Re-Lighting the Torches of America's 0aSoul
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers
Monday 30 June 2003
What happens when individuals or whole societies damage -- or 0aeven temporarily lose -- their soul, their spiritual anchor, their sense of 0athemselves as moral entities?
Oh, I know that talking about "soul" and "spirituality" is 0aanathema to a good share of the Left. Those terms often are regarded as too 0anew-wavy or are found mostly in the camp of conservative churchgoers.
But we need to focus on the moral and spiritual aspect in our 0apolitics for a variety of reasons, including helping to re-balance our own souls 0aamidst all the horrors being perpetrated by our so-called leaders.
Further, if we in the progressive movement avoid the spiritual 0afield, we certainly will be crushed in 2004, and the know-nothing forces of 0aBush&Co. will have free rein -- read: reign -- to carry out further imperial 0amisadventures abroad and police-state-like constitutional shredding at home. The 0aresult will be catastrophe -- to our already shaky economy, to our national 0atreasury (and treasures: our young men and women sent to patrol the empire), to 0athe collective soul of America.
The United States is, and likes to think of itself as, a highly 0amoral country, dedicated to fair play and to the belief that God takes an 0ainterest in our democratic experiment. Americans, at heart, want to do the right 0athing.
When our society goes outside the boundaries of decent moral 0abehavior -- as we did with slavery, for example -- those lapses are regarded as 0aaberrations, correctable as we learn more. We are in another such moment in our 0ahistory right now, but we can hope that as more and more citizens learn what's 0areally going on behind the scenes, and face our political shadow, the pendulum 0awill begin swinging back the other way -- if permitted to do so.
Using fear and a permanent-war scenario, the Bush Administration 0ahas been able to manipulate the American populace into turning its spiritual 0abutton to the off position. By demonizing and lying, it has put America's moral 0asense of itself into a kind of numbed "pause" mode.
Americans are led to wallow in the fright and negativity pushed 0adaily by Bush&Co. and its conglomerate-owned mass media. After months and 0ayears of having this negative template laid on top of our society, it's not 0adifficult to have one's energy sapped, to sink into a kind of fatalistic torpor, 0aor even, because the feelings are so intense, to deny that one is having doubts 0aat all.
The Dark Clouds Gather
The shadow forces in American politics have been in the 0aascendancy for more than two years, and many ordinary citizens, not used to 0ahaving mean-spirited and mendacious leaders in control of the country, have been 0aconfused as to how to respond. And so many folks closed down their moral 0asensibilities. But there are signs that this is beginning to change.
Normally, you see, America doesn't initiate wars when we haven't 0abeen attacked or are in little danger of being attacked, or when our vital 0anational interests are not at stake. But, in this Iraqi case, the American 0apublic has been led to feel: "After 9/11, we need to get those guys, and Saddam 0ais capable within 45 minutes of sending his drone planes to drop anthrax on us, 0aor a nuclear bomb" -- and more such whoppers. And off go a quarter-million 0aAmerican troops to the Persian Gulf, with little or no serious debate -- and 0awith more of them dying every day.
(Don't get me wrong. There are bad-guy terrorists out there who 0aneed to be confronted and captured, but we don't need to become a unilateral 0abully abroad -- thus enriching the soil in which terrorism grows -- and move 0ainto a police-state at home to handle the problem. And our officials certainly 0adon't need to lie on a massive scale to dupe us into approving their imperial 0apolicies.)
Even though it has become clear that the U.S. is in no danger of 0aan imminent attack from Iraq, and that indeed there were no weapons of mass 0adestruction worth worrying about, the Rove propaganda machine has done its work 0awell. More than half of those polled think we did the right thing, even if no 0aWMDs are ever discovered.
So. How to combat that moral lethargy, that overwhelming sense of 0adenial that America maybe, just maybe, might be doing something wrong, something 0athat violates our normal sense of ourselves as a righteous, ethical people?
Rather than simply bash away at the bourgeois, religious middle 0aclass for their willingness to go along with whatever Bush&Co. says and 0aproposes, it might make more sense to try to reach folks on an idealistic level, 0awhere they live and/or repair to emotionally.
It's key to remind ourselves that we are taking this approach not 0aonly, or even mainly, as a political tactic, but because it's the right thing to 0ado: to see folks as individuals, with very real fears and sensitive spots. Think 0aof it as a kind of holistic political-spiritual practice. Love, in the long run, 0aalways is more powerful than hate and suspicion. Healing always is more 0agratifying than destruction.
Learning From Earlier Struggles
During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s, the act 0aof reminding white, Bible-reading citizens of their moral consciences had a 0agreat deal to do with eventually bringing about the required changes in the 0aSouth and elsewhere.
During the anti-Vietnam War days, many in the clergy -- priests, 0arabbis, ministers, imams -- also were reminding citizens of the immoral policies 0athat were being carried out in our names; the spiritual underpinnings of the 0apeace movement served as soul-bedrock for our actions -- even when we protesters 0asometimes went astray.
