In the decades before Native Americans were subjugated, by means of the self-assigned authority of the white man's laws relegating them to reservations--and with the sickening power of our culture, including alcohol, and psychological desolation--we condescendingly referred to the members of this proud warrior culture as 'savages'. We treated them according to the European tradition of treating all indigenous people....like illiterate children who didn't know what was good for themselves, much less how 'civilized' people should live. When I was in Utah and Arizona last spring, my son and I saw once again constant reminders of how the vast majority of Native
Americans still suffer. We probably could have subjugated them and destroyed their culture without firing a shot, just by giving them all the alcohol they wanted. It is heart-breaking to see the results of our history with them.
But, now a new kind of 'savage' is stalking the American landscape. And, far from being a noble being with deep connections to the natural world, this 'new savage' is a true beast. He and she are inclined to dominate with power--political power at this point--but, the single most salient quality that sets them apart....is an astonishing lack of compassion for any other beings, animal or human. They cheered raucously the other night when Ric Perry's accomplishment as the governor of Texas was mentioned. He now holds the esteemed position of being the governor on whose watch more people have been put to death than any other in American history. And, the tea bagger crowd loves this.
When Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul if people who do not have health insurance should be allowed to die, a savage in the audience shouted his approval. Others cheered as well. If one is a student of human history, i.e.,did more than just squeak by a U.S. history class in high school, and has some overall sense of how the human race has evolved, it soon becomes clear that we are only able to avoid sinking to our lowest impulses when we cultivate the idea that COMPASSION is as important as life itself. When we forget to pay attention to this we have our little moments, don't we? Things like the Holocaust happen. Ouch! Didn't mean to do that....just kinda forgot there for a few years what makes us 'human'.
So, here we are at another pivotal moment in our history. We are on the verge of making some very critical decisions about how we will behave towards our fellow human-beings, indeed our fellow Americans....and we are pulling back from the notion that what separates us from the beasts of the forest is ONLY our ability to feel compassion, to empathize, to care about others in a meaningful way. Looking out across the land, and even the entire planet, one now sees a clear tendency to isolate in social groupings, to defend a viewpoint that discounts the needs and the vitality of others. Perhaps this is the ultimate outgrowth of a culture where the worship of material goods and possessions has supplanted a more spiritual outlook. But, even religions that were intended to become a source of guidance in this process of being human and to make us better at it....are being co-opted and used to isolate and attack 'other'. Regardless of the vehicle or the excuse we use, we are identifying our own needs as paramount, and we will not merely allow violence, but are increasingly willing to commit it--in a variety of ways--on those we perceive as a threat to meeting our own needs.
So, it might just be that we have now come to the point where we have morphed ourselves into the kinds of beings that we looked down on so condescendingly for so many generations.
The heretofore 'civilized' human being has now become the savage. It should be noted, however, that even when we declared ourselves to be civilized we were not acting in a civil manner towards most other sentient beings. Since our Cro Magnon ancestors were thumping each other over the head with clubs and sticking animals (okay, yes, each other too) with spears, we have learned a phenomenal amount about how to invent and create 'things' that serve our needs....and foremost among our inventions: WEAPONS. An early hominid could scarcely have dreamed of the weapons we now take for granted. Hell, a soldier in the Civil War could not have imagined that only a couple of generations into the future we'd be able to incinerate a city with a single bomb, delivered by a missile traveling many times the speed of sound. We are living the stuff of science-fiction...only a few decades ago.
So, who is the real savage now?
Of course, there is a percentage of the population that will desperately cling to the idea that being a true Human Being means you possess a quality referred to by mystics for millennia as 'Heart', and that it is via this aspect of our being that we are able to feel compassion for all other beings...and not just human ones either. It may well be this decreasing number (relative to the number of savages who are on the increase) of souls among us that becomes our last life-line to our humanity.
But, as of now, the savage beast in us is advancing to the fore. When I contemplate why this is happening...despite all the lessons of our past....I have to believe that this is just one more episode of our needing to learn lessons that have apparently not sunk in. We apparently need one more turn on the anvil, in a state of red-hot malleability, to shape us in a way that we can once again remember that our only purpose in living has been all along and remains....to become Human Beings.