Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston, Violence, and American Exceptionalism

So we've all had about a day to process the horrific explosions in Boston. Grisly pictures keep coming out, and last I saw an update, there are 3 dead and about 150 wounded, many of whom with missing limbs and other catastrophic injuries. This is a tragedy, no doubt, and of course many are already jumping to racist judgements about who is responsible (though we should all of course remember we have no idea right now who is responsible, not that it excuses such vile racism even if Islamic extremists or North Korean agents are responsible).

But that's not really what this post is about. Well, kind of. Really, this post is about American Exceptionalism, the absurd belief that America is somehow better than all other nations (even when it is demonstrably and empirically not superior) for reason largely unknown (though in most variants of the belief, it's because God has pre-ordained America for greatness). This ridiculous notion is what makes it not wrong to wage a genocidal campaign against the native population, what lets the world's largest stockpiler of, and still only user of, nuclear weapons to throw a hissy fit whenever another nation contemplates building them. And it's the kind of belief that us to ignore an untold number of violent acts committed by our government (though conveniently done so outside of our nation).

It sadly seems as if the exceptionalist ideal is damn hard to escape, even for those who recognize it to be the fallacy it is. For example, take this piece from Salon this morning by David Sirota. It's a fairly standard piece I've seen multiple variations on; essentially the point of the column is that now such random and violent attacks don't seen so unusual or out of the norm, and that's the scary thing -- that in a place like America we could come to accept the inevitability of random, potentially terroristic violence.

Now I'm pretty willing to bet most everything I have that Mr. Sirota does not subscribe to the notion of American exceptionalism, and would probably scoff at the idea that he does. But yet, even in a guy well known for his leftist writings, you still see the exceptionalist narrative pop up. Because if you take the time to read the article, the subtext is really "This kind of thing doesn't happen here." And such an argument only makes sense if there's somewhere where it does happen, where it's usual.

To take it one step further, the implicit comparison is to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other "war torn" nations around the globe. That's where stuff like this is supposed to happen. That's why, say, a huge wave of bombings across Iraq leaving over 50 dead barely gets a mention in the news, while the Boston explosions, which while tragic, have claimed significantly fewer lives but are dominating every news outlet in this nation.

Sure, part of that is because this happened "here" as opposed to "over there" (although what's happening "over there" is directly attributable to the political decisions made "here"). But the bigger reason for the discrepancy is because things like this aren't supposed to happen here. They are supposed to happen over there, to those people. People who, by virtue of where they live, apparently have it coming and therefore are not nearly as worthy of our concern and sympathy as are the good people who did the correct thing by living in God's America.

Turns out violence exists in the world. And it unfortunately turns out that believing you're magically immune for some murky set of reasons about how you're better than everyone else doesn't insulate you from it. This should neither be a surprise nor a cause for hysteria.

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