Zen, and the Art of Self-Loathing
Zen, and the Art of Self-Loathing
© 2005 Master R Wily
Grasshopper! It does an old man well to see America's youth command the language like you have done. But well-formed words do not equal well-founded words.
The wise man has no great love for the Pledge of Allegiance – and Grasshopper is wise. Self-congratulation is self-delusion, and mindless self-adulation without discernment is fantasy. Except that young Grasshopper goes one step too far in soul-searching. Grasshopper mewls, and replaces mindless self-adulation with mindless self-loathing to create a world colored only by black and white. The opposite of polarized sentimentality is not more polarized sentimentality. Grasshopper creates the Universe According To Grasshopper in which, like most self-made universes, contradicting that universe's god is tantamount to being immoral. Mothra, god of his own universe, is a fledgling grasshopper in Reality.
Young Grasshopper starts the manifesto with solipsistic feel-goods "I am an American. I support our system of government and eagerly await the day I can vote." Grasshopper! A taxpayer in the making. But you deign to wag an importunate finger at US Congressman and Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. You ask a series of [presumably] rhetorical, question-begging questions. While assuming the answers, and presuming that the assumed answers make further discussion irrelevant, you do not get the withdrawal you think you finessed in the rhetorical shadow-chess match.
"Were we one nation, Mr. Hastert, when the American government herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during WWII?"
Yes, Grasshopper, we were.
"Or how about today, when a black male will be pulled over if he drives a flashy car?"
Yes, Grasshopper, we are.
"What about a Middle Easterner, taken for a terrorist at an airport due only to his religious headgear?"
Yes, Grasshopper, even after that.
"What about a gay couple, denied complete pursuit of happiness because of bigotry?"
Yes, Grasshopper, even then.
"Still one nation, Mr. Hastert?"
Being one nation does not require that all citizens submit to a juicing in a Citizen Press, get whipped up into a blended broth, cooked into a gelatinous mass and poured out into as many Good Citizen Molds, to form a uni-acting, uni-formed population base showing absolutely no substantive deviation from the ideal norm. The exact same type of self-serving "norm" desired by the politics of one side is also desired by the self-serving politics of the other side. The only thing that differs is the form; both sides want no meaningful dissent. It gets in their way.
Being one nation does not preclude large, sometimes messy, and usually loud and obnoxious disagreements, quarrels and outright fistfights between different groups within that "one nation". There has never been a nation as racially, ethnically and religiously diverse as the United States which has had, frankly, as little of the fistfighting. America has had a remarkable ability to settle its large, messy quarrels by lawyering. Not always, of course, but mostly. To the point of too much lawyering, perhaps. Far more than other nations as diverse. Even more than many nations less diverse. The Balkans, having one ethnicity [Slavic] and only two religions [Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam], have had several times the civil wars as America, orders of magnitude more gallons of blood spilled, and almost none of the material progress, academic enlightenment and social stability.
And don't look now, Grasshopper, but the notion that all Americans are identical and pre-juiced has caused the Middle Easterner taken for a terrorist at an airport to have to stand in line behind my 79 year old mother, who is also taken for a terrorist at the airport. You want to complain about ritualistic pseudo-synthesis, you need to work your way beyond the mind-numbing self-congratulatory oaths which are an annoyance for, oh, all of 15 seconds and get into those practices which manifestly interfere with daily activities of all free citizens in their "free" society. All are done for the same motivations: treat Americans as they are not.
Self-criticism is fine, Grasshopper, but self-criticism which has no practical benefit is navel-gazing nonsense, and self-criticism which ignores the practices of the real world for the sake of navel-gazing is intellectual masturbation.
Further, you are confusing "pursuit of happiness" [an emotional self-indulgence] with "right of property" [an enforceable legal right]. The gay couple has the right to pursue what they believe to be equal rights based upon their denial of the property rights associated with marriage, claim that such denial denies them equal protection, and claim that their disallowance from applying for said property rights in the first place denies them due process. But you're never going to get anywhere by tearfully complaining that someone's happiness was – boo hoo – denied because of bigotry.
