Readers, this is something I have been wanting to comment on for a long time: a growing spirit of meanness, even sadism, in the thought, behavior and culture that I feel is becoming stronger and stronger in the United States. This country has a lot of problems right now, but it seems to me that there are not a lot of people interested in actually THINKING about what our problems are and trying to solve them TOGETHER. No. What many, and I fear most Americans want, is just to beat up on someone. You can see it in reality television shows and on that internet voyeur known as You Tube, where the great fun is to watch some misguided average Joe or Jane humiliated and ridiculed. You can see it in our obsession with celebrity, in the delight that so many take in seeing the famous brought low.
You can see it in our criminal "justice" system, where there is much more support for punishing the people locked away, even for very minor offenses, than for rehabilitating them so that they will have a snowball's chance in hell of living a normal, productive life when they get out of prison. Why rehabilitate them? Better to let them remain criminals so that we can enjoy locking them up again and again and feeling superior to "those people."
You can see it in the anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic sentiment that seems to be growing in popularity. Look at that one more closely and you will find things like Hispanic people being beaten up and even killed, not in the Deep South, mind you, but on Long Island, just a few dozen miles from diversity central (NYC). You can see it in the popularity of police drama television shows, which give the people a steady dose of a very particular view of American society, in which there is no hope of improving society, only the adrenalin rush of hunting down criminals and locking them up. You can see the real-life ramifications of this media indoctrination in the way states like California have, for many years, been pumping much more money into prisons than schools. Did you know California used to have free university tuition? Not anymore, but plenty of free services for the thousands upon thousands in California prisons, a situation mirrored in states across the country. Priorities are clear! Why educate people when you can punish them? Is THIS the American dream? Most modern democratic countries have abolished the death penalty. Not here! It is a dear and cherished tradition!
You can see it in our national government's foreign policy spending priorities, in that the amount of money devoted to peaceful foreign projects is far dwarfed by what is spent on the military, not only our several ongoing wars that have ripped apart whole societies and left shattered cities, psyches and limbs in their wake that will take decades to heal, but also our "peaceful" military presence in so many countries around the world, which sends a clear message that we are ready to stomp on anyone who disagrees with us or fails to support our military objectives and corporate business interests. Remember that what kicked off both of our most recent wars was a desire to PUNISH: punish the Afghans for 9/11 (even though all or most of the terrorists were Saudis), punish Saddam and Iraq for anti-American weapon programs. Call it "war on terror," call it "nation-building," but I would argue that the root motive is punishment of dark-skinned, non-Christian, uncooperative foreigners.
You can see it in how every city and even very small towns in the USA always have military parades, which for some reason often feature police as well as soldiers, but nothing to honor artists, teachers, or people in non-punitive helping professions. It was a hard-fought battle in this country to establish Martin Luther King day as a national holiday, for the obvious reason that he was a man of peace, as well as an African-American, and in the view of many, THAT AIN'T AMERICAN!! Do you know which state held out for years on accepting the holiday? Same state (AZ) that is now set to implement a law that will give police carte blanche to harass and arrest Hispanics suspected of being illegal aliens. It is also the state with a cruel and humiliating prison system, in Maricopa County, that happens to be immensely popular with the general population, to the point where the head of this police state, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who his fans call "America's Toughest Sheriff," has his own reality television show.
I can't wait until someone finally puts on a show that will televise live executions. "Live from Death Row," sure to be a big hit in the near future! Fun for the whole family, taking America back to the days when people would bring picnic lunches to watch hangings and lynchings. I am not joking about that last point: executions and lynchings were popular entertainments in the not-too-distant American past.
