Je Vous Dis, Merde! 44: American Exceptionalism as National Anosognosia

In my opinion, the biggest problem in the world today is the collective refusal of the United States of America to recognize that it, itself is one of the very biggest problems in the world today.

Of course, I’m not the only one who holds the opinion that the USA is one of the very biggest problems in the world today.

Most of the world outside the USA holds it; and also, inside the USA, a few courageous, radical thinkers like Noam Chomsky have even written books about it — see, for example, his latest book, Who Rules the World?

Now if most of the world outside the USA, Chomsky, and I are all correct about the USA’s being one of the very biggest problems in the world today, and if I’m also correct that the American refusal to recognize that it, itself is so very problematic is actually the biggest problem, then we need to understand the nature of this mega-problem, so that we can take steps towards addressing it and solving it.

In my opinion, the mega-problem is the result of three combined factors.

First, the myth of American exceptionalism.

Second, five morally and politically tragic national failures of the USA.

Third, a nationwide manifestation of the cognitive deficit known as “anosognosia.”

Let me explain.

This is what “American exceptionalism” means:

American exceptionalism is an ideology that holds that the United States is unique among nations in both positive or negative connotations, particularly with respect to its ideals of democracy and personal freedom.

Though the concept has no formal definition, there are some themes that are common to various conceptions of the idea. One is simply that the history of the United States is inherently different from that of other nations. In this view, American exceptionalism stems from the American Revolution, becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing the uniquely American ideology of “Americanism”, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy, and laissez-faire economics. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.” Another theme is the idea that the U.S. has a unique mission to transform the world. Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg address (1863), that Americans have a duty to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” And yet another theme is the sense that the United States’ history and mission gives it a superiority over other nations.

(Source: Wikipedia, “American Exceptionalism”)

Therefore, the myth of American exceptionalism is the self-evident fact that most Americans falsely believe that American exceptionalism is true.

Next, here are the five morally and politically tragic national failures of the USA.

(i) The original national sin of slavery and its historical consequences, enduring, operative racism, as a structural element of the economy and the legal justice system.

(ii) The original sin of gun ownership and use — encoded in the Second Amendment — and its historical consequences, endlessly escalating gun violence.

(iii) Unbridled corporate capitalism, and its historical consequences, massive class-based income disparities between the richest and the poorest inside the USA, and widespread economic oppression.

(iv) Unbridled corporate capitalism in the specific domain of healthcare, and its historical consequences, an exceptionally expensive, unfair, and oppressive system of healthcare treatment.

(v) Above all, since World War II, but especially since the end of the Cold War, constant American imperialist military intervention, international political manipulation, international economic manipulation, and natural-environmental damage and manipulation, and their historical consequences, the imminent threats of catastrophic climate change and worldwide nuclear apocalypse.

And this is what “anosognosia” means:

When someone rejects a diagnosis of mental illness, it’s tempting to say that he’s “in denial.” But someone with acute mental illness may not be thinking clearly enough to consciously choose denial. They may instead be experiencing “lack of insight” or “lack of awareness.” The formal medical term for this medical condition is anosognosia, from the Greek meaning “to not know a disease.”

When we talk about anosognosia in mental illness, we mean that someone is unaware of their own mental health condition or that they can’t perceive their condition accurately. Anosognosia is a common symptom of certain mental illnesses, perhaps the most difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.

Anosognosia is relative. Self-awareness can vary over time, allowing a person to acknowledge their illness at times and making such knowledge impossible at other times. When insight shifts back and forth over time, we might think people are denying their condition out of fear or stubbornness, but variations in awareness are typical of anosognosia.

(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Anosognosia”)

OK. Granting all that, here’s my basic claim:

The myth of American exceptionalism operates as an anosognosic cognitive shield that systematically self-deceives most Americans about the existence and persistence of the five morally and politically tragic national failures of the USA.

If this is correct, then, most of the time, merely telling most Americans either that the USA is one of the very biggest problems in the world today or that their refusal to recognize that it, itself is one of the very biggest problems in the world today, is in fact the biggest problem in the world today, is not going to help.

This is because their problem is actually a collective mental illness, caused by the five morally and politically tragic failures of the USA.

So the response of most Americans to merely telling them the truth, will almost inevitably be that they simply reject the truth about themselves, flip back to the myth of American exceptionalism, and then deflect attention towards mass-media-driven, big-splash issues that are merely superficial symptoms of the mega-problem, and not the real problem—for example, the all-too-obvious fact that So-Called POTUS Donald Trump is not only a terrible President, but also a world-class asshole; Russiagate; debates about Civil War monuments; debates about kneeling during the national anthem and respecting the flag; and so-on, and so forth, blah blah blah, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year….

Does this mean that all attempts to address and solve the mega-problem are hopeless?

No. Looking back at the gloss on anosognosia that I quoted earlier, I think that this passage is extremely important:

Anosognosia is relative. Self-awareness can vary over time, allowing a person to acknowledge their illness at times….

This directly implies that self-acknowledgment of the illness is sometimes possible.

Therefore, since the anosognosic cognitive shield that most Americans use in order to hide their national illness from themselves is the myth of American exceptionalism, and since their basic strategy for avoidance is to deflect attention to mass-media-driven, big-splash, yet merely superficial, symptomatic issues, we need to keep patiently working, working, working away at (i) exposing the myth as a myth and (ii) exposing the merely superficial, symptomatic issues as merely superficial and symptomatic.

Then maybe, just maybe, in a cathartic, epiphanal, transformative moment, most Americans will finally face up to their illness, begin healing themselves, and at the same time undertake the project of helping everyone else all over the globe make a better world, instead of being one of its very biggest problems.

And, as always, to anyone who seriously disputes the soundness of this argument,

Je vous dis, merde!

