28 June 2012

If America were a person, she'd be a Psychopath

The ultimate symbol of America is the Statue of Liberty. At the end of the cult-classic, “The Planet of the Apes,” Charlton Heston screams in anguish and shock at the sight of the crumbled lady buried in the sand.  The Statue is America’s promise of freedom and wealth; she is the embodiment of the republic.  Lady Liberty is the beacon of freedom rising up out of the revolutionary dust.  In her upraised arm, is the torch, a symbol of a light always burning, and at her feet the enduring words dedicated to Emma Lazarus:

 Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Unlike the humility of the poem at her feet, America has been a bully throughout her short life.  Whether she was committing genocide of the native people’s of this continent, waging war against poorer nations, or toppling foreign governments, America has been built by capitalizing on the weak.  She prides herself on being self-righteous, advertising that her brand of democracy is the “best”, yet she is also callous, uncaring, and hegemonic.  On the surface, she invites all of the destitute to her shores but when they arrive, there’s no room in the inn.  Recent draconian anti-immigration laws bar any path toward citizenship and Pres. Obama’s executive order has been met with derision.  

While life in America may comprise more conveniences than life in Niger or Iraq, America cares little for her citizenry.  The gulf between the richest among us and the poor has continued to grow, and the numbers of people living in poverty is growing.  As Prof. Cornell West explains, “That 1 out of 5 children live in poverty in the richest nation in the world is a moral obscenity; it’s an ethical abomination.”  

The health care sector has become a place of business rather than human welfare.   The dichotomy between rich and poor has not been more clear-cut than when it comes to health care.  Americans with money may be able to obtain quality health care while millions of Americans with little money receive inadequate care.  
That seems okay in America.  While some people are working to defend the impoverished and mend the dysfunctional health care system, others align themselves to cutting social programs designed to help the needy, and prefer privatization of health coverage in which insurance companies and their leaders reap the massive financial rewards.  The most recent attempt at health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, teeters on the brink of repeal thanks mostly to the radical politics of the new right, which is bent on slashing taxes and funding military excursions, like insanely bombing Iran, rather than addressing our core problems at home.  Should we trust corporate chiefs over governmental officials?  The government’s responsibility is to provide for the welfare of the people.  A corporation’s responsibility is to earn money.  

America today floats out ambiguous ideas like “liberty,” “freedom,” and “democracy” as values yet boasts the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.  In 2010, there were 2.5 million adults locked up in our prison system, many for non-violent second or third strike drug offenses.  Millions more are on parole or probation and many of those ex-cons have been stripped of the right to vote or qualify for federal or state assistance. Michelle Alexander’s great contemporary analysis of the legal system, “The New Jim Crow,” details the policies that have disenfranchised millions and setup a harsh legal system for minorities and the impoverished.  

In addition, America detains thousands of people each year, houses them in prison without charges, and without due process let alone habeus corpus.  The pedantic chant of freedom has become totally meaningless.  What can freedom mean to a country that imprisons millions?  How can America teach justice when she regularly metes out injustice and revenge? 

Along with the hundreds imprisoned, illegally detained, in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, there are the uncounted immigrants seeking refuge on our shores that are turned away, sent back to repressive regimes where America is fully aware that torture is practiced. 

All of these contradictory descriptions sound like irrational lunacy.  If America were a person, she’d be locked up indefinitely and placed under 24-hour observation.  

Not only is America uncaring and inconsiderate toward the welfare of humanity, she is violent and destructive.  

America’s prisons have become dens of punishment rather than rehabilitation.  According to the Economist, “(a) total of 12% of juvenile detainees, 4.4% of prison inmates and 3.1% of jail inmates surveyed between 2008 and 2009 reported being forced into sex.”  Not much has been done to combat these trends.  An even more disturbing and frightening development is to hear people joke about prison rape such as warnings not “to drop the soap” in the shower or the knowing glance about what happens in prison.  It’s completely irrational behavior but leads to the downplaying of a brutal crime. 

America has done nothing to stop the torture in military prisons either.  Waterboarding is common place and the military defends its abuses by claiming national security interests are at stake.  The public and its congressional representatives have for the most part bit this hoax hook, line, and sinker.  America should not let this line of argumentation justify torture.  But it does.  The use of "enhanced techniques" at Guantanamo was approved by Donald Rumsfeld, despite resistance from the army and FBI who argued that the methods were illegal.  Torture continues in Iraq and Afghanistan where presumably the Geneva Convention would add layers of protection.  America has repeatedly disregarded those ethical obligations.  If another country were torturing our American citizens, there’d be talk of retaliation regardless of “collateral damage”.

Open a daily paper or turn on the television in America, you’re more likely to see two people disemboweling each other than disrobing each other.  America’s hunger for violence seems insatiable.  Two recent wars, murders in the streets, mass killings, bombings of sovereign nations, and now Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires still hasn’t satisfied her desire for bursting guts, blasting guns, exploding cars, and splattering blood.  And that’s not including the “Paul Ryan Budget” plan.  Even the theatrical release of the tame, reflective, and didactic Seuss classic, “The Lorax,” when transferred to the silver screen, had to have sequences of action and violence inserted.  There are few video games or movies released today that do not feature violent sequences such as car chases, shootings, explosions, fighting, etc.  Violence is ubiquitous and many Americans have grown so desensitized to it all that they don’t even notice it.  

