Exceptionalism

Ali, my other friend in Peshawar is AkS. I will confide to both of you here something that he wrote to me when we spoke of adding me as a friend but I dont want you to tell him that I said this. I made no comment to him about this but I see it as what they call in the Philippines “the colonial mentality.” Aks said “… and when you see the photos of my friends and family you will see that we are just as white as Americans and the British.” It is true that I am “white as Wonder Bread” well, actually, kind of pink and not as white as Scandanavians. But my whole family that I married into is Filipino. Here in NYC no one talks about complexion. The non-white women are considered more exotic and much to be desired. In the Philippines all the movie stars are “mestisa” which means half Asian and half Caucasian. The formula there is “the lighter the skin, the longer the nose, the rounder the eye, the thinner the lips, … the more beautiful.” I mention all this here, to you, where Ajab will not see it because it is important to admit that the colonial mentality exists and it is important to discuss the reasons why it is wrong and an unhealthy and unproductive way to think. Each of us has our own beauty; the African, European, Asian, and Aboriginal. And we must celebrate what we are. Also, obviously, beauty is only skin deep, and there is an inner human value which has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, gender, orientation or age.

I once searched Youtube for videos made by Europeans which explained WHY they hate Americans. I did this because someone in Myspace had asked me WHY Americans are hated. I believe that E. has a clearer vision that I do which is why I always pester E. to correspond with me. I have maintained a long time friendship of 8 years with a young woman in Tehran Iran. She was in medical school when I met her in Yahoo chat. She has now been practicing for two years. She has a little stuffed animal which she calls Plato. Her English is superb. She hungers for discussions about Plato, Dostoevsky and such. Once I began to explain something obscure in Brothers Karamazov which is perhaps truly appreciated only by old style Greek and Russian Orthodox; namely, the expectation of incorruption of body when Staretz (Elder) Zossima passes away. I had just begun to explain to her but SHE ALREADY KNEW what I wanted to say and finished my sentence. IF there is any sort of equalizer in this sorry world of ours which will empower us with mutual understanding and acceptance/tolerance then surely it is the Internet and the friendships which arise in social networks.

Ha ha, suddenly, what jumps into my mind is Robert Frost’s poem about “The wall” .. from memory… “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / that send the frozen groundswell under it / And turns the upper boulders in the sun / And makes gaps even TWO can pass abreast.” We know that we are doomed never to totally agree and we suspect that our natural tendency to discord is a survival advantage because if we all saw things the same way and made the same choices then we would not survive as a species. But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look and to find that rare gap in the wall where “two can pass abreast” even two who might normally be adversaries on some field of battle. And that is why someone gifted at the harpsichord forces themselves to study Ptolemy while a gifted mathematician listens to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It is too easy to follow the path of least resistance which our natural inclinations and talents suggest but we know that “xalapa ta kala” (good/noble things are difficult)

I once worked with a Russian immigrant (a secular non practicing Jew) who complained about the Orthodox who came to America and got on assistance so that the males of the family could spend all day praying (davening) and studying Torah/Talmud. I hasten to stress that those are a small minority but they do exist and they have there reasons why they think this is a good thing to do. I worked among many Orthodox Hasidic “Frumkeit” (observant of mitzvos) and they were hard working but I was startled to hear the truth about a small minority from a Russian Jewish immigrant. — I met a Korean who came to America with a suite case and $300. He lived on a huge pot of cabbage with a few shreds of meat. He built up a 24 hour sidewalk flower stall and then opened a second and a third.