The happiness of millions would be satisfied by the Cubs winning a World Series. It is the bigotry of Major League Baseball that prevents a team with a roundly mediocre in-season performance from participating in the playoffs, and requiring that the World Series winner be the team that wins eleven playoff games in a single year. A Series win ought to be the due right of every fan. Oughtn't it?
Oh, but the rules of baseball say that that's the way the World Series winner is determined.
Darn! You got me, Grasshopper.
And I've got you: we do not have the legal right to happiness in this country, nor even to pursue it. The words you are quoting come from the Declaration of Independence, and our legal rights are outlined in the Constitution. Furthermore, there is nothing anywhere that says you or I are prohibited from being a bigot. I'm a bigot every day of my life... and so are you. There are things we each like, things we each don't like. That is the basis of bigotry. You aren't required to like Cubs fans, Sox fans, baseball, football or hockey. You are free to think that any one of those types of people are self-indulgent toads, and you are free to say so.
You are even free to voluntarily associate with people of your choosing, and to the exclusion of all others, for no other reason than you like the teams they support, the politics they espouse, or the cut of their jib. You are further free to refuse association with those you have taken an instant dislike to based upon nothing more sound than the teams they support, the politics they espouse, or the cut of their jib. And you are free to say why – and not have to apologize for it.
And so are people who don't like homosexuals.
And so are people who don't like blacks.
And so are people who don't like Catholics, or Jews, or people with French names or sentiments, or lawyers, or Republicans, or Democrats, or fat people, or environmentalists, or our soldiers. The list is endless. You aren't required to like anyone. You aren't required to say polite things about everyone. You aren't prohibited from saying mean, rude or insulting things about anyone. Freedom is great that way, but it's also messy that way. Freedom requires that once in a while, if not actually most of the time, you are going to be insulted by bigots who don't want to associate with you or listen to you being who you are. Freedom requires that most of the time, huge numbers of people are going to be offended and have no recourse except to whine about it. Freedom means that someone else's right to offend others is more important than your right to be blissfully insult-free.
Freedom requires maturity, Grasshopper. Children can rarely handle freedom because they can rarely tolerate others being able to use freedom for their own purposes – such as coloring with the blue crayon when you want it. Children can sometimes be very, very old people who cannot tolerate others using rude words against a favorite person, or using votes to support national politics one disagrees with. The freedom to differ is not freedom to many, because if there are enough of those different, then you don’t get to have your way.
We are not the result of citizen-sluice, poured into the molds of a uniform population, Grasshopper. Brave New World is anti-freedom. We are individually given the right to think what we like, and say what we think. The only constraints we have are on the actions we take. It is illegal to assault another; it doesn't matter if the one assaulted is a homosexual or not... is black or not... is Jewish or not... is a lawyer, a Republican, a tubby, a tree-hugger or a jarhead or not. You can say you don't like them; you just can't do very much about it. Sometimes your freedom will be as a fan of the winning team or the in-power politics, and sometimes your freedom will be having to listen to others being fans of the winning team or in-power politics.
That is freedom. That is America. The same America that you claim to be one of, and which you claim to support the system of. The rules of that system are what they are, Grasshopper. You may not like the rules, but they exist. The rules of America say that the majority decides who the President is to be, and that the President gets to direct national policy – even if a self-important few disagree with the direction of the policy ... even if that self-important few is almost a majority ... even if enough individuals have changed their minds on what they want national policy to be since they chose the President and the self-important few have become the self-important majority though their own mind-changing. And the rules of America say that a Supreme Court is superior to a federal judge in San Francisco, and gets to determine, ultimately, if our rules are being broken. The rules are that the words "under god" – like "in god we trust" – are religiously meaningless and, being voluntary, do not compel religiousness. Polytheists and atheists are perfectly free to be insulted by the words, and they are also perfectly free to ignore them as you are doing.
