The Cognitive Dissonance of American Exceptionalism
Conspiracies theorists might be insane, but we can learn from them
The biggest irony of the past decade is that, despite our quickly eroding social values, seen in the increasing reality-TV style presidential elections, and literal reality TV-style presidents, most people still insist on claiming that US is the superior country with the superior government.
It’s no surprise the majority of American people have never traveled outside the country. If they had, they would quickly realize that there are several countries out there who have more respect for their fellow people, as well as their government, than we do.
Americans have come to the point where, after decades of conditioning, we are prone to the expectation that a government should be antagonized, should be look at cynically, and should not by any means, be considered as on the same side as its people. This explains why, when we see countries full of people who support their government, we call those people brainwashed and call the government evil for brainwashing its people. We have become self-prophetically impervious to the reality of our government acting effectively in the interest of its people.
Conspiracy theorists are different. Conspiracy theorists are people who have realized that there are serious problems with our governmental structure, but fail to admit that there are other countries, and governments, who are doing better. They simultaneously believe that 1) everything their government does is wrong and evil , and 2) everything their government says is true and irrefutable. The former is what leads them to distrust all people in power — that they are all in on a concerted effort to manipulate and exploit the public — whereas the latter is what makes them incapable of seeing the world outside of their limited, America-centric worldview where we are superior to all other countries — if we are failing, they must be doing even worse.
Is the government of the United States failing its people? Yes. But does that mean all humanity is doomed? Not at all.
There is a very simple exit hatch from these apocalyptic thoughts: Travel. See the world. Speak to people from other countries. Not everyone everywhere is experiencing the same issues we are. Societies on the other side of the world are improving, developing, and thriving — not collapsing. Once we can accept that we are not the world’s chosen one — the infallible beacon of virtue and freedom, truth and prosperity — we can then realize that our failure is not the end of all humanity.
But there’s a catch. The reason the United States is quite literally in a death spiral is because of nothing more than that same closed-mindedness that prevents us from seeing the success of other countries. The world is a globalized place, and we do not live in a vacuum. So we could very easily be leveraging other countries’ success for our own. But we choose not to. We are drowning, and instead of accepting the hand that wants to pull us out, we want to pull them in to drown with us. Our conspiracies serve as an invisible force-field from reality; closing us off the fact that other countries are doing well, and preventing us from taking any opportunities that would allow us to be helped by anybody else.
The ironic thing here is that conspiracy theorists, in some twisted way, are actually closer to the truth than most of the rest of us. At least they have accepted that things are not going well for our country on the whole.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like if after each bout of mass social unrest in this country, each political party just continues to blame the other rather than making any attempting at solving problems, there is quite obviously a bigger issue with our country as a whole. When we insist on blaming the opposing party, rather than seeking real solutions, we are making it that much more difficult for ourselves to climb out of our over-politicized justifications for everything wrong with our country; we are regressing deeper and deeper into delusion.
Conspiracy theorists are halfway there. They realize there is a problem on both sides of the aisle. They realize that we are going down as one big, hyper-polarized ship. Yet they are blind to the reality that the world consists of more than one ship, and that there are lifeboats to bring us to safety. Rather than mobilizing, taking action, trying to minimize death and destruction, they’d rather stand on a chair and shout angrily about the captain being an Illuminati, and that it was an inside job to hit the iceberg, all part of a bigger plot to do something even more sinister and evil…
Meanwhile the rest of is don’t even realize the ship is sinking.
I think we can both accept that things are not going well for us, as a country, but also not get involved in theories that say that our demise was orchestrated by an elite group of businessmen, or aliens, or sea-monsters, or what-have-you. I think it’s a healthy thing, as both an individual, and a society, to recognize our flaws and shortcomings. But the next step, rather than assigning blame, is to help ourselves. Let’s open our minds and learn from those societies who are doing well, who are thriving at this point in human history, and grab that helping hand. Because if we wait too long, their arm will get tired, and they’ll go on with their day.