Sunday, November 20, 2011


The NY Times' Charles Blow discussed Pew Global Attitudes survey results and noted the apparent "Decline of American Exceptionalism."

I am wary of surveys like this and leary of inevitable framing effects. Daniel Kahneman drives this home.  His amazing Thinking Fast and Slow clarifies these and many related problems as we try (try) to learn and think.

But aside from all that, we expect some cultural chauvinism everywhere. We also hope that there is some increase in cosmopolitanism.

If we are going to rank/compare cultures, how about whether or not they have incorporated Enlightenment values?  In fact, when Steven Pinker looks for explanations for declining violence, Enlightenment values is one of his favorites.

But whereas Blow highlights global similarities (47% of Germans think their culture is "superior", but 49% of Americans do), I noted some of the key survey differences.  Asked whether "Freedom to pursue life's goals without state interference" is more important than "State guarantees nobody is in need", only the Americans were the only ones who weighed in more heavily for the former.  Asked whether "Success in life is determined by forces outside our control," Americans showed the highest levels of disagreement. 

We do not have to call it "exceptionalism", but it is exceptional.