Millions of us found ourselves denouncing not only our government 0abut also its ordinary-citizen supporters; we got up into their faces (often our 0aown parents' faces) and equated them with baby-killers and worse. In our 0aself-righteousness, it took us a good while to figure out that such tactics 0aoften were counter-productive, violative of our inner beliefs in peacemaking, 0aand, in terms of bad P.R., making us the issue rather than the war. How to exit 0athat path?
In the Pacific Northwest, where I was then teaching, many of us 0aanti-warriors decided to meet regular folks where they lived -- in churches, at 0apublic meetings designed to break down generational barriers, at political 0apotlucks, at community picnics, at sporting and social events, in off-campus 0aclasses -- and tried to learn more about them, as human beings. In the process, 0athey learned more about us as human beings, that we were more than just raggedy 0alonghairs smoking grass and shouting at the police.
Suddenly, communication lines were open. We weren't so scary any 0amore, they weren't so stereotyped anymore. We activists heard their fears and 0aagonies: They didn't really like the war and all the death and destruction 0acarried out in their names, but wanted to trust the government, fearing anarchy 0aif the scruffy anti-war protesters were correct in their denunciations. And 0athese middle-class folks finally could hear what we were saying, that the 0agovernment was lying about a war-policy destined to fail.
As more and more body bags arrived back in the States, the 0amiddle-class folks with whom we were talking sensed we were telling the truth, 0aand many began contacting their elected officials, or writing letters to the 0aeditor, or working for peace in their churches and schools and so on. A good 0anumber even wound up on the streets with us protesters. Middle-class pro-war 0asolidarity began crumbling, and the Nixon administration knew it had to somehow 0aend the conflict.
The Vietnam analogy is not exact, of course. But more and more, 0ait looks like the U.S. -- having alienated its traditional allies and much of 0athe rest of the world by virtue of its unilateral, arrogant, bullying approach 0aprior to the war's start -- is now in a 'Nam-like quagmire in Iraq. We have only 0athe foggiest notion of the sub-rosa cultural forces in play in that land, and a 0agood share of the population is opposed to our presence. Forces of opposition 0aare regrouping and, especially at night, carrying out a guerrilla war against 0aU.S./U.K. troops, with more bodies being shipped back home each week.
The Lies That Bind
It's now clear to all that the Bush Administration lied about -- 0aor (if you don't want to admit that your government would falsify on such a 0amassive scale) at the very least grossly exaggerated -- its rationale for 0aspeeding to war. Iraq was a broken nation before "shock&awe" began, with no 0aweaponry to speak of; the U.S. and U.K. were in no imminent danger of attack, 0aand neither was anybody else in the vicinity. Iraq was attacked to provide a 0ademonstration model for the region, in order for the U.S. to assert its 0ahegemonic control in that energy-rich area of the world, and as a warning to 0anations (and international organizations) around the globe not to oppose the 0aU.S. lest they bring the wrath of U.S. power down on their heads.
Ideologues within the U.S. government, seeing that there was 0anobody to stand in the way of the lone superpower on the globe, had concocted a 0amilitary/foreign policy aimed at preserving and expanding America's Pax 0aAmericana ambitions. (See my "How We 0aGot Into This Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer").
The upshot of all these recent revelations of Bush Administration 0agreed and skullduggery, stealth power-mongering, and gross lying is that the 0aAmerican people have been given the tools with which to measure their sense of 0amorality and spirituality against the shadow forces that, for the moment, 0adominate U.S. policy.
- Bush's "re-elect" (sic) numbers are shrinking, down to 40% in some polls, as 0athe citizenry's blinders are slowly being removed and their anger and 0adisappointment are being fired up. The Democrats are beginning, in fits and 0astarts, to realize that they possess spines and can stand up to Bush and the GOP 0awhen it comes to extremist policies and extremist judges. (And various 0aDemocratic hopefuls for the presidency are speaking out forcefully, helping to 0abolster the vocabulary of dissent.)
- More and more potentially embarrassing questions are being asked in the 0amedia and Congress about Bush&Co. behavior. More moderate conservatives are 0ajoining forces on occasion to block Bush initiatives. More mainstream columnists 0aand editorialists are beginning to display their courage in talking openly about 0aBush&Co. scandals and incompetencies. More faith-based organizations are 0astarting to see through the hypocrisy and ersatz "religiosity" of the 0aAdministration. Those whose spirituality derives from nature's balance and 0abeauty are realizing that Bush&Co. are turning over the environment to the 0agreedy corporate forces that pollute and destroy.
- Those in control of policy in the Bush Administration may be irredeemable -- 0athe Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Wolfowitzes, Perles, Bushes, et al., coked-out on greed 0aand power-lust -- but more lower-level officials are beginning to defect, 0awhistleblow, leak the awful truth to the press. Whether Foreign Service officers 0aor intelligence agents or GOP. staffers, their consciences will no longer permit 0athem to shill for an Administration whose operating principles seem to be 0aproudly in violation of traditional American morality. (And claiming that 9/11 0achanged the rules forever is being seen for what it is: a catch-all excuse for 0athe ideologues in charge to do whatever they want.)
