Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Meditation


Divine_Contemplative said...

Now I feel bad about the joke I made on facebook chat earlier. I had hoped it would bring you peace enough to not rant.

Let's pray that one day America's hubris goes the way of the buffalo - a way the buffalo should not have gone.

Lucky said...
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Lucky said...

My question is 'what can we do now?' We cannot give back what we took: neither land nor life can truly go back to the indigenous population and we have played the game so well, or poorly, that our help now is generally seen as destructive. Maybe this is part of the answer: we can learn ethical choices from our sins of the past.

BTW - I posted something along those lines before I read your post.

Divine_Contemplative said...

True - we can't go back and undo our biggest mistakes, personal or communal. We CAN learn. But how DO we make restitution?

I've been thinking about this for an entire year now, and still don't know. [reflecting on something else.]

Lucky said...

I'm not sure restitution, as such, is an option when those hurt (and those who hurt them) have passed from the world. Perhaps atonement, repentance, confession, and conversion are more workable options. I am pretty sure that restitution to the progeny of our ancestors' victims would not result in the world we desire (especially since monetary restitution would surely lock them into the same cycle of capitalistic destruction that characterizes our nation) but, since the concepts above may result in good even in cases where all the victims have been utterly wiped from the face of the earth, they might gain purchase on the climb toward right.

Of course, that is from a corporate perspective; individuals are much more able to move toward reconciliation, but they must sacrifice their lives in service, or so I suspect. I might posit the involvement of whites in the civil rights movement as paradigmatic.

chip said...

I emailed that article to a friend, who replied along the lines of "it's too late for us to do anything about it now, and anyway I didn't do any of those horrendous things, and besides that, they were just people of their times." Here is my reply to him:

one way to answer your first challenge is to ask if we’re still reaping the benefits of the past sins. The answer is undeniably yes. Of course, we can’t run all the way back to Adam – that’s not the point. The point is to ask if there are still consequences of those past wrongs, and then to see what can be done to address them. There are still things we can and therefore morally must do to correct the wrongs against the native Americans – most of whom live in horrendous poverty, even though the casino business is indeed extracting revenge on the white population. The problem there is that it mostly extracts revenge on those who can least afford it out of the white population.

While I agree that we are to think on noble and honorable things, it is just a bald lie to do so while sweeping past sins under the rug while we continue to benefit from them. It is, further, another thing to CELEBRATE those benefits as if they did NOT rest on past sins.

And I’ll just admit to you that I have a difficult time with Lincoln, who was responsible for more American deaths than any president before or since. Since I don’t think the Civil War was about slavery – it was about economics and . . . economics??? Well, maybe the democratic ideal was mixed in there – then I have a hard time thinking that all that mayhem and mutilation was “worth it.” Was it really worth that level of death and mutilation to make sure that no states could succeed from the union? What happened to their right of self government? You may think the whole thing was worth it. I value human life more than economics and any philosophical ideal.

For the record, I’m not advocating that we shut down Thanksgiving. The retailers would never allow that anyway. But is gluttony and “black Friday” the best way to be thankful? What if we all decided to really re-enact the first Thanksgiving and invite some Native Americans to share with us, or at least a homeless person or two? With all the admitted difficulties that would raise, we still need to do something different. Gluttony and excessive spending doesn’t say “I’m thankful” in my book. That’s the point, I think. Maybe we at least ought to say “Thankyou” to the Native Americans once a year. Oh – and they don’t want the country back. My NA friends have assured me of that. But we owe them better than what they’re getting, at least those who still live on the reservations and suffer from extreme poverty.

Divine_Contemplative said...

I love that idea about inviting a homeless person for Thanksgiving.

It was a strategically brilliant maneuver on Lincoln's part to declare the freedom of all the slaves [who were in the states that were seceding where he technically had no authority anyway].

Divine_Contemplative said...

Sorry - I meant to elaborate further. Though it's not much contribution to the discussion, I must agree that it was not worthwhile to instigate a civil war.

But back to your friend's reply, Chip, what did he mean by "they were just people of their times?" Does being born into the indoctrination of a common worldview of manifest destiny provide a legitimate excuse? Is that what he thinks?

Lucky said...

One of the severe limitations within the philosophy of history is actually based on a positive value: cultural relativism; the same value that forms the foundations of the anthropological and missions fields. While cultural relativism is right in insisting that other cultures (past or present) must not be held to the same standards or criticized in terms of modern American society, that does not preclude ethical criticisms. In my own research, I am trying to show that valuable information about ethics may be attained by criticizing people by their own core values. I also suspect that there are other legitimate routes to ethical criticism of other cultures (past and present), though they are currently outside my area of expertise.

I find it odd that we are willing to put grease on the uphill tracks when it comes to actually seeing right and wrong in the past and yet we have no problem treating ancient races as inferior and ignorant (the problem at which cultural relativism was supposed to be aimed).

Perhaps the real problem is that we want to avoid ethical questions in the past because they make our current evils too obvious.