FeaturedI’m the Guy Who People Think Hates Thanksgiving
“Are you the guy who hates Thanksgiving?”
The man posing that question on my voicemail continued with a sharply critical comment about one of the essays I have written in recent years about the holocaust-denial that is at the heart of that U.S. holiday. My first reaction was not to argue but to amend: “I don’t hate Thanksgiving—I just think it’s appropriate to critique a celebration that obscures the reality of the European conquest of the Americas.”
That description is accurate, at one level—my rejection of Thanksgiving is more intellectual than emotional, a political decision to reject that distortion of history. Whatever the actual details of the 1621 celebration involving Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians (and there is ongoing debate about various factual claims), Thanksgiving is one way the dominant culture minimizes or denies the larger historical context of Europeans’ genocidal campaign against indigenous people to acquire the land base of the United States. Without that genocide, there is no United States. For the victors’ descendants to take a day off to give thanks without acknowledging that seems, well, just a bit sociopathic.
I have taken several cracks at making this case, from several different angles:
- “No Thanks to Thanksgiving ”
- “Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Thanksgiving ”
- “How I Stopped Hating Thanksgiving and Learned to Be Afraid ”
- “The Meaning of Thanksgiving ”
And I continue to believe the argument is sound and that we should all take it seriously. Until we can tell the truth about our history, there is little hope for the future. But rather than restate that case, this year I’m thinking more about the questions raised by that one word, “hate.”
I recognize that my discomfort with Thanksgiving can’t be explained completely by a judgment based on an intellectual argument. I don’t hate Thanksgiving, in some irrational way, but it’s true that as an adult I have never really much enjoyed the holiday, even before I developed a clear political critique. Some of the sources of that discomfort are mundane: I’m a vegetarian who comes from a dysfunctional family, and I don’t care for football or shopping. So, a holiday identified with turkey and traveling home doesn’t have much to offer me. I get by just fine without the NFL, and the increasingly inescapable connection between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the pathological consumption cycle known as “Christmas shopping” makes me surly.
OK, so maybe I do hate Thanksgiving, but my critics should at least recognize there are some perfectly rational reasons behind the emotional reaction. As with most human responses, the intellectual and emotional elements are intertwined and hard to tease apart. If I can acknowledge that about my critique of Thanksgiving, it seems only fair that the staunch defenders of the holiday do the same. Is not the intense defense of Thanksgiving also in some ways an emotional reaction?
And, if those of us on different sides of the Thanksgiving divide can recognize the complexity of our reactions, can we consider whether there are any shared values before concentrating on disagreements? I feel alienated from the dominant culture on Thanksgiving, not because I dislike the idea of gathering with others to give thanks but because of both the larger political context (about which I recognize my critics and I disagree) and an increasingly numbed culture (about which my critics and I may find common concerns).
In other words: Don’t many of us feel just a bit uncomfortable with a holiday that is defined by obligatory family gatherings that often cover up unresolved strife and/or apathy; thoughtless overeating simply because so much food is available; spectacle sports that have become painfully close to Roman gladiator contests; and relentless consumption that often involves buying stuff that many people don’t really want and no one really needs? Of course not everyone in the United States has access to all these markers of affluence, but these Thanksgiving Day routines are more the norm than aberration.
These reflections are not confined to one day; we live in this corrosive culture 365 days a year. For me, much of what is considered “normal” in the United States isn’t very appealing. I think we eat too much cheap food, are spectators to too much cheap entertainment, and buy too much stuff (some of it cheap and some expensive, but all costly to the larger living world). And many people struggle with family dynamics that are stuck in unresolved pathologies which quietly coerce people into ignoring problems for the sake of family “harmony.”
I have long felt that at the heart of Thanksgiving is a denial of reality and an exercise in numbing ourselves, individually and as a culture. I am not claiming that everyone’s celebration of Thanksgiving is defined by these negatives; individual experiences vary widely, of course. But the alienation I’m describing is not hard to understand, and not limited to a few surly people on the margins.