***

“Je vous dis, merde!” (literally, “I say to you: shit!” or more loosely, “You’re so full of shit!”) is a morally and politically defiant slogan invented and first published by an early 20th-century Catalan anarchist who used the nom de guerre “Miguel Almereyda.” Almereyda, who was murdered in a French prison in 1917, was also the father of the famous French film director Jean Vigo, who immortalized the same slogan in his breakthrough 1933 film, Zéro de conduite, aka Zero for Conduct.

Here is the seven-part platform of The Wake The Fuck Up! Party , aka The WTFU Party, aka Up Against the Wall, Philosophy-Fucker!, aka UAW/PF —

1. Universal Respect for Human Dignity (URHD):

· Human dignity is the absolute non-denumerable moral value of every member of humanity, and everyone ought to try wholeheartedly to treat everyone else in a way that is sufficient to meet the demands of respect for human dignity, especially including (i) alleviating or ending human oppression, and (ii) actively engaging in mutual aid and mutual kindness.

2. Universal Basic Income (UBI):

· Anyone 21 years of age or over and living permanently in the USA, who has a personal yearly income of $50,000.00 USD or less, and who is capable of requesting their UBI, would receive $25,000.00 USD per year, with no strings attached.

3. A 15-Hour Workweek for Understaffed Non-Bullshit Jobs (FHW-for-UNBJs):

· Anyone 18 years of age or older who is living permanently in the USA, who has completed a high school education, and is mentally and physically capable of doing a job, would be offered an eco-job, paying a yearly wage of $25,000.00 USD, for fifteen hours of work (three 5-hour days) per week.

Thus anyone 21 years of age or older with a high-school degree and who is also mentally and physically capable of working, would have a guaranteed yearly income of at least $50,000.00 USD if they chose to do an eco-job.

The rationale behind the three-year gap between (i) being offered an eco-job at 18 and (ii) beginning to receive their UBI at 21, is that every young adult who has finished high school will have the option of pursuing three years of part-time or full-time free higher education without credentialing, i.e., for its own sake, after high school, before making longer-term decisions about what I call job-work and life-work.

***

Here are a few more details about UBI and eco-jobs.

(i) The UBI is to be paid by a monthly stipend check.

(ii) Eco-job income is not taxed.

(iii) For all individual yearly incomes of $50,000.00 USD or under, no tax will be levied; hence for someone receiving their UBI and also doing an eco-job, no income tax will be levied.

(iv) For all individual non-eco-job incomes, for every $1.00 USD earned above the standard UBI of $25,000.00 USD, the monthly UBI stipend is reduced by 50 cents, until the recipient’s UBI is reduced to zero; hence for those individuals with yearly non-eco-job incomes equal to or under $50,000.00 USD, the maximum UBI + non-eco-job income sum is always $50,000.00 USD.

(v) For all individual yearly incomes over $50,000.00 USD, for every $10,000.00 USD earned, that surplus income is taxed at the rate of 1%, with the highest surplus income tax rate being 50%; hence the maximum surplus 50% tax rate starts at individual yearly incomes of $550,000.00 USD, and applies to all higher surplus incomes.

***

4. Universal Free Higher Education Without Credentialing (HEWC):

· Everyone would be offered, beyond their high-school education, a free, three-year minimum, optional (but also open-ended beyond those three years, as a further option), part-time or full-time universal public education program in the so-called “liberal arts,” and also in some of the so-called “STEM” fields, including the humanities, the fine arts, the social sciences, mathematics, and the natural sciences.

· For many or even most people, their HEWC would fall between (i) the end of their high school education at age 18 and the corresponding availability of eco-jobs, and (ii) the beginning of their UBI at age 21.

· But HEWC would be open to anyone with a high school degree, no matter how old they are, provided they are mentally and physically capable of doing the program.

5. Universal Free Healthcare (UFH):

· Every human person living permanently in the USA will receive free lifelong healthcare.

6. 2-Phase Universal Open Borders (2P-UOB):

· Phase 1: Starting in 2021, there will be universal open borders with Canada and Mexico, and everyone who moves across those borders and then claims residence in the USA, will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the USA, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents to depend on the current availability of (i) adequate funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the USA, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the USA and elsewhere in the world.

· Phase 2: Also starting in 2021, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will collectively form a Global Refugee Consortium (GRC), with three-way open borders to any political refugee, economic refugee, or asylum seeker from anywhere in the world (aka “global refugees”), who will receive temporary or permanent residence in the USA, Canada, or Mexico, and also full membership in the system of UBI, FHW-for-UNBJs/eco-jobs, and UFH in the three GRC countries, with the precise number of new temporary or permanent residents, and the precise distribution of new residents among the three members of the GRC, to depend on the current availability of (i) funding for UBI, eco-jobs, and UFH , and (ii) adequate living accommodation, in the three GRC countries, provided that all new residents also fully respect the human dignity of everyone else in the GRC and elsewhere in the world.

7. Universal No-Guns (UNG):

· No one in the USA, including police, internal security forces of all kinds, armies, and intelligence forces of all kinds, has the moral right to possess or use guns of any kind, for any purpose whatsoever, because the primary function of guns is coercion, and coercion is immoral.

· UNG would be implemented by repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in 2021 and then universally banning the possession or use of guns thereafter.

I’m also assuming that Universal Public Education (UPE) — universal free access for all human persons of any age to good public education up to the end of high school — already exists in most countries, and needs no further justification.

Where UPE does not already exist, it would automatically become a necessary part of the seven-part WTFU Party package, thereby making it a eight-part package.

***

Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, 13 October 2017

***

The WTFU Party is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here. Please consider becoming a patron! We’re improvident, but cheerful.

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.

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