Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Wikipedia, the much-used and somewhat fragile Internet repository of encyclopedic knowledge, takes a partial swing at "exceptionalism" as follows:
Exceptionalism can represent an error analogous to historicism in assuming that only peculiarities are relevant to analysis, while overlooking meaningful comparisons. "[W]hat is seemingly exceptional in one country may be found in other countries."[7] As indigenous peoples explore their respective cultural heritages, their seeking to be separately classified or newly-understood may be a form of exceptionalism.[8]In ideologically-driven debates, a group may assert exceptionalism, with or without the term, in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications. If unwarranted, this represents an example of special pleading, a form of spurious argumentation that ignores relevant bases for meaningful comparison. [Italics added]
I guess what brought this to mind was a BBC story about a German who, alone among all other journalists, spent six days with Islamic State adherents in Mosul, Iraq, and then reported his assessments to the BBC. Among other things, Juergen Todenhoefer noted:
[He] said he found IS followers highly motivated and supportive of the group's brutality....
"They are so confident, so sure of themselves. At the beginning of this year, few people knew of IS. But now they have conquered an area the size of the UK. This is a one per cent movement with the power of a nuclear bomb or a tsunami."...
Fear, said Mr Todenhoefer, appeared to be an extremely powerful deterrent....
He said he reminded the fighters that most chapters of the Koran began with the words "Allah... most merciful".
"I asked: Where is the mercy? I never got the real answer."
Islamic State seems to be a pretty frightening entity, whether from within or without. Frightening and magnetic. It makes me think of other entities
that have laid forceful claim to an exceptionalism ... Japan invading China in 1937; Hitler invading Poland in 1939; the U.S. 'pacifying' the American Indians or the Philippines ... pick your exceptionalist poison.

But the wider, exceptionalist political scene, for all the huzzahs and lamentations it may cause, seems endless and irremediable outside of letting one bloodbath or another run its course.

Still the same is not always true for the individual who has the capacity to investigate and rein in in a personal life what public and political life simply cannot seem to refrain from. It is dangerous and difficult and sometimes unutterably lonely, but the exceptionalism all of us may enjoy laying claim to from time to time deserves a careful care. True, perhaps, that I am the finest thing since sliced bread, but how exceptional is sliced bread? And, while effective in one sense, how well/peacefully does a lifestyle based in fear work?

The willingness to take on the exceptionalism in a wider world is fine. But the willingness to take on the exceptionalism in the bathroom mirror is probably more concretely productive.

It's just the best course I can think of.


  1. I think this speaks to a definition of fundamentalism that exists today and history suggests, always has existed. To claim adherence to fundamentals is to deny new knowledge as unwarranted or mistaken. At this point, certain fundamentals may be cherry picked as too important to lose, and so collateral damage becomes allowable in their effort to protect those fundamentals. Responsibility for their actions are dismissed as are any other fundamentals they deem of less importance.

    Along with the potential for varied interpretations of any document. The religious tomes that survive from Abrahamic descendant belief systems contain significant contradictions to choose from. In judaism, christianity and islam, along with the majority of well meaning adherents who struggle to experience their relationship with god in non-harmful ways, one will find minority populations, of perhaps less intelligence and greater fear, who will sheer off to protect some preciously held fundamental.

    These will always be adherents of a charismatic leader, stand in absolute defiance of other views and refuse to dialog for peace. Having a charismatic leader and an exceptionalism, definitions of which are disputed, meets the definition of a cult. They likely would require intensive deprogramming to relinquish the course they are on and rejoin the surrounding society in a more principled behavior.

    And so we have zionists, fundamentalist christians and a number of muslim fundamentalists, all capable of violence by having dismissed any responsibility for the actions they deem needful to protect their preciously held and fanatically protected beliefs. But then there are also hindu splinter groups and buddhist groups who engage in violence against perceived threats both real and imagined.

    This suggests it's trait of humans, an instinctive need for pack/herd affiliation that is so extremely emotional it will overwhelm reason. If we as a species are unable to transcend our instincts and adhere to reason, the big brain as a survival mechanism will prove to be an evolutionary failure. As of today, knowing my own failures to do this as well as seeing those around me, our survival in the long term seems unlikely.