End of Cruel U.S. Policies Demands Radical Healing of the National Ethos

July 1, 2000

The attitudes and behaviors exhibited by our Anglo-Saxon ancestors that resulted in the cruel dispossession of the natives who already inhabited the land, formed the defining experience of the "American" Republic. Our cultural character has enabled a pattern of conduct rooted in deep-seated racism (unresolved fear manifesting in hatred) and arrogant ethnocentrism ("Manifest Destiny") that has never been adequately checked or corrected. How else can one explain our long record of rationalized interventions brutally crushing other people’s quests for freedom and independence? Our civilization’s ethos has been rooted in a delusional sense of moral superiority enabling a persistent pursuit of selfish interests. We have been so drunk with greed and power that we are unable to see straight! My personal experiences as a military veteran, including "service" in Vietnam, and from traveling to a number of countries studying the nature of U.S. policies has left me in deep anguish, and intense rage, as I have witnessed the resulting carnage caused by those policies.

Are we so insulated from our own personal feelings and those of human solidarity with others that we are numb? Is it possible that we really don’t care? Is it possible that we are not astute enough to distinguish the lies of our government from the realities on the ground? Perhaps. Or perhaps there is a collective mental illness that arguably reduces our capacity to determine right from wrong. Whatever the diagnosis–whether a product of criminal intent or mental illness–our conduct as a nation poses a severely grave, violent threat to virtually all life on the planet. The world desperately needs the perpetrators of these crimes to be immediately confronted with the nature and consequences of their behavior, and then to be engaged in a profound process of healing. But who will be able to assure the confrontation and initiate the healing? The World Court? A United Nations international peace force? A new international criminal court? Obviously not. The amount of power exerted by the U.S. government and the corporations it serves is so overwhelming, protected by historically unprecedented destructive military forces, that there are no human-created institutions able to stop this international bully. It has the power to choose the continuation of policies capable of destroying massive amount of life in an instant, and if not checked it seems intent on doing so.

As one examines U.S. policies from Iraq to Mexico to Colombia, from Korea, Vietnam, and Nicaragua to Cuba and Grenada, it is striking how much pain, suffering, and death these policies have caused, and continue to cause. Similarly, as one examines the history of domestic policies relating to poor Whites, "Third World" peoples, women, dissidents, and labor organizers, a tremendous amount of suffering is uncovered. How can an allegedly intelligent, caring people, simply observe this pattern of repression and cruelty, being carried out in our name, without revolting? The abhorrent atrocities that have been a trademark of U.S. policies worldwide, when seen up close, would cause a normal person to vomit. And yet we hardly blink.

Make no mistake. This pattern of malignant human behavior will be stopped, whether or not we intelligently choose to make the necessary changes. Ultimately, the balancing forces of the universe, and of Gaia, will assure a continuation of the sacred, evolving cosmos that began some 15 billion years ago. The only question is whether we as a species, but 5 million years old, will continue to be part of it. Though we are an intrinsic part of that evolution, by virtue of our terribly misguided ill behavior, we may be on a short branch leading to early extinction. We may choose to continue to defer to our inflated egos, unwilling to accept humility, unwilling to recognize the wisdom of abiding by the requirements of cooperative living with the sacred interconnected web of life that is already imprinted deeply within us since creation. Or we may choose the painful but liberating path of radical healing, away from selfishness and toward wholeness, while seeking unity through diversity.

Fortunately, there are a number of people and organizations, within the United States and elsewhere, who do understand this behavior as a chronic, intentional pattern, not as a series of aberrations or mistakes, that must be addressed at both structural and psychological/emotional levels. The emerging popular movement against the cruel policies of globalization is a reminder of the importance of people power. It is this dynamic force of caring people, and only this force, that has the human capacity to make the "arrests"–to stimulate a profound process of national transformation and healing that just might save humanity from the continued assaults against its own health and the health of the earth upon which it totally depends for survival.

