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Aug-16-2010 01:13printcomments

American Denialism

America is the most economically inequitable nation on earth among the developed countries.

Carol O'Connor as Archie Bunker; an American phenomena.
Carrol O'Connor as Archie Bunker; an American phenomena.

(CALGARY, Alberta) - I recently read a book: Denialism: How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet and threatens our lives. It was about: people who refuse to have their children vaccinated in the face of all the evidence demonstrating the efficacy of vaccination; people who believe that “organic” food is “better” with no evidence to support the belief; people who believe in alternative medicines and cures, again, despite the lack of evidence to support their beliefs.

After reading the book, it struck me that denialism is a psychological phenomenon that applies equally well to most American’s beliefs about themselves and their country.

It’s another side of cognitive dissonance which allows people to simultaneously believe contradictory facts without obvious mental conflict.

In nearly eighteen months of commenting on American society, my experience has been one of denial by most commenters to the many facts I presented.

I introduced charts and economic information, all of which was denied by many commenters without providing a single countervailing item.

In a small number of cases, in fact, commenters actually made stuff up. In a larger proportion of cases, some commenters resorted to insult and invective which is a certain sign of having no valid countervailing argument.

Another batch of commenters tried diversion and deflection by, instead of responding to a specific statement, would try to point out Canada’s failings.

Sometimes those statements were accurate, but they do nothing to refute the argument they are denying.

I’m reminded of the famous Monty Python skit “The Argument”.

A man comes in wanting to have an argument. The man at the desk says he has to pay first. The man pays and attempts to begin an argument. The man at the desk, “I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to argue unless you pay”.

“But, I just did”.

“No, you didn’t”.

“Yes, I did”.

“No, you didn’t”.

The man then says, “Look, an argument isn’t the automatic gainsaying of whatever someone says”.

There is it is. Too often, in the comments section, readers just automatically gainsaid my statements and left it at that.

In a recent comment, I quoted Ferdinand Lundberg from The Rich and the Super-rich:

Whereas European royalty and nobility played profound integral roles in European history, the latter-day American rich were more like hitchhikers who opportunistically climbed aboard a good thing. They produced neither the technology, the climate, the land, the people nor the political system. Nor did they, like many European groups (as in England) take over the terrain as invading conquerors. Rather did they infiltrate the situation from below, insinuate themselves into opportunely presented economic gaps, subvert various rules and procedures, and, as it were ride a rocket to the moon and beyond, meanwhile through their propagandists presenting themselves, no less, as the creators of machine industrialization which was in fact copied from England and transplanted into a lush terrain.

One Salem-News writer did not like this quote and wrote: “Re yrs from Lundberg, his own crotchety tone and some of why he wrote as he did is all too well-known --but not, apparently, to you.” If it’s “all too well known”, who else knows it? An example of just gainsaying what I presented.

What I ask for in response to this quote is: Which of Lundberg’s assertions are wrong and what would be a correct alternative assertion?

To suggest that I “cherry pick” my quotes for arguments suggests intellectual dishonesty on my part. My quotes on a wide variety of topics have been gathered over many decades and they are selected at the time for their relevance and interest, even if they are not for a specific argument at that moment. So, I am interested in seeing some valid refutation of Lundberg, not just disagreement and gainsaying.

Here’s another quote I found some years ago by John Wain, a British historian writing in his biography of Samuel Johnson. On America in the 18th century he wrote:

While refusing to pay taxes, the colonists nevertheless continued to accept the protection of British naval power. It has always seemed to me that Johnson had a real point here. No country in history has gone through its teething period with so little interference from outside as the United States. During the century and a half in which the country grew up, the possibility of foreign invasion was simply not a problem. And the reason, or one of the reasons, must surely be the thoroughness with which the British navy policed the North Atlantic. A pretty handsome service to be had without paying a penny.

Countervailing argument, anyone?

My psychological motivation for writing critical pieces about the United States is a fair question. I’ve answered it before, but I will reiterate. The United States has become a rogue nation on the world stage. I’ve covered this reality in my reviews of books like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow: America's century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq, Andrew J. Bacevich’s Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism, Susan Jacoby’s Age of American Unreason, Bruce Judson’s It could happen here: America on the brink, Garry Wills’ A Necessary Evil, and others.

As a northern neighbor, and citizen of the globe that we all share, I fear continued American harm to the earth and its other peoples. One comment response that pops up fairly regularly is along the lines that Canada should be grateful that the U.S. is there to protect us. This ignores the reality that if we were situated elsewhere on the globe, we wouldn’t need American protection. But why, being where we are, do we need protection? Because America is such a brutal nation in its treatment of others, that it is legitimately hated by many. I’m speaking here of American government policy. Many Americans, on an individual basis, are compassionate and generous to others. Unfortunately, they are not in the majority.

