The Consequences Of American Exceptionalism

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"Majestic, terrifying, hungry, America 2020" by u/playtho
"Majestic, terrifying, hungry, America 2020" by u/playtho

In the aftermath of a violent mob storming the U.S. Capitol building, Endless Thread got back in touch with Indi Samarajiva. Indi's a writer who lived through the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, and he was featured in Endless Thread's "Things Are Bad" episode back in October.

The team caught up with Indi to ask him about his thoughts on last week's events.

You can follow Indi on Twitter @indica. Thanks to Redditor u/playtho for this week's featured art, "Majestic, terrifying, and hungry. America 2020." You can find more of their work on Instagram @j.sidiritist.

Show Notes:

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Interview Highlights:

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity)

Ben: So we talked to you a couple of months ago about the possibility of a return to civil war in America and collapse more broadly. Has any of your thinking changed since we last spoke? 

Indi: Not really. I think you could have seen a lot of these things coming. These guys have been preparing for this for a long time. And you're just seeing this poke out into your mainstream. It's new for mainstream America. But these people buying AR-15s are not buying [them] just for fun. There's an ideology that goes with that and that's been building for a long time. The seeds of resentment, they build and they build and they build. And by the time it comes out and you become aware that it's time to stop it, it's too late because there's decades of preparation and indoctrination and stuff that's come behind it.

I think Americans are kind of like children in that they want to be comforted. And sometimes you shouldn't be comfortable.

-Indi Samarajiva, talking about some of the response to the attack on the US Capitol

Ben: Having witnessed what you witnessed last week and the news cycles that have happened since last week's events, do you think that people are finally waking up to some of the stuff that you've been talking about?

Indi: Yeah, I think people are definitely waking up. But I was watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech or his video, and I thought it was very good. He's talking about Austria, the Nazi experience, how his father was mentally traumatized by that, how he hit them like, and the trauma it made for all his neighbors. I thought that was very good.

And then he transitioned into this sort of, “But this is America. This is my Conan sword. We're going to temper the sword. We're going to come out stronger than before.” And I think Americans are kind of like children in that they want to be comforted. And sometimes you shouldn't be comfortable. It doesn't get better that easily. These things aren't all going to get devoured back into your mythology. It's actually more of an existential threat than that. It's easy to see this happening and slip back into the exceptionalism that, "Oh, we're going to be okay." And ignore the fact that you have to do a lot of stuff to be okay and you have to really look clearly at where you are and where you were. And some of that may not be pretty to look at and it may not be comforting.

Ben: You recently wrote something about how the country Georgia was an interesting example to look at when considering police reform in the U.S. Can you can you talk a little bit about that?

Indi: You know, when you have a computer problem and you can go through a million settings and try and fix it or you can just turn it off and turn it on again? So [the new leader of Georgia] essentially did that with the police force. And I think that's an underrated policy intervention, which is just turning it off and turning it on again. I think they fired like a good 80-85% of the police force, I think, starting with the traffic guys. And then they just re-recruited them in a normal way. So you got rid of all the corruption and the cliques and the corrupt cops. And they just restarted the police force. And I think the police force became one of their more trusted institutions. And I think it's also an opportunity to reevaluate what your police force should be doing. Maybe traffic is OK but maybe not mental health or maybe they don't need torture powers to do all these things.

I think America can be fixed but, to be completely honest, you don't have an Amazon Prime subscription to life. You're not going to get next day delivery on it. It's going to take time.

-Indi Samarajiva, talking about whether there's something permanently broken in the United States.

Amory: Given what went down in the Capitol last week, has something been broken that cannot be fixed?

Indi: I think America can be fixed but, to be completely honest, you don't have an Amazon Prime subscription to life. You're not going to get Next Day delivery on it. It's going to take time. And more time then you're willing to give. I think Americans are used to being sort of the center of the universe and the center of time. And that's just not the world you live in.