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@Daniel, I know what you mean and that sort of thing makes me sick too, but I almost collapsed in shock when I received it from two people (one in Bhopal and the other in Peshawar.) Erik is not shocked because he lives in such places. John McCain made me sick. He said during the campaign “I am the only one who LITERALLY defended America” meaning his Vietnam war record. The way I saw things, America had no right to be there and then BEING there, they did not use every means to win, and Vietnam is Communist to this day and something of an ally I imagine. McCain (and others) stand on high moral ground about issues such as pro-Life but he didn’t shed too many tears when he was dropping bombs on pregnant villagers from 30,000 feet. And his first wife was kind of messed up from an injury, so he dumped her sorry @SS and found a sexy beer heiress. Then because of connections he was given a cushy job escorting big-shots around and he said to himself “hey, this politics stuff is easy, I can do this!” Then, when the world’s economy is collapsing he keeps repeating “our system is perfectly sound” (like he ever had the credentials to make that assessment) and he postpones debates so he can run to Washington and slap a few backs and call in a few favors thinking that he can save the world single-handedly John Wayne cowboy style (as a maverick rogue) just like he saved the world bombing those villagers while Joan Baez (that filthy left wing commie) was on the ground watching the blanket bombing and committing the treasonous act of talking to the enemy about peace. Oh, and, by the way, in my mind McCain joined the military because his family was military and he saw it as a path to fame and fortune so I don’t see his career as exactly patriotic and self-sacrificing. AND whenever he does is patriotic saber-rattling “America is the BEST” and “MY FRIENDS, my fellow Americans” all I can think of is “so what is wrong with Canada and Australia and New Zealand and a dozen other fine nations and cultures.” And when the moderator of a debate called him on the carpet because the Palin crowd started to shout violent things about Obama and Palin did nothing to rebuke them, McCain just said “Dont you insult those fine patriotic Americans in that crowd of would-be lynchers and vigilantes” which demonstrated to me just how cowardly and weak-minded McCain is, because he could have simply said “Yes, Palin was wrong and the crowd was wrong” because reasonable educated people realize that sometimes they can be wrong and they admit that.

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For most people who live outside of our borders, American exceptionalism is self-evident. Perhaps some hate us for this. But, most respect us for what we are, whether they like us or not. The idea of Americans being “stupider” than everyone else is only found in expensive American or European universities… where all sorts of impractical things are taught. People who live outside of those universities are forced perforce to deal with reality as it actually is.

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I once searched Youtube for videos made by Europeans which explained WHY they hate Americans. I did this because someone in Myspace had asked me WHY Americans are hated. I believe that Erik has a clearer vision that I do which is why I always pester Erik to correspond with me. I have maintained a long time friendship of 8 years with a young woman in Tehran Iran. She was in medical school when I met her in Yahoo chat. She has now been practicing for two years. She has a little stuffed animal which she calls Plato. Her English is superb. She hungers for discussions about Plato, Dostoevsky and such. Once I began to explain something obscure in Brothers Karamazov which is perhaps truly appreciated only by old style Greek and Russian Orthodox; namely, the expectation of incorruption of body when Staretz (Elder) Zossima passes away. I had just begun to explain to her but SHE ALREADY KNEW what I wanted to say and finished my sentence. IF there is any sort of equalizer in this sorry world of ours which will empower us with mutual understanding and acceptance/tolerance then surely it is the Internet and the friendships which arise in social networks.

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By the way, I agreed with most of what Whittle had to say, except the last bit about “illegal immigration.” That is not an original American idea, and we have been the worse for having adopted the ways of others in this regard. The American way had previously generally been “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free…” WITHOUT EXCEPTION. We ought to go back to that, today. Or, at the latest, tomorrow. We’d be the better for it.

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I wouldn’t give an immigrant a dime of public assistance. If they need it, let them seek charity from their fellow citizens or go elsewhere. That is, we can’t have BOTH unlimited immigration and unlimited public services.

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Ha ha, suddenly, what jumps into my mind is Robert Frost’s poem about “The wall” .. from memory… “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall / that send the frozen groundswell under it / And turns the upper boulders in the sun / And makes gaps even TWO can pass abreast.” We know that we are doomed never to totally agree and we suspect that our natural tendency to discord is a survival advantage because if we all saw things the same way and made the same choices then we would not survive as a species. But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look and to find that rare gap in the wall where “two can pass abreast” even two who might normally be adversaries on some field of battle. And that is why someone gifted at the harpsichord forces themselves to study Ptolemy while a gifted mathematician listens to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. It is too easy to follow the path of least resistance which our natural inclinations and talents suggest but we know that “xalapa ta kala” (good/noble things are difficult)

+++++

I once worked with a Russian immigrant (a secular non practicing Jew) who complained about the Orthodox who came to America and got on assistance so that the males of the family could spend all day praying (davening) and studying Torah/Talmud. I hasten to stress that those are a small minority but they do exist and they have there reasons why they think this is a good thing to do. I worked among many Orthodox Hasidic “Frumkeit” (observant of mitzvos) and they were hard working but I was startled to hear the truth about a small minority from a Russian Jewish immigrant. — I met a Korean who came to America with a suite case and $300. He lived on a huge pot of cabbage with a few shreds of meat. He built up a 24 hour sidewalk flower stall and then opened a second and a third.