We just love Love LOVE to have someone to beat up on, someone to bomb, someone to throw into prison, someone to hate. And, final irony, some of those on the right-wing side of the political spectrum seem to be gearing up and gunning up to take up arms against our democratically-elected government--and they think of themselves as patriots. The obsession with guns, the fear that you will need to defend yourself in a John Wayne movie always showing in the little cinema in the back of your mind, where does that come from? I suspect it goes back to the culture of the American frontier, when "the west was won" by white Americans shooting and killing Native Americans and taking their land. A great victory, right? Or maybe it was the time not long past in the Jim Crow South when the white man could shoot blacks with impunity? Maybe there is a bit of guilty conscience, fear of payback from people no longer cringing in fear?
What is it that many right-wingers and conservatives shout nowadays? "TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!!!" Back to what, exactly? They never say...Perhaps the good old days of white supremacy, the KKK, lynching of blacks and gays? I for one have no doubt that there is an ugly racial undercurrent running through the so-called Tea Party movement. First a black man is elected president, and then sales of guns and ammo shoot through the roof. What is that about? And what was it that made Bush so popular for several years post-9/11? His promise to "punish the evil-doers." I wonder, will Obama now be tempted to attack Iran to bolster his own popularity?
I am afraid. I fear that this country is becoming an increasingly harsh and brutal police state. I fear that young people today are being raised in a culture which values and validates violence and aggression over all things, that sees compassion, compromise, gentleness and intelligence as disgusting, undesirable, effeminate qualities. A culture that believes the ONLY solution to social problems is to beat people down, shut them up, lock them up. A mindset that has no doubt that the ONLY solution to international conflicts is to use force to beat and bomb foreign people into submission to our will. A mentality that asserts that the ONLY way to be a man is to be a tough-as-nails, ain't never backin'-down, fist-fightin' gun-totin,' brute (A REAL MAN!!) Women too are encouraged to be more aggressive, more selfish, more mean, maybe pack a gun in the purse along with the lipstick. Now there's some great feminism for you! Real gender equality, all through the magic of gun ownership! And now, thanks to the Supreme Court, it is going to be easier and easier for every American to carry a gun wherever they want! Finally, we will all be SAFE. This is surely what the forefathers dreamed of when they set sail for America: a nation where guns will one day outnumber brains.
I don't believe that violence and aggression will make this world a better place. I think we are WAY off track and completely losing sight of the need for gentleness, calmness, compassion and civility. If it were not the fact that something deep in me resonates strongly with the gods and traditions of the European Pagan heritage, I would be very tempted to take up Buddhism. I greatly respect the Buddhist path of self-control, self-reflection and non-violence. I would like to believe they can also be found in Pagan tradition, but I know many disagree. In American Asatru, there are many who primarily relate to this tradition as a warrior path. I don't want to begrudge anyone the right to their own views and interpretations, particularly military veterans who have a need to validate their battlefield experiences, but I feel that there is just too much war-mongering going on, to the point where other priorities and possibilities are lost. I mean, come on! "Hail Thor, Hail War, Let's drink some beer then drink some more!" Wow, now THAT is really spiritual! Come on, please. Anyone who studies any Pagan tradition, whether Norse or Celtic or Slavic or what have you should realize that warrior machismo is not the only thing going on in these religions. There is so much about nature, about sensuality, about peace, about friendship, about art, about beauty. I fear that the warped priorities of modern American society are being read back into ancient Paganism, and then held up as Pagan virtues that all should honor and obey.
Well, I for one am NOT going to play along with this. I worship the sky, the earth, the trees, the ancestors, and I don't need guns or weapons or fantasies of violence to feel right with MY Paganism. I do NOT accept narrow definitions of "tribe" that would cause me to turn away from my brothers and sisters of all races and ethnic backgrounds. I do NOT see the military punishment of foreign populations and disruption of their societies as honorable or worth emulating. I believe that there are more pleasant and productive forms of travel than military invasion. My Paganism is wide and loving and embracing, not narrow and hateful and punishing. I want to see a Paganism that teaches peace and co-existence, not a glorification of war and aggression. Those things have their time and place, I don't doubt, but that place is not everywhere and the time should not be everyday and every minute.
What kind of world do YOU want to live in?