Healing America’s Narratives: And That’s Not All

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Eight of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available

Both beyond and within the narratives explored in the first five essays in this series — selected excerpts from the histories of women, Native Americans, African Americans, the Vietnam War, and the post-9/11 “war on terror,” other manifestations of our collective American Shadow beckon. Each, as with those first five, deserves more consideration than it gets here.

Again, we are exploring denial and projection — those tendencies to deny both historical and current American manifestations of ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, bullying, excess, and untrustworthiness and to project them onto others. Until we recognize, own, and begin the work of integrating these denials and projections, we will continue to unconsciously embrace the underlying elements of our national Shadow and repeat the horrors of the past, if not exactly, then in some new manifestations.

The narratives touched on in this piece are interdependent, in varying degrees, with each other and with the longer narratives in the previous five essays. This interdependence plays out in how the historical subjugation of women impacts the foundational infrastructures and cultures of government, business, education, and other disciplines. We can see it in that the trillions of profit-producing dollars spent on making war are not available to be spent on healthcare (or anything else), even as this war-making renders quality healthcare essential in order to address the physical and psychological injuries that war produces. We can see it in how our ambivalence about and feeling separate from the planet impacts our sense of connection and how we relate to each other — across beliefs about religion, economics, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and identity.

Ambivalence About the Planet

Every other narrative may be moot if we don’t address this one. We express our ambivalence through our stances on a variety of not necessarily synonymous but inevitably interrelated issues that include climate change, global warming, pollution, resource depletion, over-development, species extinction, and disease (in the broadest meaning of the word). While these are global concerns, the U. S. contributes to them, suffers because of them, and inconsistently works to resolve them. As ‘once-in-a-century’ storms, fires, and floods arrive every few years if not yearly, and as glaciers melt and sea levels rise, the only ignorance we can claim is vincible and willful — and it is underwritten by greed, excess, arrogance, and untrustworthiness. Our ambivalence about the planet arises from our remarkable misperception of being apart from it rather than an intimate living part of it.

Lack of Health and Caring

At least three distinct and related issues intersect here: the physical and mental health of each individual American; the general health of our American culture and society; and the details of if, how, and to whom healthcare is delivered in the United States. If the quote attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” is accurate, how might we assess the health of American society, how well-adjusted are we to it, and what are we to learn from and do about our assessment and adjustment?²

The statistics are not reassuring. What might it mean to be well-adjusted in a society in which 51.5 million adults (20.6% of our adult population) suffer from “any mental illness,” and 13.1 million (5.2% of adults) suffer from “serious mental illness”?³ Or, what if “half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their job for mental health reasons”?⁴ More generally, workplace stress and “burnout” are estimated to cost the U. S. economy over $500 billion annually, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that changes in the workplace culture and environment, and not just helping employees practice better “self-care” are needed.⁵ These statistics relate only to adults and the workplace. Anxiety, depression, and “behavior disorders” impact our children and adolescents as well.⁶

Prioritizing Money, Power, Things, and Beliefs Over People (and Other Living Beings)

The desire for and the importance placed on money, power, and things are connected to, if not the driving force behind, much of what manifests as American Shadow. Our theft of both land and life from Native Americans emerged from our placing a higher value on the profitable use of stolen land than we placed on people and culture. Slavery dehumanized those enslaved and provided free labor so landowners could make more money with limited effort. The attacks on Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq made billions of dollars for weapons and infrastructure manufacturers and cost millions of Vietnamese, Iraqi, Afghan, and American lives. Limiting women’s roles to child-rearing, housekeeping, and selected professions devalued their full humanity.

Such prioritizing has led to an unequal distribution of wealth. Many Americans voice a non-rational fear of the words socialist and socialism whenever prospects are raised for using government funds (taxpayer dollars) to help our less fortunate fellow citizens. They don’t want the government deciding who wins and who loses. They don’t want those “other people” to get what they didn’t earn. They seem less vocal when the government provides trillions to the already wealthy and fortunate in moments of difficulty. Recipients of government handouts and bailouts, often called corporate welfare, include: General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Harley Davidson, Apple, Goldman Sachs, the entire airline industry, Citigroup, Bank of America, Bear Stearns, Lockheed, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, PNC, American Express, Capital One, and many more needy corporations who could not make it without taxpayer assistance.⁷ The argument is that some of these companies and industries are too big to fail — helping them helps the people who work for them and the national economy. That’s both true-ish and partial. The other side of the argument seems to be that some people are too small to help. The unhealthy masculine manifestations of independence and greed trump the healthy feminine traits of compassion and care.

Others Being Othered

Ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, and violence inform every instance of harmful discrimination, including but not limited to that directed at Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern, LGBTQ+, and other groups — and the many discrete communities within each of them.⁸

Increasing Confusion About Truth and Falsehood in the Real and Virtual Worlds

Instantly available streaming news, entertainment, information, and “content creation,” along with deliberate mis- and dis-information make truth-and-knowledge-seeking a full-time job. Jonathan Rauch gets to the heart of the matter in The Constitution of Knowledge. Where pre-social-media-age propagandists spread false information to discredit opponents or their views, current social-media-age propagandists and trolls intentionally “flood the zone with shit” in order to “degrade the information environment around the reality-based community.” They use a “cacophony of wild claims” in order to foster an “inability to know where to turn for truth,” and they “exhaust your critical thinking,” “not to persuade but to confuse: to induce uncertainty, disorientation and attendant cynicism.”⁹

