Friday, February 15, 2013

RIP American Exceptionalism? Don't Count on It...


Once again American exceptionalism is shown for what it largely is, an ideological myth. Thanks to a scandalous murder in South Africa, a settler society like the United States, the American media is suddenly reporting that South Africans--want to guess their colour or race?--are like Americans. We need, these South Africans say, our guns to protect ourselves. The American media has suddenly discovered that there is a culture of gun violence in South Africa too.

Will any of this impact those who believe, and I emphasise belief, in American exceptionalism? I doubt it. Most of those on the we believe in America the exceptional don't have much of an interest in empirical facts. They live in a twinkie zone in which the American government did not help stimulate railroad building and by extension the development of the American economy. They live in a world in which the American government did not help stimulate the rise of new technologies in Silicon Valley. They live, in other words, in the fabricated and fictional world of their own minds where real facts are immaterial. And they have the gall to call Hollywood la la land.

One might object that there are differences between the US and South Africa despite their similarities--both are products of European colonialism and imperialism in which indigenous peoples were displaced at least initially, both had frontiers, race proved to be central in both, both nations instituted racial caste systems--and there are indeed differences between the two European outposts. Dutch and Dutch Calvinist culture played a more central role in South African civil religion than in the US, for instance. But these differences in the forests that are the US and South Africa should not take our gaze away from the similarities between these two settler society ecosystems. And two of these similarities are the similarities in celebrity culture and the whitewashing of celebrity heroes in both countries and the similarities in the obsessions some of the citizens of both nations have with guns. As a result of the South African and American obsession with guns both nations have high levels of gun violence compared to other nations and even other settler societies like Canada, Australia--which transformed its gun culture under the regime of conservative prime minister John Howard after the Port Arthur massacre in April of 1996--and New Zealand.

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