The extent of violence entwined in the fabric of America’s culture ought to be alarming and distressing to the populace but it isn’t. Politicians let the ban on assault weapons lapse; they’ve passed concealed carry laws in almost every state; a homicide occurs just about every 8 minutes in America; and America is killing civilians of other countries every day.  Yet Americans keep voting for politicians that support the system in place.  Republicans are pushing for less and less regulations on guns and deeper cuts to welfare programs like food stamps.   Over the last three years, gun companies have posted record sales.  There are twice as many guns banging around America than there are people.  Guns are responsible for 70% of the nearly 16,000 homicides in America, that’s twice as many homicides as the Euro zone and the UK combined.

America is obsessed with guns and with killing.  More than half the states have passed similar legislation to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.  Recently a drug dealer escaped murder charges.  In Wisconsin, a young man whose blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit hid in a neighbor’s house and was shot and killed for it.  There was no trial.  No charges were pressed by the DA because the Castle Doctrine would have preempted any charges.  These are dangerous precedents.

On the same day that a report was released detailing how 26,000 Americans die each year due to inadequate access to health care, 44 senators wrote a letter to Pres. Obama urging America to wage war on Iran.  While millions of Americans struggle with poverty, America debates waging yet another war.  Something is wrong with this picture.

America’s foreign policy hasn’t been much different.  Violence seems to be a first choice selection by many in the Republican Party.  Neither party has forced or acted to stop the increasing drone attacks that have killed thousands of innocent people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Either due to diffidence or cowardice, elected officials have chosen not to oppose the government’s plan to bomb nearly indiscriminately.

The question every American should be asking is: What would America do if another country were dropping bombs on the USA?

If all of this sounds completely insane, that’s because it is.   
While violence is ubiquitous, love is virtually unseen.  Instead, America has erected a booming porn industry that, much like the gun industry, has also been recording record profits.  Since the end of the 60s peace and love movement, violence has been condoned, love has been ridiculed, nudity vilified, and poverty has been ignored, while seedy, loveless pornography is more widely available than any time in America’s brief history. 

To put all of these characteristics into perspective, turn to Robert Hare who designed the psychopath test.  Hare created a diagnostic tool called the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL) in 1980.  It would later become known as the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).  The PCL-R measures psychopathy on a forty-point scale.  The test itself is more of an inventory than an examination.  Each type of category is rated on a scale of 0, 1, or 2 points; the more points, the more psychopathic.  After reading about the psychopath test, it’s nearly impossible not to analyze everyone as either teetering on the edge of psychopathy or as psychopathic.  The line between normal and abnormal becomes incontrovertibly blurred, reminiscent of the Zimbardo prison experiment.  But that shouldn’t prevent us from using the test. 

Describing America and analyzing her through the lens of the PCL-R reveals concerning results.  She scores a very high score on the test.  Not only is she demonstrably violent and callous, she is also irresponsible, impulsive, refuses to accept responsibility for her actions, blatantly lies and deceives, holds grandiose opinions of herself, exploits other countries, and has no control over her own behavior.   

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that in America today “there are 1,002 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others. And their numbers are growing.” (And that's just the Republican Party). These are armed militants who openly despise anyone and everyone who doesn’t fit their American model.  If this isn’t crazy enough, America is currently doing nothing about these organizations.  They are encouraged in their rage by hate mongers on television and commercial radio.  Lack of gun control legislation ensures that militant hate groups are well armed with explosives and high powered weapons.  The SPLC has documented nearly 100 plots, conspiracies and racist rampages since 1995 — plots and violence waged against a democratic America.”

To add to the rising numbers of hate groups, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that there are more humans trafficked in the US today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The numbers of humans trafficked include American citizens as well as foreign nationals held against their wills.  These numbers are increasing not waning.

Just as disconcerting as her lack of control over her actions is America’s lack of remorse.  America feels no remorse for her actions.   She coldly defends her decisions even when they’ve been proven to be wrong.  Remember Iraq.  Remember WMDs.  Remember any apologies or accountability at all?  Nah. Remember George HW Bush’s infamous pronouncement, “We must never apologize for the United States of America.” Mitt Romney recently repeated the same sentiment and Leon Panetta made the same remark regarding Pakistan.  Pres. Obama continues to approve killing hundreds of thousands in drone attacks and, unbelievably, openly takes credit for murdering bin Laden and Awlaki.  No remorse.

America reveals no remorse for the mining and bombing raids of Cambodia, or the buried DDT in Korea, or the destruction of Iraq.  No empathy for the thousands who have died in drone attacks and in wars.  If it sounds sick, that’s because it is. Instead of regretting deaths, America celebrates them.

During the republican primary debates, crowds cheered when one candidate advocated letting a sick person without insurance die. On Bill Maher’s HBO show, the audience cheers whenever he mentions the killing of bin Laden.  When did killing become a celebratory act?

These are signs of a depraved nation like the pacing cheetahs at the zoo. America continues to commit murders around the world, blatantly lies about the nature of her behavior, refuses to apologize or empathize with her victims, and ignores the problems within her own borders.

Who acts like this?  A psychopath would.  America fits the bill; if America were a person, she’d be a psychopath.  Lady Liberty’s got a new sobriquet, Lady Lunacy. It's not the land of freedom, it's the land of ferocity.
America's PCL-R Diagnosis: Prototypical Psychopath

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