Our American Culture of Violence

From 2014 through 2019, on average, an American killed another American with a gun 40 times every day, another 63 Americans killed themselves with a gun every day, and another 62 Americans killed themselves by some other means. That’s 103 gunshot deaths and 125 suicide deaths, on average, per day¹⁰ — all before the additional stressors of COVID-19. During the pandemic, 2020 saw the largest one-year increase on record in homicides (all causes), with 4,901 more than in 2019,¹¹ and the highest number of gun violence homicides, 19,436, in the last twenty years, complemented by an additional 24,156 suicides by gun.¹²

I specifically addressed our American culture of violence in 2018 with Killing America. Violence is at once a foundational element of our national Shadow and a primary manifestation of it. We are immersed in it. It is and has been our status quo. Civilized nations that kill less easily and less frequently than we do look at us with sadness and incredulity. Our national denials and projections recognize violence when it is perpetrated against us, but not the violence we perpetrate against others and ourselves. Much of our post-9/11 rhetoric bears this out. This is from Representative Eric Cantor on September 14, 2001:

“I rise today in support of this resolution [to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States]. Civilized society has long sought to end the use of violence, but the perpetrators of terrorism and states that harbor them are the enemies of civilized society. They only understand the use of force, and the time has come to speak to them on their terms.”¹³

How, then, might we reconcile this language of civilized society with our killing of civilians at Wounded Knee, in Tulsa, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, in Littleton, Atlanta, Orlando, Charleston, Newtown, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Red Lake, Annapolis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Buffalo and Uvalde — to name just a few? What will it take for us to acknowledge and own this part of our American nightmare? How, exactly, do we qualify as civilized amid these increasingly normalized violent acts?

And that’s not all, indeed.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash  

¹The full chapter from which this essay is adapted, along with relevant endnotes, is available here:https://healingamericasnarratives.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/r.-marra-healing-americas-narratives-promo-excerpts.pdf. Sources for all statistics cited above can be found in the endnotes.

²Jiddu Krishnamurti, https://jkrishnamurti.org/. The quote is ubiquitous and attributed to Krishnamurti. I was unable to find any verifiable written or spoken source.

³Numbers are for 2019. “Any mental illness” (AMI), can vary from no, to mild, to moderate, to severe impairment. “Serious mental illness” (SMI) results in “serious functional impairment” that interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness Accessed September 28, 2021.

⁴Todd Wasserman, “Half of millennials and 75% of Gen Zers have left their job for mental health reasons,” CNBC, October 11–15, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/11/mental-health-issues-cause-record-numbers-of-gen-x-z-to-leave-jobs.html Accessed September 28, 2021.

⁵Jennifer Moss, “Burnout Is About Your Workplace, Not Your People,” Harvard Business Review, December 19, 2019, https://hbr.org/2019/12/burnout-is-about-your-workplace-not-your-people Accessed December 20, 2019.

⁶Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Statistics on Children’s Mental Health,”https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html Accessed September 29, 2021.

⁷“Bailout Tracker,” ProPublica, https://projects.propublica.org/bailout/list; many corporate recipients do not repay the loans in full; for a brief, humorous synopsis of this not-really-funny issue, see Jon Stewart’s October 2021 clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXZoO-FjJyQ

⁸Labels such as “Asian,” “Latinx,” “Middle Eastern” and “LGBTQ+” fall short of discriminating among the unique cultures and individuals they attempt to capture (as “American” itself is a woefully inadequate, but sometimes useful label). Some of these labels may already be outdated by the time you read this. I appreciate your generous, healthy it’s-about-all-that-is understanding.

⁹Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge (2021), citing Trump strategist Steve Bannon: “flood the zone…,” 163; Rauch: “degrade the information environment,” 164; citing The Economist, April 19, 2018: “cacophony of wild claims,” 165; Rauch: “an inability to know where…,” 166; citing Russian dissident Gary Kasparov: “exhaust your critical thinking,” 166; Rauch: “not to persuade but to confuse…,” 165.

¹⁰2014–2019: 14,515 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 40/day avg; 23,094 suicides by gun = 63/day; 37,609 total annual gun deaths = 103/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ Accessed September 28, 2021. 2014–2019: 45,835 suicides/year avg. = 126*/day: https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html Accessed September 28, 2021. Search criteria was: 2014–2019 / all causes, races, genders and ages. *Due to rounding, the suicides per day on the two sites differ by 1. I used the lower, 125, in the text.

¹¹Neil MacFarquhar, “Murders Spiked in 2020 in Cities Across the United States,” New York Times, September 27, 2021,https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/27/us/fbi-murders-2020-cities.html Accessed September 27, 2021.

¹²Reis Thebault and Danielle Rindler, “Shootings never stopped during the pandemic: 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades,” Washington Post, March 23, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/23/2020-shootings/ Accessed September 28, 2021. Gun violence ties directly to the unhealthy masculine: Mike McIntire, Glenn Thrush and Eric Lipton, “Gun Sellers’ Message to Americans: Man Up,” New York Times, June 18, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/18/us/firearm-gun-sales.html Accessed June 18, 2022.

¹³Representative Eric Cantor (VA-R) on September 14, 2001. From Netflix, Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Episode 2, “A Place of Danger.” Not to pick on Mr. Cantor — many similar statements were made by members of both parties.

