Tuesday, March 20, 2007

American Karma

Bush fruit has already fallen from the founding tree of America and has begun to rot upon the ground. We must now respond in a wise manner to this most recent fall from the garden.

Seeds of Karma

The toll exacted by American adventurism in Brave New Mesopotamia can be counted in numerous ways. There are body counts of deaths and injuries to American and Iraqi combatants and innocents. And there are the usually media accounts and images of shattered Iraqi homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, families, ethnicities, ways of life.

In present day American society there are increasingly dire consequences coming home to roost, as well. The most lamentable fallout from its cowboy imperialism lies in the disrupted peace of mind and ruined sense of wellbeing of America’s own people and society.

America actually has never been an easy place in which to live. Read some first person accounts of daily life in colonial or early industrial times. Or ask a Native American or African American friend or neighbor about theirs or an ancestors’ experience with American culture.

A deeply competitive and acquisitive spirit has provided Americans the dubious benefits of material ease. But the lack of peace of mind and basic civility have been the prices consistently paid over the years for the promises of the myths of progress and manifest destiny. And these same myths continue to fashion the self image and global actions of contemporary America.

During this first decade of the twenty-first century, amid a blizzard of changes and choices in our lives, things have gotten even more out of hand. In an increasingly interconnected world of fierce competition for material resources and addiction to material solutions to happiness, we find ourselves in serious trouble.

Beyond the incessant brain chatter from choosing cell phone plans to balancing credit card accounts, there is an even more sinister kind of torment contributing to our daily bewilderment. There are words to describe its psychological origins: fear, pride, greed and anger. The worldview of America has been sculpted in certain moments that powerfully reflected these psychic imbalances. They were major turning points in US history and all were connected with conflict, war.

The American Revolution violently imprinted a cultural ethos of self-autonomy, but also discarded beneficial aspects of English culture. The Civil War laudably freed the slaves, but also cemented deep divisions between large segments of the national population. Even earlier, America was built upon a fundamental old world schism between the Puritans and the Enlightenment Men. The fruit of these unreconciled turning points are now being exhumed in the battle for the soul of 21st Century America. This time the battle is being waged between newly styled crusaders and gladiators: neocon/religious zealots and progressive liberal/humanists.

The result of this divisive assault is that the mental and emotional balance necessary for a person, family and society to maintain and thrive (no easy effort, even during the best of times) lies now in tatters.

In contrast, the example of history suggests that successful ways of life are necessarily oriented to harmony over conflict and conflict resolution over the force of arms. In such cultures, peacemaking is considered to be equally as heroic as warriorship. The absence of an ethos of harmony has always proved fatal. In my experience as an anthropologist, I know of no imperial civilizations to have survived to tell their tale, other than through the mute voices of their ruined cities and poorly-comprehended writings and symbols.

Fog of Life

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, like thousands of other concerned citizens I wrote to the White House asking the cowboy-in-chief not to go to war. My reasoning was that the drum rolls to war were already doing psychic violence to the American people. So it would be a monumental disaster to our peace of mind and social fabric should war come to pass. Now, US national and personal life have been seriously destabilized. The dreams and wellbeing of Americans have been deeply shaken by the invasion of Iraq and attendant misdeeds by government.

Strong ideals and emotions have always been present as a background hum in the American soundtrack. But now they have led to dangerously polarized camps, dark antagonisms fertilized by the spreading compost of the Bushites. They bear some resemblance to the causes of America’s Civil War. And, too, they reflect conditions leading to the self-destruction of another seemingly civilized nation state a half century ago, which was Germany at the rise of the Third Reich.

Fortunately, we’ve not yet reached the tragic national conditions of 1930’s Germany, although to many people, worldwide, the American invasion of Iraq looks much like the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland at the start of WWII.

In fact, the tendency toward global fascism has been inherent in the Western way - certainly since Roman times. Thus we must be ever vigilant regarding our collective motives and actions in the world.

Likewise, throughout US history, social eruptions and economic crashes have led to internal communal conflicts, inequities and abuses - which the collective American mind seems to have the uncanny ability to rationalize or simply forget. Even in our profound amnesia, though, we have enough reminders through expanded sources of information to know better than to repeat such mistakes.

But so long as awareness is slow to see the light in the fog of life, we will continue to stagger in the footsteps of the Civil and World Wars. The ultimate casualty of this ignorance will have been the peace of mind and civility of America and, given its massive influence, that of the entire world.

George Santayana observed in 1905 that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately this truism was lost of those who would initiate the most violent century in human history.

And the lesson is lost, too, today on us/the US. We live in a society that reinvents itself with each generation, while it looks to its youth instead of its elders for inspiration. Can such a nation of 300 million really be on the right road, being fueled by adolescent dreams having little of the wisdom gained from life’s experiences?

The choice to remember the past is ours to make, while the motivation to learn from the past is usually lacking. But sometimes people and events rise to become catalysts to the lesson. As such, George Bush and his criminal cohorts may actually be doing us a favor in disguise. Permit me to explain this strange notion.

Strange Fruit

There is an ancient human understanding, one which I have studied for quite some time. It is the axiom of karma, which peoples such as the Tibetans call the Law of Cause and Effect. Millennia of close observation of the thoughts, words and deeds of humanity had led Buddhist sages to the conclusion that (to quote a more familiar description of karma) “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Or (in the lingo of 20th century America): “what goes around comes around.”

We all know intuitively that one can’t work against the natural flow without a major reaction or recalibration eventually arising. Buddhists call this shift the “ripening of the karmic impulse.” It is likened to a fruit attaining full ripeness then falling off the tree to rot upon the ground. From its flesh comes putrifaction but also nourishment to the seed and organisms in the earth.

There is no valuation attached to this act. Buddhists don’t say that the poor fruit is “wasted” or that the rotting flesh “messes up” the manicured lawn and people’s lives below the tree. They say, instead, that this is a indicator of the impermanent nature of reality. And they extend the wish that perhaps this fallen fruit will be the source of many beautiful fruit trees to come for the benefit of everyone.

Somehow, this is how I look at the Bush regime in moments of charity. Through their savage actions and shortsighted intentions they just might well bring about conditions for a healing crisis to occur in this wounded and schizophrenic nation.

Bush fruit has already fallen from the founding tree of America and has begun to rot upon the ground. We must now respond in a wise manner to this most recent fall from the garden. But how?

Will we merely regret the fallen fruit as we clear it from our chemically-treated lawn and our national memory? Will we cut down the tree of state in retribution? Will we merely breathe a sigh of relief as we clean up the mess made in Washington, but go no deeper in investigating the causes that had allowed the abuses to take form?

Or could the rotting fruit of state fertilize a new ecosystem of thought and behavior, in the process harvesting healthful sustenance for tree and people? Will we heed the lessons of the times? Can we evoke the energy and wisdom needed to reorient our basic patterns and goals, in light of the national fall from grace now seen daily on a TV or computer screen near you?

This is the curse and the challenge in the ripening of the America’s karma. Fruits always fall from trees. What differs is the way and rationale by which one cleans up the mess. We now have to make that choice - and with an awfully large and smelly, rotting fruit.

Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence:
wealth without work,
pleasure without conscience,
knowledge without character,
commerce without
science without humanity,
worship without sacrifice,
without principle.
-Mahatma Gandhi -

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