Furthermore, America exists in a world where alternate and even competing rule-systems exist; America's rules are only one-of-many sets, and there is nothing special or remarkable about America's rules in the rest of the world. In some places, our rules – important to us – are not important at all, and they don't even count. War is one of those places. The rules by which we treat people here in America do not apply in war, Grasshopper. If you like, you can blame our soldiers for doing these un-American things in war, or while guarding the prisoners who, before their capture, were trying to kill our soldiers. You can also, if you like, transfer blame to politicians who have wars that you do not understand the need for. But your failure to understand does not mean that the thing is not understandable, and none of your pseudo-moral posturing imbues you, a high school student, with any of the information that was used to formulate your nation's foreign policy – which is almost entirely secret.
America's rules simply do not apply in war – and the rules say so. The America that you support the system of supports the systems of the world, and the rules of those systems say that America's rules do not apply elsewhere in general and in war specifically. You need to be glad that America usually follows the rules of the road when it's on the road. And you also need to be glad that America enforces those rules when it finds some of its own who have violated those rules while on the road. We could be like, say, France, who ignores its soldiers who violate the applicable rules when France is staging their foreign government take-overs in Ivory Coast.
Talk about making Tarantino blush! Imagine! The rest of the world acts just like America acts! Only worse!
Or, to put it another way: imagine! America acts just like the rest of the world, only better! We mostly follow the rules of the road while we're on the road, and when we find Americans who don't, we punish them. When other countries find their own citizens who disobey the rules of the road, they often ignore them. This is why France and Russia each have their own chapter in the official UN report detailing the Oil-for-Food violations. When the rules said "you can't privately trade with Iraq because Iraq breaks the world's rules", French and Russian officials by the boatload broke those rules and traded privately with Iraq, and for personal financial gain. UN officials – the people who made these rules – broke the rules as well. There were no Americans named in the official UN report on the scandal. Do you know that the only one convicted of breaking those rules is an American? convicted in America, by America, of breaking the rules of the road? The French, Russian and UN officials are busy trying to dodge and evade; a British Member of Parliament is whining that all the evidence is forged, especially the evidence which he himself signed.
It certainly is comforting to know who we can blame for having a "repugnant foreign policy". Isn't it, Grasshopper? America, alone in the world, is a self-serving nation. All other nations, and all other people from those nations, are altruistic in their own foreign dealings. Aren't they, Grasshopper? They never, ever think of themselves, only how they can serve mankind.
This foreign altruism must be the reason behind the political philosophy called pan-islamism which teaches that Muslims must unite in order to rule the world under the islamic faith. That is very altruistic, isn't it, Grasshopper? Preachers who espouse pan-islamism are actually looking out for you, and doing what is best for you, by preaching that your nation must fall and that your nation's citizens must convert – one nation under allah – or be killed.
The protest is forming in your mind, Grasshopper... "But not all muslims are pan-islamists." True, they are not. Any more than all whites are white supremacists. But just like you will find huge groups of white supremacists gathered together in certain places in America – like NASCAR races and Montana – you will find huge groups of pan-islamists gathered together in certain places in the world. The Middle East is one of those places.
A major philosophy in the Middle East is that The West must fall, and that westerners are corrupt. They believe that The West is bad, and they believe that America is moreso. You are corrupt in their eyes, Grasshopper. The same as President Bush. The same as our soldiers. The same as ever.
Another protest is forming in your mind... "But this pan-islamism formed in response to the Repugnant American Foreign Policies." Oh, Grasshopper! American foreign policy didn't exist before 1783, and largely ignored the Middle East until after World War II, and pan-islamism has existed for over a millennium. Before American foreign policy, they were indignant about French foreign legions and British imperialism. Before that, Mongol expansion. Before that, someone else. It was pan-islamism which invaded and conquered Spain before any Crusade was dreamed of, invaded and conquered Byzantium which directly led to the Crusades. It was pan-islamism which spawned vassal kingdoms into the interior of Europe from the 1200s through the end of World War I and which visited Ottoman-inspired warfare upon Europe for centuries. People complain about America having foreign puppets; America has nothing compared to past French and British foreign puppeteering. France and Britain have nothing on the Ottoman Empire, which singlehandedly ruled, through puppet strings, all of Greater Arabia for almost 800 years, central Europe for over 700 years, and Mediterranean shipping – by North African piracy, kidnapping and murder – for almost 500 years.
