Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 3: Whither America?

I have been enjoying and appreciating the efforts of our neighbors up North. The games look great (I really like the color scheme of the games, for instance), and they are valiantly struggling against uncooperative weather. I have likewise enjoyed the outpouring of Canadian nationalism. In contrast to their typical modesty, Canadians’ have responded to their Prime Minister’s call to arms.

I like this outpouring, because, as an American, I think I am almost too close to Canada to understand how it is not America. I keep hearing Mike Meyer’s joke about “eating Canadian” tonight. Their geography is quite different from ours and their system of government is distinct (they still have a queen, for instance). Beyond that, however, I am embarrassingly ignorant.

Of course, I suspect my enjoyment has nothing in particular to do with Canadians being really excited about being Canadian. I think what I like is seeing countries other than America being excited about themselves. The Olympics are an important and necessary antidote to American exceptionalism.

The Olympics (even through our National media – which necessarily covers the games from our perspective, as I assume other nations’ media do) celebrate all nations, big and small, ally or not. It’s politically messy (heck, I’ll be complaining about this tomorrow when the IOC feels my wrath), but this messiness draws attention to the present-ness of other countries, their needs, values, and expectations. Sometimes North and South Korea compete together; sometimes they do not. Ireland proves a necessary opening ceremony buffer between Iran and Israel. At these moments we must (as in should) think about how these places see each other and themselves independent of us. I guess I am saying I like the Olympics for the same reason we like literature and drugs: it is another chance to not be trapped by ourselves in ourselves.

Perhaps ironically, what makes the Olympics additionally interesting is that despite this balm for the rash of American exceptionalism, I find myself particularly patriotic during the Olympics. I’ll celebrate athletic excellence in and of itself as much as the next cosmopolitan fellow, but I’m watching the medal count like a patriotic scoundrel.
Combining these two instincts (a rejection of exceptionalism and a performance of patriotism), I can root for my country not as an exception but as an equal participant in an international community event: because I'd like to be a patriot in a country that is uniquely my own, but which must responsibly share the stage with other countries unique in their own right.


  1. First, the crow is a major symbol in shamanism, often associated with death, but better still, associated with "transformation." Awesome choice.

    How about a question of kairos, to start things off: I wonder if you would've been equally averse to the American Exceptionalist attitude back when America actually was exceptional? In other words, is it the staking out of a special place in the world that bothers--or is it simply that the description isn't fitting the present reality?

  2. As my final line indicated, I do feel the uniqueness of America. In many regards, it is exceptional - I am, in fact, patriotic. "American Exceptionalism," however, seems to suggest, at least when I have run across it, a concomitant superiority. We are exceptional and thus inherently better and more deserving than other countries. Certainly, crafting a special place - an ethos if you will - is understandable and not bothering. It is when that crafting becomes the carving of everybody else that the trouble starts.