The belief in American Exceptionalism is one of the most egregious failings of many Americans.

Roger Cohen (an American), in reviewing The Myth of American Exceptionalism, by Godfrey Hodgson concludes:

The high number of its prison inmates is exceptional. The quality of its health care is exceptionally bad. The degree of its social inequality is exceptionally acute. Public education has gone into exceptional decline. The Americanization of the Holocaust and uncritical support for Israel have demonstrated an exceptional ability to gloss over uncomfortable truths, including broad American indifference to Hitler’s genocide as it happened.

Every nation in the world is exceptional in some ways. But American exceptionalism has the taste of America being better, special, favoured, chosen-by-God, in comparison to the other nations of the world. This takes me back to the quotes by Lundberg and Wain above. America, as a nation, has indisputably been lucky.

I’d like to reprise some of the charts I included in earlier stories. They show a negative American exceptionalism. America is a nation run by and for the exceptionally wealthy. One commenter wrote: “Our system when used properly works. We have the ability to change the system with our most powerful weapon our vote. Backed up by our right to bear arms.” and, “We do have the best system. If we choose to use it.”

Unfortunately, a clear cut case of American denialism. If the citizens have the ability to change the system, why don’t they? When in the last century did it work? What’s the point of having 300 million guns if you don’t use them?

The purpose of my critical writing and of this piece in particular, is to try to supply an antidote to the Kool-Aid that Americans drink. Put down that glass. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

American wealth concentration has returned to the level it was at in the 1920s. Since the 2008 meltdown millions of Americans have become beggared but the rich have become even richer. This first table is six years old and doesn’t reflect the recent increased concentration at the top.

America is the most economically inequitable nation on earth of the developed nations. Notice from the chart that economic concentration, the wealth held by the top 1% of Americans, reached its lowest point in 1976 and began to increase, again, with the Reagan years. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite some commenters attempt to spin the numbers, or even make up their own, America is the most violent of the developed nations. (Table 1)

American infant and child mortalities, and overall life expectancy should be the highest in the world, but they are nowhere near that (Tables 3 and 4).

Commenters are now invited to prove the opposites of my assertions or at least cast a reasonable doubt.


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place

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Syler August 22, 2010 12:45 pm (Pacific time)

Gee another hit piece on America by another liberal quasi-intellectual. Same scripts all the time, that seems to be the routine for you people. Is there no originality anymore?

Instead of denying, you could try refuting some of the presented facts.  That would be original!

Hank Ruark August 21, 2010 9:54 pm (Pacific time)

Natalie et al: Have you noted that some points of view are much sharper than others, friend Natalie ?? In fact, some are deadly dull, too...perhaps fact of life unavoidable with world views cut off from potent printed pages. 

Natalie August 21, 2010 12:16 pm (Pacific time)

I came across an interesting quote recently. Couldn't find how it exactly sounds in the original version, so here's the translation: Every person has certain horizon of views. When this horizon narrows down to the smallest particle it turns into a point. That's when that person starts saying that it's his "point of view". (Edwin Gilbert)

Anna Freud August 20, 2010 3:17 pm (Pacific time)

Your kidding right? Pickering and Cayce are the same people? Wow! So in regards to personality theory DJ, have you read much Yung? How about my Dad, Siggie?

No, I've never read any Yung. But I have read a great deal of Jung. 

August 20, 2010 10:57 am (Pacific time)