Ben: You talk about this idea that, you know, Americans always think that the U.S. is uniquely amazing, it's the greatest country in the world, and that this way of thinking in your mind is a big part of the problem. Why?

Indi: Well, I think it's like pain. You would think that it's great to not feel pain. But if you touch something hot, you won't pull back and you'll burn yourself. And I see the American body politic as like that. Exceptionalism is this idea that you're untouchable. You're the strongest country, you're the oldest democracy, you're the richest people. And so even when you're facing things in reality which tell you this isn't true, and even when people are telling you that this hurts them, you're like, "No, no, it doesn't hurt. We’re exceptional. We don't we don't even have these problems. These problems aren't even possible here." So you're like a body politic that doesn't feel pain. I think you need to put down exceptionalism. You need to sit in the pain that you're in. I think for white Americans, there's a sense that, "Oh, things are messed up." But for a lot of Black people, for a lot of immigrants, they're like, "No, no, this has been messed up. We've been telling you, you just haven't cared because it hasn't bothered you." And also, this is part of white identity — it's great to be American! You feel like you're on the winning sports team, like it's the New England Patriots or the Yankees. And you're proud of that association. And then you start to lose and you're like... "Why?"

Amory: There was someone who commented on the first episode that we did with you that it seemed pretty melodramatic. So, granted, that was a couple of months ago and I won't presume to know how this person feels about what happened in The Capitol last week. But what might you say to that? 

Indi: The point of a fire alarm is that it tells you when there's smoke, it doesn't tell you when there's fire. If it told you when there's fire then there'd be no point because your house would already be on fire. I'm not trying to predict the future. A lot of immigrants in your midst, a lot of Black people, have been talking about this. Nobody is trying to predict the future. We're trying to stop it. But the idea that someone saying something scary is being melodramatic, I mean, come on. What if everyone heard a fire alarm and said, "Oh, don't panic. That'll be disorderly." No, you idiots! That's trying to tell you so you can stop your house from lighting on fire. By the time your house is on fire, you don't need to know. And I think that comes back to exceptionalism. People just think that it can't happen to them.

There's nothing built-in in a democracy that prevents fascism.

-Indi Samarajiva, talking about how Hitler came to power via the democratic process

Amory: You've seen your own country, Sri Lanka, claw itself back from extreme violence and civil war. What do you think the incoming Joe Biden administration can or should do to prevent further violence?

Indi: I think Biden's tendency is to reach across the aisle and you can't reach across the aisle if the other people are going to slit your throat. Just look at your own civil war history. Your politicians tried to accommodate, accommodate, accommodate. And it just didn't work. These people aren't actually going to compromise. You can't negotiate with fascism. If you read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, people tried that with Hitler. He was let out of jail on the condition that he would engage through the democratic process. And then he did. And he just took over through the democratic process. There's nothing built-in in a democracy that prevents fascism. I think if you have, essentially, one-third of the country that's down with fascism, which you 100 percent have here, that's very dangerous. And if you don't have that accountability at the top level, then they'll just keep coming back. If you give a mouse a cookie, pretty soon they're going to want some milk. If you give these bastards a coup, pretty soon they're going to take the whole thing.

Ben: What do you think people who are just waking up need to do?

Indi: Just look to the people around you who've been saying this. And I don't mean random people in Sri Lanka. I'm just a canary in some other coal mine. There's Black people around you who have known things are bad. They've lived it. They've been organizing on the ground. They've been saying, "Stay woke." Conservatives make fun of that phrase, but "woke" means that if you go into some town where you're in danger of being lynched or hurt, "stay woke" as in, "stay alert." These people have been warning you. Look to those people. Put them in positions of leadership because they're just far more aware of the threats around you. Those are your fire alarms, so you should listen to them now. It's not like you need to suddenly accelerate your perception because it's just too slow. I read a lot of American op-eds and, no offense, but it's the same white guys figuring things out in real time. Why do that? There's people who have been aware of this for a long time.

Josh Crane Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.


Frank Hernandez Assistant Producer



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