Monday, March 23, 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015


'I am God's vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.' Kanye West

I'm better than you! I can lift more weight, run faster and jump higher than all (or most) of you. I'm young, healthy and fairly intelligent. I also sound like a jerk talking like this. None of the claims I've made (whether true or not) add to my intrinsic value; yet, if I substitute my physical abilities with fame, money or political power (in many circles) I would be seen as a “better” person. In many ways Kanye West is the most logical conclusion of our materialist culture; a culture shot through with hubris and bravado. The conservative mythos of American exceptionalism is epitomized in the actions of Kanye West.

Confidence is an invisible minefield; straying too far off the path can lead to arrogance. If you ask a conservatives to explain American exceptionalism they, generally, start with the notion that God ordained this land and blessed our forefathers with the courage and vision to shape history for the rest of the world. At some point they'll tell you America is the freest, most enlightened, wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world. We could debate the validity of these beliefs, but we can't deny their impact in shaping our society. Any challenge to American hegemony is equated with treason. The pride some Americans feel is based on a skewed set of metrics that always point to us being number one.

In an article about Finland Katja Pantzar wrote:

If there's one characteristic that applies to almost all Finns, it's extreme modesty. Finns don't boast about their own achievements; often they don't even mention them. You might spend an entire evening at a dinner party socialising with someone – only to find out later that they hold a world championship title for downhill skiing, invented a key component of the mobile phone or have accomplished some other "minor" achievement.

Please don't confuse my use of  this quote as another example of a liberal looking to the Scandinavian countries as a template for how we should live. There are areas where their focus on the collective have yielded better results than our dogmatic belief in rugged individualism, but It's their collective modesty that's important to this argument. Societies like Finland undoubtedly produce their share of jerks, but they couldn't have produced a Kanye West. He's as American as Apple pie. A product of our belief in American exceptionalism, even when that belief is detrimental to those affected by our behavior. His rhetoric about personal greatness, the genius in his music and his place in history rival the red meat speeches given at any CPAC or RNC lectern.

Liking (or not liking) Kanye West or his music is a separate issue from a critique of his character. Often, our ideas need physical examples to be fully understood. For many on the left the false machismo of the 2nd Amendment and Tea Party crowd serve as that example. While there might be nuggets of truth in their rhetoric it gets drowned out by their claims of moral superiority and patriotism. There's a chance Kanye West is a genius, but his actions scream jerk. America might be the greatest country in the world, but our constantly reminding the rest of the world comes off as conceit. America has progressed towards greatness because ordinary citizens have made (and continue to make) hard choices and personal sacrifices, not because we beat on our chests and remind the rest of the world of our military and economic prowess. It's hard for me to fault a person for embracing the prevailing ideology of our generation. If you see enough bumper stickers and hear enough politically driven jargon supporting the idea of American exceptionalism it isnt a far leap in logic to assume that if America is number 1, and I'm at the top of my chosen field: ispo facto I'm number 1. I'm not saying it's right, but it isn't that far of a leap to make.