The 10 Unexpiated Sins That Are Dragging America to Hell

Oedipus Rex, mad with grief

Oedipus Rex, mad with grief

While there were a lot of political oberservations that needed to be made in relation to the recent tragic shooting in Arizona, I kinda feel like we’re beginning to find that comfort groove again.  Some boringly consistent themes are being repeated ad nauseam and it’s starting to bug me.

After Obama’s low-content “why can’t we just all play nice” speech the gears started to turn.  Something more productive than threadbare conventional plattitudes has to come of this.

Must be my own perverse nature.  You see, some of my biggest heroes have been the guys who f*cked up, but then went on to perform monumental acts of contrition, and in the process redeeming not only themselves but the whole world.  From the (now lapsed) Roman Catholicism of childhood I still can remember St. Colmcille, whose penance for instigating a bloody war was exile and a mission to non-violently preach the love of Jesus Christ to the people of early Scotland.

But I also learned about guys like Robert Kennedy, who started his political career as a stage for the Red-baiting Joe McCarthy but ended it campaigning against the Vietnam War and racisim.

Funny, but I can’t really think of any outstanding examples from our own generation. . . . Nope, not a one.  In fact, the more and more I think about this, what I come up with is a list of unexpiated national sins rather than triumphant redeemers.  Here is my extended meditation on the topic:

Metaphorically (not literally—don’t get me wrong here), America seems doomed to a kind of Hell. Something like the third-world collapse it brought upon Mexico via NAFTA. Here is my list of unexpiated sins that are hastening our doom:

1. Vietnam: Thank you, Mr. Johnson! (D-TX)

2. Watergate: Nixon (R-CA) abandons morality for power in a naked criminal break-in that wasn’t even necessary to win the 1972 election…

More at Dystopia Diaries

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  • Andrew

    Pretty good article; I like it. I assume the link at the end is meant as #10.

    My list would be a little different. If we’re talking recent sins, I’d include Iran/Contra, Abu Ghraib, the USA PATRIOT Act, and Obama arguing the right to execute American citizens without trial. I wouldn’t include so many economic shenanigans myself, but including them does imply that economics is more of a religion than a science.

    If we’re talking past sins, I’m not sure a country founded on genocidal land theft, born in violent revolution, and build with slave labor could ever really be free and peaceful. There may be too much psychological damage–generations–embedded in the culture itself to be healed.

  • Andrew

    Pretty good article; I like it. I assume the link at the end is meant as #10.

    My list would be a little different. If we’re talking recent sins, I’d include Iran/Contra, Abu Ghraib, the USA PATRIOT Act, and Obama arguing the right to execute American citizens without trial. I wouldn’t include so many economic shenanigans myself, but including them does imply that economics is more of a religion than a science.

    If we’re talking past sins, I’m not sure a country founded on genocidal land theft, born in violent revolution, and build with slave labor could ever really be free and peaceful. There may be too much psychological damage–generations–embedded in the culture itself to be healed.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Thanks, Andrew. This is exactly the sort of response I was hoping for–a really reflective look at where we as a nation done fucked up.

      It’s pretty hard to cover the whole shebang in only 10 items. Even if somehow we could get everyone to agree on a general categorical priority (i.e., #3 economic, #5 civil rights, #2 foreign policy=10, or some alternative allocation), there are so many individually ghastly items to choose from.

      I agree that I may have gone a little heavy on the economics. I’ve always believed that morality begins with economic equity, and have had a very personal bias toward the quantitative arts, so it is kind of a rut that I’m only working my way out of over time.

      As you well point out, there are so many items worthy of inclusion, that I deliberately left #10 out in order to provoke others to suggest one, or even whole alternate lists like you have.

      I do still believe in a redemptive possibility. In fact, in history and legend, the only interesting characters are the ones whose lives are defined by some type of quest to redeem a fuckup. Perfect people are boring.

      I don’t think it can be reduced to a mathematical equation of any kind, like X# of lives saved makes up for the #X of lives lost from the sin, though. As I interpret it, that’s the essential schtik of Christianity, take morality aware from a score keeping exercise.

      • Andrew

        I suppose my doubts as to whether America can be redeemed are a projection of my doubts as to whether I myself can be redeemed.

        • Liam_McGonagle

          Of course you can. Provided you keep trying.

