Writing in 1923, in Studies in American Classical Literature, D.J. Lawrence penned these words:
The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.
Quoted by Chris Hedges, in his column in truthdig.com entitled, The Second Sight of W.E.B. DuBois, June 4, 2018, Hedges goes on to write these words:
The pillars of American capitalism are genocide and slavery. America was not blessed by God. It was blessed, if that is the word, by processing the most efficient killing machines and trained killers on the planet. It unleashed industrial vi8ooence on its enemies abroad and empowered armed white vigilante groups and gun thugs…
Hedges continues, referencing DuBois:
DuBois warned that is times of widespread unrest, this indiscriminate violence, familiar to poor people of color and those we subjugate abroad today in the Middle East, becomes the primary mechanism for internal social control. As the empire disintegrates under unfettered corporate capitalism, futile and costly military adventurism political stagnation and despotism we will learn the truth DuBois elucidated….
Outcasts are gifted, Dubois wrote, with a “second-sight” (behind a veil) or what he called a “double-consciousness”…. of always look at one’s self through the eyes of others.”
A black intellectual, Du Bois, posited a “veil” that blinds those of privilege and the myth of whiteness from fathoming reality or understanding themselves without these outcasts. Hedges asserts, “The more the voices of these outcasts are shut out, the more collective insanity grips the country. By silencing the voices of the oppressed, we ensure our own oppression.”
As a citizen of her northern neighbour, Canada, like most Canadians, I have struggled with the level of violence, including the dependence on violence, that has poured buckets of blood and treasure onto the pages of American history, from the beginning. And while the number of mass shootings has skyrocketed in the last two decades, and the American enmeshment in military violence, against both state and non-state enemies has deepened in the same time frame, there is the obvious core behaviour that ensues in America whenever chaos threatens, to upset the norm.
And that violence is not restricted to murder, or directly to guns; it spills over to judgements made by those in positions of power, authority, and tragically given the cultural acceptance of violence, judgements that eliminate all negative voices from the corporate scene. The “killer” archetype can be found in all professional sports, in all detective movies and television dramas, in the street vernacular “he killed it,” in the propensity to resort to guns as the single answer to gun violence, the sheer intolerance of opinions that do not conform with the expectations of the establishment, clearly a “white” edifice.
White police officers “killing” innocent young black men, seemingly almost a weekly headline, is merely the only result that can be expected from a cultural history of approved, sanctioned and fostered “killing” that pervades the American streets, television sets, movies and political rhetoric.
Those thin veneers of civility, rationality, nuanced debate and inspirational addresses like Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia during the 2008 presidential campaign, or Bobby Kennedy’s spontaneous, unscripted response immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, 1968, or even King’s I have a dream speech, while intensely motivating and historic, and, at the end of the day, mere moments of hope, beauty, melody and public grief and reflection. Of course, they show America at her best, express the voices of her best angels, and raise the bar for all who aspire to public leadership.
However, the blood and careers of millions of human lives have been spilled through the blatant dependence on violence as the means to achieving “national interests”…If the Americans cannot succeed in the pursuit of what some consider their legitimate goals, through the “purchase” by cash, (and that expended without restraint or shame), they resort to violence, a process by which competition is effectively eliminated.
During the Cold War, a visiting professor from the Soviet Union, frequently joked that the Russian method of solving problems was a single word, “elimination”. Sadly, although the method has been adopted in the extreme by the current occupant of the Oval Office, the nation has a history, a dark history, of deploying similar tactics so often that it can be termed a “habit” a default position.
D.H. Lawrence, W.E.B. DuBois, and more recently Chris Hedges, have all pointed to the core of darkness that infects the American soul.
The students of Parkland, Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the millions of innocent or marginally deviant whose lives have been permanently derailed by decisions of extreme “punishment” under the ruse of the pursuit of “justice” can and do all testify to the radioactive sinew in the American psyche and soul.
Without either recognition and ownership, and the potential of repentance at the national level, this black hole will continue to sabotage the young, families, corporations, and even the nation itself, spilling its devastation far beyond the limits of the borders of the United States of America. And the world is just now beginning to acknowledge what native Americans, outsiders, and outcasts have known for centuries.
Can these previously silenced voices from the darkness of the American forest finally be acknowledged and given a place at the national debating table?
There is little to support optimism just now.