IN THE CLUTCH: A ROUGH GO FOR AN AMERICAN CONSCIENCE

It was pointed out to me this morning that there’s a lot we don’t know about the people who came before us.

How — why — they dressed and spoke and related to each other as people in their society. We are fuzzy about a lot of cultural material and mostly, we take our best guess as to what they were thinking as they lived from one day to the next in whatever capacity they lived it.

We have no clue about how our great-grandfather confessed his love to great-grandmother. We don’t know the words they used, or their tone of voice. We don’t know if their moment of passion happened at all. We don’t know because they left no evidence for us. They spoke differently, yet surely they held the same emotions we do — and we base all our fiction on that assumption. But of course, we could be entirely wrong. It’s just guesswork.

United States Slave Trade

On the other hand, we know precisely — anyone could know — that the people who drew up our Constitution understood how deeply wrong slavery was. They knew — fully and completely — failing to remove this horror would cause a war. A big war. Many expressed gratitude they would not live to see it.


They knew right from wrong.


They spent agonizing hours, weeks, months and years writing about it. Discussing it. Keeping notes about what they said and what others said. They didn’t for a minute think building a nation on slavery was “okay.” Abigail Adams, for one, didn’t want to live in the White House — not merely because it wasn’t finished, but because slaves built it. Yet without the compromise of making slaves three-fifths of a person — a person who would never vote or have anything to say about his own life — there would not have been a Constitution or a country. Getting the country to be a country was, ultimately, what mattered. Under this devil’s decision lay the future in which we are now living.


We didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t one bad election or a few unfortunate choices. The path on which we are walking was being laid out for us before there was a United State. The issues we now face have always been there. 


For all the northern objections to slavery, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any slaves in New England or New York. Southern plantations bought slaves, but New England sea captains brought them here. The first port of call for southern slave owners were the slave markets of New York and New England. Until the Constitution when northern slavery was formally abolished, there were plenty of slaves up north, too.

About those Native Americans from whom we grabbed this land and who we slaughtered so we could keep it? Of course we knew it was wrong. Maybe not every unread slob understood it, but anyone with a modicum of education got it. We still know it, even if we have tried our best to tuck the information as far from “common knowledge” as we can. We don’t want to think about what we did to get this place — and what we are still doing.

Did our ancestors understand this?

Yes.

But you see — they wanted this country. They wanted it and they wanted it beyond any moral compunctions. If that mean slaughtering entire tribes — see Andrew Jackson for more on that — so be it. Why should “those savages” get this rich and beautiful country? They didn’t deserve it. It should be ours. To make this righteous, we made up a bunch of crap about white being better than not white, but we didn’t get that from anyone’s religion. We quite simply made it up because we needed to believe it.

So, as has happened throughout history, we did what we wanted. We took everything, killed anyone who got in our way and have more less continued to do that ever since. Was it the first or last time an invading group of foreigners stole a nation from its native inhabitants? Obviously not.


I do not buy any concept which says “we didn’t understand what we were doing.” We knew just fine. Our ancestors — your ancestors — might not have talked the way we do, but they were much better at acknowledging good and evil. 


Again: How do we know this? Let me reiterate.

They wrote about it. At great length. In documents, diaries, letters, newspapers, and books. We don’t have to guess: they told us. Whether or not great granddad Josiah proposed in flowery English to great grandma Elizabeth may be a guess, but that Josiah thought our behavior toward slaves and Natives was wrong — we do know that.

What a great job we’ve done with the place!

The reason the Trump White House can do what it is doing is because there is so much hatred in this country. All he needed to do was play to the haters and leave the windows open. We don’t know what our so-called “leaders” believe, but we know who and what they hate. I don’t care in how many other countries this same ugly scene is happening. That doesn’t justify it happening here. If the whole world needs to clean up its act? So be it.


The majority is not necessarily right.


For my entire life, I believed this country — my country — was getting better. Was becoming more of what it said it wanted to be. That we were struggling, but trying to become a moral light in the world. I’m not seeing that anymore. Not on a national level. Are there many individuals who are still fighting the good fight? Sure. But nationally, as a nation, that isn’t what I see. I cannot begin to tell you how deeply disturbing I find this.