“TRIUMPHANT PLUTOCRACY” is a book available to be viewed, and considered, in its entirety, available online at google books, written by R.F. PETTIGREW, 1921 One time U.S. Senator from South Dakota, Lawyer, and Land-developer. FOREWORD: AMERICAN PUBLIC LIFE :……”The American people should know the truth about American public life. They have been lied to so much and hoodwinked so often that it would seem only fair for them to have at least one straight-from-the-shoulder statement concerning this government "of the people, by the people and for the people," about whose inner workings the people know almost nothing.....
The common people of the United States, like the same class of people in every other country, mean well, but they are ill-informed..... Floundering about in their ignorance, they are tricked and robbed by those who have the inside information and who therefore know how to take advantage of every turn in the wheel of fortune. (sic)....
At the present moment the American people are being taught "Americanism"—taught by the same gentry who are making away with billions of dollars, sometimes "legally" and sometimes without any sanction in the law. The most prominent among the leaders of the Americanization campaign were the most prominent among the war profiteers. They are the owners of resources and industries—the owners of America.(sic)........
Here is a newspaper story in the New York Herald (November 7, 1920) which illustrates the point. (sic) ..The War Department is assisted "by some of the leading industrial spirits of the country, who are keeping up the same enthusiastic devotion to the service of their country they displayed in the war (WWI). A little army of dollar-a-year men, headed by Benedict Crowell, former Assistant Secretary of War, has mobilized itself under the name of Army Ordnance Association and is giving its valuable time to the country without costing the government a single cent."
Who are the members of this "little army" of patriots? The Herald gives the answer in full. Besides Mr. Crowell, there are, in the Army Ordnance Association, William Wheeler Coleman, president of the Bucyrus Company of Milwaukee, Wis.; Charles Eliot Warren, past president of the American Bankers' Association ; Ralph Crews, of the law firm of Sherman and Sterling, New York City; Guy Eastman Tripp, chairman of the board of directors of the Westinghouse Company; Samuel McRoberts, of the National City Bank of New York; Waldo Calvin Bryant, president of the Bryant Electric Company; Frank Augustus Scott, former chairman of the War Industries Board; Robert P. Lament, president of the American Steel Foundries of Chicago, and C. L. Harrison, of the First National Bank of Cincinnati. What do these patriotic business men hope to gain by their devotion to the preparedness program of the War Department? ”......
When I entered the arena of public affairs in 1870, the United States, with a population of thirty-eight millions, was just recovering from the effects of the Civil War. The economic life of the old slave-holding South lay in ruins. Even in the North, the Panic of 1873 swept over the business world, taking its toll in commercial failures and unemployment and an increase in the number of tenant farmers. The policy of sending carpet-bagging rascals into the embittered South hindered reconciliation, and sectional differences prevented any effective co-operation between the two portions of the country. The result was a heavy loss in productive power and in political position. Through this period, the United States was an inconsequential factor in international affairs.......
The transformation from that day to this is complete. With three times the population; with sectionalism practically eliminated; with the South recovered economically and the economic power of the North vastly increased; with more wealth than any other five nations of the world combined; with the credit of the world in her hands; with large undeveloped, or only slightly developed resources; with a unified population and a new idea of world importance, the United States stands as probably the richest and most influential among the great nations......
I witnessed the momentous changes and participated in them. While they were occurring I saw something else that filled me with dread. I saw the government of the United States enter into a struggle with the trusts, the railroads and the banks, and I watched while the business forces won the contest. I saw the forms of republican government decay through disuse, and I saw them betrayed by the very men who were sworn to preserve and uphold them. I saw the empire of business, with its innumerable ramifications, grow up around and above the structure of government. I watched the power over public affairs shift from the weakened structure of republican political machinery to the vigorous new business empire........
Strong men who saw what was occurring no longer went into politics. Instead, they entered the field of industry, and with them the seat of the government of the United States was shifted from Washington to Wall Street. With this shift, there disappeared from active public life those principles of republican government that I had learned to believe were the means of safeguarding liberty.......
After the authority over public affairs had been transferred to the men of business, I saw the machinery of business pass from the hands of individuals into the hands of corporations—artificial persons—created in the imagination of lawyers, and given efficacy by the sanction of the courts and of the law.
When I turned to the reading of American history, I discovered that these things had been going on from the beginnings of our government, that they had grown up with it, and were an essential part of its structure. From surprise and disgust I turned to analysis and reason and, for the past twenty years, I have been watching the public life of the United States with an understanding mind. For a long time I have known what was going on in the United States.
Today I think that I know why it is going on. When I look back over the half century that has passed since I first entered public life, I can hardly realize that the America, which I knew and believed in as a young man in the twenties, could have changed so completely in so short a time. Even when I know the reason for the change, it is hard to accept it as a reality.

>>> The Army Ordnance Association continued on, and is now part of the NDIA .

Edgar Cayce August 20, 2010 9:09 am (Pacific time)

DJ you are such a child. Thin-skinned,angry and no doubt on a variety of meds. You have a very short time left because of your cardiac problems I see, but I detect other far more serious underlying medical issues, sorry buddy. So long, at least you won't have to experience another unhappy xmas. Don't buy any green bananas with those peanuts. Gee peanuts does fit a diminutive IQ like yours and even a country like canada, just a fraction in size of America. Well, with your passing, that final act, at least you will have done one positive thing with your irrelevant existence.

Jeff Pickering now writing as Edgar Cayce. The defense of denialism knows no bounds. 

Jeff Pickering August 19, 2010 6:34 pm (Pacific time)

Comparing America to Canada is like comparing apples to goobers. I do admit that a significant number of our voters have been in denial about a number of things, but "buyer's remorse" has promulgated these people in our society to come together with the rest of us over a number of issues, so by next year we should be on our way to a healthy economic recovery that will also reflect a major shake-up in leadership from top to bottom. I don't really know what the writer of this article is trying to accomplish, but it does appear that his background in American culture is quite superficial. Living here, and interacting is far superior that quoting passages from disaffected individuals who also fail to understand the American culture, regardless of their citizenship or credentials. These anti-Americans are almost always short-sighted and never really convince very many people of their dismal theories. Oh well, time will tell.

