The Roots of the American Nation - 3
The "vast historical process of transformation of human society" to which I am referring can be identified with the development of Western civilization, a development which really began around the sixth century B.C. in Greece. It had been heralded by the great and unsuccessful reform of Egypt's religion by Akh-en-Aton, and by the also relatively unsuccessful revelation which Moses brought to his people: the revelation of a God Who declared Himself to be the very principle of I-am-ness — thus, of individuality in its most absolute sense. The foundation of our Western civilization indeed is the concept of the individual person, along with the assertion that this individual person has an essential "worth and dignity" regardless of its condition and circumstances of birth, and of what it can produce in and for the society into which it is born.
The story of Western civilization is one of attempts to a concept of society allowing, nay encouraging, its members to regard themselves as individuals — individuals who are essentially "free and equal" and as such endowed with inalienable rights in any social conditions. These attempts have been constantly frustrated; they represented a definite challenge to the foundations upon which all societies had previously been built, foundations we can characterize as the expression of the "tribal order." This tribal order was a manifestation of biological and psychic realities. It was rooted in the deep feeling that the unity of the social grouping — the tribe — was derived from a reality, a more or less mythical Great Ancestor or a god, that was in the past. Everything "sacred" was meant to reproduce a past event, a creative event by gods or a man-woman pair of a quasi-divine origin.
It is this concept of the tribal order — and later on, of a social order based on the different abilities of human beings to produce wares, ideas or acts of service to the expanded community, kingdom or empire — that our Western civilization has tried to supplant, or at least to polarize, The tribal and post-tribal order emphasized production and made human beings almost totally subservient to the requirements of this production. In contrast, the essential character of the democratic order is that it stresses the absolute spiritual character of the individual person. In more recent times our Western society has also stressed the nearly absolute individual rights of its collective persons — thus the concept of "national sovereignty".
It is evident that these two rights — the right of a community to enforce patterns of productivity for the welfare of all its members, and the right of the individual to become and remain an independent person centered in his truth-of-being and essential spiritual identity — have a polar character. From the point of view of Western civilization, both have to be recognized and kept operative. The basic problem concerns the relative strength and value accorded to each by any particular society, nation or community. Because these two concepts of rights easily become the foundations of two opposite philosophies of life and of social organization — individualism versus collectivism — they constantly generate internal as well as external. conflicts: conflicts within nations, and conflicts between nations which at least theoretically, have opted for a way of life and institutions emphasizing one or the other of these principles. The basic conflict even manifests in two opposite concepts of knowledge and scientific inquiry, atomism versus holism.
Western civilization at all levels has been and is based on this polarization. We see its manifestation in the contrast between the ideals of free enterprise (or laissiee-faire capitalism) and socialism. The two-party system in the United States is a watered-down aspect of this polarization. The essential point is that our civilization is based on conflicts, and that because of this it has proven to be exceedingly dynamic; but this dynamism nevertheless tends to express itself in the form of violence, violence which has become a way of life.
Such a dialectical way of life has been accepted and even justified by our American nation, which inherited it from the European past. America inherited the religious form of violence strongly implied in Puritanism — violence against oneself and one's biopsychic urges, and violence against dissenters and scapegoats (the burning of witches). It inherited also the conquistadors' kind of violence, which led to the destruction of Indian tribes and the crude, even if at times heroic, conquest of a vast continent subjected to all kinds of depredation and exploitation for personal gain. America also went one step further than European serfdom by importing thousands of African slaves and allowing as many to die in transit from their native land.
The destruction of Indians, Negro slavery, and finally the wholesale pollution of the land, water and air — plus the psychological pollution accompanying the cult of violence featured by motion pictures, television and a myriad of popular books — have been a heavy price to pay for an amazing, yet chaotic, productivity and for a life of abundance which, welcome as it is, has often turned out-to be morally and biologically self-defeating because of its implications and its uneven repartition. Feverish and ruthless forms of competition, always an inch away from the boundaries between legality and crime — and often ignoring these boundaries — constitute only the shadow of the individualism and the freedom which Western civilization has been meant to uphold. By making an ever more intense productivity possible, science and technology exacerbated and intellectualized man's instinctual drive for power; power over other human beings as much as over physical nature, power whose great symbol became the dollar.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1974 by Dane Rudhyar
and Copyright © 2001 by Leyla Rudhyar Hill
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