And whatever one’s personal relationship to the holiday, the political question remains: Why is it “normal” in the United States to celebrate a holiday that is based on a profound distortion of history? That kind of inquiry should lead us to related questions.
- Why is it “normal” to embrace the hierarchy and wealth inequality of corporate capitalism, even though most of us claim to hold moral and/or theological principles that are rooted in the centrality of human dignity, equality, and solidarity? How compatible is capitalism with the values that are essential to a decent human community?
- Why is it “normal” to assert that we are the world’s most advanced democracy, without acknowledging that the concentration of wealth in the U.S. economy has left most of the population outside of the formal political process? Are capitalism and democracy compatible?
- Why is it “normal” to express concern about environmental issues without ever questioning an economic system that is obsessed with the very growth that is undermining the integrity of the ecosystems on which are own lives depend? Is capitalism compatible with a sustainable human presence on the planet?
I do not believe there are simple answers to those political questions but I’m pretty sure they are relevant questions, and I can’t imagine dealing honestly with the steadily mounting problems of social injustice and ecological unsustainability unless we face such questions. I’m also pretty sure that my personal reaction to Thanksgiving raises relevant questions about our family relationships and culture that also demand an honest accounting.
And I am absolutely certain that in both political and personal arenas, denial is an impediment to meaningful progress. If we can’t deal honestly with these problems, it’s unlikely that we will have much to give thanks for in the years to come.
CommentaryShooting the Messenger
Posted on Dec 8, 2013
By Chris Hedges
There is a deeply misguided attempt to sacrifice Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond on the altar of the security and surveillance state to justify the leaks made by Edward Snowden. It is argued that Snowden, in exposing the National Security Agency’s global spying operation, judiciously and carefully leaked his information through the media, whereas WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond provided troves of raw material to the public with no editing and little redaction and assessment. Thus, Snowden is somehow legitimate while WikiLeaks, Assange, Manning and Hammond are not.
“I have never understood it,” said Michael Ratner, who is the U.S. lawyer for WikiLeaks and Assange and who I spoke with Saturday in New York City. “Why is Snowden looked at by some as the white hat while Manning, Hammond, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as black hats? One explanation is that much of the mainstream media has tried to pin a dumping charge on the latter group, as if somehow giving the public and journalists open access to the raw documents is irresponsible and not journalism. It sounds to me like the so-called Fourth Estate protecting its jobs and ‘legitimacy.’ There is a need for both. All of us should see the raw documents. We also need journalists to write about them. Raw documents open to the world give journalists in other countries the chance to examine them in their own context and write from their perspectives. We are still seeing many stories based on the WikiLeaks documents. We should not have it any other way. Perhaps another factor may be that Snowden’s revelations concern the surveillance of us. The WikiLeaks/Assange/Manning disclosures tell us more about our war crimes against others. And many Americans do not seem to care about that.”
The charge that the WikiLeaks dump was somehow more damaging to the security and surveillance state because it was unedited, however, is false. Snowden’s revelations to the journalist Glenn Greenwald, which are ongoing, have been far more devastating to the security apparatus than the material provided by Manning. Among the four larger data sets released by Manning—collectively 735,614 documents—only 223 documents were charged against the Army private first class under “reason to believe such information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation,” as stated in the Espionage Act. Specifically there were 116 diplomatic cables, 102 Army field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, and five Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, as the journalist Alexa O’Brien has reported.
As O’Brien points out, many of the individual documents that resulted in charges have not been identified and those that have been are turning out to be very, very benign. For example, the government prosecuted the soldier, then known as Bradley Manning, for three detainee assessment briefs from Guantanamo Bay that were nothing more than profiles of the “Tipton 3,” British citizens who were held for years without trial or charges before finally being released. The information Manning made public was not top secret. There was much in the WikiLeaks release that was already public or unclassified. All the leaked material had been widely circulated to at least half a million military and government officials as well as private contractors. It had no serious impact on U.S. operations at home or abroad. Even then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, admitted that a Department of Defense review of the leaked Manning documents had “not revealed any sensitive intelligence source and methods.” But what the leaks did do was expose the deep cynicism of U.S. policy, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the plethora of government lies about what was happening under U.S. occupation. The WikiLeaks material documented several important war crimes that the government had covered up. Manning wrote, correctly, in a letter last October to The Guardian newspaper: ” … [T]he public cannot decide what actions and policies are or are not justified if they don’t even know the most rudimentary details about them and their effects.”
