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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2011
Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
“A sense of inner exceptional nature probably drives the existence of most individuals and seems to be a Darwinian adaptive trait. Tribal pride is not only ancestral but ubiquitous…”
Overconfidence, or “believing you are better than in reality, is advantageous because it increases ambition, morale, resolve, persistence or the credibility of bluffing, generating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which exaggerated confidence boosts up success,” write Dominic D.P. Johnson and James H. Fowler in their latest article, The Evolution of Overconfidence, published in Nature in September.
Johnson and Fowler remark that “populations become overconfident, as long as benefits from contested resources are large compared with the cost of competition. The fact that overconfident populations are evolutionarily stable in diverse environments may explain why overconfidence remains prevalent today, even if it contributes to hubris, market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and wars.”
In “Democracy in America” (Volumes I, 1835, and II, 1840: visit Democracy in America Online), the French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville [image left] acknowledged and critically contemplated the originality and uniqueness of the 19th century emerging superpower, the United States. He called it “exceptional” for its generalized equality and constitutional democracy, and for its commercial habits and pragmatism.
In retrospect, his observations about American ideology, cultural cohesiveness and shared values were astute and visionary. But de Tocqueville also detected the underlying fabric of puritan thinking, the essence of our modern conservatism:
“Almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth [Alexis de Tocqueville].”
The clause “American exceptionalism” was apparently used, depreciatively, by Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) while forecasting in the 1920s that the American wealth, technological pride and social fairness were temporary and fated to collapse, unless communism took over. Ironically, the Soviet system crumpled in the 1980s and its “restructuring” — Perestroika — led to political and economic reform by mimicking the market-based models of the West, which, paradoxically, became today’s fiasco in a landscape of deregulated money-making opportunities that did not benefit –mainly– the people.
Winston Churchill (UK), Franklin Roosevelt (USA) and Joseph Stalin (USSR), The “Big Three,” at The Yalta Conference, 1945. They met to discuss the future of Europe after World War II. [Click for VIDEOS The Yalta Conference].
The idea of exceptionalism consolidated in the United States and abroad after the 1950s, based on unparalleled industrial transformations, scientific achievements, competitive labor and education. Reality surpassed the cliche of uniqueness and actually disproved one of de Tocqueville’s assertions: that Americans’ exclusive trading interests “diverted their minds from the pursuit of science, literature and the arts” and that, therefore, exceptionalism was evident mainly in socio-economic affairs.
But living up to exclusiveness has proved difficult, and fast excessive wealth has led to ignore the history that created the “extraordinary.” It was judicious investment in rigorous education, basic science and technology that gave rise to the best universities in the world, the finest hospitals, unrivaled space explorations, magnificent natural history museums and ecologically managed national parks. Farms, factories, highway connectivity and urbanization prospered due to an agile economy that generated, in hindsight, short lasting bonanza.
“It was judicious investment in rigorous education, basic science and technology that gave rise to unrivaled space explorations” — Mission Control International Space Station — Houston, photo G. Paz-y-Miño C. © 2011
And it was an outstanding work force, driven by the highest standards of performance, that enriched today’s heartless, and sometimes brainless, “top 1 percent,” the financial conservative elite who opposes science, mocks intellectuals and ridicules college education. The overconfident mega-wealthy who question the reality of human-induced climate change, reject evolution, blame vaccines for causing mental retardation or autism, diminish the importance of biodiversity, and oppose environmental protection and clean energy.
Above: Cumulative Growh in Average After-tax Income, by Income Group (percentage change in income since 1979, adjusted for inflation); source US Congressional Budget Office, CBO Report October 2011
Above: Share of Total After-tax Income, by Income Group (percent); source US Congressional Budget Office, CBO Report October 2011
Yet, they claim the value of exceptionalism as their own and intend to renegotiate it for the upcoming elections, re-sell it to the voters — as in the profitable stock market — of course, without committing their assets, or taxes, to the continuation of the “extraordinary,” thus neglecting that “uniqueness” took a century to be erected over the human capital of workers, artists, scientists, musicians, teachers, novelists or poets, who invested themselves, and fully, to harvest collective good.
If a bailout is an “act of loaning or giving capital to a company, a country, or an individual that is in danger of collapsing, in an attempt to prevent ruin,” then the exceptionalism that we treasure must be rescued — “bailed out” — by the prosperous untouchable class that amassed fortune over the exceptional labor of their compatriots. — © 2011 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved
World Extreme Poverty Map 2008
Source: for original document Click on 2008 World Development Indicators, The World Bank.
Above: Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. Source World Bank Development Indicators 2008.
Above: In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%. Source World Bank Development Indicators 2008.
Recommended Book: The Price of Civilization, 2011, by Jeffrey D. Sachs
“…At the root of America’s economic crisis lies a moral crisis: the decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite. A society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough if the rich and powerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the rest of society and toward the world. America has developed the world’s most competitive market society but has squandered its civic virtue along the way. Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery…” says author Jeffrey D. Sachs.