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Towards Resolving Thanksgiving Contradictions

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Headlined to H3 11/21/09

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Years ago, a friend of mine, when we were discussing goodness and malevolence, casually mentioned that even the worst criminals nearly always thought that whatever they were doing was constructive and the problem, then, became one in which different people hold radically different outlooks concerning whatever stands for benefits. In this sense, Josef Mengele (a human representing the epitome of moral depravity) probably thought that he was advancing scientific knowledge and ultimately helping humankind by his unconscionable medical experiments carried out on Jews and gypsies during the Nazi regime. At the same time, he was being an exemplary patriotic citizen by unquestioningly supporting the atrocious aims of his government for which he was commended many times. (Oh, how the leadership loves to dole out accolades, medals, praise and certificates during grand speeches when its nefarious objectives are backed by their lackeys and cohorts.)

In a similar vein, I am sure that many European immigrants, who came to America during the last three hundred years, thought that they, too,, were carrying out positive actions when they eradicated indigenous tribes at the behest of their community leaders. I am also convinced that many of those conducting the killings felt relieved that such a strange scourge (as the "dirty savages" seemed to be) was systematically obliterated. Indeed, there probably was little remorse on the part of the majority of the butchers, as the so-called Indians were viewed as subhuman, just as were Blacks, Jews, Asians and many other persecuted peoples in this country. Indeed, the killers' sense of identity, doubtlessly was strengthened individually and as members of a culturally cohesive unit (i.e., an exclusive social assemblage) in the process of carrying out their communally sanctioned, xenophobic brutality.

In this manner, the murderers managed to avoid acknowledging any sense of shared and universal humanity in the maligned others with whom they refused to identify. As such, they recognized few, if any, commonalities. Instead they called the natives alienating terms (such as "blood thirsty vermin," "Indian giver," and "scalpers") that further strengthened a feeling of estrangement, made it easier to destroy them and assigned them to the position of "The Other," an unfortunate and dangerous category in which to be placed.

"Lawrence Cahoone (1996) explains it thus:
'What appear to be cultural units--human beings, words, meanings, ideas, philosophical systems, social organizations--are maintained in their apparent unity only through an active process of exclusion, opposition, and hierarchization. Other phenomena or units must be represented as foreign or 'other' through representing a hierarchical dualism in which the unit is 'privileged' or favored, and the other is devalued in some way.'

"It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. For example, Edward Said's book Orientalism demonstrates how this was done by western societies--particularly England and France--to 'other' those people in the 'Orient' whom they wanted to control. The concept of 'otherness' is also integral to the understanding of identities, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an 'other' as part of a fluid process of action-reaction that is not necessarily related with subjugation or stigmatization [1]."

In any case, we are all quite capable of too readily seeing negative traits that we personally abhor in "The Other" rather than accepting and supporting whomever or whatever we imagine exemplifies these qualities. In this manner, some Catholics hate and fear Protestants, some Jews hate and fear Arabs, some Moslems hate and fear Americans, some Whites hate and fear darker skinned peoples and so it goes like a merry-go-round with each person and social group denigrating and abhorring the next, rather than being inclusive.

In such a fashion, the mind set of us VS. them keeps circling around and around to create an inordinate amount of deep lasting misery. All the while, hatred and rejection are being taught in the process to each successive generation of perpetrators and victims alike.



Meanwhile, one can wonder whether reparation is due to Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos and others whose ancestors were viciously exploited and killed. Should they have recompense, since many have, indirectly, become impoverished as a result? Should they be given funds and/or land because they, on account of prior events, now live in dreadful slums and have pathetically poor public schools for their children, as well as low paying jobs for themselves? If so, who should provide compensation and in what amount to whom? Who is culpable -- the offspring of the originally predatory groups, i.e., those of European stock and our current government whose prior members had ratified Indian Wars, theft of land from natives, slavery and other wrongs? Is someone else accountable for remuneration?

All the same, I do know that societal and environmental problems (including inequitable distribution of resources, as well as lack of sufficient agricultural know-how and capability to feed the ever burgeoning population) in Europe certainly did cause a large throng of desperately poor people to want to flee their lands to other ones with better opportunities. As such, they kept coming (and still do) in wave after wave of newcomers to America while, for obvious reasons, many settled inhabitants (whose ancestors also migrated here) unequivocally resented the changing conditions that were the result.

In any case, I refuse to take responsibly for what any of my forebears did or didn't do. It was not my fault. All the same, I am, when I consider the topic, sorry for all who were involved. I feel sorry for natives and the nearly indigent Europeans in the same way that I feel sorry for a Kurd father who stole a loaf of bread from an elderly woman in an attempt, during the Gulf War, to keep his eleven children and wife alive.

(It was thrown from a US military craft and the woman had snatched it from the air a few seconds faster than the father could lay hands on it. He, then, wrestled it from her with the ultimate result that both the old woman and her husband died of malnourishment. So did some of the father's children... Meanwhile, he now has to live with his painful choice for the rest of his life. He has to remember the vision of the aged couple and his children full of suffering, panic and the drawn out process of their dying. He has to continually face his feelings of regret, helplessness and rage over what he could not change.)

While I pity him to the depth of my heart, I am deeply grateful that I do not have to bear the burden of subsuming his role. Likewise, I am utterly thankful that I was not one of the women in a particular broiling hot cattle car parked for days on end on the track leading up to a Nazi concentration camp.

