Monday, December 26, 2005

Grey Monday, or Why America is Hated

So why is America so deeply hated around the world, to a level clearly out of proportion with our overall geopolitical insolence (Iraq notwithstanding)? Are they jealous of our prosperity, or, in the words of Clueless from Crawford himself, do they hate our freedom?

Based on my non-scientific discussions with folks from other cultures and regions of this planet, both of the explanations above entirely miss the mark. What is globally hated about America and American culture is this, another example of our lust for acquisition. It doesn't matter what is acquired, and no one bothers to ask (as I recommended in my Black Friday post) whether they need anything. If it's a day for shopping, then one must shop.

Note the motivation that is revealed in this story, and then observe the objects of that accumulation-lust: "We're looking for anything on sale," said one shopper (who, sadly, had a young child with her, absorbing this cultish mania). She came away with a cocktail dress, no doubt in anticipation of the next visit from the Fairy Godmother of West Virginia. A second shopper came in search of napkin ring holders (read it--I am NOT making this up!). A third scooped up piles of cheap wrapping paper and decorations at Wal-Mart, after confessing to "a wrapping fetish."

Let me submit that if you have a fetish for wrapping, for Wal-Mart, or for napkin ring holders, you do not need to go shopping--you need to see a therapist. One year ago today, the world was reeling from a loss of human life on a scale matched in recent times only by the various genocides in Eastern Europe and Africa.

The Asian tsunami, of course, was a natural event whose toll in death and suffering was almost certainly exacerbated (as was the case with Katrina here) by institutional ignorance and human greed. Governments were ill-prepared for dealing with the consequences of an oceanic earthquake (and incredibly, they still are), and developers had rushed to destroy natural defenses (see this story for a fairly cut-and-dried analysis of the results of such actions--i.e., lots of people died where the mangrove trees had been cut down, and only a few where the mangroves still stood on the shorelines).

So, as Don Quixote's wise sidekick, Sancho Panza, told us hundreds of years ago, "greed always bursts the bag." The bag may be justice; it may be the life of a nation; or it could be the image of a mighty country and its people in the eyes of a troubled world. The lust for accumulation is not merely immoral or unseemly or impolitic: it is dangerous; it is impractical; it is, in fact, suicidal, both in the inner death it brings to the individual and in the losses it visits upon our species.

Therefore, when you feel that acquisition-compulsion rising up within you on days like this one, I would ask that you question yourself for a moment. See if you can get a clearer perspective on what you want, what you need, and the effect that may come from a shopping spree or of any impulse that is allowed an unreflective action response. Then see what lesson may lie within the impulse itself. You will probably be glad you did. For whenever we pause to ask the bigger questions of ourselves and our world, some hopeful answers begin to form. I had such an experience last year, when, in writing about the tsunami disaster, I found that it led to a clearer perspective on furthering human relationships:

Perhaps there is also an evolutionary lesson contained in these circumstances surrounding the tsunami disaster: we are being called back to a living relationship of equivalence with Nature and her creatures. Evolution is not the linear, survival-of-the-fittest, exclusionary movement from primitive-to-civilized that has often been drilled into us. No: evolution is probably more accurately conceived in that more transformative of geometric shapes, the circle. It winds through overlapping arcs and ripples of growth, none of which can be identified as definitive or superior.

Could it be that we humans are on one such arc of transformation, wherein the limitations of intellect-in-isolation are coming to be generally realized--a period of return to a broader perspective on ourselves and our planetary neighbors? For several millennia, we have pushed our forebrains naked and alone out onto the stage of life, in an ever-increasing isolation of aggrandizement and distortion, only to discover--on a deeply visceral, maybe even a genetic basis--that we can't truly survive or endure this way. Are we in the midst of an evolutionary ripple that is taking us, through the developmental shocks of crisis and tragedy, into a more intimate and equivalent relationship with Nature--with the animals and plants, rocks and soil of our world--that will lead us back from the delusion of the monarchy of intellect, toward the complete and regenerative experience of ourselves as individual threads in the eternal fabric of Being?

I do not know the answers to those questions, yet I feel deeply that if we can recover a sense of our animal nature, of our equal and living relationship with Nature, then we are very likely to find the humility that will lead us toward a renewal in all the other relationships of our lives. Such a movement of "personal evolution" will lead us out of the estrangement and inner divorce that so often poison our relationships with co-workers, spouses, lovers, and perhaps most crucial of them all, our children. I also feel that if only some of us can take that developmental step in the recovery of a feeling-awareness of our animal nature, then it will in turn contribute toward a transformation in our social structures that may help in the preservation of our planetary Home.

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