How is your conscience doing these days? Having a bit of a rough patch?

46 thoughts on “IN THE CLUTCH: A ROUGH GO FOR AN AMERICAN CONSCIENCE

  1. You’ve covered the situation eloquently, Marilyn. Not much more could be added. The bases of most atrocity is hatred and or greed. They wanted it so they took it! You are right, I keep hoping (we’re told too) that great strides are being made, we’ve progressed, improved as a humanity. Have we? I’m with you. It chagrins me to say, I wished with all my heart it were so (not just two steps forward, one step back) but that’s not what I see. It seriously pains me to watch humanity digressing in many instances far back in time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And it bothers me that otherwise intelligent, well-educated people are still making excuses. We knew what we were doing and we know what we ARE doing. I’d like to think that has to change, but recently I’ve noticed that it doesn’t “have to” happen.

      We apparently can live in the muck and mire of human horror and think it’s okay. That disturbs me in ways I never imagined possible. I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time. I finally wrote it. I expect a lot of people aren’t going to like it much.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Truth is truth! What you spoke to is the way it is. People are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions as well as turning a blind eye (if I don’t see it, it isn’t happening crap) which is never going to raise the bar to expected better behaviour. I also blame it on dumbed down education offered, and shows that people like lemmings watch (because their friends are) that has no contribution to the betterment of life or beliefs. I also think it has to do with a lessoning moral code. I’m no longer religious but I believe we ALL know right from wrong. There’s that twinge of conscience that tells you when you say and do something wrong. YOU KNOW! It’s only the serial killers of the world who have no conscience moral code value of any kind. So what’s the excuse for the rest who choose not to see or act or stand for what is right?

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        • A lot of pretty smart, well-educated people simply don’t want to accept the reality of racism and how it has fundamentally changed our national attitudes. Not just NOW, but before we became a nation. IF you accept it, you can’t look at those good old days without a mental reckoning about good and evil. The good old days were not necessarily moral, good, or just.

          I am in significant disagreement with a lot of people about this. Which I recognize it. This is a subject which has been grinding at me for a long time. But. Hearing someone who I otherwise respect say it’s all because we don’t really “understand” our predecessors is ridiculous. We all need some good, solid rationalizations to survive our current lives, but this is one rationalization over my personal line.

          I balk at believing our predecessors didn’t “really” know what was going on. They knew, but what they wanted was what they wanted and they were willing to do anything to get it. And now, the price has come due.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Bloody well said, and well written. The ‘oh we didn’t know back then’ argument really doesn’t wash. The desire to colonise/seize new territory – whether it was in the Americas or elsewhere – and at any cost, was all that mattered. If you, as the coloniser, could argue that the original possessors were ‘savages’, and ‘godless’, then that was deemed to give you some sort of right of conquest – that is if your forgot to consult your moral compass. Or notice for one second your own godless behaviour.

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  3. I hate to play this card, but a really big part of this problem is the white man’s sense of entitlement. “If we want it, it should be ours, and so we’ll do what it takes to get it.., even if it hurts others in the process.” I feel fortunate that I have many good friends, who are white, and are beginning to be outraged by the actions, and complacency, of their ancestors, not to mention, amazed that it still continues to this day, albeit in its more modern form of economic denial. Economic denial is not really new as this was the first assault on freed slaves, followed closely by the KKK’s physical attacks.

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    • Some people just go along, but others resist the concept because they can find all the reasons it might not be true. It’s like conspiracy theorists for whom no amount of evidence is convincing. Or people who cannot accept climate change, no matter how convincing the science.

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      • They shouldn’t need much more convincing on climate change than their own back yard. Gardening is like learning how to do it all over again! What worked two years ago, did not work last year. Planting times have changed, the angles to plant, the way they grow. You cannot plant without a uv screen anymore.

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        • Many, if not most, of my flowers just DIED. And the thing is, what died are day lilies, the one utterly unkillable flowering plant. My HOSTAS died. They can’t die, they aren’t allowed. All the tulips, save one, gone. All the fancy roses, gone. I’m not planting anymore. When everything dies, that will be the end of the gardens.

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