After having run out of food and water and with no one responding to their plea for provisions, the women slowly came to the recognition that they were not going to be given any. They also realized that they were not being brought to a new settlement. So, rather than prolong the agony of water and food deprivation, they quietly murdered their children and each other one by one during the night while the children slept. As such, their only satisfaction was in the thought that the bloody mess that they left behind would render the car unusable ever again to transport other Jews to the camp as the stains could not be able to be removed from the wood [2].

Most of us are fortunate that we are not forced by circumstances outside of our control to make such difficult decisions as had the Kurd father and these Jewish mothers. We are lucky that we do not have to choose whether to battle others over desperately sought out American land, nor be in a condition to possibly commit other heinous acts.

One individual, who hasn't had to face them, is an old Quaker associate of mine, who carries out a tremendous amount of social service volunteer work. On account of her not having had to make awful decisions, she is in a position in which she could state the opinion that her "sin" (a term that she used for a lack of a better word devoid of religious connotation) was not so much a "sin" of commission (the deeds that she carried out), but concerned omission (the massive number of undertakings that she neglected to accomplish). In other words, she felt that she simply was not doing enough to provide uplift, care and compassion towards others in less fortunate situations than hers.

Yet for how much are we responsible for each other and the state of the world in general? Because I pay taxes, am I responsible for the massacre in Iraq and Afghanistan despite that I didn't vote for Presidents Bush or Obama? Am I accountable for the sweatshop conditions and poverty level wages paid by Wal Mart owners and stock bearers because I was given a gift from Wal Mart by a friend? Would the right course of action be to return it to the store? Would we be helping or hindering Wal Malt management [3] and the sweatshop workers if we all refused to purchase the goods that they make?

Perhaps I should decline use of drugs because management at many pharmaceutical firms routinely lie about the dangers of products so as to command a huge fiscal gain from sales ($125,835,595,000 in 1999 alone of which approximately only one fifth went into research, while up to two-fifths was used towards advertisements and marketing costs [4]) even as they only have to dole out a modicum of that amount in wrongful death suits.

("The known deadly side effects of prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in the industrialized world, surpassed only by the number of deaths from heart attacks, cancer and strokes," according to Journal of the American Medical Association, April 15, 1998 [5]. Dr. David Bates, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University School of Medicine, told the "Times" "... these numbers translate to 36 million adverse drug events per year."[6]) Surely, it is hard to fiscally support unconscionable companies like these without having some degree of reservation.

In an analogous vein, should I stop eating certain foods because the Frankenseeds and the poisonous pesticides used to grow them came from Monsanto [7] and other vile agro-firms? How would I even know about the foods to place on my rejection list? Likewise, should I stop driving my car to visit an aged relative living in another state because it is a frivolous waste of oil given that my act of doing so contributes to climate changing effects and more rapidly uses up a non-renewable, critical energy source?

Similarly, should I stop using paper and other wood based products because I know that, with our rising population ever in demand, more than three millions hectares of forest have been torn down in Africa over only fifteen years (1990 to 2005) and forests are not being replaced nearly as fast as they are being obliterated? Meanwhile, they ARE being decimated at an increasing and appalling rate all across the globe.

For example: "During the 1990s, it was estimated that 214,000 acres (86,000 hectares) of forest worldwide were being destroyed every day -- an area larger than New York City. In the mid-1990s, the World Resources Institute reported that more than 80 percent of the world's natural forests had been destroyed. Much of what remained was in the Brazilian Amazon and in the boreal areas of Canada and Russia.

"Deforestation has a variety of causes. It is in part driven by worldwide demand for wood products. Deforestation can also accommodate population growth and the desire to create new agricultural land or grazing land for cattle. However, deforestation has serious consequences for the global environment and for the continued existence of human life. It can lead to soil erosion, flooding, and the loss of animal and plant habitats. The world's tropical rain forests, which occupy only 7 percent of the dry surface of the earth, hold over half of the earth's species. As these forests are cleared, species become extinct at an estimated rate of up to 137 species per day. Deforestation also contributes to global warming, since the burning of forests releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide traps the sun's heat and causes temperatures to rise.

"Ecologists warn that if current rates of deforestation continue, rainforests will disappear from the planet within 100 years, affecting global climate in unpredictable ways and eliminating a majority of the world's animal and plant species...[8]."

This all in consideration, I have to, in the end, consider myself somewhat in a different way than my Quaker friend views herself. It is because I recognize my deliberate culpability. I use up a vast store of finite and renewable resources, maintain the grotesque and enormous inequity of wealth distribution in the world by being directly engaged in the economic and the social systems promoting it, am responsible for an incredible amount of assorted environmental damage (such as pollution of waterways) of which I do not see direct consequences, as well as am caught up in an American way of life that is largely structured by self-serving governmental, business and other interests, which are undeniably outside of my control. In a similar vein, I personally create the climate change outcomes through my purchases, which depend on fossil fuels for their manufacturing and transportation, as well as by my very use of products and services (such as utilities).

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Emily Spence is a progressive living in MA. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.
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Good article. But wait a minute. Why wouldn't Musl... by John S. Hatch on Sunday, Nov 22, 2009 at 4:13:09 PM
Thank you, John,for your commentary. It's apprecia... by Emily Spence on Tuesday, Nov 24, 2009 at 6:32:47 AM