Last Sunday I posted an essay entitled, "Why 'Good Will Toward Men' Has Become More of a Challenge for Me." In that essay, I shared how recent experiences (especially the acquiescence of so many Americans in the Bushite evil) had made it more difficult for me to see humankind people generally-in the positive and open-hearted way that had been my life-long posture toward my fellow humans.
A comment a reader posted in response to that essay (on my own website) stimulated me to write a long comment of my own. I will share that now as a new essay on its own.
Particularly striking to me was this reader's statement: "BETRAYAL IS A MAJOR ARCHETYPAL WOUNDING."
It brought to mind a couple of men whom I'd admired before this Bushite era, but who have betrayed their own better selves and, beyond that, betrayed the nation.
I'm thinking of Ralph Nader and John McCain.
Of McCain I've written in recent months more than once: a man who, up through the 2000 campaign, I'd seen as a man of integrity. (I'm not one, like some I interact with these days, who cannot see a political conservative as a moral and good person.) Perhaps he was a man of integrity, but we have subsequently see him sell out his soul: rather than standing up to lead his Republican Party back from the grip of evil, he has chosen to ride its evil to satisfy his own ambition. If that's the way the horse is going, he's been willing to ride it into the darkness.
Of Nader I wrote of his betrayal in an op/ed published in 2003 in the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, but only occasionally and glancingly in recent times. But I see in his presidential run in 2000 --not in the fact that he declared his candidacy, but in the way he made deliberate choices that predictably served to bring the Bushites to power-- a deep betrayal of what had been a noble career, and of America itself. His conduct showed him to be possessed by a kind of narcissistic rage; for the sake of his ego he sacrificed the good of the nation.
We have few enough heroes in public life in America that it is profoundly disheartening when two of those who seemed capable of nobility choose to turn to the dark side.
Another thought-- about the impact of the more direct experience of the human capacity for darkness, as opposed to only knowing about it from the distance of history or of news reports from elsewhere. As I said in my essay, "The Concept of Evil," as part of my explanation of what made evil a more palpable reality to me in Bushite America in the fall of 2004: "[I]t is one thing to study the pathologies of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia from the safe remove in space and time of my own comparatively humane America. But it is quite another thing to experience dark forces coming to rule the world around me."
Yet another piece of the picture: When I wrote about how "a group of people and an institution whom I trusted and for whom I'd had very high regard shocked me by acting in a way that was altogether without integrity and honesty," I held back from disclosing that I was not just the shocked observer but also the victim of their dishonorable behavior. I wavered over whether to put that into the piece, then decided not to because, in terms of substance, it was really beside the point: it bothered me MUCH less what happened to me, personally, than the simple fact that people whom I'd appraised as good and honorable people would behave that way. But what IS relevant about the personal aspect of the betrayal is that it increased greatly the magnitude and intensity of the experience for me.
So for these reasons, I can see how what I am struggling with is much more at the emotional than at the intellectual level. It's not so much that there's altogether new evidence about humankind as that the new evidence has come with the impact of intense personal experience.
It's a matter of integrating what my head has long understood with what my heart has now experienced.
The question of "what kind of creatures are we?" is not a new one for me. It's one I've dealt with in two of my own main books: THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES, which describes the inevitable systemic forces that have warped the evolution of civilization toward the destructive reign of power, and OUT OF WEAKNESS, which describes how the human creature, caught up in that destructive process, has been wounded and made crazier and more destructive by the operation of those social evolutionary forces.
THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES, as I say in my "Good Will Toward Men" essay, does not require any indictment of human nature to explain the dark and tormented nature of the history of civilized societies. And, as OUT OF WEAKNESS explains, given those forces, one would expect a pretty screwed up human animal to emerge from the inevitable trauma of such history.
So nothing that I've encountered in recent times should require --in intellectual terms-- any reconsideration of that compassionate and loving assessment of the nature of us human beings that informed those two books. Indeed, throughout THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES is woven the notion that in our fundamental nature, from the Source, there is a truly sacred quality that, should we escape from the reign of power, we might be able to nourish and make manifest in the larger world.
When I read Dostoyevski's "Grand Inquisitor," about the basically craven sheep-like nature of the mass of humankind, I do not believe it. I know enough about the nightmare that has been Russian history for the past 1000 years both to understand why Dostoyevski (or his character Ivan) would think that's how people ARE, by nature. But I see that nature as having been molded by historical trauma.
Nonetheless, all that I've just said notwithstanding, there is also something really troubling to me about what so large a portion of the American people have countenanced in this Bushite era. I do not see that our history in recent times gives us a reason --or an excuse-- that's readily visible and comprehensible to me to have failed so terribly at the moral level.
When the Germans turned to Hitler in the 1930s, it was in the wake of such great upheavals and insecurities and pain --World War I, the Versailles regime, inflation at the wheel-barrow level-- that I can more readily grasp and sympathize with their rage and fear and embrace of evil than I can with the American turn toward darkness in this decade.
Even with 9/11, Americans alive today have lived through a stretch of historical experience that, by the standards of almost any other time and place, has been extremely privileged. Our wealth and power have insulated us from so much of the insecurity and suffering that most peoples in history have routinely experienced, there's a part of me that feels that somehow we Americans have no excuse for our moral collapse.
But in closing, I will site my earlier essay, "The Challenge of Affluence: A Root of Our Moral Crisis?" which can be found at http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=151"> www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=151-- as my best attempt to explain just what it is that has led to that collapse. The source of our moral breakdown, according to this hypothesis, is not trauma, as in the case of the Germans of the Nazi era, but a kind of softening and erosion of the structures of character and morality that previous generations had developed to organize and channel human energies and desires so as to create a viable and (largely) life-serving order.
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)