Denialism as a psychological phenomenon cannot be countered by facts.   So "by next year we should be on our way to a healthy economic recovery". Will that be courtesy of the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus?

PS You shouldn't liken America to goobers. 

Natalie August 18, 2010 5:31 pm (Pacific time)

Ah, those nuances...main point is: if someone ever calls you an American, by mistake, you would catapult into the outer space from indignation.

That reminds me of a true story. I should have kept the link so I could refer you to it directly.

A Canadian couple were in a restaurant in New Zealand and the server said to them: "You must be Canadian." Why do you say that? The server replied: "Because you say please and thank you." 

Natalie August 18, 2010 3:31 pm (Pacific time)

Neah, after so many articles, everyone should get your point, which is: America is the most violent country, who knows what still keeps it from free fall, Canada has better health care, better educational system, higher life expectancy, less infant mortality, fewer homicides, better politicians, that don't have to worry about nosy press after cheating on their wives. Didn't I get it right? Missed anything? BTW people usually remember the beginning and the ending of the speach. So, it's important. In between you can talk about old cheese in your fridge, just don't stop in the middle. Human psychology. (We used this trick with our absent-minded geography teacher)

There are nuances. We don't have better politicians; just not so many in a position to do so much damage. 

Natalie August 18, 2010 10:50 am (Pacific time)

Referring to somebody's argument without casting doubt on it puts it into the status of your own personal convictions.

Natalie: You've completely missed the point. I said "the book was about" then in the next paragraph segued into the concept of denialism itself. I made no further reference to his book.

Natalie August 17, 2010 11:50 pm (Pacific time)

Frankly speaking, I got stuck on the first paragraph. Do you really believe organic is not better, and alternative medicine is no good? If so, I'm sorry you don't know what organic food tastes like, and I'm glad you didn't have to look for alternative cures due to regular methods' failures. "No evidence to support the belief"-that is a strange phrase; not many think that way on the entire planet Earth.

I was referring to the argument made by the author, Michael Specter who argues that science is best, the be-all end-all. It's a philosophy called scientism. 

Mr. Halling August 17, 2010 6:47 pm (Pacific time)

I read this article three times over several hours. It really has no academic foundation one needs for replication. It appears not many people are interested in commenting on it. Even myopic radicals would get the point that they have failed to generate any interest. Possibly they have sniffed out your obvious agenda and have refused to bite? I see by your bio that you're from Calgary. That's a pretty conservative area, so you must be extremely unhappy. Now where did I put my violin. Oh well, don't worry, be happy.

I appreciate your clinical assessment.  Now, where did I put my meds?

Lenny Nimoy August 17, 2010 12:13 pm (Pacific time)


Again, someone posting under multiple names. I'm approving it, unedited, to make one of my points and that is denialism in the form of being abusive because there is no rational reply to my thesis as well as trying to divert attention to imaginary Canadian failings .

Interestingly, I just read an article today by Gyn Morgan, no left winger, titled "Canada well-positioned to take advantage of the new economic order" In his opening paragraph he writes:

 "What a difference a decade makes. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the main thing shielding the once invincible American greenback from apocalyptic collapse of confidence would be China’s weekly purchases of U.S. Treasury bills?"

Read the article here:  

Justin August 16, 2010 3:01 pm (Pacific time)

This article would never hold up in a formal debate environment, but since you decide who posts what, I assume, it's a waste of time for rational Americans to debate the misleading issues and stats you provided. Have you ever been schooled in debate, and not talking about high school debate? You take assumptions based on a very limited and biased group of writers, and stats that can easily be massaged. They would not pass muster. My guess is that you had a bad time on a visit down here and you just need to vent. I predict very few people will respond, except for those who operate on the same uninformed level. Earlier today a poll was listed that supposedly listed the most common kinds of traits people from various countries had. For Canadians it was "thin-skinned." Pretty accurate assessment from my observations over the years.

Considering how many different names you post with, I would normally just delete this. But I'm posting it, unedited, as a good example of American Denialism.  I'd put you in the category of both trying to divert from the issue and bringing up some imagined failing of Canada.

Julie August 16, 2010 11:33 am (Pacific time)

I REALLY like the way you think, Daniel. I am in total agreement. I have had these discussions with others, to no avail many times over the years. My fellow citizens will just tell me to move to another country. They will continue to listen with plugged ears, and see with blind eyes. Sad, really. We aren't all that and a bag of chips, really. Rogue Nation, Yes Indeed. Great article.

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