Healing America’s Narratives: And That’s Not All
[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Eight of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available]¹
Both beyond and within the narratives explored in the first five essays in this series — selected excerpts from the histories of women, Native Americans, African Americans, the Vietnam War, and the post-9/11 “war on terror,” other manifestations of our collective American Shadow beckon. Each, as with those first five, deserves more consideration than it gets here.
Again, we are exploring denial and projection — those tendencies to deny both historical and current American manifestations of ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, bullying, excess, and untrustworthiness and to project them onto others. Until we recognize, own, and begin the work of integrating these denials and projections, we will continue to unconsciously embrace the underlying elements of our national Shadow and repeat the horrors of the past, if not exactly, then in some new manifestations.
The narratives touched on in this piece are interdependent, in varying degrees, with each other and with the longer narratives in the previous five essays. This interdependence plays out in how the historical subjugation of women impacts the foundational infrastructures and cultures of government, business, education, and other disciplines. We can see it in that the trillions of profit-producing dollars spent on making war are not available to be spent on healthcare (or anything else), even as this war-making renders quality healthcare essential in order to address the physical and psychological injuries that war produces. We can see it in how our ambivalence about and feeling separate from the planet impacts our sense of connection and how we relate to each other — across beliefs about religion, economics, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and identity.
Ambivalence About the Planet
Every other narrative may be moot if we don’t address this one. We express our ambivalence through our stances on a variety of not necessarily synonymous but inevitably interrelated issues that include climate change, global warming, pollution, resource depletion, over-development, species extinction, and disease (in the broadest meaning of the word). While these are global concerns, the U. S. contributes to them, suffers because of them, and inconsistently works to resolve them. As ‘once-in-a-century’ storms, fires, and floods arrive every few years if not yearly, and as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, the only ignorance we can claim is vincible and willful — and it is underwritten by greed, excess, arrogance, and untrustworthiness. Our ambivalence about the planet arises from our remarkable misperception of being apart from it rather than an intimate living part of it.
Lack of Health and Caring
At least three distinct and related issues intersect here: the physical and mental health of each individual American; the general health of our American culture and society; and the details of if, how, and to whom healthcare is delivered in the United States. If the quote attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” is accurate, how might we assess the health of American society, how well-adjusted are we to it, and what are we to learn from and do about our assessment and adjustment?²
The statistics are not reassuring. What might it mean to be well-adjusted in a society in which 51.5 million adults (20.6% of our adult population) suffer from “any mental illness,” and 13.1 million (5.2% of adults) suffer from “serious mental illness”?³ Or, what if “half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their job for mental health reasons”?⁴ More generally, workplace stress and “burnout” are estimated to cost the U. S. economy over $500 billion annually, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that changes in the workplace culture and environment, and not just helping employees practice better “self-care” are needed.⁵ These statistics relate only to adults and the workplace. Anxiety, depression, and “behavior disorders” impact our children and adolescents as well.⁶
Prioritizing Money, Power, Things, and Beliefs Over People (and Other Living Beings)
The desire for and the importance placed on money, power, and things are connected to, if not the driving force behind, much of what manifests as American Shadow. Our theft of both land and life from Native Americans emerged from our placing a higher value on the profitable use of stolen land than we placed on people and culture. Slavery dehumanized those enslaved and provided free labor so landowners could make more money with limited effort. The attacks on Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq made billions of dollars for weapons and infrastructure manufacturers and cost millions of Vietnamese, Iraqi, Afghan, and American lives. Limiting women’s roles to child-rearing, housekeeping, and selected professions devalued their full humanity.
Such prioritizing has led to an unequal distribution of wealth. Many Americans voice a non-rational fear of the words socialist and socialism whenever prospects are raised for using government funds (taxpayer dollars) to help our less fortunate fellow citizens. They don’t want the government deciding who wins and who loses. They don’t want those “other people” to get what they didn’t earn. They seem less vocal when the government provides trillions to the already wealthy and fortunate in moments of difficulty. Recipients of government handouts and bailouts, often called corporate welfare, include: General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Harley Davidson, Apple, Goldman Sachs, the entire airline industry, Citigroup, Bank of America, Bear Stearns, Lockheed, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, PNC, American Express, Capital One, and many more needy corporations who could not make it without taxpayer assistance.⁷ The argument is that some of these companies and industries are too big to fail — helping them helps the people who work for them and the national economy. That’s both true-ish and partial. The other side of the argument seems to be that some people are too small to help. The unhealthy masculine manifestations of independence and greed trump the healthy feminine traits of compassion and care.