Healing America’s Narratives: How One Guy Unwittingly Invites Us to Heal

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Ten of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available]

Healing America’s Narratives’ exploration of our collective American Shadow began as a brief essay in September 2016, which made the case that the Republican candidate for the presidency, all by himself, embodied America’s Shadow elements — ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness.

As the book’s direction emerged and evolved, his role and embodiment diminished in importance but offered both a gift and a threat. The gift manifests because, even when he doesn’t actually believe what he says, he has invited, allowed, and encouraged the ‘worse angels of our nature’ — the traits of our American Shadow — into the mainstream. He has convinced millions of people, about whom he has proven he cares not a whit, to chant his name, do what he asks, and to spend money on his behalf. Effectively he has said, look at me; look at what I can get away with and look at all these people who are willing to help me get away with it while helping to pay my way.

As his and our country’s Shadow traits surface, they embolden his admirers and invite those who see the threat he embodies to engage in the work of owning and integrating these Shadow elements and healing our American narratives—an invaluable, complex, and painful process. It’s up to us to unwrap this gift, continue to unfold the process, and own and integrate our projections.

The gift is also a threat. Almost 63 million Americans saw fit to elect him president in 2016. Yet, even in his loss to Joe Biden, more Americans — slightly more than 74 million — voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. He lost because more than 81 million Americans voted for Biden. That almost 12 million more Americans voted for him in 2020 than in 2016 reminds us that he is not the threat; the threat lies in those who trust, fear, and are willing to follow him and undermine our democracy.

That this one guy embodies the country’s collective Shadow in no way lets the rest of us off the hook. Rather, it more firmly fastens us thereon. Each of us individually and all of us collectively must find this or that Shadow element within ourselves, own it, and integrate it — one discomfiting projection at a time. Whether we choose to continue to ignore our Shadow or to do the work of owning and integrating it, suffering will be involved. The former choice continues our suffering through sustained ignorance and denial; the latter offers us the opportunity to suffer through our own growth — coming to terms with things as they are and developing toward wholeness.

Examples of Trump’s ignorance, arrogance, and untrustworthiness are ubiquitous and too voluminous for this essay.¹ We’ll consider one. During the 2 ½ months between his November 3, 2020 election loss and Joe Biden’s January 20, 2021 inauguration, 14,926,674 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the U. S. and 185,408 Americans died. He was effectively absent as president for these 79 days except to incessantly repeat his stolen election lie. On January 6, 2021, while he incited thousands of his recruits to storm the Capitol — he and many of his minions maskless — 259,471 new cases were reported and 3,873 Americans died. On January 20, Trump’s final partial day in office 3,866 American citizens would die from COVID-19.²

A closing anecdote: Journalist Tony Schwartz ghostwrote Trump’s The Art of the Deal, and received half the advance and half of the book’s subsequent royalties.³ Schwartz credited the book’s success with giving him “a financial cushion that few people are ever lucky enough to enjoy.” Happily married with two young children, and with the bestseller behind him, he wondered why he wasn’t happier.⁴ This wondering led him to spend five years traveling America, speaking with the likes of Ram Dass, Michael Murphy, Elmer and Alyce Green, Betty Edwards, David Spiegel, Herbert Benson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dean Ornish, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Roger Walsh, Ken Wilber, Helen Palmer and Hameed Ali, among others.

So, spending some two years shadowing Donald Trump, writing The Art of the Deal, and being paid handsomely for it convinced Tony Schwartz to spend five years interviewing a diverse array of researchers, scholars, teachers, writers, and practitioners in science, the arts, psychology, spirituality, and consciousness itself. These interviews and Schwartz’s direct experience led to his 1995 book, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. A financially rewarding two years with a self-proclaimed deal artist led him to search for wisdom and for what really matters in America. Draw your own conclusions.


American Flag Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

¹Here’s a small sampling:

Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan and Alicia Parlapiano, “More Than 160 Republican Leaders Don’t Support Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point.” New York Times, August 29, 2016, updated October 9, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/29/us/politics/at-least-110-republican-leaders-wont-vote-for-donald-trump-heres-when-they-reached-their-breaking-point.html Accessed August 29, 2016.

Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis, “Trump tells four liberal congresswomen to ‘go back’ to their countries, prompting Pelosi to defend them,” Washington Post, July 14, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-says-four-liberal-congresswomen-should-go-back-to-the-crime-infested-places-from-which-they-came/2019/07/14/b8bf140e-a638-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html Accessed July 14, 2019.

J. M. Rieger, “40 Times Trump said the coronavirus would go away,” Washington Post, November 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/40-times-trump-said-the-coronavirus-would-go-away/2020/04/30/d2593312-9593-4ec2-aff7-72c1438fca0e_video.html Accessed July 23, 2021.

Jim Rutenberg, Jo Becker, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Martin, Matthew Rosenberg, and Michael S. Schmidt, “77 Days: Trump’s Campaign to Subvert the Election,” New York Times, January 31, 2021, updated June 15, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage Accessed January 31, 2021.

²Statistics cited are from the CDC, specifically from the daily trends setting: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailytrendscases. Last accessed June 2, 2022. Updated numbers may vary slightly from those cited here.

³Jane Mayer, “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All,” New Yorker, July 18, 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all Accessed January 31, 2021.

⁴Tony Schwartz, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America (Bantam, 1995), p. 3.

