As a nation, we are ontologically insecure, yet we define ourselves as exceptional. We are ontologically homeless in a state of exception.
Political theorists and pundits talk about American exceptionalism as a global stance, as a doctrinal extension of our manifest destiny. In the American Monomyth, Jewett and Lawrence elaborate on this bedrock of our national imagination. We conceive ourselves as superheroes rescuing the world. The problem is that at the end of the story, closure is attained when paradise is restored, and the hero fades into the background. American exceptionalism inherently prevents this closure. We believe we are all special snowflakes, and hence we cannot allow ourselves to fade into obscurity. Because we are the pinnacle of individualist culture, we must remain heroes in the foreground. Thus, we situate ourselves in a permanent state of exception, a la Agamben.
In other words, in order to save the world, we stay in constant chaos that permits us to make exceptions to the rules just this once – the rules of democracy, the rules of law, the rules of good behavior. The permanent state of just this onceness keeps us forever in the heroic present rather than in the obscurity of foreclosure. We all get to stay as special snowflakes, collectively and individually.
When our homes were taken from us in the housing crash, our mini-kingdoms, our ontological security was threatened, and we were set adrift. Such events might be frightening to most communities, but we are having exceptional difficulty with this problem because we are exceptional creatures. It’s the difference between the prince’s eviction and the pauper’s.
I’m not sure what this means, except that we are still unwilling to admit we aren’t the prince, despite the 99% bumper sticker and Obama’s reelection. Maybe I’m naive, but why else would people continually work against their own interests?