America has a serious addiction problem.
I’m not talking about the usual suspects of alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine or marijuana. I’m not even talking about the epidemic of legal drug addiction to prescription medications. I’m speaking of our addiction to the use of deadly force to, at best, attempt at solving real problems and, at worst, feed our egos with delusions of righteousness, dominance and superiority. As a nation, we have so bought into the idea that using lethal force is good and right and necessary that it has become a kind of secular religion. Indeed, for many this is the foundation of our national “Greatness”. “Greatness” becomes defined as our capacity to be physically overpowering in order to get what we want. Many of us worship at the altar of Military Power and make unholy communion with Police Brutality. As a nation, we “entertain” ourselves by watching countless murders at the movies and on television. We perpetrate countless more in the multitude of video games we play.
Violence is the American Narcotic. Whether we are witnesses or perpetrators, it is our drug of choice.
A narcotic is usually understood as particular type of drug that induces and reinforces repetitive, destructive behavior. In other words, active addiction. The addiction process operates from a very primitive part of the human brain and bypasses the part of the brain that is associated with compassion and rational thinking. This primitive part of the brain is associated with what could be called the “small self” or the ego. This is the “I-Me-Mine” part of each of us. It is the part of my brain that believes that the universe revolves around me. “I am all-important and you don’t matter.” Not surprisingly, that is why people react with such disbelief when they see or hear of an addict acting as if they just don’t care about anyone else. In this case the difference is that the addiction to Narcotic Violence is not based on putting some type of substance in our bodies. It is an addiction to a particular type of experience.
Our national “brain” is impacted by State-sanctioned violence in the same way an individual addict’s brain is effected by their drug of choice. This has major implications for how we “think” and act as a nation. When our National Ego gets hurt we look for a way to self-medicate. So we do what we know best: We lash out. We identify an enemy and we attack them. We hurt them and we do a lot of damage to their world. We give ourselves a “rush” by re-asserting our dominance and our sense of righteous power. Then we feel better. This is our “brain” on drugs.
America is addicted to feeling righteous, powerful and dominant.
There is a memorable scene in the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that illustrates this point very clearly. Indiana Jones, the American hero of the story, is confronted in a Middle Eastern marketplace by a man dressed in a dark robe. The robed man laughs menacingly as he begins twirling a large sword in a threatening manner. Indy pauses briefly, looks mildly annoyed, and calmly pulls out his gun and kills the man with a single shot. There is enthusiastic applause when “our hero”, the character who is supposed to represent us “good-guy” Americans, commits murder without a hint of remorse or regret.
How did it come to this?
As a nation we were born in bloodshed. Our very existence began with a revolution of violence that should not have succeeded and yet it did. We were Rocky Balboa knocking out Apollo Creed. Our national ancestors were the rebels that somehow defeated the far more powerful empire.
The irony is that America has become a much more powerful version of the very empire it once defeated.
Is God really on our side?
During the course of our nation’s history, we increasingly saw ourselves as the world’s best hope. How could it be otherwise? How else could we have won our independence unless God was on our side? Clearly ours must be a divinely-supported destiny. When we believe that God is on our side we don’t question our authority and use of power. When the power of the State is beyond question the exercising of the power to intimidate, control and destroy is unrestricted.
Here begins our toxic mythology of so-called American Exceptionalism. This is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. This our narrative of how we are the “chosen ones” to lead the world to a better way of life. Sadly, it is also a mythology that has been built upon the oppression and exploitation of various disadvantaged groups throughout our history. It is a mythology that rests upon the genocide of Native Americans (ask Native Americans if they think “genocide” is too strong a term) at the hands of uninvited European immigrants. It stands upon the indefensible terrorism of kidnapping non-Europeans from other lands and selling them into slavery. It weighs heavily on the violence, both subtle and obvious, against women. This is by no means a complete list.
So begins our addiction to the American Narcotic, the American Way of Violence: “This is America and this is How We Solve Problems and Get Things Done.” When we see something as a Problem we declare “War” on it and quickly get into combat mode. We have declared a War on Poverty, a War on Cancer, a War on Drugs, and, of course, we now have the perpetual-motion machine known as the War on Terror (recently re-branded as the War on Radical Islam). It’s as if we only have one pair of glasses that we see through but instead of rose-colored glasses we keep putting on our War-Colored glasses.
As a nation, America has lived in a delusional bubble in which we think we “know better” and are entitled to more than anyone outside our bubble, anyone who isn’t one of US.
If we are truly to be a Great Nation, our greatness cannot be built on a foundation of oppression and exploitation. No pathological addiction can lead to greatness that is healthy or legitimate. Real Greatness can only be supported by a foundation of compassion and generosity that applies to everyone without exception. We have always had, and we still have, an abundance of the raw materials we need for this kind of foundation.
How do we, as the people who form this nation, recover from our dependency on the American Narcotic?
I believe we need to begin by recognizing and admitting that we have become an Addict Nation. Our denial needs to end. The delusional bubble that keeps us cycling through the lies of our superiority needs to pop. These are lies that we have absorbed and believed for far too long.
As Americans we need to openly admit that we are not smarter or better than anyone else in the world. We need to publicly reject the lie of American Exceptionalism. We need to to come clean and sincerely admit to the mistakes we have made as a nation and the suffering we have caused throughout our history.
We need to ask to be forgiven by all those who we have hurt by our dependency on the American Narcotic. We must be prepared to receive the anger of those we have caused to suffer so much. We need to accept the hatred and rejection of anyone who has been harmed by US.
We must continue to be very honest with ourselves. We need to be honest about our vulnerability to relapsing. There will be a strong temptation to escape back into our delusional bubble of superiority. Resisting this temptation won’t be easy because it means feeling our own pain and being aware of how much suffering we have caused others.
This is genuine humility and it is the price of real greatness.