Manning, whose material was published by WikiLeaks as the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Diary, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in his court-martial at Fort Meade, Md., on 22 charges, including espionage, exceeding authorized access, stealing U.S. government property and wanton publication.
The Snowden case differs substantially from Manning’s. The Snowden leaks are top secret. They expose the National Security Agency’s wholesale abuse of privacy across the world and repeated lies told by senior officials, including President Barack Obama, to cover up the massive capture, monitoring and storage of electronic communications of Americans and others. Snowden’s revelations, unlike most of the revelations from Manning and WikiLeaks, detail current, ongoing operations. And these violations are being committed not only against foreigners but against us. Snowden is hated as much as any of the other leakers by the security and surveillance apparatus. He has done, arguably, far more damage than WikiLeaks by exposing the illegality of our surveillance state. It will not assist him if he or his supporters try to parse his way out of his legal problem—some of the charges against him are under the Espionage Act, which was used to charge Manning—by attempting to differentiate himself from other courageous whistle-blowers. The government propaganda machine, working feverishly to discredit Snowden, as well as Greenwald, the reporter who made public the Snowden documents, considers all leakers and their allies to be traitors. It doesn’t make distinctions among them. And we shouldn’t either.
The attempt to paint Snowden as prudent in his disclosures and Manning, Assange, WikiLeaks and Hammond as reckless will not protect Snowden. It myopically lends credibility to the relentless attacks by the government against Manning, Assange, WikiLeaks and others, such as Hammond, who has courageously and at great personal sacrifice opened a window into the nefarious world of the power elite.
If the corporate state were legitimate it would be worthy of more judicious and careful consideration. If the corporate state truly cared about the common good it would have to be treated with more deference. If the war on terror was, in actuality, a war to protect us rather than an excuse to enslave us we could take as serious our leaders’ warnings about loss of secrecy. But our corporate overlords are gangsters in pinstriped suits. They care nothing for the rule of law. They have put into place the most sophisticated system of internal security in human history. They have shredded our most basic constitutional rights and civil liberties. They have turned the three branches of government into wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. They have seized control of the systems of information to saturate the airwaves with lies. They distort the law and government regulations to advance their own pillage and exploitation of us, as well as the ecosystem, which now totters toward global collapse. They have arrogated the right to assassinate U.S. citizens and to rain terror and death from the skies across the planet even though we have not declared war on any state that is being attacked by drone aircraft. There is no internal mechanism left, whether the courts, electoral politics, the executive branch of government or the traditional press, by which these corporate elites can be reigned in or held accountable. The corporate state, in theological terms, is about unchecked exploitation and death. And if the corporate state is not vanquished, and vanquished soon, the human species will not survive.
The most crucial point about the leaks from Assange, Manning, Hammond and Snowden is that they expose egregious crimes by the state and a concerted attempt by the government to mask and lie about its criminal activity. We have a legitimate right to be informed about these crimes. And those who live in foreign countries have a legitimate right to know about the crimes we have carried out and are carrying out against them. But we live in a state where the rule of law no longer functions. We live in a state where those who commit crimes are the persecutors and those who expose them are the persecuted. This is the nature of all totalitarian states. Manning, Assange, Snowden and Hammond, whatever their differences, function as our prophets. They are the voices crying out in the wilderness. And they are the ones the state intends to martyr. Just as the differences between Jeremiah and Amos in the Hebrew Bible did not diminish their courage and their voices, the differences among Snowden, Manning, Assange and Hammond should not be permitted to diminish the vital importance of all their acts.
