By Chris Hedges
Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.
We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant.
I've written about this subject many times before. The examples range from A Latin View of American-Style Violence to Victor or Victim: Our New National Anthem? In these postings I've noted the connection between greed and selfishness--core American values--and conquest and genocide.
It wasn't a coincidence that the Euro-American lust for gold and land led to the near-extermination of the Western Hemisphere's peoples. Rather, it was the inevitable outcome. When one side deems success the only thing that matters, the other side becomes expendable. The winner takes it all; the losers are eliminated. Figuratively in reality shows but literally in American history.
The conquest of America was a perfect example of free-market libertarianism in action. Without government constraints, settlers moved onto Indian land and declared it theirs. When the Indians fought back, "self-reliant" Americans cried for government protection. The government pacified the Indians for them while they boasted about what rugged individualists they were.
"Cult of self" goes way back
"Flagrant self-exaltation" existed before the European invasion of the Americas, of course. It arguably goes back to the Bible and the idea of "chosen people." We can trace this attitude from the Book of Genesis to the latest reality show:
"God made man in his own image" => "Dominion over all things" => Divine right of kings => "Shining city upon a hill" => Manifest Destiny => American exceptionalism => "Me" generation => Cult of self.
While we were anointing ourselves angels, we also had to anoint some demons to help define our self-image. So we've created a long list of heathens, savages, and barbarians to justify our self-proclaimed greatness. The lists includes Indians, blacks, Mexicans, Mormons, Catholics, immigrants, Asians (the "yellow peril"), Jews, labor unions, socialists, communists, atheists, secularists, feminists, gays, terrorists, Muslims, et al. The trend continues with the attacks on Obama, who's sort of the ultimate evildoer (black/Muslim/foreigner/socialist/terrorist) to many Americans.
For more on the subject, see Gray vs. Brown Americans, Culture War Over Who's American, and Bigots Protest Brown-Skins on 9/11.