America’s Inverted Exceptionalism: Collective Self-Hatred as a Sign of Individual Privilege

Today I saw this come across my social media wall:


This is standard of a lot of Anglo-speakers both in the US and outside of it: spread a meme critical of one’s home country without checking its fact. The US is a particular target because its own internal narrative about “exceptionalism.”  Here is the issue with this narrative of the US as uniquely horrible–only three the stated facts are true–and one of the true ones is highly misleading.  There are more McDonald’s in the US than anywhere else, and the US is effectively a police state.  This is horrible enough.

Let’s start with the first one: “Total Crime” while I could find some highly questionable sources saying the US had the most “total crime,” no area where the UN or other international groups keep records could I find the US dominating in any one category per capita. I have already written about how the US murder rate is quite low and even limiting it to OECD countries is actually in the middle of the pack.  The US is relatively low on everything else but drug crimes.   However, criminalizing so much of grey market in such stark terms is unique to the US and says little about US culture and more about its heavy policing system of laws.   Even the worse US city only has a murder rate of 12 to 100,000. The medium size city I live in here in Mexico has nearly double that, and countries like Honduras go as high as 98 per hundred thousand.

So that statistic is meaningless.

What about “Rape Statistics”--and again, no.   Like murder, any amount of rape is unacceptable, and it is high in the industrialized world in general.  The US does not come off well here, but it is not the worse offender… by far.   

The US number is amazingly high, 38 in 100,000 reported, and, at least double that in unreported; however, in countries like South Africa, it is 138 per 100,000 reported.      Furthermore, the US is high for the OECD, but not dramatically so.  Even Nordic countries like Sweden show almost as many reported per 100,000 while some countries in the EU have suspiciously low amounts like Spain.

There are as spikes in this rate due to rape culture being employed as tactical weapons in sectarian conflicts or narco trafficking.

So, while it is a horrible statistic, the US isn’t number 1 there either.

Then we come to CO2 Emissions.

Again, No.  In fact, it’s China.    Admittedly, China is trying to develop technologies to fight this faster than the States, but that does not make the first “statistic” true.

What about Divorce Rates?

This does appear to the true, but with the caveat that fewer and fewer people are getting married in the first place. The divorce is dropping everywhere no-fault divorce exists because it appears that there is less marriage overall.

Teen Birth Rate?

I did find one other source that claimed this for the US, but it removed all of Eastern Europe, South Asia, non-English speaking North America, Africa…. it mainly compared the E.U, Canada, Japan, and the US.  When actually doing world statistics, the US is high for a country that is developed, but it seems to be tied to both regional and poverty statistic. Regardless, even in absolute numbers, it’s not true.   Furthermore, the US teen birth rate has dropped from 56 per 1,000 in 2002, to 26 per 1,100 in 2012.

So, no.

Heart Attack?

I thought this was true myself. Apparently not.   In fact, the US doesn’t even really rank despite being the  2nd most obese country.


True, for now anyway.

Plastic Surgery?

Okay, in raw numbers, maybe.    

Per capita, no.  That’s probably South Korea.

One should note that the US numbers do not separate plastic surgery for health reasons with cosmic surgery.

Prison System?

Absolutely and horrifically true. In fact, as of two years ago, the US surprised even the highest estimates of the number of people both in raw numbers and per capita than Stalin’s Russia.

So what is your problem here?

This inverting American exceptionalism, which is a place I choose not to live in and which deserves most of the inventive thrown at its government, is not somehow the most uniquely screwed place on earth despite its wealth.  It’s political system seems to make it ill equipped to deal with many elements of the modern world; however, as far as states go, it is not a failed state.  It is neither the most violent nation on earth–at least, internally–nor is it the most polluting.  These sorts of silly moralizing memes, in addition to being wrong, actually end up down-playing the actual damage done by capitalism outside of its core countries.  It underplays the way narco-trafficking and gray markets in capitalism have hurt most of the developing world. Indeed, this kind of inverted exceptionalism is the problem of the same kinds of privileges, it criticizes.

The truth of the matters at hand is America is an outlier in the developed world due its inequity and particularly useless federal system; it, however, is not Mad Max land and all one has to do is give it up to defeat the ills of the modern world and capitalism.

This notion as implied by these memes is something one should fight–or, at least, question–not spread around on social media outlets.  These memes always get a lot of likes, people often assuage bad faith guilt by seeming to hate the very society they live in, and yet often in doing so they are placing that blame on some internal other within the society–generally, some perceived immoral element.  Ultimately, it seems like this trend is partly to show a sense of moral superiority and class distinction over those who are guilty of being poorer (notice the selection of ideas here would be things effecting the US poor), or, more charitably, it is a misguided attempt by well-meaning people who want to illustrate the evils in the world, but don’t really know what exactly those problems actually are and where those problems happen.

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