Healing America’s Narratives: Bullied, Woke, & Canceled in the Polarized State(s) of America

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Nine of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available. An earlier version of this piece, which was a precursor to Chapter Nine, appeared in April 2021.]

In its healthiest manifestation nowadays, being and/or staying ‘woke’ refers to becoming aware of social justice issues that need to be addressed, and ideally, taking action that addresses them. More generally, being woke involves being increasingly able to see ‘what is’ beyond the limitations of one’s personal, familial, and cultural biases. No one that I’ve met, read, listened to, heard of, or been does this 100% successfully. In its least healthy manifestation, being woke refers to an attitude of superiority — being more woke, seeing more than some other individual or group: I’m (or we’re) better than you are. So there. Currently, most folks accused of being or claiming to be woke are characterized as being more liberal; most of their opponents and accusers are characterized as being more conservative. These characterizations tend to do more harm than good despite any partial truths they may contain.

A casual review of history demonstrates 1) that the general concept of being or staying woke has been around since at least the mid-1800s in the United States — as in the “Wide Awakes” abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln (and elsewhere at least since Siddhartha Gautama famously woke c. 500 BCE); 2) the specific use of the word woke (as opposed to “awoke”) has been around since at least the 1930s — as in Lead Belly’s commentary at the end of his song, “Scottsboro Boys”; 3) many folks whose behavior embodies wokeness don’t talk about it or posture as being superior; they simply live as exemplars for the rest of us — the late Congressman John Lewis comes to mind, among others; and 4) as above, some folks who talk about their alleged wokeness wield it as a weapon to point to the shortcomings of others. They (we) can be found everywhere — in media, government, and in our neighborhoods; at our kitchen tables and even peering back from our bathroom mirrors.

The allegedly woke folks (not the embodied woke folks) who wield their wokeness as a weapon of superiority, whom we’ll call unskillful, publicly judge and attempt to ostracize or ‘cancel’ the allegedly inferior sleepyheads — pointing out their inferiority, silencing them, and symbolically or literally canceling their membership in whatever they had previously belonged to. Critics of the woke cancelers work at canceling them, essentially practicing what they’re allegedly opposed to. If a government agent or agency does this, it’s a First Amendment issue; if anyone else does it, it’s inherently contradictory: if I’m truly woke, I don’t need to judge, shame, silence or cancel you. In fact, I’ll probably model my wokeness by engaging you in a conversation that does more good than harm, beyond the talking points, so we can both be woke. Buddha and John Lewis, among others, engaged in such modeling and conversation. The late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia regularly engaged each other in this way — amid their significantly different Constitutional perspectives.

The Problem with Wielding Wokeness as a Weapon

The words and behaviors of these unskillful woke folks imply a binary “woke/not woke” universe. One problem with this implication is that they never mention (perhaps because they haven’t woke to them yet) numerous other “awakenings” that are available to us, and that have been researched, identified and studied longitudinally for decades.

The current woke folks’ particular wokeness seems to refer to some of the perspectives that may accompany awakening from a modern to a postmodern worldview, such as a commitment to equal rights for all in practice — which would be the not-yet-realized promise of the U.S. Constitution, its Amendments, and other legislation, which emerged in an awakening from a traditional to a modern worldview. Said differently, the framers’ documents outlined a move from “traditional” monarchy to a “modern” democratic republic. It was written by, for and about landowning white men (emphasis on landowningwhite, and men).

Modernity woke us up to the possibility of democracy, which is more inclusive, balanced and complex than traditional monarchy (Having to do what the king or queen says is waaaay more exclusive, imbalanced, and simple than electing some people to represent us (and letting them tell us what to do)). Postmodernity, among other things, woke some of us up to notice those pesky landowning (or otherwise wealthy/ powerful), white and men traits, and asked where the freedom and equality were for everyone else. Again, modernity gave us the Constitution; postmodernity continues to demand that it apply equally to everyone, and that it be amended as necessary to reflect the realities of the times in which we live. Why would anyone want to cancel this particular wokeness?

There are available awakenings beyond postmodernity, so those of us who would wield our postmodern wokeness today as a criticism of others are not at the cutting edge of anything (in fairness, whatever awakening is next for any one of us is our personal cutting edge).¹ When we’re unskillful, we know what we know, we’re oblivious to what we don’t know, and we consider those who are “other” as less than or wrong — just as any fundamentalist or unhealthily reformed _____ (fill in as you see fit) does. How I hold my wokeness, not its content, is the issue. If I believe in and behave every day in ways that work toward equality and freedom for all, it makes no sense to treat as unequal, or limit the freedom of, those who do not yet so believe or behave. A bit contradictory, yes?

We’ve Been Assuming Wokeness and Canceling Others for Centuries

The Europeans who kidnapped, transported and enslaved Africans, and eventually the Americans who fought for the right to continue that enslavement, encountered cultures they did not understand, believed they were superior to (more woke than), and literally worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through both legal and extralegal means such as slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, unequal protections, mass incarceration, and voter suppression. Initially they did this in the name of the economic advantages of unpaid forced labor and later (and still) in a bewildering embrace of white supremacy and white nationalism.²

The Europeans who bumped into the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and on the continents now known as the Americas, and the Americans some of these Europeans chose to become — making that 18th-century monarchy-to-democracy move — believed they were more woke than these peoples whose land they coveted. They worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through a history of trespass, theft, betrayal and slaughter (in the name of helping them be more like us). To take one example, “Indian” killer and remover, slaveholder, president, and allegedly fading face of the $20 bill, Andrew Jackson, stands out as an exceptional ‘woke canceler’, who as president remarked that he had “done his duty to his red children,” and that he would “now leave the poor deluded creeks & cherokees to their fate, and their annihilation.”³

