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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


"Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition." - Isaac Asmiov

(Forgive me for veering slightly off topic, but my house, my rules...)

I wrote the below essay nearly two years ago.
I have just returned home from seeing Disney's wonderful new film TOMORROWLAND, which dares us to think optimistically and enthusiastically about the future. Go see it. Tremendous kudos to The Walt Disney Company for making and releasing this film.
It is a positive and invigorating way to view the world. It reminded me what we, as a species can achieve if only we dare to dream big. Really big.

There are those who claim America can no longer dream big. That we cannot afford it. This is not true. These people value their tax breaks and personal wealth above what we as a community can achieve. A few still dream. We're not done, but now other nations are dreaming very large dreams in our stead.
Again, so that some may save a little tax money here and there.
It's time to once again have bigger dreams than the rest of the world. We don't at the moment. We're dreaming of very small things and making ourselves small in the process. Disney, dismissed by many, put money where there mouth is and dares us to look past the cynicism of the moment, look past the ugliness and the anger and the small-mindedness, and raise ourselves up. 
To dream again.
I dare you.

Dear Fellow Americans,

I do not deny that our ancestors were exceptional. We, as a nation, can be proud of their achievements and nod towards those truly exceptional Americans and say "I want to be like them".

But we, you and I, are not them. We have yet to prove our exceptionalism to ourselves and to our planet. You cannot be exceptional simply by claiming to be so. In fact, the more you insist you ARE something, the more you should be asking yourself why you need to keep pointing it out.

(I am reminded of the television character Sheldon Cooper, a brilliant physicist on the program The Big Bang Theory. Cooper -- he would insist I refer to him as "Doctor Cooper" -- does indeed have potential as an exceptional American. Born in Texas, trained at CalTech, and (reportedly) a Hawking-esque intellect. 

(His downfall is that he is also an arrogant, self-interested jackass a good deal of the time.) 

In many ways, America is the Sheldon Cooper of the world. We, the current generations of Americans, have the potential to be exceptional. We could be, as a society, as exceptional as our ancestors, as the country that drew together in World War II, picked up the national economy and did a great thing.

Or our ancestors who followed John F. Kennedy to the Moon.

Or build the Empire State Building in the midst of the Great Depression.

We could do great things. That is the mark of American Exceptionalism. 

It is not lowering taxes. It is not squabbling amongst ourselves and calling each other names. It is not holding the nation and the economy hostage to one particular ideology or another. It is getting together, seeing a common goal -- one that is beyond the reach of anyone else -- and grasping at it. To better ourselves and our world. Feathering our own individual pockets at the expense of others is not exceptionalism. The opposite, in fact.

Americans are no longer exceptional, as a people. There, I've said it. We are capable of being exceptional, we are simply, you and I, choosing not to be. President Bush announced plans to go to Mars, a truly exceptional goal. 

America yawned. Or instead we could not afford it. Tax cuts were more important. Wars were more important.

President Obama embraced Republican concepts of medical insurance and practices. Republicans balked at their own plans, and when it became the law of the land, now threaten to destroy the economy unless it is torn down. Scorched Earth to destroy what they, themselves, proposed only a handful of years ago. That is not exceptional.

We, are not exceptional. We do not deserve the label. Our ancestors did. Many times throughout our proud history Americans have proven ourselves to be exceptional.

But now we vilify "intellectuals" and deny science. That is not exceptional. It is self-defeating.

There are Americans who are Exceptional Americans. Right now. People who, whether you agree with them politically or socially, are revolutionizing something. Exceptionalism is not political, it is action-based. Exceptionalism is not about decrying others, vilifying them or demonizing them, it is about lifting us all up, every one of us across the planet. Making us better. Dreaming big dreams.

We are not doing that, you and I.

Americans no longer look to the skies. We look to our wallets, That is not exceptionalism. Exceptional is not giving tax breaks to the wealthy by cutting back on services to the poor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin -- a man for whom I have zero respect -- was right when he said we're not exceptional in a speech some years ago. You are not exceptional until you behave in an exceptional manner. 

Self-interest is not exceptionalism. Greed is not exceptionalism. Arrogance is not exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism is about changing society. Exceptionalism is elevating the Human Race. Making us better, as people and as a society. Exceptionalism is about being a role model for the rest of the world. It is about building bigger, soaring higher and reaching out our hands to pull the rest along with us.

It is about being exceptional, ourselves. Individually. And until we do something exceptional we cannot claim Americans are a privileged Exceptional lot. Our ancestors were. They looked to the sky and built the tallest buildings, launched rockets to explore the deepest space, traveled to the bottom of the ocean, and volunteered to free the world of territory-hungry tyrants. Our ancestors created things. They took care of each other. They reached out to others and opened our wallets. We asked the wealthy to pay back -- and the wealthy did their part.

(Yes, there are horrific parts of our history we all lament, but as I am apt to say: "That was not me. I did not do that and we as Americans are working to change that. Change ourselves" THAT is exceptionalism.)

I desperately want us to be exceptional. I want America to be as great as we are capable of being. But we as Americans must be exceptional ourselves to merit the label "American Exceptionalism". That means that we must rise above our differences, rise above our own self-interest and seek to help others…seek to rise to new heights and not be afraid to dream big. Bigger than anyone else on the planet. Dream of a world in which poverty is gone, war is gone. Where voters vote, and the government respects the message that vote sends. Where government works to better us all, not just a small constituency. 

We must rise above our own petty self-interest and do what is right for the country regardless of what it might do to your own wallet. Exceptional is what you accomplish when you DON'T have the resources and yet rise to accomplish great things. THAT is exceptional. 

Ask ourselves, individually and in the mirror, John F Kennedy's question: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

And then do it.

We are not exceptional, this current generation of Americans. Our sights are not on the sky. Our dreams are small, like our buildings and our accomplishments. Our hands are not outstretched, reaching for the stars. Our hands are thrust into our pockets, checking to make sure our wallet is still in there.

We did many, many great things that I am proud of, as an American.

We're just not doing them now.

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