American Exceptionalism and the Mormon "Chromosome"

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Tiassa, Jun 16, 2012.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    The Mormon Chromosome

    Let us see, then, if we can dispense with the faux-literalism and get to the heart of the issue.

    Rep. Mike Lee (R-UT) is a Tea Party Republican who unseated three-term incumbent Bob Bennett because the eighteen-year conservative Congressman wasn't conservative enough. And he made the news again this week for claiming that Mormons have an extra chromosome.

    Setting aside the idea that an extra chromosome is the simplest explanation of Down's Syndrome, one of the problems with American politics is that people are expected to take Lee's comments literally. Mormons, regardless of what we think of their ideology, are not genetic mutations.


    When quizzed if Romney's religion or ties to conservative Utah will make him a different kind of president, Lee, also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that Mormons like Romney have an optimistic view of the United States.

    "Mormons sort of have an extra chromosome when it comes to American exceptionalism," he said. "Mormons do have an added dose of a belief in American exceptionalism," he said.

    "We believe that this is a choice land that it's a great place to be. We believe that the founding of America was something that was brought about with a degree of divine intervention and certainly inspiration," said Lee, who added that all presidents arrive in the Oval Office with a heightened belief in the nation.

    (Bedard; boldface accent added)

    Certes, in some future not especially distant, we can expect some bonehead to argue for the suppression of Mormons because they are inhuman, and cite Lee's "extra chromosome" argument, but that's bonery yet to come, so we can deal with that when it comes up.

    The problem with the concept of American exceptionalism is one of definitions. Over a century ago, Emma Goldman wrote:

    What is patriotism? Is it love of one's birthplace, the place of childhood's recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it the place where, in childlike naivety, we would watch the fleeting clouds, and wonder why we, too, could not run so swiftly? The place where we would count the milliard glittering stars, terror-stricken lest each one "an eye should be," piercing the very depths of our little souls? Is it the place where we would listen to the music of the birds, and long to have wings to fly, even as they, to distant lands? Or the place where we would sit at mother's knee, enraptured by wonderful tales of great deeds and conquests? In short, is it love for the spot, every inch representing dear and precious recollections of a happy, joyous, and playful childhood?

    If that were patriotism, few American men of today could be called upon to be patriotic, since the place of play has been turned into factory, mill, and mine, while deafening sounds of machinery have replaced the music of the birds. Nor can we longer hear the tales of great deeds, for the stories our mothers tell today are but those of sorrow, tears, and grief.

    What, then, is patriotism? "Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels," said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman.

    Gustave Hervé, another great anti-patriot, justly calls patriotism a superstition—one far more injurious, brutal, and inhumane than religion. The superstition of religion originated in man's inability to explain natural phenomena. That is, when primitive man heard thunder or saw the lightning, he could not account for either, and therefore concluded that back of them must be a force greater than himself. Similarly he saw a supernatural force in the rain, and in the various other changes in nature. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self-respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit.

    In the twenty-first century, we have exhausted the word "patriotism". So now the argument shifts to "American exceptionalism". But what does that term even mean?

    Goldman's assessment of patriotism could well describe one of the competing definitions of American exceptionalism. Conservatives often denounce liberals for rejecting American exceptionalism, though liberals would often respond that they are using a different definition. Liberals often denounce conservatives for hiding behind the idea of American exceptionalism in order to betray the American heritage of liberty and justice for all.

    For Rep. Lee, and also Mitt Romney, one would expect the Utah congressman's "extra chromosome" argument to apply in a context derived from a more conservative version of American exceptionalism—one in which the working classes support the excesses of the wealthy, who in turn push for a society more resembling feudalism than a modern, industrial republic; one in which American wars are justified simply because we choose to pick a fight; one in which the difference between Americans who torture and the despots and terrorists who torture is the fact that Americans are Americans (who can, apparently, do no wrong unless they're Democrats).

    What, then, is Rep. Lee telling Americans about Mormons? Are they wealth-worshipping war-dogs, only more so because they have a superior, God-given love for war, corruption, supremacism?

    I sincerely doubt that's what he meant.

    But what did he mean, then?

    And given the fact of the infamous "three-fifths compromise", is there any relationship between a Mormon heritage of white supremacism and the assertion of divine intervention and inspiration that denigrated and enslaved people according to the color of their skin?

    What actually strikes me as politically deft in Lee's comments is that any focus on the actual "extra chromosome" bit will create something of a rhetorical circus that ignores the deeper questions and implications of the Utah congressman's outlook.

    So, what is American exceptionalism? And should we really apply the notion so broadly as to justify our colossal screw-ups, like the Iraq War and the Wall Street meltdown of 2008? Is American exceptionalism really anything more than supremacist ideology wrapped in a lipstick-adorned pig wrapped in a blanket?


    Bedard, Paul. "Mitt ally: Mormons have extra dose of patriotism". The Washington Examiner. June 12, 2012. June 16, 2012.

    Goldman, Emma. "Patriotism: A Menace to Society". Anarchism and Other Essays. 1911. Anarchy Archives. June 16, 2012.
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  3. Cavalier Knight of the Opinion Registered Senior Member

    Just to be clear, I feel confident the "extra chromosome" reference was a poorly chosen analogy, not a statement of his actual belief about the genetics of Mormons. It is an exaggeration similar to the way in which people claim they will in 110% of their effort for causes they believe in.