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‎”But perhaps the hallmark of the Liberal Arts major is to doggedly force ourselves to look where we would prefer not to look a […]” My experience is otherwise. Liberal Arts majors tend to be the most closed-minded. Because they have a university degree, they believe that they are smarter than EVERYMAN, which they often are. They believe that they have thought enough about philosophy to have come to reasonably well-thought-out conclusions, which they often have. But, these facts tend to make them LESS tolerant of those who disagree with them not MORE.

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One SJC graduate who became a professor at a college patterned somewhat after the SJC program confided to me: “I doubt many SJC alumni are middle-of-the-road; most are extreme right or extreme left. The extreme right went their because they saw ‘The Program’ as the last bastion of old dead white guys who shaped their values while the extreme left were attracted by something totally new and exotic.”

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I agree that America is exceptional in many good and bad ways, but this guy makes me sick. He is the reason that Glen Beck is a best seller and Fox news gets away with news reporting murder. He uses rather shaky logic to demonstrate that America is unquestionably powerful, intelligent, and virtuous to then draw the conclusion that it is like this because we believe in the basic tenets of the tea party movement, but doesn’t even bother to demonstrate a connection. He’s exceptionally flawed in his use of logic, but I guess that I am just being ‘elitist’.

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I know what you mean and that sort of thing makes me sick too, but I almost collapsed in shock when I received it from two people (one in Bhopal and the other in Peshawar.) Erik is not shocked because he lives in such places. John McCain made me sick. He said during the campaign “I am the only one who LITERALLY defended America” meaning his Vietnam war record. The way I saw things, America had no right to be there and then BEING there, they did not use every means to win, and Vietnam is Communist to this day and something of an ally I imagine. McCain (and others) stand on high moral ground about issues such as pro-Life but he didn’t shed too many tears when he was dropping bombs on pregnant villagers from 30,000 feet. And his first wife was kind of messed up from an injury, so he dumped her sorry @SS and found a sexy beer heiress. Then because of connections he was given a cushy job escorting big-shots around and he said to himself “hey, this politics stuff is easy, I can do this!” Then, when the world’s economy is collapsing he keeps repeating “our system is perfectly sound” (like he ever had the credentials to make that assessment) and he postpones debates so he can run to Washington and slap a few backs and call in a few favors thinking that he can save the world single-handedly John Wayne cowboy style (as a maverick rogue) just like he saved the world bombing those villagers while Joan Baez (that filthy left wing commie) was on the ground watching the blanket bombing and committing the treasonous act of talking to the enemy about peace. Oh, and, by the way, in my mind McCain joined the military because his family was military and he saw it as a path to fame and fortune so I don’t see his career as exactly patriotic and self-sacrificing. AND whenever he does is patriotic saber-rattling “America is the BEST” and “MY FRIENDS, my fellow Americans” all I can think of is “so what is wrong with Canada and Australia and New Zealand and a dozen other fine nations and cultures.” And when the moderator of a debate called him on the carpet because the Palin crowd started to shout violent things about Obama and Palin did nothing to rebuke them, McCain just said “Dont you insult those fine patriotic Americans in that crowd of would-be lynchers and vigilantes” which demonstrated to me just how cowardly and weak-minded McCain is, because he could have simply said “Yes, Palin was wrong and the crowd was wrong” because reasonable educated people realize that sometimes they can be wrong and they admit that.

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You just beat the stuffing out of that straw man, William. I think that it’s out for the count. It was my understanding, though, that we were talking about something else: American exceptionalism.

