“Here There Be Monsters”
“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”
—John Quincy Adams
While it certainly was not his intent, Adams’ assertion serves to remind us of a truth revealed by vast oceans of tears, torrential rivers of blood, and formidable piles of human remains. Leaving murder, mayhem, and misery in its wake, America does “go abroad,” but not, as Adams noted, “in search of monsters to destroy.” What Adams failed to perceive, despite living in the midst of the Native American genocide and the abject evil of chattel slavery, is that America is the monster.
Yet like most monsters that exist outside the boundaries of imagination, the printed word, celluloid, or digital imagery, the United States and its denizens ostensibly appear rather harmless and mundane. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say that a fair number of people still perceive us as downright heroic, cloaked as we are in our beguiling raiment of freedom and democracy.
“You need to ask why is it that we’re so surprised when the alleged BTK killer [in Wichita] ends up being someone who lives among us and works in our church and is a Cub Scout leader,” says Daryl Koehn, an ethicist at the University of St. Thomas in Houston and author of a new book, “The Nature of Evil.” “We want evil to be monstrous,” she says, “because if evil is monstrous, then by definition it doesn’t look like us.”
—“Calling Evil by Name” from the Christian Science Monitor (3/10/05)
While Jefferson penned the words, “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence, the notion actually evolved from Locke’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of estate” and Adam Smith’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” Smith’s version even found its way into The Declaration of Colonial Rights, crafted by the First Continental Congress in 1774. We in the United States act monstrously because in spite of Jefferson’s re-wording, we did not divorce ourselves from Locke’s and Smith’s notions. We perceive an inextricable link between our happiness and the degree of material success we achieve.
Forged within the context of capitalism, which has become savage beyond comprehension as it rages against its inevitable self-destruction, our relentless devotion to our “inalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” focuses primarily upon enhancing our own lives (others be damned), filling our heavily-mortgaged homes to the rafters with as much “stuff” as we can acquire, and satiating every hedonistic desire the law will allow, and then some. We rarely pursue the spiritual form of happiness to which Jefferson was probably alluding. In a nation where “I” rarely defers to “we” and property rights trump humanity, we US Americans tend to be all about “me” and hell-bent on dying a winner by possessing the “most toys.”
“About 24,000 people die each day from hunger or hunger-related causes. Three-quarters of the deaths are children under the age of 5.”
—-The Hunger Project, United Nations; Fall 2003
“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars.”
Think about that figure of 24,000 for a moment. Each day that passes, nearly three times as many human beings succumb to malnutrition and hunger than the total number of people we have lost in our illegal and murderous invasion of Iraq that began in 2003. Yet as Charles Kuralt pointed out, there is no shortage of victuals in the United States. Fast food restaurants, the progenitors of numerous evils, including factory farming, Mcjobs, the corporatization of culture, and the “throw away” society, are nearly ubiquitous. We US Americans are “lovin’ it” and having it “[our] way” so much that highway weigh stations stops may eventually become mandatory for all motorists. 40 million of us are obese and 3 million more are morbidly obese.
Ironically though, we are so selfish and self-absorbed, that not only do we use our immense military and economic might to extort and force the rest of the world to supply our tiny percentage of the world’s population with a shockingly gluttonous one fourth of the Earth’s resources, we allow hunger and homelessness to exist amongst our own people!
Television, which is both our grossly distorted window to the world and a Siren’s call to viciously lacerate our souls upon the jagged coast of the Isle of Avarice where we ultimately find ourselves spiritually devoured by the beast called Consumerism, acts as a powerful catalyst for America’s pathological fascination with shopping.