“The classical argument for recapitulation involves a threefold parallelism of paleontology, comparative anatomy, and ontogeny.  Morphologists occasionally added a fourth source of evidence — teratology and the phyletic explanation of abnormalities as developmental arrests (Chapter 3).  This fourth criterion — the abnormal individual as an arrested juvenile — forms an important part of the usage made by other disciplines of the biogenetic law.  We have seen how Lombroso invoked it in his theory of criminality.  We will encounter it again in Freud’s theory of neurosis.” (Gould, S.J. (1977) Ontogeny and Phylogeny.  Cambridge: Belknap Press, p. 125)

The phrase “American exceptionalism” seems to be emerging more frequently in the sentences that the Right is experimenting with to communicate what it believes it still has to offer to Americans.  Just as many Americans believe the U.S. is special, they have also believed that this country makes it possible for any individual to achieve anything he or she sets out to do.  Independence, freedom and liberty are frequently intoned as representing this point of view.

This frame of reference, the belief that we are special because we are different, has hobbled the ability of the left end of the American spectrum to put forth a vision of where we are headed.  The Left or liberal message emphasizes community, cooperation, sacrifice and interdependence.  These attributes don’t just exist in our future; they exist in Scandinavia and other European countries in the form of mature institutions serving the population in unique and useful ways.  We rarely find Left or Progressive elements in America using Scandinavia or Europe as an example.  Part of this is our whole culture’s hesitation to defer to another country, to suggest we can learn from somewhere else.  Most of us really believe we are exceptional.  In addition, when looking to Europe, the right cries out “Socialism.”  Then Progressive elements reflexively concede the higher ground of language to the Right and its mythic control of message.  So the Left is left with no clear way to build a picture of what it seeks to achieve both because we don’t want to put another country on a pedestal and because we don’t want to buck up against the Right Wing’s ability to reframe.

Our deep-seated American exceptionalism has had other repercussions.  We do not easily see the connections between processes.  We frequently fail to examine the causes of difficulties that the country faces.  During this economic meltdown there is some unanimity around the idea that regulatory forces failed to make and hold to any boundaries regarding corporate behavior, but there is an almost phobic hesitation to regard in detail what has to change.

Americans fail to make connections.

Parallelisms run in several directions from anyplace you choose to make the beginning.  That there is a beginning is as arbitrary as that there is an end.  Connections between different ideas or different patterns of experience provide insight not only into how the world works, but an understanding that our place in the world is profoundly relative.  We can hardly be exceptional when who and what we are is integrally related and interconnected to any and everything else we choose to examine.  There is no beginning, no end and no center.  We cannot be the center of a world characterized by seamless interdependence.

Gould emphasized in his multiscale perspective of evolution a re-examination of the fourfold and threefold parallelisms of Freud, Piaget, Haeckel, Darwin and the host of theorists that came before the neglecting of connection that became the hallmark of Americanism.  Our belief that we alone make a difference in the world engendered an environment where the impact that we have on each other goes unexamined.  Boundaries between concepts, regulations of agencies and explorations of similarities have been ignored.

As hard times compel a deep re-examination of whom and what we are, we will discover a new self identity that offers an ability to see beyond our own needs and self-aggrandizement.  Sensitivity to connection will emerge.  Fourfold parallelisms will proliferate into multifold perspectives that will encourage views of science, religion, art and politics that are integrally connected.

Like folds in clothing that crease and then modify as we move across our day, parallelisms will form and move in waves across the cloth of our experience.  It will become clear with time that integrated, seemingly separate processes are animating the same material.

Still, to understand how everything is connected, we’ll need to surrender the American idea that we are alone.


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