We are capable of making radically different choices in order to adapt to the needs of survival with dignity. However, to do this it will be critical to open ourselves up to experience the dimension of our indispensable, vulnerable feelings, then synthesize their input with our intellectual capacities, in order to have the reflective opportunities necessary for being fully human. Western cultures have tended to repress the content of feelings, i.e., sentiments or sensations. This repression contributes to advanced emotional crippling which in turn leads to our making myopic, often destructive choices. Hurt, anger, invalidation (shame), grief, anxiety, passion and fear are some of the critical feelings that beg honest acknowledgement. And, once doing that, we must create a safe, thoughtful process for sharing these feelings. Fear and hurt, if not acknowledged, for example, often lead to culturally conditioned cognitive conclusions of negativity or hostility about our relationships, and consequent confusion about "causes" of our discomfort, that often distort reality. Violence directed outward toward the "cause" (while the feeling experience itself is internal), would be a common culturally conditioned response. Psychologists might see racism as a defense mechanism covering over the often terrorizing sensation of fear. Fear that is not honestly addressed is often expressed outwardly in an attempt to eliminate the perceived "cause" of the uncomfortable feeling. If there is no commitment to authentically take personal responsibility for (to own) the deeper feeling (e.g., fear or hurt), then the "defensive" behavior (e.g., racist hatred or violence) will continue as a pathology, perpetuating the internally experienced festering sensation of fear, while denying its existence. Many human beings growing up with the conditioning of racism and "American" ethnocentrism have, nonetheless, usuallydue to various life experiences and crises, chosen to embark upon a process of healing themselves from these terribly chronic disabilities.

When we shut out any aspect of our senses and feelings–which we are often taught to do by our parents and other elders in our schools, churches and social lives–we seriously eliminate important input necessary to more fully understand our reality. As we lose contact with feelings, we become limited in a world of impersonal words and seductive, but ungrounded, ideological concepts. The one-dimensionality of the cognitive word futilely substitutes for the multidimensionality of the senses, and the judicious integration of the two sources of input. Once we are able to tune into (i.e., feel) our inherent interconnectedness, responsibility toward others and self becomes indistinguishable. As Petr Kropotkin concluded in his masterly study, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902):

It is not love and not even sympathy upon which society is based in mankind. It is the conscience–be it only at the stage of an instinct–
of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man (sic) from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own…The mutual aid principle is the necessary foundation of every-day life.

In the practice of mutual aid, which we can retrace to the earliest beginnings of evolution, we thus find the…origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support–not mutual struggle–has the leading part.

It is very possible that our pathological pattern has been deeply habituated throughout many generations, greatly contributing to our consistent imperial behavior as a nation. Typically the United States finds evils outside of itself to justify interventions. If diagnosed in individuals, this behavior might be termed "projections based on paranoia." Of course, it is complicated due to economic, social and political factors that compound aggregates of personal emotional disabilities interacting with the corresponding evolving collective ethos. Nonetheless, ultimately every person, rich or poor, "First" World or "Third" World, peasant or plutocrat, makes choices and decisions on a daily basis, and the underlying psychodynamics involved often reflect historically thoughtless or destructive habits of thinking and acting, whether examined from a perspective of submission or dominance.

Liberation Theology, an understanding of the Gospel that inspires oppressed peoples to actively free themselves from their bondage, has greatly aided the poor in the processing of feelings relating to their objective misery and the real causes thereof. It thus guides them in choosing powerful political and strategic actions of resistance while building an alternative society. Though we rarely view oppressors as emotionally disabled, their addiction to privilege requires them to rationalize the preservation of this privilege through delusions of superiority. This, in turn, is likely a defense from experiencing feelings of insecurity, and certainly from fear of losing the privilege they depend on, requiring further denial of the pain and misery their privilege regularly causes. Thus, at some point, the oppressors need a comparable liberation framework–a psychological understsanding that helps explain their oppressive behavior, and can identify the consequences thereof–and empowers them to seek an alternative way of life based on justice for everyone as the necessary precondition for their survival as well.

In the long run, the only foundational formula that can offer real hope for peace is the internalization within each of us, individually while acting collectively, that every person’s well-being and sense of security is dependent upon every other person’s feeling justly respected. As Martin Luther King said, "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." A collective process of many individuals striving for genuine justice can become a political movement for radical awareness in our psyches, which will inevitably lead to revolutionary changes in the manner in which we choose to structure our political, social, economic, and personal lives, with relationships grounded in principles of mutual respect. Unless and until sufficient numbers of citizens become intimately aware of and begin to practice, politically as well as personally, this principle of sacred interconnectedness, the American collective ethos will continue to be shaped by insulated, privileged plutocrats. And without a radical transformation of our collective ethos, the United States as a nation will continue its selfish, extraordinarily destructive ways, inevitably leading to the extinction of our species.


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