April 14, 1912.
The captain of the Titanic had ordered full speed ahead. As he stood on the bridge of his new ship and gazed at the sun setting in the West across the cold waters of the North Atlantic, he was filled with pride. His ship was unsinkable. But fate has a strange way of playing its game. Later that evening there would come a sudden shudder as plates of steel were ripped off the ship’s bottom. The cold North Atlantic waters would come rushing in. Three hours later, in his disbelief as the ship was turning over on its side, a voice from the ocean depths would say to him:
Sir, I am taking your ship. Your confidence in it was an illusion.
The election was in full swing. John McCain and Sarah Palin made claim for their place on the bridge of the Ship of State. They said that only they should be the ones to command the ship. Only they understood the American dream. They told Americans that the dream is immutable, that it embodies a power of its own. They told them that they believed America’s cause exists beyond any definition of it. John McCain, Naval Officer, war hero, 21st century reincarnation of a Greek warrior from the past, proclaimed that the American cause is the most noble of all.
Should Americans have followed John McCain in this noble cause of his? As it often was with Greek warriors, would they in the end only see his dream in the reality of their own blood gushing from the wound of another’s sword? Could they be confident in John McCain and Sarah Palin in their proprietary definition of this dream? The war in Iraq gave them nagging doubts. Their answer was “no.” John McCain and Sarah Palin were soundly defeated in the election.
As it was with the Titanic; America today is moving through a sea of icebergs, some visible from the surface, some not. There is a difference though. Many are of its own making. The Bush/Graham/Greenspan free wielding economy fathered by the Adam Smith/Milton Friedman theory of unrestrained self correcting capital markets and introduced by Ronald Reagan is in shambles. Under Reaganomics a small minority of Americans grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains.
Also, as Keynesian economics was reintroduced, longstanding rules of fiscal prudence were broken. More recently, the war in Iraq drained America of precious human and financial resources. Partly as a result of that war, a massive US debt to foreigners has now become a danger to the geo political viability of the country. China and other major players in the world marketplace have begun to question the economic sustainability of the nation.
America’s problems extend beyond these obvious structural weaknesses. An intellectual depravity that avoids lasting solutions has settled over large segments of the body politic. As a result, congress is often divided on critical issues between far right and left. Important legislation often turns into polarized partisan battle. Compromise to find passage demeans the rigor of clear hard fought thought leaving only a flaccid attempt to solve the problem at hand. TV and radio talk shows become no more than dumb shouting matches. Petty issues fill the country with days of useless discussion.
Pictures from Abu Ghraib and the recent debate on the release of torture memos are a stark reminder of this intellectual depravity. In one broad stroke Abu Ghraib erased the memory of a world-wide vision etched by years of American post World War II “Christian”-and Judeo-patrimony. America is now seen by much of the world as a nation that tortures and kills. Repeating excuses for this sorry spectacle through the eyes of a former discredited vice president only reinforces America’s sorry image abroad.
During the election debates, many of those who supported John McCain and Sarah Palin did not recognize these as problems. They still do not. They only see them as challenges to be found through an unfettered release of the human spirit within an American system of “free enterprise” and a confidence grounded on the American Dream by way of “love of country” and “heroism.” For them, democratic government is the one answer to all problems. For them, torture has its intelligence rewards. For them, it was the reason no second attack came during the Bush reign. Another attack will be the fault of Obama. For them, Iraq was a success and the surge was a success. Now, victory lay just around the corner. For them, the decision of George Bush to invade will be vindicated. The complexity of Iraqi internecine Islamic society was overcome by the power of the coalition forces and the moral force of their Judeo-Christian nation.
This stubbornness is not just confined to the far right. Many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum can not understand that the world power game is now being played differently from the way it was in ancient Greece, also in the Second World War, also in the Korean and Vietnam wars, also in the Cold War – and most recently in the continuing Israeli, Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It is now a new kind of war, a war between religious beliefs at the deepest level; to an overwhelming extent bound by tribal identity.
Let me repeat: It is now a new kind of war, a war between religious beliefs at the deepest level; to an overwhelming extent bound by tribal identity.
It is war over opposing belief identities; theirs, yours, mine. In this new kind of war; sending Infidel (Kaffir) American sons and daughters into the back alleys of cities in a Muslim country to do battle and be slaughtered like Greek warriors from the past in “Special Operations” hand to hand combat by an unseen fanatically driven enemy that hates them and is bent on a Jihad makes no sense. It only serves to intensify the hatred of the enemy.
Also, it is a war increasing being waged with highly sophisticated weaponry – some nuclear. It is a technological war. The Greek warrior’s hand on his bloody sword has been replaced by technicians miles away on land and sea making decisions as to life and death as they sit comfortably before their computer screens.
The state of the American nation is no different than was that of the Titanic on that fateful day. Its citizens are not unlike the Titanic passengers. Icy waters surround them. Their small ship separates them from life and death. There is no place to go, no place to hide. We can say the same for our planet. It too is like the Titanic. Its unique ecological position in our Galaxy is surrounded by the coldness of deep space.
Faith, hope and worn out platitudes will not save America. Insistence on American superiority grounded on religious “rightness” will not save America. All of these things had no meaning for the passengers of the Titanic in the cold waters of the North Atlantic – nor have they for our planet in deep space. We, Jew, Christian, Muslim, are all one. We will rise together or we will go down together. And as for American “honor”; without the most thorough definition of what it is and what it is not, it will only lead to inglorious death. Is that why John McCain refused to define it?
Not honor, only human connectedness will save us. And it will not appear in a blast of glory at the end of times by way of the coming of the Jewish Messiah or the Shiite Mahdi or the second coming of Jesus Christ. These and all other such apocalyptic religious images are cynical. They are suicidal. They spell the end of our species on this planet. Only by casting off religious beliefs such as these can we be saved.
The forces of change pressing in on our country and our planet are far reaching. Deadly geopolitical stresses and strains are rising. The self sustaining viability of past economic, political and religious beliefs that successfully supported our American framework in the past is now being tested. In addition, we are now starting to see the deadly ecological outcomes of our myopic intransigence.
Unless we Americans are willing to face this new world reality with clarity of vision, we may soon be hearing the same voice from beyond that the captain of the Titanic must have heard in his last moments as he was about to go down with his ship, as the cold waters of the Atlantic came rushing in; when he heard that voice say to him:
Sir, I am taking your ship. Your confidence in it was an illusion.