Category: Journeys Written by José Stevens PhD
The United States is a container as are all countries. For one it is a physical container with lands and borders complete with complex requirements for entry and passports for its citizens. With the addition of Hawaii and Alaska it is somewhat far flung and not all gathered in one place giving it some complexity and a slight lack of cohesion. However it is way more than its lands and physical borders. The United States is also a container for ideas, intentions, principles, and values. It also happens to be a container for many different peoples of many races and cultural backgrounds, a melting pot if you will and this is where the real challenges lie. The container that is the United States is a cauldron seething with varying points of view about what it is, what it should be, what it can be and so on. These vary so much that some wonder if it’s people have enough in common that it can hold together or ever be a viable container with clear boundaries.
In your kitchen are containers for various food ingredients. They are usual labeled and stored in a relatively organized way so when you are preparing a meal you can grab what you need and throw it in. However what if your kids got into the containers and mixed all the ingredients together. You would have a creative kitchen but you would also have a real mess on your hands. This is the United States at this time. What is this, flour or sugar or salt? Maybe it is now all three with a little baking soda to make things more interesting. And are these black flecks in it pepper? And what are those brown chunks, chocolate? Is that yellow in there mustard? Those red swirls cayenne? What did this jar hold in it originally, the cayenne or the salt? What should it be now? Can we ever really separate them out any more? Hopefully you get the metaphor.
In the cauldron of the United States many questions are raised, “Who is a real American?” “Who can become an American?” “What does a real American look like?” “Act like?” “Believe in?” “What are the rights of an American?
What is the criteria to consider who is an American? If it’s skin color that is one thing, if it is the value of freedom that is another. Even the value of freedom means different things to different people. For one it means freedom to do any thing I want and say what ever I want, to own guns, do whatever I want with MY land. For another person freedom means the opportunity to pursue their spiritual beliefs or choose who they want to marry or have sex with without interference from others. These are totally different ideas of freedom.
Let’s just take a moment and see if we can outline the basic American values that define and pull together all the different people in the United States. These values include Freedom and as we just have seen, not everyone agrees what that means. Another important value is Individual Rights however the way it has worked out, people with means and status have more rights than people of color and people without means and status so that does not really hold the country together. Next comes Equality, the belief that all humans are created equally and have certain rights as such to live agreeably. That is a great sound bite but that is not how the game is played. Rather it is played according to inequality and that way some enjoy the fruits while many do not. The twin influences of greed and power are at the source of inequality.
Another core value is Patriotism but some people consider it patriotic to dissent and others say it is patriotic to support the administration no matter what depending on who is in power of course so there is no agreement there. Another key American value is Mobility, the ability of people to not only have freedom of movement to determine where they want to live but this includes the freedom to move upward or downward the economic rungs and the levels of status. However we do have glass ceilings preventing women from being upwardly mobile in business and power and ceilings for some immigrants and races and peoples of LGBT orientation to rise in power and status. No agreement there.
Next we have the value of Progress but this does run counter to the beliefs of evangelical groups and others who often feel progress runs counter to their traditions so that value is seriously compromised. Next we have the value of Pragmatism, that if it works it should be implemented, but that is thwarted by the profit motive of major corporations that seek to squash inventions and developments that may benefit the public but lose their profits and market share. Next we have the value of hard work and competition and while most people can agree on that, they cannot agree how much people should be paid for their hard work to get ahead. Corporations and small businesses actually often function on the slave mentality that requires their workers to work very hard for almost nothing making the promise that hard work gets you ahead moot. Then comes the American Dream that suggests everyone should be able to own their own home and live a comfortable life. That is a nice value but if it were true we would not have so many homeless people and poor people and renters in the population.
These are not all the American values but they are some of the main ones and we can see that, even though in theory people agree on most of them they do not operate from them. These values don’t exactly bring all the people together and so this all makes the United States a hard place to define. Americans clearly have very different agendas even if they give lip service to common values. Can this hold a country together?
