Pain and Conscience
by Charles Sullivan
www.dissidentvoice.org/. May 30,
It is evident that a substantial majority
of U.S. citizens are, in principle, opposed to the most destructive
governmental policies stemming from the nation's capital. These
include, but are not limited to-the continuing war and occupation
of Iraq, as well as the pervasive consumer fraud that preys upon
the innocent and the unwary and causes them undue hardship. These
charges are born out by the abysmal approval rating of Congress
and the president. It is equally evident that the government,
while pretending to be sympathetic to these views, continues to
carry forth those same policies both at home and abroad. It does
so without the consent of the people and, therefore, it has abrogated
its responsibility to them.
These destructive policies are formulated
in the various branches of government and in the corporate board
rooms of America. They are a prominent feature of the run amok
presidency of George W. Bush, where they manifest themselves to
the world. However, their history precedes Bush and his corporate
gangsters by generations, and they are an outgrowth of the exploitive
In some respects the presidency serves
as a distraction from the machinations that are operating behind
the scenes to spew forth one disastrous policy after another.
With so much attention given to Bush, the people are failing to
confront the root cause of which George W. Bush is but a single
manifestation: the sociopolitical system that put the present
criminal regime in power.
Beyond capitalism, other destructive paradigms
are operating to produce a hybridized and even more virulent form
of economics. One might call it hyper capitalism. This explains
why the American form of capitalism is so much more destructive
than most of its European counterparts. For example, most European
workers enjoy a shorter work week, higher wages, and have more
paid vacation than do American workers; and most of them have
union representation and, therefore, more and better benefits.
In Germany, even Wal-mart is unionized.
One of these harmful paradigms that interact
synergistically with capitalism is the idea of American exceptionalism:
the persistent belief that America knows best and everything we
do is good for the world. This synergism is tinged with powerful
elements of racism, sexism, and other belief systems that are
rooted in bigotry, hate, and religious intolerance. It is this
lethal combination that gave rise to the concept of Manifest Destiny.
It was these paradigms that attempted to sweep the continent clean
of its indigenous population, and is blowing across the planet,
touching ground in the Middle East and beyond like a violent cyclone.
What is so exasperating to many of us
is that the corruption of the political system is widely understood
and yet so little is done about it. The people continue to participate
in it; they continue to vote in the absence of meaningful choice
and they continue to support it with their taxes. There have been
peace marches and other forms of token protest, but they have
had little bearing on the continuing policies of economic disparity,
environmental destruction, and imperial war that are prominent
features of American capitalism.
Because protest in America has become
more symbolic than effective, those in power can afford to ignore
it. Even when participation in protest is great, it is of short
duration; it does not cause serious economic or political disruption,
and it does not pose a real threat to the established orthodoxy.
After a few hours of peaceful marching, the people pack up and
go back to their lives and everything remains as it was before
Effective protest causes economic and
political disruption. It persists until the just demands of the
people are met. The established orthodoxy feels pain and discomfort
from it; it feels a palpable threat and understands that the injustice
cannot continue. Either it addresses the demands of the people,
or it perishes. This is a manifestation of democracy. It is serious
stuff that requires enormous sacrifice from those who protest
in this way. The Montgomery bus boycott of the 60s was that kind
of protest; and it was a protest that was won by the people, despite
a constant threat of violence and death.
These days few people are willing to put
anything tangible on the line. One wonders: Is there anything
that the American people are willing to fight and die for? Is
there anything real that we really believe in? Or do we relish
the symbols of freedom more than we love freedom itself?
American exceptionalism is fostered in
all of our social and political institutions. This includes the
educational system and religious institutions. Thus, these beliefs
are continually reinforced from cradle to grave, and never more
so than in the corporate media. So it is not surprising that our
political leaders behave as if they were endowed with the powers
of deities, even though they are nothing more than fallible human
beings like everyone else. It requires enormous hubris for anyone
to adopt such doctrines, but there appears to be an inexhaustible
supply of hubris in this country and a paucity of humility and
compassion. Those who think in this way are prone to behaving
toward the world with vitriol, as we witness daily.
The collective result of so many individually
destructive paradigms is dehumanization. When we allow people
to be dehumanized it is easy to hate them and to exploit them;
to see them as entities endowed with less inherent value than
ourselves or our chosen kind. It is easy to kill or subjugate
inferior people and inferior beings. That is also how the government
(the economic elite) perceives the working class and in their
eyes that perception makes working people exploitable and expendable.
Giving our continued allegiance to such government is irrational
and immoral; it is also cowardly and self-destructive.
We are faced with a situation in which
the body politic not only does not care what the American people
think; it disdains populism as much here as it does in Latin America
and elsewhere in the world. Populism and its close cousin-democracy-pose
an enormous threat to the established order; and that order provides
wealth and privilege to a select few, while denying it to everyone
else. This is why corrupt politicians and so many academicians
spare no effort to suppress and crush democratic movements, and
cover up their crimes through a disingenuous rendering of history.