Others Being Othered
Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, and violence inform every instance of harmful discrimination, including but not limited to that directed at Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern, LGBTQ+, and other groups — and the many discrete communities within each of them.⁸
Increasing Confusion About Truth and Falsehood in the Real and Virtual Worlds
Instantly available streaming news, entertainment, information, and “content creation,” along with deliberate mis- and dis-information make truth-and-knowledge-seeking a full-time job. Jonathan Rauch gets to the heart of the matter in The Constitution of Knowledge. Where pre-social-media-age propagandists spread false information to discredit opponents or their views, current social-media-age propagandists and trolls intentionally “flood the zone with shit” in order to “degrade the information environment around the reality-based community.” They use a “cacophony of wild claims” in order to foster an “inability to know where to turn for truth,” and they “exhaust your critical thinking,” “not to persuade but to confuse: to induce uncertainty, disorientation and attendant cynicism.”⁹
Our American Culture of Violence
From 2014 through 2019, on average, an American killed another American with a gun 40 times every day, another 63 Americans killed themselves with a gun every day, and another 62 Americans killed themselves by some other means. That’s 103 gunshot deaths and 125 suicide deaths, on average, per day¹⁰ — all before the additional stressors of COVID-19. During the pandemic, 2020 saw the largest one-year increase on record in homicides (all causes), with 4,901 more than in 2019,¹¹ and the highest number of gun violence homicides, 19,436, in the last twenty years, complemented by an additional 24,156 suicides by gun.¹²
I specifically addressed our American culture of violence in 2018 with Killing America. Violence is at once a foundational element of our national Shadow and a primary manifestation of it. We are immersed in it. It is and has been our status quo. Civilized nations that kill less easily and less frequently than we do look at us with sadness and incredulity. Our national denials and projections recognize violence when it is perpetrated against us, but not the violence we perpetrate against others and ourselves. Much of our post-9/11 rhetoric bears this out. This is from Representative Eric Cantor on September 14, 2001:
“I rise today in support of this resolution [to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States]. Civilized society has long sought to end the use of violence, but the perpetrators of terrorism and states that harbor them are the enemies of civilized society. They only understand the use of force, and the time has come to speak to them on their terms.”¹³
How, then, might we reconcile this language of civilized society with our killing of civilians at Wounded Knee, in Tulsa, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, in Littleton, Atlanta, Orlando, Charleston, Newtown, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Red Lake, Annapolis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Buffalo and Uvalde — to name just a few? What will it take for us to acknowledge and own this part of our American nightmare? How, exactly, do we qualify as civilized amid these increasingly normalized violent acts?
And that’s not all, indeed.
¹The full chapter from which this essay is adapted, along with relevant endnotes, is available here:https://healingamericasnarratives.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/r.-marra-healing-americas-narratives-promo-excerpts.pdf. Sources for all statistics cited above can be found in the endnotes.
²Jiddu Krishnamurti, https://jkrishnamurti.org/. The quote is ubiquitous and attributed to Krishnamurti. I was unable to find any verifiable written or spoken source.
³Numbers are for 2019. “Any mental illness” (AMI), can vary from no, to mild, to moderate, to severe impairment. “Serious mental illness” (SMI) results in “serious functional impairment” that interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness Accessed September 28, 2021.
⁴Todd Wasserman, “Half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their job for mental health reasons,” CNBC, October 11–15, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/11/mental-health-issues-cause-record-numbers-of-gen-x-z-to-leave-jobs.html Accessed September 28, 2021.
⁵Jennifer Moss, “Burnout Is About Your Workplace, Not Your People,” Harvard Business Review, December 19, 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/12/burnout-is-about-your-workplace-not-your-people Accessed December 20, 2019.
⁶Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Statistics on Children’s Mental Health,”https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html Accessed September 29, 2021.
⁷“Bailout Tracker,” ProPublica, https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/list; many corporate recipients do not repay the loans in full; for a brief, humorous synopsis of this not-really-funny issue, see Jon Stewart’s October 2021 clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXZoO-FjJyQ
⁸Labels such as “Asian,” “Latinx,” “Middle Eastern” and “LGBTQ+” fall short of discriminating among the unique cultures and individuals they attempt to capture (as “American” itself is a woefully inadequate, but sometimes useful label). Some of these labels may already be outdated by the time you read this. I appreciate your generous, healthy it’s-about-all-that-is understanding.
⁹Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (2021), citing Trump strategist Steve Bannon: “flood the zone…,” 163; Rauch: “degrade the information environment,” 164; citing The Economist, April 19, 2018: “cacophony of wild claims,” 165; Rauch: “an inability to know where…,” 166; citing Russian dissident Gary Kasparov: “exhaust your critical thinking,” 166; Rauch: “not to persuade but to confuse…,” 165.
¹⁰2014–2019: 14,515 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 40/day avg; 23,094 suicides by gun = 63/day; 37,609 total annual gun deaths = 103/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ Accessed September 28, 2021. 2014–2019: 45,835 suicides/year avg. = 126*/day: https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html Accessed September 28, 2021. Search criteria was: 2014–2019 / all causes, races, genders and ages. *Due to rounding, the suicides per day on the two sites differ by 1. I used the lower, 125, in the text.
¹¹Neil MacFarquhar, “Murders Spiked in 2020 in Cities Across the United States,” New York Times, September 27, 2021,https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/27/us/fbi-murders-2020-cities.html Accessed September 27, 2021.
¹²Reis Thebault and Danielle Rindler, “Shootings never stopped during the pandemic: 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades,” Washington Post, March 23, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/23/2020-shootings/ Accessed September 28, 2021. Gun violence ties directly to the unhealthy masculine: Mike McIntire, Glenn Thrush and Eric Lipton, “Gun Sellers’ Message to Americans: Man Up,” New York Times, June 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/18/us/firearm-gun-sales.html Accessed June 18, 2022.
¹³Representative Eric Cantor (VA-R) on September 14, 2001. From Netflix, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Episode 2, “A Place of Danger.” Not to pick on Mr. Cantor — many similar statements were made by members of both parties.