Unlike our President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, I was born and lived my formative thirty years in a country outside the U.S. or Russian territory. I now live in the U.S. for close to twenty years and have personally lived the alternative to a U.S. lifestyle, and thus can weigh in on the merit of its exceptionalism.
As an innovation economist writing a book about economic systems that drive a more reliable proxy of freedom and renewal, I also feel I have the right to speak up in matters that portray the U.S. as the ruler of the “free world,” vis-à-vis the role of other countries to achieve the delicate and much-needed balance of personal and collective freedoms for all.
I also speak up because I subscribe to exceptionalism. The need to hold ourselves up to the highest standards of perpetual perfection we aim to reach in the hopes that the grand examples we set will inspire the world.
In fact: the reason I came to the U.S. almost 20 years ago is precisely that of the pursuit of exceptionalism. But since political buzz-words tend to float in the thin air of collective “comprehension,” let me give you my version of American exceptionalism. The version I understood all too well before I came to the United States of America.
In short: the nuance Barack Obama should have applied to the definition of American exceptionalism is our unrelenting desire and drive for greatness, not necessarily today in correlation with the prudence and finesse of our execution to achieve such greatness.
Actions speak louder than words, and the words that describe our desire for greatness should not overshadow our efforts to achieve it. Not in the least because we are not, and should not, be perceived as the next übermensch.
Freedom for all is exceptionalism
And so Barack’s light-hearted mention of the term exceptionalism in his recent televised speech to the American people was bound to raise some eyebrows. For it exudes a misguided arrogance that is just as preposterous as the former World Wrestling Federation claiming to have global relevance, even fighting the World Wildlife Foundation, founded in 1961, in court for the ownership and use of its long-standing WWF trademark.
We must look at countries in their totality, in the same way we currently rule them. And despite the lows of the extreme excesses of American patriotism, we must pair those with the incredible highs by which the people of the United States of America (many of whom are descendants of immigrants from all over the world) genuinely care and wish for others the vast opportunities in life they have been given.
With my parents and grandparents as active witnesses to the devastation of the second world war, I can only imagine what would have happened if the U.S. taxpayers had not footed the tax bill and offered their sacrifice to the pursuit of freedom in Europe. Even as most European countries had already capitulated to the Nazis (save for the people in one country on the continent, take a guess), and an estimated 5.7 million Jews were savagely murdered over five years.
America’s often daring desire and drive for exceptionalism (in the way I just explicitly defined) inevitably produces an amplitude of high highs and lows. Our dogged yet admittedly imperfect pursuit of freedom predates the glaring transparency by which decisions are increasingly made. Bound to expose some unflattering and sub-optimal ugliness from the past.
An amplitude of higher highs and lower lows, aided by growing levels of transparency, for the world to criticize. Unlike the in-depth dark policies and dogmas of their own countries, where people are silenced by mounting degrees of socialism or suppressed by a vicious dictatorship. With the merit of their policies comfortably shoved under a political rug.
In those cultures, outliers of want are systematically eradicated (I should know), and the birth of great ideas subsequently aborted early. Citizens are numbed by crucial decisions that merely pass them by (Eurozone public referendum anyone?), or their opinions stymied by fear of social expulsion, retribution, or worse. Such seemingly innocuous yet debilitating social control, void of 360-degree transparency, holds its people captive under a warm Stockholm syndrome blanket, and them even defending the methods of their political captors who just tucked them in.
Bottom line: I’ll take the messiness in the pursuit of freedom over the debilitating harness of social control any day of the week.
The world in transition
I just turned 50 years old, and that brings beyond an automatic AARP card invite (which I plan to burn ritually) an increased sense of wanting to leave a better world behind than the one we found. To not just think about ourselves, but to think hard about the renewable evolution of humanity. And that requires us to think about the future and the freedoms we all ought to enjoy, regardless of where we live.
That transition to a new world order has already begun. I know countless young people, aided by the universal distribution and communication supplied by the internet and freed by more relaxed immigration and trade controls, now move away from their country of birth and live and work in countries that better match their real aspirations desired lifestyle. Freedom not just as a state of money, but more importantly, as a state of mind. That transition, of people increasingly becoming citizens of the world, poses a whole new set of challenges to countries who do not hold the pursuit of personal and collective freedom in high regard.
Frankly, we are on the cusp of redefining what freedom actually means and building economic systems that encapsulate, support, and renew the multidimensional aspects and interpretations of global freedom.
I will do so in my upcoming book.
The most significant finding from my bipartite upbringing, entrepreneurial experience, and the eight-year ramp-up to the book is that no country today can responsibly claim to deploy a remotely reliable proxy of freedom that secures our renewable evolution. And thus, no nation can seriously claim exceptionalism.
In fact, all the systems we built and other countries feverishly copied are regressive to our evolution, with a dwindling number of dissenting outliers protecting the U.S. from accelerated demise. We manage to “succeed” not because but despite the systems of our past.
So, our President’s prowess to anoint ourselves as the best of the worst in exceptionalism is quite an audacious claim. A claim that is deservedly questioned and begs for some honest reflection, along with a harsh review of our policies from the top.
The world needs leadership to thrive in peace, like all societies, big and small. Leadership that protects the pursuit of personal freedom within the context of collective freedom. That leadership is earned, not given. Like lasting friendships are. Not chosen for their equality, but out of genuine respect for their contributing differences.
The composition of that leadership will no longer be determined or held hostage by the economic narcolepsy deployed by politicians, who score points and secure longevity by protecting the gross imperfections and unnecessary increasing complexities of the past.
Instead, new leadership will emerge from the people within a country of their choosing. A country most willing to reinvent itself along the new lines of a more respectful and more reliable proxy of freedom.
And I bet my bottom dollar that reinvention will first be discovered in the United States of America. Not just because our voices are less suppressed but because the invention starts right here.