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Clueless in America: Feeding the tapeworms of desire

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Message Charles Sullivan
It may well be that there is no hope for the American republic, that we are by choice beyond reclamation. Much of the world sees the average American as detached from reality, isolated from the suffering of others. They see us as self-absorbed, over indulgent, willfully ignorant, and imbued with enormous hubris-characterizations that are difficult to argue against. Unfortunately, I am well acquainted with the type.

Most Americans somehow believe that we are an exceptional people-God's chosen few. It would not be the first time in history this has occurred. The world is our oyster and it is our's to use as we see fit, even if it does not belong to us. To the physically strongest and morally depraved, to the wealthiest, go the spoils.

Deep down, Americans may reason that if we are to continue our lives of excess, if we are to carry on driving our Hummers and other inefficient motorized polluting obscenities, we need an inexhaustible supply of oil. As keepers of the world's strongest military, we have the means of procuring oil anywhere in the world, and that makes it ours. Might makes right in capitalist America and we have the weaponry to get whatever we want. That is exactly how the west was won-it was stolen at gun point and driven by religious fervor. We must feed the insatiable tape worms of our desires right up to the moment of the Apocalypse.

That kind of thinking, if such mediocrity and willful ignorance can be called thought, is an oft repeated strand that runs through the tapestry of the American psyche. It is one of those strains of fabulous mythology that makes America a difficult place for some of us to live. From the moment of birth onward Americans are conditioned to think that we are not only special, but are superior to everyone else; that we are somehow entitled not only to our share of the world's wealth, but to everyone else's share as well. Thus we remain primitive Conquistadors in our thinking. We believe that we are the truly enlightened, the envy of the world, and everyone aspires to emulate our shining example.

Americans also believe that they are the greatest democracy to emerge from the birthing mists of history. The idea was drummed into our heads since we could talk, even in the absence of any supporting evidence and is continued through a fairy tale presentation of history, and perpetuated daily in the corporate media. Critical thinking is not one of our strong suits, as exemplified by the sitting president.

Whatever the origins of the grossly inflated American self image, it is, in part, the paradigm behind the ideology of Manifest Destiny-a force that continues rampaging and pillaging most of the world in its quest for markets and wealth. Thus we witness the tragic consequences of the preservation of the American Way-a wrath the rest of the world is expected to incur with gratitude. We cannot recognize that the American Dream is the world's nightmare. Our gluttonous wants, we think, supersede the right of other people to exist. The gilded highway is built upon the bones of the victims of genocide and empire, and that is what makes our ride into oblivion so smooth.

What can be said about a culture that is willing to destroy the biosphere, to create irreversible global climate change for the sake of private profit, and a few short decades of drunken exuberance and intemperance? In what kind of value system can the acquisition of material goods and services really outweigh the right of others to exist, including our own children and their children, not to mention more than thirty million species of flora and fauna that have as much right to live, if not more, than we do?

What global good could possibly come from an economic system predicated upon selfishness and waste and foisted upon the world with carpet bombs? What common good can stem from a belief system that places greater value on profits than on life itself? How can spiritual health be expected from a system that embraces spiritual emptiness and depravity as virtuous?

The enormous weight of conscience and awareness can be quite demoralizing at times; a heavy burden to bear. Even my own family is without social scruples. Some of them are as addicted to shopping as a cocaine user seeking a chemical fix in a dimly lit alley at two o'clock in the morning somewhere in the metropolis. They have no control over the addiction and go forth into the crowded malls night after night with vacant stares and minds programmed to consume. They are suffocating under mountains of debt but the addiction must be satisfied at all costs.

It can be seen that Americans are a spiritually starved people, despite bold proclamations of religiosity and faith. But at some level we must intuit that we have few freedoms and are slaves in an economic system that dehumanizes us into mere commodities and turns us into voracious consumers. We are not the free and fulfilled people we claim to be; we are the property of our employers, objects to be used for purposes not of our own choosing.

Industrialized religion did not save America from capitalism and the endless barrage of advertisements that constantly assail our senses and shape our perceptions; it gave the appearance of moral credence to untenable ideas that are at odds with the teachings of the world's great religions, as well as the natural rhythms of earth and sky.

This explains the bizarre sociopathic behavior induced by Black Friday and other strange phenomenon fostered by capitalism. It can also explain America's world leading per capita rate of incarceration and our pervasive addiction to drugs and alcohol in this way. It neatly explains our persistent cultural violence. Let us recognize that these are not symptoms of social or economic health; they are indisputable evidence of debilitating, life threatening disease and spiritual death.

Material goods and services are a poor substitute for inner tranquility and global community. We are a people bombarded by commercial media every waking hour of our lives. Our troubled existence is a matrix of distracting white noise from which the only escape is the calm slumber of death. The result is that few of us have ever had a true waking moment in our lives. We have replaced wild nature with Disney World and have forgotten which is real and which is bogus. We have recreated god in the image of capital and put him on our currency.

Even so, despite the dominant paradigm of capitalism, there are Americans who have escaped the fate of excess to which so many others have fallen prey. There are millions who were not caught in the web of commercialism, who have maintained a spiritual connection to the earth and to the greater biological community, and to the unfathomable cosmos beyond. There are millions of people who still consider a long walk in unbroken wilderness their greatest blessing-as something beyond valuation by capital.

Despite pervasive cultural brainwashing, there are millions of Americans who still care about the health of the planet and the rights of other people, and they struggle to be heard above the din of excessive commercialism that overwhelms the senses and causes us to behave like caged rats in a laboratory. They are not members of any particular nation-they are world citizens; plain members of Aldo Leopold's biotic community.

America is a land of baffling contradictions and contrasts that will not be easily understood by future historians. So it may be unwise to judge all by the deeds of the debased majority. It is the conscientious ethical fringe that keeps us afloat and provides hope for a better future by operating outside of the mainstream.

Thus for every war mongering president and gluttonous corporate executive born here there is also his/her opposite: the Henry Thoreau's, Harriett Tubman's, and Howard Zinn's of this world. For every Donald Trump and David Rockefeller America spawns, there stands a Mark Twain and a Martin Luther King or a Sitting Bull to counter him. It is the voices of conscience and reason that tends to be drowned out by corporate media. There is one additional problem with being heard: progressives tend to be assassinated or imprisoned in America and our detractors celebrated as models for success.
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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.
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