From about 1954 through 1974 four U.S. presidents tried to cancel Vietnam’s sleepy insistence on self-determination. Using espionage, human life, bullets, and bombs, and despite the earlier experiences of the Chinese, Japanese and French, the U.S. attempted to impose bipartisan woke democracy on the Vietnamese (in the name of helping them be more like us). In 2003 we began again in Iraq. More recently almost every Republican in the U.S. Congress, led by the 45th President, attempted to cancel the 2020 election results, resulting in an attack on the U.S. Capitol. More examples exist; these will suffice.

While political, media, and personal clamoring about woke and cancel culture is currently popular, it is not new, although its motivations, tools, language, and tactics shift with the times. Nat Hentoff’s 1992 volume, Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, clearly captured our dysfunctional attempts to mutually censor and cancel each otherToday, elected officials, performance news commentators, family, and friends don’t know how, or choose not, to disagree (or even agree) in respectful, civil conversation. We point our fingers and wring our hands. We terrorize American citizens of Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and other Asian ancestries because we blame the Chinese for a pandemic; we are disengaged or not engaged, anxious, and depressed at work (and were before the pandemic).⁴ And yes, that’s a selective and limited catalog of issues. We have so much that we need to awaken to and that really does need to be canceled, so to speak, and yet we play on social media trying to cancel voices we don’t like or understand or both. Freedom, equality, and justice for some, indeed.

Wherever and however each of us is, another awakening awaits. It doesn’t require (or desire) that we cancel anyone, not even the paradoxically grave and goofy current version of our one precious self, who is longing for an increasingly inclusive, balanced, loving, and complex way of being in the world.

¹A brief sampling of books related to some of what’s available before and after postmodernity:

Fowler, James. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1981.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993 (1982).

Kegan, Robert. In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994.

Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009 (pp 11–30).

Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. Novato CA: New World Library, 2008.

Wilber, Ken. The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions. Boulder: Shambhala, 2017 (especially pp. 180–250 / charts pp.190–95).

²“bewildering embrace of white supremacy…” Some would argue that “states’ rights” and not white supremacy were and are the real issue. The states that historically make that argument all fought to keep slavery, and then to terrorize freed African-American slaves. Implicitly inherent in each, and often explicitly expressed, is a belief in white supremacy and/or nationalism.

³“‘done his duty to his red children’” In Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic, p. 97. Saunt cites The Papers of Andrew Jackson Digital Edition, ed. Daniel Feller (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press: 2015). I generally don’t endorse the imposition of current values and perspectives on people of the past, who often did not yet have access to what the present allows us to understand. In this case not everyone thought killing Native Americans was honorable, and there were plenty, albeit not enough, abolitionists during Jackson’s “Indian”-killing and slaveholding days.

⁴“we are disengaged or not engaged…at work”: https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/employee-engagement-rise.aspx (e.g. “34% of U.S. workers are engaged, tying highest in Gallup’s history”)

Among many sources on suicide, depression and anxiety:

Suicide: https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Depression: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression

Anxiety: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Works cited:

Hentoff, Nat. Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Saunt, Claudio. Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020.

Healing America’s Narratives: Lessons Not Learned

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Seven of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available]

In September 2003, six months after the U. S. began bombing Iraq again, Jonathan Schell wrote a long, crystal-clear sentence, employing some 250 words and quite a few semicolons, that pointed out what “the basic mistake” of the Bush policy in Iraq was not. Schell then wrote a fourteen-word sentence, in italics and with no semicolons: “The main mistake of American policy in Iraq was waging war at all.”¹

Despite reports from two separate teams of U. N. weapons inspectors — the first led by a U. S. Marine veteran, Scott Ritter,² whose team reported no weapons of mass destruction, and the second, led by David Kay,³ whose report corroborated Ritter’s — the U. S. began bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003. On May 1 of that year, President Bush stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier below a banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” and told the world that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”⁴

As of December 30, 2020, 4,586 American men and women in uniform had died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Of that number, 4,100 occurred after January 2004 — eight months after George W. Bush proclaimed that the United States and its allies had prevailed.⁵

At 1 AM on September 12, 2001, when Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, returned to the White House after a quick shower and change of clothes, he was expecting discussions about preparations for any subsequent attacks, plans concerning any currently known U. S. weaknesses, and updated intelligence on what had happened. As he recounts, his expectations were not met:

“…I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous…. Then I realized … that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq.”⁶

On the record, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others, under the banner of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) had written to President Clinton on January 26, 1998, asking him to “enunciate a new strategy” that “should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power,” and that required “a willingness to undertake military action[,] as diplomacy is clearly failing.” The letter’s authors were clear that “removing Saddam Hussein’s regime from power…. needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.”⁷

In January 2001, Clarke found that terrorism was not a priority in the Bush White House. His attempts to convey the urgency of the al Qaeda threat to National Security Advisor Rice, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, and others was met with mild interest and essentially no action. Despite Clarke’s January 25, 2001 request for a Principals Committee meeting on the threat, and despite some lower-level meetings that went nowhere, the Principals meeting did not take place until September 4, a week before the attack.⁸