Hope on the Horizon
In short, the building blocks are almost in place for serious 0aimpeachment moves and a possible electoral victory in 2004. The keys to these 0ahopeful developments lie in:
- Maintaining the Pressure
Bush&Co. cannot be permitted to 0aselect a scapegoat and thus avoid personal responsibility for the lies told that 0aput American men and women into harm's way in Iraq, and that continue to get 0amany of them killed. (Clinton harmed himself and just a few others as a result 0aof his lying about sex; when Bush lies, people die and our treasury is depleted. 0aMany religiously-oriented folks were deeply upset at Clinton's "immorality"; the 0aconnection needs to be emphasized to them that "immoral" behavior can involve 0asomething other than sexual liaisons.)
- Working to Ensure a Fair Election
Demand of your local and state 0aelection officials that no computer voting be authorized unless and until it 0acomes with iron-clad ways of checking the ballots, a verifiable paper-trail to 0aensure that nobody can tamper with the vote and get away with it. Ensure that, 0aunlike Florida in 2000, tens of thousands of voters cannot be purged from the 0avoting rolls by deliberate fiat of supporters of one party or the other. 0aDouble-check to make sure that the vote-counting of military personnel abroad is 0aon the up-and-up, with a verifiable paper trail.
- Talking Up a Storm
Contact your neighbors and associates and 0afriends about what is happening in this country; write letters to the editor, 0acall talk-show hosts, compose articles and blogs for the internet, participate 0ain meetings and political actions, go out and register new voters, etc. etc. -- 0aall these help add to the critical mass necessary for regime change at home. In 0ashort, organize, organize, organize!
- Connecting With the Faithful
Work with your church or synagogue or 0amosque to re-fire the moral indignation, to connect one's religiosity to the 0asoul-work of right action in society.
- Reversing the Suction
Engage in positive, spiritually uplifting 0aactions as often as you can, so that you can escape the immoral suction forces 0apulling one down into the negativity and fright that pass for policy in the Bush 0aworld. Volunteer, aid a soup kitchen, donate money to good causes, become a 0amentor to at-risk kids, choose a candidate and work for the campaign, immerse 0ayourself in an art project, help oppositional websites and magazines, etc. etc. 0aIn other words, see the light guiding one forward, rather than the shadows 0anipping at your heels. Turn your head away from the propaganda and lies, and 0atowards the sunshine of hope. Let love rule your actions; as your heart opens, 0aso do doors of possibility and courage.
- Joining the Political Process
Elect Greens or whomever on local 0alevels, but once the Democrats select their presidential standard-bearer, do not 0adwell on the candidate's shortfalls or where you might disagree with him or her 0aon a particular issue or two. Remember that the ONLY point in 2004 is to defeat 0athe Bush juggernaut, so as to move our country away from extremist politics and 0aback toward civil compromise and more centrist (and, we can hope, maybe even 0asome progressive) policies.
Out of love of country, unite 0abehind that Democratic candidate and work your ass off to get him or her 0aelected, so as to break the momentum of imperial rule abroad and 0aConstitution-shredding at home. Don't let yourself be distracted by dirty 0apolitical tricks, or whatever terrorist attacks happen, or however many calls to 0apatriotism in wartime are employed to slow the momentum. (After the election, if 0aBush is thrown out of office, then we can afford the luxury of cleansing that 0apolitical party of its more reactionary elements.)
- Asking The Pointed Questions
When you talk to your friends and 0aneighbors and colleagues, focus on questions that remind them who's benefiting 0aand who's losing in the current Bush climate. Do they feel more secure in their 0ajobs? (Several millions have lost theirs since Bush's economic policies began.) 0aHave their pensions and stock holdings decreased in value? Do they want to be 0apart of an American empire that "pre-emptively" attacks other countries, in a 0areckless disregard for international law and treaties?
Are they aware that Bush's incompetent "post-war" policies are 0aendangering our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? Isn't it shameful 0athat the Bush Administration, which claims to care deeply about our soldiers in 0auniform, is cutting back funding to veterans? Are they aware of the extremist, 0aideologically-driven judges that Bush is appointing? Are they aware of the 0ahumungous deficits being racked up by the Bush Administration, and the 0adeliberate consequences that flow from that: little money left over for strapped 0aState budgets, Medicare, Social Security, meaningful prescription-drug coverage, 0aHead Start, curbing environmental pollution, bettering education? And so on.
These are just a few ideas to kick-start the discussion. No 0adoubt, you've got more great suggestions for how to turn this country around and 0aback to civil politics, compromise, a genuine concern for the general welfare of 0aall our citizens and society, not just the elite. Get those ideas out there.
Friends, our beloved nation is at one of those historical 0acrossroads that will decide our fate. We either defeat the shadow forces of 0agreed and power-hunger -- of negativity and fear-mongering -- and take our 0acountry once more into the aura of light and hope, or we risk losing our 0aindividual and societal soul for a long, long time, with untold damage to the 0anation, the world, our moral center.
It's choose-up time.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., is a poet and playwright, who has 0ataught at Western Washington University, San Diego State University, San 0aFrancisco State University. Formerly a writer/editor with the San Francisco 0aChronicle, he now co-edits The Crisis Papers.