Friday, May 8, 2009

What's the matter with the US?

This morning, as I often do, I took our little terrier (her name is Tinker Bell but don't be fooled- she's tough!) for a walk in a nearby nature preserve. We were already on the trail when a pack of about ten dogs came running toward us around a bend, followed a few seconds later by the two men who were with them. The dogs were loose, although a few were dragging leashes behind them. They surrounded Tinker Bell and me, and as I did my best to keep my dog, who is always leashed, from freaking out, I said to the guys "there's a leash law; these dogs are supposed to be on a leash."

One of the men (they were both large, middle-aged) said to me "I don't care if there's a law, and get out of here before I whup your ass. And I can do it, too." As I say, he was a large, tall guy, and I'm a small old man who probably couldn't whup a party balloon.

Tinker Bell and I walked on, but as I walked it occurred to me that this was a microexample of what's wrong with America. People really do feel that they can do anything they want to, the law doesn't matter. Hyper-independence training has severed the web of rights and obligations that a society needs to have in place to function well. The obligation to social responsibility is gone, all that's left is the perceived right to do whatever feels good at the time. And might makes the right.

I call this a microexample because we can also point to examples at the macro level. Take the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was an instance of what US prosecutor Robert Jackson, at the Nuremberg Trials, called the "supreme international crime":
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
We can say the same for invasions of Haiti, Grenada, Panama, and other places. The point is that because we can "whup their ass," and because nobody can stop us, it's ok for us to do whatever we want.

It's the same with the ongoing torture drama. It may be against international law, but we can do it if it suits us. In fact, a disturbing 40% of Americans said in a recent poll that they agreed with the decision to waterboard prisoners taken in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

And who's going to stop us? President Obama still seems to be resisting the idea of prosecuting the people from the Cheney/Bush gang who enabled and carried out what can only be described as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Perhaps other nations, such as Spain and Germany, will step up and do what we can not.

Hyper-independence training is a mode of enculturation that produces social monsters at the micro and macro levels.


  1. Damn, Ron, it disturbs me to read your blog! But, that's a good thing. The voice of conscience is not always comforting.

    I'm reading _Einstein: His Life and Universe_ by Walter Isaacson. He would have agreed whole-heartely with this posting.

  2. I guess this is akin to the notion of American exceptionalism that we hear about, since the book by Andrew Bacevich (not sure if I got the spelling of his name right). But I wonder, is this peculiarly American, or did we bring it with us from Europe, as well as small pox, as evidenced by the wholesale genocide of indigenous people that cleared the way for our forebears? That seems to me to be rooted not only in greed, but the notion that these people are different, inferior, not really human, we are superior - I guess you could call it racist. After all, since WWII, we've waged war only against people far weaker than we militarily, usually with brown skin. Maybe that's "the accumulated evil of the whole" - it seems very primal. Maybe the people of Spain and Germany have evolved from when our ancestors left there.

    On a lighter note, did you name your dog after the cat we had almost more years ago than I can remember?

  3. Re the guys with the dog: I live near a nice little park frequented by mothers or nannies with kids. One day about a week ago, I happened to be walking through there after getting some ccffee at a local coffee place and running some errands. The kids and nannies or mothers were sliding on slides, or swinging on swings. But in an open space, off to one side , there was this man with a small dog, I would. presume about the size of your Tinker Bell. The man was throwing a frisbee at the dog, who was happily chasing it. Both man and dog appeared to be having a fine time, The kids on the slides and swings paid no attention at all. The man was doing something illegal, namey letting the dog offleash in a park that didn't have an offleash area. But man and dog appeared pretty happy; the dog was relatively small and they were not a danger to anyone. OTOH, I live in a part of the world where there's always been been respect for others asl long as nobody bothered anybody. Maybe it goes back to a time when this part of the world was called "the 47 states and the svoviet of Washington". Or something like that.
    Anne G


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