          That’s what redemption is, really–just TRYING to be better.

          • Andrew

            A lot of evil is committed by people who believe they’re doing the moral thing.

          • Hazy Dazy

            And a lot of tediousness is committed by people who lack charm.

          • Andrew

            Don’t be so hard on yourself.

          • Hazy Dazy

            Good comeback!

          • Liam_McGonagle

            True. But those people always lose, eventually.

            Lose because the perversity of their point of view, and its inability to properly distinguish between spirit and materialy inevitably results in an inescapable series of dead-ends. Neither spirituality nor materialism alone can adequately explain our experience of the world, and denying one in favor of the other always results in tragic incompetence than cannot be denied.

            The shitter about all of this is, of course, that you and I will most likely be centuries dead before the dust settles and our society as a whole gets the clue and moves in a more balanced direction.

            But again, that’s what spirituality and redemption are about–trying to do the Right Thing regardless of the traps and treachery laid by the rulers of the current paradigm.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Andrew. This is exactly the sort of response I was hoping for–a really reflective look at where we as a nation done fucked up.

    It’s pretty hard to cover the whole shebang in only 10 items. Even if somehow we could get everyone to agree on a general categorical priority (i.e., #3 economic, #5 civil rights, #2 foreign policy=10, or some alternative allocation), there are so many individually ghastly items to choose from.

    I agree that I may have gone a little heavy on the economics. I’ve always believed that morality begins with economic equity, and have had a very personal bias toward the quantitative arts, so it is kind of a rut that I’m only working my way out of over time.

    As you well point out, there are so many items worthy of inclusion, that I deliberately left #10 out in order to provoke others to suggest one, or even whole alternate lists like you have.

    I do still believe in a redemptive possibility. In fact, in history and legend, the only interesting characters are the ones whose lives are defined by some type of quest to redeem a fuckup. Perfect people are boring.

    I don’t think it can be reduced to a mathematical equation of any kind, like X# of lives saved makes up for the #X of lives lost from the sin, though. As I interpret it, that’s the essential schtik of Christianity, take morality aware from a score keeping exercise.

  • Andrew

    I suppose my doubts as to whether America can be redeemed are a projection of my doubts as to whether I myself can be redeemed.

  • Anonymous

    Of course you can. Provided you keep trying.

    That’s what redemption is, really–just TRYING to be better.

  • Hadrian999

    interesting list but needs a follow up, there are many more that need addressing.

  • Hadrian999

    interesting list but needs a follow up, there are many more that need addressing.

    • Liam_McGonagle

      Thanks, man.

      I wrote this kinda off the cuff, so it definitely could be improved. But here were the guiding principles I applied:

      1. The goal is to engage readers to come up with their own list. That’s why I left #10 open.

      2. Since the goal is getting people actively engaged, I tried to focus on the most recent offenses–’cause they may be the ones we can do the most about.

      3. Because redemption is an ongoing process rather than a completeable programme, it’s probably best to keep the list as short as possible. Hit only the highlights. The other related sins are likely to be addressed as we proceed through practical actions anyhow.

      4. The list has to contain a cross-section of foreign policy, economic and civil rights sins. ‘Cause they’re all inter-related, and because virtue, which is the real object of this exercise, is a communal phenom.

      I agree with Andrew that I put far too much emphasis on the economic sins. I had a hard time balancing the categorizations with the requirements that the sin be both current, and significant. And, let’s face it, my personal bias is too much on the economic.

      An interesting project would be to create a list of 100 national sins of the last 30 years and whittle them down to 10 via an online poll. I could easily do that with http://www.surveymonkey.com

      Probably my only other guiding criteria would be that there have to be at least 2 sins from each of the foreign policy, economic and civil rights categories.

      If you got any particular ones you’d like to see on the list, I’d love to hear them.

      • Hadrian999

        our support of the shah in iran for one, can you imagine what the landscape of the mid east would be like today if we didn’t provide a rallying cry for the revolution or support for saddam and his/our war on iran, it’s the same over many parts of the world we have trafficked in atrocity
        all over the world in order to gain short term benefits in the cold war it goes back farther than that to provoked wars like the wars against spain and mexico and later vietnam, we sacrifice ethics in favor of profit and short term gain and it is haunting us now.