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we are simply “talking” about what is on our minds. Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of McCain. If you prefer to remain silent then I respect that. From my point of view what I said about McCain has a lot to do with the topic of “American Exceptionalism” and why I have negative feelings and am stunned when two people, one from Bhopal and another from Peshawar send me such a video and concur with its positive views of America. I do hope you are not questioning the pertinence of the McCain remark simply because you do not care to deal with the reality of it. But as I said, I will respect your right to ignore that topic and not “go down that road.”

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‎”Do you agree or disagree with my assessment of McCain”? I did not vote for him, but, no, I don’t think that your assessment was correct. More importantly, I did not think that it was relevant. For one thing, Tea Partiers disagree with McCain almost as much as they disagree with President Obama. There was a strong Tea Party movement against McCain during the primary season. So, since the discussion was veering towards what Tea Partiers think about American Exceptionalism, references to McCain were doubly irrelevant.

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For what it’s worth as a matter of interest – HERE is what the fellow in Peshawar wrote along with the youtube post (and by the way, he writes under an assumed name because it is not SAFE to express his sort of views in Pakistan and when I gave him a friend to add in Peshawar he declined because he fears for his life) – he wrote “”It’s high time someone said this. I am sick of people, living in third world backwaters, saying, “Ah! Those stupid Americans”. They live off American aid money and yet have the gall to say this. Kudos to Bill Whittle for doing justice here.”

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when your friend used the word “people,” he meant “the intelligentsia.” Ordinary people in the Third World are generally completely uneducated about politics, and, even if they did have such an opinion about Americans, they’d likely keep it to themselves, since they would view such a statement as “political,” and thus very dangerous to utter.

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I remember you excellent point about that fellow in Egypt in the Internet cafe who was dragged out by the authorities and beaten severely because he dared to criticize government

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There is an “election” today in Egypt.I predict that the gov’t wins
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Ha ha, very funny, BAKSHEESH…. by the way, my Philippine connections tell me that the government is fighting corruption and making it a more desirable place for foreign investment and there is some economic resurgence

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There is more ‘real’ democracy in the Philippines. It is what it is, but it’s not quite as phony as the democracy in the Middle East. I could, but won’t tell stories about “democracy” Middle East style.

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better not to tell. Ha ha, last week I exchanged Blackberry pin numbers with long time friend in Jakarta Indonesia, and now I can do it with people in Peshawar… here is what my Peshawar friends is telling me in chat right now about cell phones – nokia so common , samsung, motor so commmon here , messenges almost free, mite on my net work , 800 sms for just 8 rupees , and one dollar equal to 86 rupees

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isnt the Internet amazing! If anything brings about world peace and better understanding and dialogue it will be the Internet and the common person in the street

plus, of course the secular seduction of Nike shoes, Jack Daniels, video games and satellite TV (material things

I know one gung-ho progressive Muslim in Bangladesh who graduated from Harvard and returned to his native land. One day I asked him WHY he went to Harvard if his culture is so great and ours sucks… so he said “I have often wanted to address that issue” and then he made some half-@ass comment that said and meant nothing… People in U.A.E. decry western society and then sent their children to Harvard and M.I.T. … and my best friend in Mangalore South India is a devout Hindu woman who teaches high school in a Catholic school run by nuns where most of the students are Muslim girls whose families want them cloistered. I asked her why the Muslims could not get it together to create cloistered schools but she had no ready answer for that one.

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One Response to “Exceptionalism”

  1. Carlo Says:

    Prior to being colonized and educated according to the standards of the west, how is a villager to know that everyone is beautiful in their own way? Pale skin, long nose, thin lips– who is not a victim of these standards? And at what point does one become disillusioned about those standards? My questions are rhetorical, as I can say from having watched my own family, that the disillusionment never goes away because it is necessary for being part of this culture. White people, white standards, white beauty– these can work for you or against you. If you are fortunate, you have some say in the matter. In this country we have access to a way of life that would have been impossible in the Philippines. In less than two generations, my family has become walking talking Americans. That is what hero-worship can do, for better or worse. Perhaps some people are too far removed from their own heritage to know what I mean, but I just thought I’d pitch in my two cents.

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