Tuesday, August 11, 2009

American Exceptionalism

The phrase "American Exceptionalism" is often used to describe the United States' meteoric rise to military and economic superstardom. Within 200 years, the USA had evolved from a loose collection of colonial states to the preeminent superpower on the planet, and historians will no doubt spend years attempting to discern just what collection of properties and events came together to cause this to occur.

Perhaps it was due to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans insulating America from most direct attacks. Perhaps it was due to the wide variety of resources and climates spanned by the United States. Yet, Canada and Mexico both shared these advantages and neither went on to become as economically or militarily powerful. Certainly these things helped the Soviet Union emerge from the ashes of World War II into a superpower of its own and yet its power waned as rapidly as America's grew.

Ultimately, there is one thing that separated the United States from the rest of the world: it embraced natural selection. Natural selection is essentially the Theory of Evolution. Its creator, Charles Darwin, realized that members of a species with advantageous traits survive to breed more often and thus an entire species adapts. Species that adapt quickly to changes, survive. Species that do not adapt, die out...

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Founding Fathers of the United States built a nation built upon that very principle. They decided that the government would be as small as possible, and that the individuals under its umbrella would have to make it or break it on their own. As a result, Americans learned to be the best at everything, to scorn even second place, and to fear and loathe failure. This is often confused with arrogance or pretentiousness, but really it is simply that Americans believe winning is living, and losing is dying.

Of course, other nations throughout history have embraced similar thinking. The thing that separates the United States is that those cultures took it one step too far into the realm of eugenics. Spartans, for instance, killed children that had disabilities at birth. In so doing, they removed one of the key elements of evolution: random chance. Some traits often seem useless to a species, but then one day the climate changes and that trait is perfect, and so selective breeding results in almost certain destruction because those random traits have been bred out.

Instead the United States embraced that randomness. It does not believe in eugenics, but in making the most of everything, and using the ingenuity and curiosity inherent in human beings to create artificial means to adapt if necessary. Thus, it encourages each citizen to act as a microcosm for the entire species by self-evolving.

Now, why is this important? It is important because the culture in America has changed. In the name of compassion, Americans have forgotten this lesson. They choose instead to not simply help the weak, but to actively discourage adaptation. This is why a debate even exists as to whether or not the government should provide health care and whether or not health care is a right. Such a thing would be confusing and unthinkable to the Founding Fathers, who believed each of us had both the responsibility and the power to take on our own challenges, and as a result, the society would evolve and grow resilient.

Instead, the child who fails is now coddled and kept from feeling the weight of failure with participation trophies. The adult who stupidly burns himself with a hot coffee cup is awarded millions of dollars. The immigrant who has not educated himself to the common language of the culture is babied with documents in their own. The crazy lady who intentionally impregnates herself with no support system for her children is given a reality show.

This cannot continue if America wishes to remain a world power. If it does not turn back from this kind of thought, it will stagnate and die. The words of a wise primate of my era best sum up what Americans must relearn lest they vanish into extinction:
"Win and live. Lose and die. Rule of life. No change rule."
-Ayla from Chrono Trigger

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