By Michael Brenner
Americans, more than most other peoples, live by their collective myths. American 'exceptionalism' in particular holds a key place in their make-up. That places an exceptional burden on preserving our foundation fables. The impulse to pursue real and imagined enemies across much of Eurasia and Africa is propelled in part by the fearful quest for absolute security that is taken as an American birthright. That impulse is reinforced by the imperative to validate the nation's mythical self-image. Atavistic beliefs that Americans are winners, that they act selflessly in the world, that this goodness should be recognized by others, that Truth is on their side--together form the keystone of American being and meaning. Individuals' sense of worth is tied to this mythologized collective identity. This makes it exceedingly difficult, psychologically, to cut loose from actions that failed the test of utility in meeting national interests years ago. For the dread of facing a reality bereft of the moral and ideational sustenance those myths provide is stronger than is the fear of costly wars without end and corrupted ideals.
A mind shaped by feelings of dread, ingrained superiority and resentment is totally self-absorbed. It suffers from a lack of interest in the attitude of foreign parties--much less an ability to understand them. We launch ourselves into one audacious venture after another whose success supposedly depends on reorienting the thinking of the natives, of winning a battle for hearts and minds, for instilling new norms of behavior--all overlaid with respect for the United states. Yet we show little concern for finding out who these people are--much less adjusting our own actions accordingly. They are just 'they.' So we scold, we instruct, we insist--and we bribe. They resist, they fume, they ignore--and they pocket, sometimes. This is what Washington celebrates as "smart power."
They suffer accordingly. We suffer their reaction--and from our incapacity to rethink what we are doing and why.
It's George Zimmerman vs. Trayvon Martin on an international level. Zimmerman/America attacks, Martin/foreigners defend. Zimmerman/America imagines that Martin/foreigners are evil and kills them accordingly. Then Zimmerman/America declares itself the real victim even though it attacked first.
For more on the subject, see "6 Ridiculous Lies" About Indians and Chomsky on Genocide Denial.
Below: "How dare you threaten us with your heathen ways?!"