As of February 2020, according to the Military Times, the war in Iraq had cost U. S. taxpayers some $1,922,000,000,000.00. That amount was funneled from American taxpayers into Iraq from 2003 forward, and does not include the costs for Afghanistan or other shorter-term post-9/11 antiterrorist actions. It does include the costs of combat, private contractors, promotion of democracy, reconstruction, veterans’ care, and interest on the debt incurred to fund the war.⁹

Zooming out, from October 2001 through August 2021, the U. S. Department of Defense spent more than $14 trillion (measured in 2021 dollars) for all purposes, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One third to one half of these expenditures went to private contractors, and of those, a quarter to a third went to just five companies — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrup Grumman. In October 2001, Boeing vice president Harry Stonecipher announced that “the purse is now open . . . any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November.” Lockheed Martin’s 2020 Pentagon contracts totaled $75 billion; the U. S. State Department’s budget that year was $44 billion. “In addition, weapons makers have spent $2.5 billion on lobbying over the past two decades, employing, on average, over 700 lobbyists per year over the past five years, more than one for every member of Congress.”¹⁰

The previous essay in this series began to explore what we have learned, or not learned from President Eisenhower’s post-World War II precepts and Secretary McNamara’s post-Vietnam lessons. Each provides a useful lens through which to observe U.S. engagement with post-9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan. With only vague and shifting ideas about what the U. S. was doing in either country and what might happen when we left, it’s not surprising that the ill-defined and endless mission of “fighting terror” was and is not accomplished — by Bush or by Obama or by Trump, all of whom spoke about getting out of Afghanistan, but did not. Biden got out, and in tragic ways, and the Afghan people continue to pay the price for both our arrival and our departure.¹¹

In August 2021 the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report entitled What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction — the eleventh “Lessons Learned” report issued between 2016 and 2021.

Along with statistics — 2,443 U. S. troops, 1,144 allied troops, and at least 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 Afghan civilians killed; 20,666 U. S. troops and at least 75,000 Afghan civilians injured; $145 billion in reconstruction and $837 billion on fighting spent — the report notes that these “extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose — though the definition of that purpose evolved over time,” and goes on to identify “seven key lessons” that “can be used in other conflict zones around the globe.”¹²

The sixth lesson, “Context,” begins with this sentence:

6. Context: The U. S. government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly.

Robert McNamara’s fourth lesson from In Retrospect begins, “Our misjudgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities of their leaders….”¹³ Context, by any other name.

Five post-WW II precepts, two sets of eleven post-Vietnam lessons learned, and seven key Afghanistan lessons later, what true learning has taken place?


¹Jonathan Schell, “The Importance of Losing,” The Jonathan Schell Reader, (Nation-Avalon, 2004) 343–44. Originally published in The Nation, September 23, 2003.

²Scott Ritter:  http://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/21/scott_ritter_on_the_untold_story

³David Kay: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/29/136765601/david-kay-wmds-that-never-were-a-war-that-ever-was

⁴The quote, and Bush’s entire speech, are available from most news sources:https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/05/20030501-15.html

⁵4,586 American military deaths as of December 30, 2020 (4,100 of those from 2004–2020), again, that is after President Bush’s announcement that we had prevailed. http://www.statista.com/statistics/263798/american-soldiers-killed-in-iraq/. Last accessed June 27, 2022.

⁶Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies, (Free Press, 2004), 30.

⁷Project for the New American Century’s January 26, 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton, https://zfacts.com/zfacts.com/metaPage/lib/98-Rumsfeld-Iraq.pdf Accessed June 27, 2021. The PNAC, and its website, are no longer available online under that name.

⁸Clarke, Against All Enemies, 231–38.

⁹Neta C. Crawford, “The Iraq War has cost the US nearly $2 trillion,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2020/02/06/the-iraq-war-has-cost-the-us-nearly-2-trillion/ Accessed July 1, 2021.

¹⁰William D. Hartung, “Profits of War: Corporate Beneficiaries of the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending Surge,” Center for International Policy & Watson Institute, International & Public Affairs at Brown University, September 13, 2021; “more than $14 trillion,” 4; “one third to one half,” 1; “just five companies,” 4–5; “the purse is now open,” 3; Lockheed Martin contract and State Department budget, 4; “$2.5 billion on lobbying,” 20; https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2021/ProfitsOfWar Accessed September 14, 2021.

¹¹David Miliband, “The Afghan economy is a falling house of cards. Here are 5 steps to rebuild it,” CNN Opinion, January 20, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/01/20/opinions/afghan-economy-falling-house-cards-miliband/index.html Accessed March 9, 2022.

¹²John F. Sopko, et. al., What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021) vii-xi, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf;

¹³Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, (Vintage, 1996), 321–23.