LocalWorkers’ group plans Black Friday vigil at Walmart
Join us in Santa Fe for the second annual
BLACK FRIDAY VIGIL
(the day after Thanksgiving)
We gather in solidarity
with OUR Walmart Workers
across this nation.
11:00 am at the Super Store on Cerrillos Rd near I-25
12 Noon at Sam’s Club on Rodeo Road
1:00 pm at the original Walmart on Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe
Tell Sam Walton’s heirs to
Share the Wealth with their Workers!
At each location, we will gather on the street with banners and posters
and take turns reading the words of civil and worker’s rights leaders,
both religious and secular. Bring one to share.
Then we will peacefully procession into the store to present the manager
with a copy of the letter that will be sent to Mike Duke.
Clergy please wear stole or yarmulke.
EnvironmentSheen’s Breakthroughs Takes on Fracking: Environment America
Expose on Dirty Drilling Released to Public Television Stations in 50 States
Albuquerque, NM — This week, Martin Sheen’s Breakthroughs program released an expose on fracking featuring Environment America, the national arm of Environment New Mexico, to public television stations across the country. As the debate over dirty drilling continues to mount, the Breakthroughs piece could reach as many as 60 million viewers in all 50 states.
“Fracking is taking a terrible toll on our environment and our health,” said Dominick Lawton, Field Associate for Environment New Mexico. “People should see and hear the truth before they find themselves living next door to dirty drilling.”
Shot on location in Pennsylvania –an epicenter of the fracking frenzy – the Breakthroughs segment features
- A Pennsylvania family whose well water was contaminated and granddaughter became ill after fracking operations commenced nearby;
- Dr. Poune Saberi, who has examined health data from residents and workers nearby fracking operations and believes that the numerous, documented cases of residents becoming ill near drilling are likely “the tip of the iceberg;” and
- Lou Allstadt, former Executive Vice President of Mobil, explaining how he came to see that fracking is inherently fraught with environmental destruction.
While the piece narrated by Mr. Sheen will be exclusively aired on public television stations, a longer unofficial version is available at the Environment New Mexico website: http://www.environmentnewmexico.org/home.
With cases of water contamination and residents getting sick, along with other environmental damage, Environment America and its state affiliates are working to ban fracking, including keeping fracking out of new states like New Mexico, New York, California, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
While public opinion is starting to turn, with 49% of Americans now saying they are opposed to more fracking according to a new Pew poll released this September, Environment America cites the well-heeled public relations and lobbying efforts by the oil and gas industry as a key influence in fracking’s quick expansion across the country despite clear environmental threats.
“Today Breakthroughs has provided a small dose of the much-needed antidote to millions of dollars spent by the oil and gas industry to make this dirty drilling appear “clean” in the public’s mind,” said Lawton.
The Breakthroughs expose comes as Mora County, NM – the first county in the nation to pass an ordinance banning fracking – faces a lawsuit from oil and gas companies seeking to reopen dirty drilling in the county.
At the federal level, the Breakthroughs expose comes as the Obama administration considers a rule for fracking on public lands, and as the oil and gas industry is seeking to expand fracking to several places which help provide drinking water for millions of Americans — including the White River National Forest in Colorado and the Delaware River basin, which provides drinking water for more than 15 million Americans.
“When you listen to people living on the frontlines of fracking, health professionals, and even former industry executives, a clear warning sign emerges,” concluded Lawton. “It’s time to stop the fracking frenzy before it’s too late.”
Environment New Mexico is a statewide, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization working for clean air, clean water, and open spaces. www.environmentnewmexico.org
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http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/shooting_the_messenger_20131208/ Posted on Dec 8, 2013 By Chris Hedges There is a deeply misguided attempt to sacrifice... Read more »
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Expose on Dirty Drilling Released to Public Television Stations in 50 States Albuquerque, NM — This week, Martin Sheen’s Breakthroughs program released an... Read more »
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