In thinking about Sex, Bombs and Burgers in an American context - which I’ve been doing a lot of lately given its U.S. launch this week - I’ve been reading up on something called “exceptionalism.” It’s a theory that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and holds that the United States is somehow a special nation in the world. While the term didn’t originally confer a sense of superiority, it has since been adapted by some thinkers to lean that way.
In considering my book, which focuses heavily on the U.S., I think there may be something to the theory, that the United States is indeed a special - and perhaps superior - nation. It’s an abhorrent thought to many non-Americans and especially us Canadians, but in fact, it’s sex, bombs and burgers that are the symbolic roots of this exceptionalism. Some explanation is in order.
Sex (pornography) = freedom. On Wednesday, I wrote about how the U.S. is a porn leader. Like it or not, pornography has its place in a prosperous and exceptional nation. American producers have argued for decades that what people choose to do - or consume - in their own homes is their business and that government has no place in it. For the most part, the courts have sided with them, enshrining free speech as one of the country’s most protected laws along the way. While there have been other tests of this tenet, the right to sex and pornography has essentially been at the vanguard of American freedoms.
Bombs (military) = opportunity. On Tuesday, I outlined just how much money the U.S. military spends every year, much of which has direct ties to corporations and educational institutions. While researching and designing new weapons of war isn’t exactly the most noble of pursuits, the consumer and humanitarian spinoffs are wide, varied and numerous. As such, the military provides a deep funding pool for anyone who is willing to dip into it. Recent examples include some of the most successful companies in the world, such as Google and Apple.
Burgers (food) = surplus. In my Thursday post, I detailed how the United States is the biggest food exporter in the world, a position it has enjoyed since at least the Second World War. Indeed, Americans have so much food that they throw out more than many nations produce. If ever there was a Land of Plenty, the U.S. is it.
When those three things - surplus, opportunity and freedom - are put together, amazing things happen. While some nations may have more of one or the other, no one else comes close to matching the sum combination that is found in the United States. Success is therefore built into the country’s very DNA.
This is especially true when it comes to technological innovation, an area the United States has led for much of the past century. While countries such as China and India are coming up in the world both economically and intellectually, they don’t currently match the right blend of surplus, opportunity and freedom. Moreover, they’re unlikely to any time soon because of long legacies and historical traditions that will be difficult if not impossible to overcome.
It doesn’t apply to just those big countries either - it affects smaller nations such as Canada as well. Here, many are now worrying about a possible collapse by our biggest technology company, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion. The fretting is almost pointless because, as I wrote several months ago, the collapse is inevitable. Canada simply doesn’t have the right mix of surplus, opportunity and freedom either (opportunity is our biggest problem). We are a country that excels at producing small businesses, but those companies will inevitably get swallowed up by bigger concerns and our best and brightest will depart for greener pastures down south.
When it comes to innovation, other countries are - and will be for some time - just satellites that revolve around the United States. It’s a tough pill for many to swallow, but there’s no shame in it. Despite American exceptionalism, the world is truly global now and we all have our parts in it.
There’s also the possibility that the U.S. could do something incredibly stupid - like ban pornography, or enact the Stop Online Piracy Act - to sabotage its own specialness. Many people in many other countries are crossing their fingers…
January 6, 2012 at 12:48 pm
I do believe that the case of RIM is more mismanagement than anything else. They have had plenty of opportunities and just wasted them all. Can’t blame the opportunities or the talent. We can blame the higher sphere of management.
Nortel also is a case of fraud in the higher sphere, until the end.
Maybe that’s where the Canadian problem is: executives that know nothing about competition, as the good one flee the country. And as a proof, the most successful tech companies financially are regulatory monopolies: Telcos. They don’t have competition, they just follow each other.
January 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm
From my outsider’s perspective, Canada’s problem is that it’s people (specifically the immigrants) are either not the type to create their own opportunities or it is beaten out of them (more likely) from the many years of working a survival job, accent training etc before they can even get into their own fields. In other words, America seems to empower immigrants while Canada marginalizes them and makes them bitter and insular within their own ethnic enclaves. When I look at the immigrants here I see so many with a “broken” look in their eyes compared with my experiences in the States and the un entrepreneurial nature of Canada’s culture reflects this.
There are ethnic barriers/baggage of “that’s what Canadians do, that’s not we do” and the reason why things like UBB and such happen is because very few immigrants actually consider themselves Canadian, much less proudly if they do and as a result they are not participating in the country while the actual “Canadians” going by their view are creating companies like Bombardier, RIM, and yes Rogers etc.IMHO Canada is at best only utilizing about 10% of it’s population effectively and this is not a legal or government problem imho, but perhaps stems from the quality of immigrant that Canada attracts i.e. those willing to settle, not the kind to brave adversity and overcome. After all most are in Canada because it is specifically *easier* to get into than the States.
Yes I fall into the category of those who would say adieu and head down south, but it is Canadians and the problems in this country that have caused me to not even bother considering residency and turned me away from the idea instead.