Yet with so much of the population aware
of the government's disdain of the people's needs, why isn't there
effective organized resistance to it? Why isn't there widespread
social and economic disruption? Why do the people not revoke their
consent to be governed and refuse their allegiance to a government
that is not only corrupt and devoid of moral capital but is also
clearly predatory or even cannibalistic? Why do we continue to
fund criminal governments, including our own, with our taxes?
Why isn't there social unrest and civil disobedience in the streets?
Why are those who expose these crimes punished and the criminals
go free and reap financial reward for their malfeasance?
One explanation for the widespread social
malaise in this country is that people are overwhelmed by it;
shocked and awed by it; disorientated by it. They cannot believe
the audacity of the Bush regime. Disorientation makes the plunder
of the commonwealth easy to carry out. Even while dazed and confused,
so many people remain wed to the idea of America's inherent goodness
and moral superiority to the rest of the world, despite mountains
of evidence against such views. Thus, they view the criminal Bush
regime as an aberration rather than a continuation of an historical
Social justice advocates are rightly infuriated
to know that amidst this worsening climate a solid majority of
the people can remain indifferent and willfully ignorant of what
is being done in their names. There is a reason for this. The
American people do not want to acknowledge any wrong doing on
the part of their government, which is, in theory, an extension
of the people. Of course, that is not the actual practice. This
refusal psychologically absolves them from guilt or complicity
and it permits them the luxury of apathy. By refusing to acknowledge
wrong doing, no further action is required of them. They can go
on consuming, falling asleep in front of the television and sending
their offspring to die in unnecessary wars, while sinking ever
deeper into debt and economic servitude.
Furthermore, the inert masses are mentally
and spiritually ill equipped to deal with reality; so they block
it out of their minds-aided, of course, by the corporate media
and the propaganda apparatus of the government, itself. This is
why fantasy is freely substituted for reality; plutocracy is mistaken
for democracy, and the majority of the people do not know the
difference. Millions of good people thus refuse to allow into
their psyche the suffering and misery that U.S. policy has produced
and exported to the world, even as that reality is closing in
upon them. Unfortunately, I can point to my own family as an example
of such delusional thinking, as no doubt can many of my readers.
Understanding this, the greatest obstacle
to creating a vibrant and effective social justice movement is
convincing the inert masses that they must acknowledge the suffering
we have caused and are continuing to inflict upon the world. The
multitudes must see the wisdom of looking behind the veneer of
propaganda and confronting an ugly and often painful truth: the
brutal and violent history of our nation, including the suppression
of democracy wherever it is encountered. Eventually, perhaps very
soon, they must also come to grips with the demise of capitalism.
We the people must find the courage to
confront reality, and that means that we must be willing to feel
the pain and suffering we have inflicted on others. We must admit
that we are not exceptional or superior, and that we are not more
entitled to our share of the world's bounty than any other people.
But we must go even deeper than that: we must bring about restitution
for our past wrong-doing.
The citizens of the United States must
become one with the world and look beyond nationality; beyond
race, sex, and religious creed. Suffering and joy are conditions
of life and they should be kept in balance as much as possible.
Because suffering causes discomfort that few people want to experience,
the alleviation of suffering is powerful motivation to demand
justice; and that is the force that motivates most good people
to do what they do, which is resist the tyranny of evil government.
Once our indiscretions have been acknowledged and acted upon,
we will find that the world is more than willing to forgive our
past transgressions. This act alone will allow us to rejoin the
world, so to speak.
Many years ago I questioned my mother
about eating meat and the suffering it caused so many innocent
animals. Her response revealed much about the American consciousness.
She did not witness the suffering of those animals. She did not
hear their cries of pain. She saw no blood in the sanitized product
that was sold in the grocery store, wrapped in clear plastic and
served up on pristine styrofoam. So their suffering was not real
to her; it was too far removed from her experience. But the suffering
of those animals and their cries of pain are very real indeed;
and so is the suffering the United States government is inflicting
upon the world.
Were we on the receiving end of our government's
foreign policies, we would have a very different perception of
them. But like wrapped meat in the grocery store, we do not see
the pain and the blood-or the suffering. So for many people it
is not real; it is not happeningbut it is.
By admitting some of this pain into our
lives we are simultaneously admitting all of the other things
into our lives that define our collective humanity; among them
hope and joy. Then, and only then, can we take a principled stand
for social and environmental justice and build an effective movement
toward these ends. We must pry open closed minds and allow reality
to penetrate delusion, as witnessing cause and effect often does.
By this process sheeple are transformed once again into people,
each of them endowed with a conscience capable of distinguishing
right and wrong. This moral evolution is itself a revolutionary
act of monumental import to any justice movement. It provides
the means for people to act according to the dictates of conscience,
and that is an act of liberation from dogma.
Revolution begins by altering consciousness.
We stand at the brink of a multitude of possible futures, many
of them tragic. The failure to act and rebel when the conditions
demand it is a betrayal not only of our own humanity; it is a
crime of great magnitude. The world's foremost thinkers and visionaries
have always understood this. Can we?
Charles Sullivan is a nature photographer,
free-lance writer, and activist residing in the Ridge and Valley
Providence of geopolitical West Virginia. He welcomes your comments
Ethical Foreign Policy