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An Email Ray McGovern Received from a Reader
It's me again - "grandma / mental health professional / outside the beltway." I've just read the chapter of your new book that is offered on the downing street memo web site and have placed my order.
In the chapter, you state, "I have been asking myself why Americans find it so painful to delve..." I am writing now to offer a partial answer to that question. And in advance, I will state that you have my permission to use what I am saying, either anonymously or with my name, if you find it useful.
There is, of course, as you suggest, the possibility of "denial." And yes, denial is rampant, and some of it is as insidious and sinister in the Americans who harbor it as in the effects it wreaks.
There is also the denial that is a product of the double-bind in which a great many Americans find themselves. The double-bind is perhaps similar to that of the nine-year-old child who finds him/herself in the dark alleyway between belief in a real Santa Claus and the dawning truth of the matter. There is a period when confusion, disbelief, disillusionment reign. The child is psychologically immobilized until a new paradigm comes clear.
I believe that many Americans have not recovered from Watergate, from Viet Nam, even many who were not yet born during those times. Their denial is more of an imposed illness similar to the double-bind of the disillusioned child. Why? Because in grade school they were taught to honor the American flag, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence. They were told that America is the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Many of them put their hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily. They learned that America's creed is "liberty and justice for all." Their money says, "In God we trust."
I don't know what the schools teach these days about such historical matters as Viet Nam and Watergate, but my guess is that those are kept as dark, or perhaps whitewashed, secrets, like many other matters having to do with race, culture, class, and gender suppressions and eradications in our history, in the name of God and country.
What does one do in the case of a double-bind? For that matter, what is a double-bind? It is the modern equivalent of the stocks into which perceived offenders used to be locked. Ankles, wrists, neck. Move this way? Can't. Move that way? Can't. That's the nature of a double-bind. There is a pain tolerance level that turns to unconsciousness when it is breached, and the result can look like pure denial.
The stocks of today are not made out of wood and iron. There are no literal keys hanging around some enforcer's belt. Perhaps the feet are placed when the young are taught the ideals of this country, and fall into the belief, the illusion, that the American dream is the unadulterated American reality. Clamp.
Then the hands. Those clamps snap tight when the double-bind begins to set in. I can follow the dream - I can be good, and I can work hard, but what about the surprise deficits in the dream? What about the inequities in education? If I am white, what about the blindness I must develop toward those others struggling around me who are not white, in order to pursue my own dream? What does that do to the "for all" part of the dream?
What about the epidemic of drugs, both street and overused prescription drugs? Junk food? What about the threat of crime? What about health care, insurance, the ridiculously high cost, and the alternative - go without? What about rampant mental illness in a society that spends double-digits more than any other country on administrative costs for health care?
What about housing costs? What about homelessness? If not for me or those I especially love, what about my knowledge of those citizens who are homeless? What about the eroding rights - the so-called patriot act, the rights of living citizens in the name of "life," the disappearance of such safeguards as bankruptcy for the truly unfortunate? What about the quickly widening gap - abyss - that yawns between the super-rich and the super-poor, between the upper class and the ever-more-burdened so-called middle class? How much did the last inauguration party cost?
What about the governmental hoopla over the life of a woman tragically fifteen years in a coma, and the simultaneous trickery over the deaths of - how many? - in Iraq and Afghanistan? The consequent funerals in America - into the four digits now and rising with no end in sight - no plan for withdrawal? What about the killings, rapes, unspeakable oppressions in Africa, beyond homelessness? What about the Statue of Liberty? "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores; send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden shore." What golden shore? What about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo?
What about the official denial of the plight of the Earth, who is being used up at a frightening pace, while the administration purges the stark truth from the scientists' researched reports? What about the favoritism toward the usurping corporations, the taxes lifted from the rich and placed on the working class? What about...? What about...?
I think the necks of Americans get clamped into the stocks with the bewildering lies, more effectively because the lies come mixed with doses of truth, including the surviving truth of the American dream. To most Americans, Washington DC is a place they learned about in History or Geography. Most Americans just want to make a decent living and get their families raised. Most Americans don't have the energy to monitor a government because their noses are to the grindstone. There are only so many hours in a day, and a good night's sleep is a real blessing. They don't have the time or the energy because they are worn out fending off the encroaching realities that are ignored, or exacerbated, by the government - the health care, the crime, domestic violence, the specters of starvation and war and destruction and torture from across the oceans - or across the street - the erosion of the government's care for its people, its obsession with trimming away social security, its disdain toward the very ground we all share. It's too big a task, too daunting, too overwhelming, too terrifying.
We are too busy finding food banks because we can't afford the price of groceries, too busy looking for some relief, and too often finding it in unhealthy quick fixes - because we can't wait, and there is no promise that things will get better, only the impending certainty that things are getting worse. Most Americans WANT to believe their government. It's hard to get over Santa Claus. Most Americans are not career politicians.
So, Ray, my feeling is that while denial is a partial answer to the question you've been asking yourself, perhaps another term might be "burial." A good many Americans are buried - alive - in the necessity of minding their own business. And that takes all the energy they have. And they don't even have enough energy for that.
My question is: How do they do it? How does the "average" American survive, get through the day, through the night, raise the kids, under the pall of the carefully and skillfully, and very effectively crafted, deliberate deceptions of the administration, along with its squandering of all our resources in staggering gulps, denied? Do they think we can't feel it, in our guts, in our hearts? Does it know what it's doing? Is the systematic, relentless erosion of the people's rights and protections, the increasing burdens placed on the average poor and middle classes, a part of the scheme, while "democracy" is touted as a gift being delivered now in Iraq, a part of a sinister scheme designed to numb, to spawn and foster the denial of which you speak? Someone has their hand on the dimmer switch and is slowly turning it. Someone's slowly clamping the stocks on the average American who is distracted by the bewildering dimming of the light.
But you are right. We've got to delve. We've got to pay attention. We've got to speak up. While we still can.
Angelyn Ray is a mental health professional working in rural Oregon, as well as author of several published works. Her latest, Ode to Earth in 9-11 Meter, is now available from The Aenor Trust, PO Box 4706, Salem, OR 97302 or through www.stellarlane.org, where other of her writings are also listed.