      • emperorreagan

        I’d be more interested in seeing if someone could come up with 100 things the US has done in good faith, either to the benefit of most Americans or to the world at large, in the last 30 years.

        • Hadrian999

          would that be limited to official government actions?

        • Liam_McGonagle

          Of course you’re right that, for anyone paying attention, the examples of bad behaviour are much easier to see than the good. And while I’d like to spend some time pointing them out, I don’t think it’s the most value-added approach. First of all ’cause you’re right: On balance, the last 30 years have seen much more evil than good.

          But more importantly, because the goal is for us to get a control of the evil. And this you do by identifying priorities and laying out clear, operable strategies. This post is like an invitation for you and all the other good moral thinkers on Disinfo to make a Pareto Chart of American Evil: What 20% of Misbehaviours Cause 80% of America’s Evil?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, man.

    I wrote this kinda off the cuff, so it definitely could be improved. But here were the guiding principles I applied:

    1. The goal is to engage readers to come up with their own list. That’s why I left #10 open.

    2. Since the goal is getting people actively engaged, I tried to focus on the most recent offenses–’cause they may be the ones we can do the most about.

    3. Because redemption is an ongoing process rather than a completeable programme, it’s probably best to keep the list as short as possible. Hit only the highlights. The other related sins are likely to be addressed as we proceed through practical actions anyhow.

    4. The list has to contain a cross-section of foreign policy, economic and civil rights sins. ‘Cause they’re all inter-related, and because virtue, which is the real object of this exercise, is a communal phenom.

    I agree with Andrew that I put far too much emphasis on the economic sins. I had a hard time balancing the categorizations with the requirements that the sin be both current, and significant. And, let’s face it, my personal bias is too much on the economic.

    An interesting project would be to create a list of 100 national sins of the last 30 years and whittle them down to 10 via an online poll. I could easily do that with http://www.surveymonkey.com

    Probably my only other guiding criteria would be that there have to be at least 2 sins from each of the foreign policy, economic and civil rights categories.

    If you got any particular ones you’d like to see on the list, I’d love to hear them.

  • Hadrian999

    our support of the shah in iran for one, can you imagine what the landscape of the mid east would be like today if we didn’t provide a rallying cry for the revolution or support for saddam and his/our war on iran, it’s the same over many parts of the world we have trafficked in atrocity
    all over the world in order to gain short term benefits in the cold war it goes back farther than that to provoked wars like the wars against spain and mexico and later vietnam, we sacrifice ethics in favor of profit and short term gain and it is haunting us now.

  • emperorreagan

    I’d be more interested in seeing if someone could come up with 100 things the US has done in good faith, either to the benefit of most Americans or to the world at large, in the last 30 years.

  • Hadrian999

    would that be limited to official government actions?

  • Hadrian999

    would that be limited to official government actions?

  • Hadrian999

    would that be limited to official government actions?

  • Andrew

    A lot of evil is committed by people who believe they’re doing the moral thing.

  • Hazy Dazy

    And a lot of tediousness is committed by people who lack charm.

  • Andrew

    Don’t be so hard on yourself.

  • Anonymous

    True. But those people always lose, eventually.

    Lose because the perversity of their point of view, and its inability to properly distinguish between spirit and materialy inevitably results in an inescapable serious of dead-ends. Neither spirituality nor materialism alone can adequately explain our experience of the world, and denying one in favor of the other always results in tragic incompetence than cannot be denied.

    The shitter about all of this is, of course, that you and I will most likely be centuries dead before the dust settles and our society as a whole gets the clue and moves in a more balanced direction.

    But again, that’s what spirituality and redemption are about–trying to do the Right Thing regardless of the traps and treachery laid by the rulers of the current paradigm.

  • Anonymous

    Of course you’re right that, for anyone paying attention, the examples of bad behaviour are much easier to see than the good. And while I’d like to spend some time pointing them out, I don’t think it’s the most value-added approach. First of all ’cause you’re right: On balance, the last 30 years have seen much more evil than good.

    But more importantly, because the goal is for us to get a control of the evil. And this you do by identifying priorities and laying out clear, operable strategies. This post is like an invitation for you and all the other good moral thinkers on Disinfo to make a Pareto Chart of American Evil: What 20% of Misbehaviours Cause 80% of America’s Evil?

  • Hazy Dazy

    Good comeback!

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