Healing America’s Narratives: Dominos, Defoliation, Death, & Democracy

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Six of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (available October 2022)]

Decades before the 2003 U. S. invasion of Iraq, the United States invaded Vietnam — initially with “advisors” and eventually with bombs, troops, and bullets. After its defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to leave the former French colony, Indochina — as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were then known — which it had occupied during the war. After Japan’s departure, France’s attempt to reassert control of the area was thwarted by popular support for Ho Chi Minh. Under his leadership, on September 2, 1945, the “Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” emerged. It borrowed language and concepts from both the American and French revolutions, and it listed grievances against the French colonizers in 1945, much as the British colonists, who would eventually identify as Americans, had done against their British governors in 1776. The Vietnamese proclamation begins:

“‘We hold truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’” This immortal statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. Understood in the broader sense, this means: “‘All peoples on the earth are born equal; every person has the right to live to be happy and free.’”¹

In 1945 and 1946 Ho Chi Minh wrote repeatedly to President Truman and other world leaders, and at least once to the United Nations, asking for humanitarian aid because some two million Vietnamese had died of starvation in the final years of World War II. The U. S. president, the other leaders and the United Nations did not respond. Ho concluded that “We apparently stand quite alone; we shall have to depend on ourselves.”² When the French began their eight-year war against Ho Chi Minh’s government and its followers in 1946, the U. S., first under Truman and then under Eisenhower, helped arm the French and financed most of the French effort.

With the 1949 Communist victory in China, and the faith that the Viet Minh had in Ho Chi Minh, the U. S. articulated and began to act on the “domino” theory — that if one Southeast Asian country were to succumb to Communism, the rest would follow suit, and that if free elections were allowed, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia would be controlled by Communists. Said differently, the U. S. wanted to stop the possible spread of Communism in the region by preventing free democratic elections.

In April 1953 President Eisenhower had delivered his “The Chance for Peace” speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Widely known as the “Cross of Iron” speech, it celebrates the end of World War II, warns of the Soviet Union’s post-war behaviors, and argues both against the costs of war and for hope, freedom, and democracy. It also includes, less famously than the cross of iron metaphor, these five precepts:

First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

Third: Any nation’s right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.³

Beginning almost immediately, and continuing for the next twenty-plus years in Vietnam and in various places around the globe to the present day, the United States would violate Eisenhower’s first, third, fourth, and fifth precepts, and engage an ongoing national debate about the second. The Soviets and Chinese would exacerbate the situation, but they didn’t claim to adhere to these same precepts.

Under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy the U.S. first ignored and then incrementally opposed Ho Chi Minh in the north; set up, supported, and eventually disposed of Ngo Dinh Diem in the south; and increased the presence and levels of engagement of U. S. military advisors. President Johnson, with the financial blessings of Congress, then officially sent U. S. combat forces to Vietnam without declaring war. Johnson and Nixon each escalated specific aspects of the undeclared war both on the ground and in the air. As we know, it didn’t end well.

More than 58,000 Americans, and depending how the counting is done, some three million Vietnamese combatants and civilians lost their lives during the war. Millions more on both sides died due to poisoning from the defoliant Agent Orange.

In 1995 former secretary of defense Robert McNamara published In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,⁴ in which he explored eleven lessons learned. He would elucidate another set of lessons in his conversation with director Errol Morris in the 2003 film, The Fog of War. The architects of America’s policies and war in Vietnam ignored Eisenhower’s precepts. The post-9/11 architects of America’s policies and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would go on to ignore Eisenhower’s precepts and both sets of McNamara’s lessons learned — which we’ll explore in the next essay. The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) would eventually publish What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction in August 2021.

I’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about political and military lessons learned since World War II.


¹“Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” (September 2, 1945); multiple sources online; here’s one: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/vietnam/independence.pdf

²Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 148–53. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 469–71. Sheehan puts the number of letters and telegrams from Ho Chi Minh to Truman and his Secretary of State at eleven over an 18-month period and notes that Britain, China and the Soviet Union also ignored his requests for help at the time. China and the Soviets would later provide financial and military assistance when the U.S. began financing France’s efforts. “We apparently stand quite alone; we shall have to depend on ourselves,” Sheehan, 149. Zinn includes an excerpt from one of Ho’s letters, 470–71. The U.S. State Department classified and locked away the correspondence, which would not become public until the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Sheehan, 152–53.

³President Dwight Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” April 16, 1953. Audio: https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/eisenhowers/speeches. Text: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwighteisenhowercrossofiron.htm. Accessed June 5, 2021.

⁴Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, (Vintage, 1996), 321–23.

The Fog of War, Errol Morris, director, (Sony, 2003).

⁶John F. Sopko, et. al., What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021) vii-xi, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf

Healing America’s Narratives: Slavery, Civil Rights, and Whose Lives Matter

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Five of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

In the conventional history of the United States, we tend not to hear or read too much about the actual moments of invasion of African communities, the violent kidnappings, the wretched conditions for those who made it onto the ships, the watery graves of those who died in transport, the felt experience of any one of these human beings amid those unimaginable episodes, and the many subsequent episodes of being bought and sold and charged with forced, unpaid, backbreaking daily labor. That sentence itself does a feeble job of capturing the enormity of the horror inherent in these acts.

Amid our current cacophony of divisive voices screaming at each other through often narrow, partial views regarding race, racism, antiracism, critical race theory, and whose lives matter, it’s essential to remember how we got where we seem to be and to consider where we may be going from here.

Remember that, in order to convince slave state planter-politicians to sign what would become the U.S. Constitution — providing them with additional seats in the House of Representatives and additional electoral votes in presidential elections based on the number of enslaved humans they owned — the “three-fifths compromise” effectively valued each enslaved person as three-fifths of a human being. These individuals, who had been torn from their homes and their families, were deemed to be worth 60% of a full human being for tax and representation (of their owners) purposes. Without slave labor, wealthy plantation owners and politicians would not have fared as well as they did — if fare well they would have at all.

Remember that the Emancipation Proclamations in 1862 and 1863 announced but could not enforce the freedom of formerly enslaved people.