Americans are novices. Mistaking current American foreign policy as anything but a smudge in the history book is to make the same mistake an ant makes when a seed falls off the stalk and onto his head. He is not being singled out, and it is not entire worlds which are falling upon him. Just because you have virtually no experience with the world does not mean the world has virtually no experience with itself. It was here before you, and will long outlast you. You do not define the world, Grasshopper. You may shape it – in time – but the ability to shape the world is dependent upon your realistic understanding of it. You are not in a position, soon, to shape anything.
Many naive Grasshoppers wish to sympathize with the pan-islamists because the pan-islamists are largely poor, uneducated people, who are treated unkindly by America – which is required to deal with them the way the rules of their part of the world require America to behave. It is not America's fault that these people have silly, backward, unfair rules. America cannot go barging into their lands and treat them as America wishes – as America would treat them if they were American. America has tried. America gets into trouble whenever it tries. America is accused of treating the rest of the world as if it were a part of America, of denying them their cultural identity – of committing cultural warfare upon them.
America is continually asked to kindly leave them with their rules that subordinate women, and treat children as cattle; which allow slavery, genocide and tribal warfare; that allows men to kill their wives for adultery, but allows men to have multiple wives and mistresses. It is cultural warfare, or so they keep telling America, for America to act as though these parts of the world need to have American rules. It doesn't matter if the American rules are abstinence for AIDS prevention, or condoms and sex education for AIDS prevention. Both are American rules, and arguing over which of America's rules should prevail in Africa doesn't alter the fact the America is trying to rule Africa.
Africa and Asia desperately want DDT to kill the mosquitoes which spread the malaria that kills millions of their poor and uneducated each year. But the rules of America won't allow them to have DDT, because the rules of America won't allow America to sell them DDT. The rules of America also won't allow rich American companies to do business in nations which use their own DDT to kill the mosquitoes which spread the malaria that kills millions of their poor and uneducated each year. They think America is racist because America is mostly white and doesn't die from malaria, while they are brown or black and they die from malaria by the million. They believe America's rules cause them to die, because America’s rules force them to choose between dying and getting American business. And they might be right – they uniformly choose American business.
It is easy to have sympathy for poor and uneducated people, Grasshopper; but not all sympathies are deserved. Unwise sympathies leads people to claim that American foreign policy – which is indistinguishable from the foreign policy of any other nation at any other time and place in history – is "repugnant". Poor and uneducated people in certain parts of the world don't like our foreign policy; this is very true. But not all of those poor and uneducated people who dislike our foreign policy deserve our sympathy. Millions upon millions of them are pan-islamists who want to destroy America regardless, and just because it exists. They would have no problem killing you along with it, despite your sympathies. And American foreign policy tries, more or less successfully, to stop them. Is it any wonder why they don’t like American foreign policy?
White supremacists are poor and uneducated as well, and many have no teeth. Are they deserving of your sympathy? Should you sympathize with them to the point that you assist them in gaining their desires: a world rid of blacks?
Why should you assist pan-islamists in gaining that which pan-islamism seeks: a world without infidels? Just because they are poor and uneducated? Just because they are oppressed by a system of rules that their leaders imposed upon them and which America is required to abide by when America goes into that part of the world? That makes no sense, Grasshopper; you aren't thinking with your brains. You are now thinking with your heart and using your brains for ear-padding and hair-insulation.