    Mormonism places an extraordinary emphasis on America since, if one believes their stories, America was the site of the Garden of Eden and God led certain Israelites here when Israel itself became corrupt. That said, I don't think the Book of Mormon mentions America, it simply recasts the traditional religious mythology in a way that sets it in the New World and suggests some special destiny for this particular land. It could be, without any inconsistency with Mormonism that I know of, that America could fall, and one or more new nations rise up, and those new nations would be occupying the still scripturally special lands that Lehi and his family found after sailing here from Israel.

    So he likely meant, simply, that Mormons in general are especially strong in their belief in American exceptionalism. He may also, in part, feel that way because to a Mormon, this is their "Holy Land."

    No. Or at least not inherently. I'm sure there are Mormon white supremacists (though given the outreach of the Mormons around the world, I'd be surprised if there were very many white supremacist Mormons. Why would Thomas Monson—the "prophet, seer and revelator" of God's will on Earth—bother with all the outreach to brown and yellow people if whites were indeed supreme?

    Certainly the LDS position on that issue has evolved over time, but if one is to remain LDS, one has to believe in Monson as being in contact with God in some fashion.

    Still, there are non-LDS Mormons out there, and I'd guess between them and a few LDS people who bite their tongues on such matters there as much racism in that faith as there is anywhere else.

    As I said, they see this as the Holy Land, as much as many others see Israel in that light. That does not mean that they see America a perfect, and more than Jews see modern or ancient Israel as perfect. If one believes the Torah, the God really did set that land aside for the Israelites, and yet believing that doesn't mean one must believe that the later murder of the Benjamites (Judges 20) was justified or that mistreatment of the Palestinians is acceptable.

    Mormons, especially, suffered early in their history at the hands of Americans, and they fought tooth and nail to get out of America. They went to Utah back when Utah was Mexican land, to escape America. America merely later enveloped them again, when it took the land from Mexico at the end of the Mexican American War, and that then touched off hostilities between Mormons and the federal government (which no doubt is how Mitt's grandfather would up moving to Mexico). So far as I know, Mormons are correct in stating that theirs is the only religion in America for which an extermination order was ever issued (by the governor of Missouri).

    The more interesting question, to me, is how did Mormons transform themselves from anti-American "outsiders" prior to 1900, driven father and farther west by the hatred of their fellow Americans and which resulted in a series of armed conflicts against Americans, into such cheerleaders for America (and in many ways the conservative poster children for what it means to be "American") today.

    I do think it very clear that it would be a leap to go from what Mike Lee said to making conclusion that he, Romney or Mormons generally are more racist than other groups. Extra chromosomes probably don't make one racist is one has one extra.

    I believe it is nothing more than the newest form of the old chant "We're number one!" American exceptionalism is the (naive) belief that we're better than others because we're us. It's a theory that arises from a selection bias in that we (in America) hear that we're exceptional and look around and look around only to see how amazing this country is. We do not see as many amazing things in other countries (again, because we're *in* America, and the news we get from other countries tends to be the bad news). I personally believe that American exceptionalism is silly in that by most measurable standards, America is not very exceptional. At least among our western peers, we're not the tallest, thinnest, smartest, healthiest, richest, most well-endowed sexually or otherwise top nation in most of the categories we'd otherwise care about (we are, of course, militarily the strongest, and our culture does rather lord over the rest of the West...because American movies, music and other entertainments penetrate worldwide and dwarf that of other western nations).

    StTill, for those who do believe, one does not have to believe that America is perfect and that everything that occurs ion her soil and by the will of her politicians is justified and good in order to believe that America is the best country on the face of the Earth. Best != perfect. Trying to link American exceptionalism to white supremacy in any fundamental way is a stretch.

    I am sure there are those who do believe in both concepts, and I'm sure there are those who use one to justify the other...but I know for a fact that there are those who use the Christian gospels to justify their white supremacy, yet I feel it would be a leap to say that there is an inherent link between believe in the Christianity and being a white supremacist.
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  5. Balerion Banned Banned

    Of course he didn't really mean that Mormons have an extra chromosome. He was simply saying that American exceptionalism is a decidedly Mormon trait, that they are better at this nebulous concept than non-Mormons. It's an idiom, like saying something is "in their blood," just poorly-chosen.

    It's an interesting question as to what he meant by "American exceptionalism," though. Is it simply a neologism for "patriotism," or is it something else? Is he referring to the idea that America should strive to be exceptional, or that it already is and efforts to change it are damaging? He's a conservative, so I'm assuming the latter--unless he's got some other meaning I haven't thought of.
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  7. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Considering the source, he might actually be confusing "chromosome" and "Kodachrome".
  8. John T. Galt marxism is legalized hatred!! Registered Senior Member

    Reminder to self, stop reading monumentally, colossal, insufferable material.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Says who?

    There are people who claim to be scientifically inclined who claim that religion itself is a matter of genetics.
    I invited Fraggle for such input.
  10. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    Oh wynn, how 'faithfully' you carry out the chores of the irrational, be it quote-mining or misrespresentation [I doubt its simple misunderstanding], you always hit the mark!

    Mormons may be memetically diverse from other people but they are genetically the same. All humans are. Thats what it means to belong to the human species.

    And Fraggle said, and can be substantiated, that the human brain is inclined towards superstition because of the false positives in its pattern seeking functions. He did not say the specific religions are genetically determined, nor that the inclination towards superstition itself is deterministic. It is prevalent simply because it is a powerful memetic and psychological force and not being superstitious has become viable and beneficial only recently.

    You would do well to not try and fudge things in the matter of reference or science, because unlike your similiar attempts in religion or philosophy, you will get owned.
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    Always resort to the ad hom, eh?


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