Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Frank Luther North, his troops, and his Pawnee scouts got caught on the Nebraska plains as a blizzard swept in. The scouts went into action. They put up a double-walled tepee, gathered up prairie hay and made an insulated bed for the men to sit and lie on. As the blizzard winds roared in the men, according to North's account, lolled about in their shirt sleeves in great comfort as the wind and snow whipped the tepee. They did not need a fire, because the structure retained their body heat.
Kevin Woster had a story in the Rapid City Journal last week about a family in Wanblee. As the below-zero winds found their way into their drafty cabin, the woman turned up the thermostat but received only more cold air. The propane tank was empty. The family spent the night huddled around a small electric heater.
Congress held hearings last week on the federal response to the damage done by Katrina. A New Orleans woman likened her situation as she waited for rescue on a highway overpass to a concentration camp. A congressman got irked and asked her not to refer to the rescue operation as a concentration camp. She replied, "If it looks like a pig, I'll call it a pig."
A majority of Americans see the problems as a matter of poverty. Well, perhaps they are. But it is the moral and political poverty of the majority. Some people don't mind being poor. Their lives are built around things other than luxuries and conveniences, which get in the way of higher laws. The majority tends to look at them as ne'er-do-wells without the intelligence and gumption to raise their material lot in life. Jesus Christ told his followers to divest themselves of the material possessions that bound their lives up in avarice. That part of the Gospel is ignored and deplored. People who follow that Christian admonition are vilified by the majority as socialists, communists, and other forms of anti-American vermin.
The disaster wrought by Katrina and in evidence on Pine Ridge and other enclaves of American minorities is that old racial and cultural attitudes still possess the minds of the majority. Our history is one of trying to surmount the class divisions and bigotries of feudalism and to transcend the fascist-based philosophies that drive our economy and our notion of status. As a black writer friend of mine put it some years ago, the American dream is to keep niggers. In America and much of the western world, everyone needs someone to feel superior to. We have not, in fact, surmounted feudalism and its rankings and privileges and schemes for parceling out human respect .
I dread the coming of Christmas. And yes, I call it Christmas because, although the holiday has incorporated all the pagan trappings for the season of the winter solstice, it is still the message of peace on earth and good will to all people. Nothing makes one feel more hypocritical and degraded than to gather in houses of worship with those who sanctimoniously mouth the slogans of the season while harboring ill will, hatred, contempt, and malevolent designs against other people in the world. The American dream is caught up in righteous self-delusion.
What Katrina revealed and what is taking place on Pine Ridge and other reservations and ghettos and barrios is the direction America is headed. At times in our history, such as during the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, we have moved closer to the ideals of America, which are inarguably deeply rooted in Christianity and its message of equality, good will, and neighborly generosity toward those in need. During the first years of the 21st century, however, that message and the values upon which it is based have been subverted by a movement to establish a corporate aristocracy to which the workers of the world are subservient and to use those workers as instruments of force in bending the working people to the will of that self-appointed aristocracy.
There are simply more people who think their fortunes lie in ingratiating themselves to the shackles of wealth and power of the aristocracy, not to the liberating renunciations of venality of Jesus Christ. The earth is in a precarious time. It offers no peace. It offers no good will. It vilifies those who speak for peace and good will and respect for the earth and all the people on it.
Our eyes our clouded by figures huddled over mangers housed in lavish churches and illuminated by garish light displays. America cannot see the people from New Orleans looking for a place to spend the night, wondering if they will ever see a home again. It cannot see the children huddled around an electric heater on Pine Ridge waiting for some act of human generosity.
Katrina revealed that America has lost its vision and that Christ has been buried and sealed in a tomb composed of avarice and venality. There can be no happy holiday for those to whom the winter solstice is a time of coldness and darkness that they might not survive. There can be no Merry Christmas where the message of Christ is gauged by whether this year's sales figures are better than last year's.
The bleakness of the season is not caused by poverty. It is caused by a people who hold avarice and venality as the motive force of their culture. People who could live in comfort in a double-walled tepee find themselves freezing when they have not enough money to keep their propane tank filled this year because of the cost of fuel. People who survived for generations by having to filch food from Ol' Master now find themselves being asked to grovel before FEMA. They have the cultural ability to surmount the diasters that befell them. We don't have the good will to do more than require them to expiate their cultural heritages by bending down before ours.
Rather than wish anyone a Merry Christmas, go fill a propane tank on Pine Ridge.