Lets look for a moment at boundaries. Because countries are containers it is clear that they need boundaries that have integrity, can keep the people safe, can hold certain economic policies, diplomatic policies and international relations, have borders that can be defended if need be and a host of other things. Clearly we have border challenges. This upholds the general principle that borders are places of increased activity, increased risks and danger, and places of increased opportunity where power can be gained (right now the advantages are for certain politicians, money launderers, drug dealers, and trade groups).
In our times borders have become more abstract. There can be cyber attacks on energy systems, voting processes and systems, corporate intellectual property and information, banking and the flow of profits, military secrets, and so on. Where is this border or boundary? It is somewhere in computerized firewalls that are often hacked and broken into with massive thefts of information. As if this were not enough of a concern, politics and maneuvering of political figures and their parties who may profit from foreign interference may allow, overlook, or even encourage certain breaches by other nations. Where is the border or boundary? Who is guarding it? Who is trying to breach it and how? Is there even a border any more when we consider that the physical boundaries are not the main places the game is being played. They are more of a distraction. These days the real borders are cyber and they are being manipulated by the very people who are trying to distract everyone to focus on the old fashioned physical boundaries. Hmmmmm! What then is a country if the container cannot be defined or its boundaries agreed upon. Obviously this is not a problem only for the United States but a universal one in the world today. The game is changing and what we thought were the boundaries may not be the ones that count as much any more.
What if you were to go into your kitchen and find that not only had someone mixed up the ingredients in your jars and containers but that the jars and containers themselves were all cracked and leaking. You would probably hold up your hands and start screaming. I myself did this when I found a bear had attacked our outdoor kitchen on our land in Northern New Mexico. There was a giant jumble of pancake mix, flour, salt , sugar, syrups of various types, tea bags, juice, milk, butter mixed up with broken glass, cardboard, and bent up metal jars all mixed in a gooey fly infested pile. What a colossal mess!
Perhaps it is time to rethink borders and boundaries and what they actually mean. As long as we are thinking the old way we are in deep trouble. What do we want our borders to do now? Can the old idea of borders to hold off invaders really work anymore with modern technologies? Probably not. What if the only answer was that we are now one world and one people and that countries are more containers for cultural differences than anything else. Perhaps all countries will have to cooperate on entirely new levels to avoid catastrophic outcomes to the whole world. Climate change will not recognize current borders. Neither will nuclear fallout. Neither will cyber attacks and AI that will only become more and more sophisticated. Neither will ever strengthening viruses honor current recognized borders.
From my understanding this has happened in countless other worlds in our universe and their only solution was to switch the game they were playing from competitive nations to cooperative ones where everyone agreed to deal with common problems plaguing everyone. Sometimes they were all forced to their knees before admitting they were stumped and needed a new approach. Sometimes they wisely saw where everything was headed far in advance and made the necessary changes.
We need to look at where strife and conflict comes from and address it at that level. Strife and conflict come from 1. Popular games of inequality in order to gain status, power, and wealth over others. 2. Assigning a monetary value to everything and the game of profit and loss that is at the source of this. 3. Ignoring compassion, kindness, and love in favor of he who dies with the most toys wins philosophy. 4. Seeing others as the enemy to be vanquished. 5. Treating nature as an object to be conquered and controlled instead of cooperated with.
These are all games being played by the human race at this time and while these children’s games have been fun for a time they are now disastrous and have no sustainable future. Few or us humans really get this and are willing to plan for the demise of these games, an outcome that is inevitable. We are no longer children or another way of saying this is that children’s games are not adequate for the world of adulthood that we are headed for and that is upon us whether we like it or not. Children are incapable of asking the hard questions and seeing with accuracy what they are facing. Therefore children should not be the ones to decide our future. They must be removed from power as quickly as possible and redirected, the sooner the better. Adults need to assume the mantle of authority on behalf of all the children and they must put aside their petty differences and seek the common good without the distractions of ego. This is a very tall order. It is asking a lot of the human race. I believe we are up to the task but probably only if we are severely threatened. It may take a lot of loss, deaths, catastrophes, and terrific suffering before we are willing to go the distance that we must inevitably go. In the end we will squeak by, I am sure.
José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for A Journal of Contemporary Shamanism and a board member of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years.
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