He examines the declarative statement and belief that the United States of America "is "the greatest country ever to exist." As he points out, it is an absurd notion that the people of ANY nation can be objective about such an assertion!
At the very least, the tendency of the human brain to view the world from a self-centered perspective should render suspect any beliefs that affirm the objective superiority of oneself and one's own group, tribe, nation, etc. The "truths" we're taught to believe from birth - whether nationalistic, religious, or cultural - should be the ones treated with the greatest skepticism if we continue to embrace them in adulthood, precisely because the probability is so great that we've embraced them because we were trained to, or because our subjective influences led us to them, and not because we've rationally assessed them to be true (or, as in the case of the British Cooke, what we were taught to believe about western nations closely aligned to our own).

That doesn't mean that what we're taught to believe from childhood is wrong or should be presumed erroneous. We may get lucky and be trained from the start to believe what is actually true. That's possible. But we should at least regard those precepts with great suspicion, to subject them to particularly rigorous scrutiny, especially when it comes to those that teach us to believe in our own objective superiority or that of the group to which we belong. So potent is the subjective prism, especially when it's implanted in childhood, that I'm always astounded at some people's certainty of their own objective superiority ("the greatest country in world history").
As someone who was born and has lived my entire life in the US, I can state that there are many positive attributes of my country. By the same token, there are many deficits as well. By different measurements, the US is better on some issues than other nations and far worse in other categories. On the whole, I am glad to be an American simply because that's what I am.

If I had been born and raised in Australia, Botswana, Peru, Iraq or North Korea, I am sure I would be just as glad. All nations and societies have their problems and each one has its strong points. Most of us are proud to hail from where we hail because that is where we hail from.

I have no need to ponder the notion that I live in "the greatest country ever to exist." On its face, it is a ludicrous statement, one born of subjective posturing, not anything remotely objective.

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