SAN DIEGO – I just read a post from a friend on Facebook about a segment on TV covering Andrew Jackson’s forced removal of Cherokees from their ancestral home. It was accompanied by a comment that we do not need to look to Nazi Germany or places like Uganda, Sudan, iran, Iraq, etc. to find evil, we only need to look internally at ourselves. I could not NOT respond.
The uncle that raised me was Cherokee and i was steeped in the tragic and horrific story of the Trail of Tears so it is something I had a personal interest in. The long Walk of the Navajo was no less tragic as were the stories of virtual genocide against many of the native American peoples. It would therefore be ridiculous and disingenuous to pretend like our own history was free of awful misdeeds and terrible actions that, especially in the light of our modern sensibilities, was misguided or perhaps even evil. Our history is replete with its own warts and scars to be sure.
But that is not the sum — or even large measure — of us as a people and a country and it is no less ridiculous and disingenuous to paint an entire people, culture, society and its history with a brush dipped in the evil of some. We are asked not to judge groups my the misdeeds of a few of them, demanded not to profile groups even when it is only members of that group that do certain things, admonished not to draw any cultural conclusions based on the behaviors of even a statistically significant portion of this or that culture. So why then is it OK to express or imply judgements about our own broader culture based on the actions of people long dead?
If their actions were wrong so be it; but that does not excuse the similar actions of people in other cultures. My error does not excuse someone else’s similar error. My wrong does not cancel out someone else’s wrong. And it is entirely misleading and arrogant to the point of hubris to pretend that here in 2010, we could ever truly understand the dynamics and psyches of people in the early 1800s, so we truly have no valid point of reference to judge them other than by what we, today, in our period of questionable enlightenment, think is proper.
The politically correct set delights in asserting the existence of situational ethics. They insist that right and wrong, if they actually exist at all, can only be judged within the context of the action and that therefore what might be wrong for me can well be quite right for another. Things are only wrong based on how you look at them so one should never pass judgement or make disparaging comments on other cultures because they see things differently. They demand that openness of view so they can do pretty much whatever they want… unless, of course it serves their purposes to throw it away — as it does here. But the culture of the early 1800s, though American in name, was not our culture.
However I do not believe in situational ethics anyway. To me, openly calling for the destruction of a people is evil. Period… end of story. It is, therefore evil when we do it. But it is no less evil when someone else does it. And if we silence our willingness to call out an evil wherever we see it simply because our ancestors, or even some of us, are also guilty of it, that does not erase the validity of the charge and instead allows us to turn evangelical tolerance into suicidal cowardice.
However a people or culture can be destroyed in many ways and one of those is when they lose their freedom and become dependents upon some self appointed leaders of the self anointed enlightenment. Machiavelli well understood that power was not something that flowed from money. Quite the opposite, money flowed from power. But power itself came from dependency. Real evil is when one group convinces another, or forces another, into a state of dependency. The most evil concept in the political realm is, to me, when one person tells another that the second person “needs” the first to protect them or feed them or anything.
Our American culture was built on a value of self reliance not of dependence. When we lose the willingness to stand up for the values that can make is great just because they are hard and many in our midst have fallen short, then we lose the ability to BE great and to achieve those lofty values at all. And those who perpetuated those policies of dependency will have destroyed us in no less an evil way than Jackson tried to destroy the Cherokee. i can only hope that 200 years after it happens (and I think it is happening now) it will prove to have been no more successful in the long run than he was.
One reply to the post stated that the evil of Jackson was too great to even ponder. Well I beg to disagree. We had better ponder on Jackson and his rationale and understand it both within the context of his time (when it was pretty much accepted across the board) and as it may or may not apply to our own time. If we do not, then we will have no defense against a recurrence of an action that we may think, at the moment is OK and find our descendants look back on us as the evil ones. The current level of invasive searches at the airports comes to mind. Our government has taken one more opportunity to line us sheep up in our pens and in our paranoia many have gone along with it. But that same person excoriating Jackson turns a blind eye to it because their particular anointed one is now in charge and by definition can do no wrong. Situational ethics again. if they do it to us it is good; if we do it to someone else it is bad.
But evil is evil. Jackson also did some things very right but that does not erase the horror and evil of the Trail of Tears brought about by sheer greed. He was a far more complex individual than often credited. I think the same can be said for our current Messiah in Chief. perhaps he too has done some good things but that does not erase the bad ones that are, in my opinion, destroying the foundation stones of our country and culture.
So maybe the initial post was right after all. We do not have to look farther than ourselves to find evil. I just think the post’s author has to slightly adjust his aim.