Despite the unflattering characterization, this is progress for most young Grasshoppers your age who do not have a parent write essays under their names; most naive young nits cannot put two words together let alone form coherent sentences. You managed to do that nicely. Most children your age are capable only of sneaking beers and cigarettes, ogling girls, or boys, and being generally illiterate while being petulant and whiny. You, conversely, articulated your petulant whininess very well. Your English teachers – or your parents' – ought to be proud of the grammar, diction and syntax in your essay. But your history teachers – or your parents' – ought to be scolded for a shameful dereliction of duty.
The poor and uneducated masses of the world, during all phases of the world's history, have been used as the human fodder for the mass movements spurred by the faux-intellectualist masters of those mass movements. For two historical reasons:
1] there is an almost endless supply of poor and uneducated people, and
2] they don't have anything to lose by being used as puppets.
Their lives? They can lose their lives? True enough, but being poor and uneducated means that life isn't long in the first place – even today. Losing their life isn't that big a deal to them.
You can add a third reason, Grasshopper, for contemporary purposes:
3] pseudo-moralists find "poor and uneducated foreigners" to be a noble and sympathetic cause celebre, regardless of the position it takes, the lives it costs, the destruction it causes and the misery it foments.
You claim membership in something greater than America; in "humanity". The same humanity is populated by millions upon millions who operate by rules and sentiments that consider you worthless and corrupt, someone to convert to a theology you resist in mostly theology-less America, or be killed. One nation, under allah.
You are owned, Grasshopper, by the same charlatan who owns the jihading suicide bomber. Hiding your ownership behind "repugnant American foreign policy" is no different than shouting it as "Great Satan America".
Recited in public schools across the country, the pledge exerts undeniable pressure on students to stand and vow their dedication to the stars and stripes. But what does this tri-colored banner of patriotism truly symbolize?
Unmistakably steadfast supporters of "an eye for an eye," the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorism attacks. Still itchin' to pull the trigger somewhere, Bush and Co. locked in on Iraq. Someone needs to let Bush know that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, while there are still oil-producing nations that can see.
And we are expected to rise each morning, promising our hearts and minds to a nation justly detested across the globe for its repugnant foreign policy? The answer, sadly, is yes.
The pledge is a political weapon. Its target: the hearts and minds of elementary school boys and girls. Over the years the goal of the pledge has become mindless regurgitation: if we grow up swearing allegiance, it will be unthinkable to disagree with Uncle Sam come adulthood.
Written in 1892, the pledge received its latest political facelift in 1954, when the words "under God" were added.
America is not a theocracy, it is a democracy. And within our population are numerous polytheists and atheists, none of whom want their children to have to accept the existence of one God.
Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that reciting the pledge was unconstitutional. The ruling noted that "…the reference to one nation 'under God' violates school children's right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm the existence of God."
"Obviously the liberal court in San Francisco has gotten this one wrong. Of course we are one nation under God," was the response of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Even after Disregarding Hastert's shameful synthesis of church and state, his statement, and the words of the pledge, is flawed. We are not one nation.
Were we one nation, Mr. Hastert, when the American government herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during WWII? Or how about today, when a black male will be pulled over if he drives a flashy car? What about a Middle Easterner, taken for a terrorist at an airport due only to his religious headgear? What about a gay couple, denied complete pursuit of happiness because of bigotry?
Still one nation, Mr. Hastert?
I am still an American, though recently it has dawned on me that I belong to a more important society: humanity. My deep love of America in no way means I love and support all we do. And so, as America stretches its fingers into the pockets of the world, marching and conquering on the way, I sit, unable to stand in support of such deadly forcefulness.
Sitting does not mean ignoring, though. Sitting means you are aware of your country's actions and don't approve. Sitting means you want to see change. Sitting means working for a positive America. Sitting means you support politicians who care more about human lives than dollar signs.
Whether or not you join the ranks of the seated, contemplate "…and to the republic, for which it stands," and ask yourself precisely what it is that republic stands for.
Rolling Meadows High School student