As a boy, and even as a young man, I was always a proud American patriot. I believed in America as the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” “My country right or wrong,” American exceptionalism, democracy, the “shining beacon on the hill,” and all the other jingoistic idiocies I was taught and encouraged to believe. Now as I am approaching my 85th year of being a “participant-observer” in this house of horrors, and nearing the end of my journey to the west, reflecting back on my development over all these years has become mostly unpleasant.
I guess my first experience of at least a bit of shame came when I began to learn about what we Western- Europeans did to the American Indians we so violently displaced. Of course coming to grips with our history of slavery, racism and discrimination, just added to my slowly growing shame about my country’s past. Vietnam certainly did nothing to make me feel better about things, it was just another shameful episode in our history of shameful episodes. If this was not enough to be ashamed of I began to research the history of colonialism, beginning in the 15th century and up to the present. I confess to not knowing just how shamefully, even unbelievably horrible this several hundred year period truly was. And realizing that every major European, “Christian,” nation was involved and all participated in this true horror story did nothing to ease my sense of shame and guilt. There were acts of savagery so common and so terrible it is now almost unbelievable: murder, arson, rape, pillaging and exploitation without end, cutting off people’s hands and feet, hunting them with dogs for sport, killing their infants, stuffing their bodies with sand and hot peppers, torturing them with water, branding then, and who really knows what all else was commonplace. Our contributions to this mass miasma of sadism and violence took place mostly here in the U.S. and the Philippines where our behavior was every bit as shameful as that of the European colonials (with the possible exception of Prince Leopold of Belgium who was by all accounts the absolute worst).
Anyway, learning about all this sharpened my sense of shame even though I, of course, was not involved in it. Nor was I personally involved in the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, the attempt to kill the millions upon millions of buffalo that almost succeeded, the destruction of the salmon runs, the near extinction of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna, or the hundreds of other species now extinct because of human behavior. I am, however, ashamed that we did and are currently doing things like this. The Pope, that current colorful character from Medieval times, has recently announced that what we are doing to the environment is a sin. For once I agree wholeheartedly.
I cannot say that the Afghan and Iraq wars, along with our other military adventures all over the world, make me feel any less shame for our country. Our uncritical support of Israel war crimes I believe is shameful, as is what we have recently brought about in Ukraine. Drones, I believe, are totally shameful as is our ridiculously dishonest treatment of Iran.
While I have more or less gotten over my sense of shame about the past, the current scene still keeps me shameful. The shame I have felt at various times over being White, an American, supporting Israel, supporting our non-stop wars of aggression and exploitation, an Imperialist, and so on, have now been transcended by an even greater sense of shame. I have become ashamed of being a member of the human species, the most evil, avaricious, violent, short-sighted, destructive, murderous, egomaniacal, thoughtless, uncooperative, irrational, and suicidal species that has ever existed. As a species we have a virtually unique capacity for falsehood, denial, distrust, and hypocrisy. We have laid waste to our environment, our planet, and each other, and keep on doing so. Our future is for the first time seriously in doubt. I wouldn’t bet on it.
“Huamani’s skepticism was substantial. He knew that men are a joke of the gods, sent to mortify the animals.”