I’ve always viewed American culture as an expression of tribal schizophrenia. Of course America is a beacon of innovation and that long touted up from the bottomness that you hear so much about (mostly from recent migrants who still speak broken English and right wing Mutt and Jeff types). But countries and individuals share certain complexities. And just as no person is just one thing, neither does one country exemplify just one principle.
A serial killer can wrap a chord around a woman’s neck and watch in anticipatory glee as blood gushes from her fresh wound, then go home and kiss his adoring wife, pet his schnauzer. And unless Mr. serial killer is a sociopath, he’s not pretending. He’s more than one thing. Slaughterer by night (or whenever the opportunity presents itself), protector by day. Countries share such contradictory complexities.
I was reminded of these complexities when reading a post titled “There is No Such Thing as Innocent in America” at the Black Youth Project’s blog. In referencing the current Dominique Strauss Kahn affair, the writer noted “In France, it is illegal to take a picture of someone in handcuffs if they have not been convicted of the crime.”
One can assume that French lawmakers came to this decision in an effort to buttress the ideal that all people are innocent until proven guilty. Whereas in America, we make similar judicious pronouncements but allow our primal urges to give voice to the act of justice. We’re so addicted to shaming those who fall short of our dictums that we froth at the mouth in our haste to embarrass and malign the character of the accused. In this way, we’re useless. Our primal desire for vengeance mutates our highly esteemed system of justice, sometimes resulting in premature convictions. What’s more, guilt and shame are never the doorway to redemption. To the contrary, feelings of shame heap hot coals upon the embers which, if ignited, erupt in destructive acting out.
Those who wrap themselves in the red, white and blue would love nothing more than to convince us that all we need to know about America is wrapped snug and tight in one platitude; America’s the greatest country in the world. This, however, is the failure of most linear thinkers. They quickly connect unrelated dots to fit their narrative and stop thinking far sooner than they ought to. When their thinking requires a pause and further introspection, they quit, misreading a flash of insight as a conclusion. Yes, we are a great country, but keep thinking. What else are we?
As a result of our fixation, we have a majority of people on both the center-left (there is no true left in America anymore) and the right who honestly believe that America is just one thing. Even if the circuitry of their cerebrum recoils at such simplistic notions, they push forward anyway. It’s all they know. And if they ever desire to question it, I mean seriously question it, they’ll be forced to reexamine their entire belief system. Once torn asunder, any attempts to piece together a disjointed belief system could result in a breakdown, madness.
Thus, we’ve made a choice that we’d rather be collectively schizophrenic than individually shattered. Every day Americans are just as much victims of their own psychology as are the victims of our unforgiving judicial system.
If we ever hope to come full circle and infuse our ideals with flesh and blood, we must cease being reactionary drones, predisposed to platitudes which make zombies out of thinking people. We have minds and we only damage ourselves by allowing them to shrivel and atrophy as we allow slogans to take the wheel. There’s no moving forward until we unlearn these disjointed and incoherent lessons…