Remember that the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which made slavery unlawful in 1865, was followed almost immediately by the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, and remember that the U. S. was among the last of the slave-trading and slave-owning countries to ban both trading and owning enslaved human beings.¹

Remember that the 14th Amendment in 1868 guaranteed citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States, prevented any state from depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process and from denying any citizen equal protection of the laws. Notice and remember that 150-plus years later, our nation still struggles to manifest this particular destiny of equality.

Remember that the 15th Amendment in 1870, which granted formerly enslaved males the right to vote, was followed by decades of lynchings, beatings, local Jim Crow policies, and Black Code laws, especially in the South. Remember that such abominations prevented U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote (and other rights) — through threats and violence, convict leasing, and low level bureaucracy that included “testing” that no white man, including the testers themselves, had to endure or could have passed as a prerequisite to voting.²

Consider that, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950 some 4,425 lynchings of blacks by whites occurred in the United States.³ In the previous twelve years — euphemistically referred to as Reconstruction, an additional 2,000 lynchings took place, including thirty-four mass lynchings.⁴ Historically, lynchings have included beatings, burnings, shootings, stabbings, hangings, and other torture, sometimes in combination, and were often announced in advance in local newspapers and on posters, and attended by hundreds and sometimes thousands of white spectators, including children.

Fast forward to the third decade of the twenty-first century and one disturbing observation (among many): it’s a step in the right direction that a white police officer, Derrick Chauvin, was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, who was black, and that Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan, all of whom are white, were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man. Had these two murders been the first of their kind — outside any historical context — they would warrant our outrage and grief. That they occurred in the historical context of two-hundred-plus years of American proclamation, declaration, legislation, and opinion regarding discrimination is the catalyst for tens of thousands of individuals gathering and grieving in public, and not just in the United States, in the name of equal protection and justice.

Yes, we have made progress as a nation, and we still have much work to do. Both are true. For an expansion of this essay that includes a more detailed look at race in the U.S. military, critical race theory, and antiracism in the context of collective Shadow, see Chapter Five in Healing America’s Narratives.


  1. For a list of countries and the dates they ended slave-trading and (usually subsequently) slave-owning, see: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-slavery/chronology-who-banned-slavery-when-idUSL1561464920070322
    For an overview/timeline of slavery and civil rights in the U.S.
    see https://www.ushistory.org/more/timeline.htm
  2. Ferris State University provides examples of literacy tests from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. See if you can pass:
    Alabama: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/pdfs-docs/origins/al_literacy.pdf
    Louisiana: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2012/pdfs-docs/literacytest.pdf
    Mississippi: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/pdfs-docs/origins/ms-littest55.pdf
  3. Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America, 39–47. These pages provide statistics along with some narrative. The volume’s 90 pages provide a searing look into its title and is also available online: https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/
  4. Equal Justice Initiative, Reconstruction in America, 6–7, 40–55. As with all of EJI’s publications, these pages are representative; the volume warrants a full reading. Also online: https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/

Healing America’s Narratives: Trails of Tears and Broken Treaties

[Part of a series adapted from Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022). This essay is an overview that scratches the surface of Chapter Four of the book.]

Some five-hundred-plus years ago, European explorers began bumping into land masses now known as South, Central, and North America and the islands of the Caribbean. The indigenous inhabitants of these areas include the Taíno, Aztec, Lakota, Yucatán, Iroquois, Inca, Nez Perce, Huron, Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Olmec, Inuit, Toba, Quechua and Chibcha, among many, many more.

These peoples had been on these lands for some 10,000 to 20,000 years when the English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French met, interacted with, and eventually colonized them.¹ Slaughter, rape, removal, and betrayal often characterized the colonization process, which in contemporary parlance is a literal cancelation of people and culture. The invaders interpreted what was different as “lesser” (or, as some might say today, not “woke”) and perceived the unfamiliar humans as “innocents,” “savages,” or both.

A pattern emerged: arrival, intrusion, violence, commerce, acquisition of land through treaty, and acquisition of more land through violence and treaty betrayal. As more Europeans arrived or as something of value was discovered in or on the land, the Europeans and then the Americans broke treaties and took what they wanted.

In his enforcement of the 1830 “Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi,” Indian killer, slaveowner and president, Andrew Jackson, promised that “There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as the Grass grows or water runs. I will protect them and be their friend and father.”² Estimates put the total number of humans removed during the 1830s at around 100,000, with 15,000 deaths along the way.³ Said differently, an infant, a child, a woman, or a man was forced to leave home 100,000 times and travel hundreds of miles in horrible conditions. More specifically, some 2,858 refugees were forced to travel some 1,200 miles by steamboat and some 12,496 were forced to travel by foot and wagon for 2,050 miles over three different routes.⁴ Their friend and father didn’t protect them.

That’s a synopsis of one example. Here’s a list of several more, among many: the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (broken amid a gold rush shortly after it was signed); the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and the retaliatory 1866 Fetterman Massacre; the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (broken in 1874 with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, and again in 1877 with the Congressional “act to ratify an agreement with certain bands of the Sioux Nation of Indians and also with the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians” in direct violation of Article XII of the 1868 treaty, effectively taking the Black Hills without consent of 75% of adult male Indians).⁵

By 1890, the 60 million acres of the Great Sioux Reservation, as identified in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, had been reduced to about 22 million acres in 1877 due to government’s and prospectors’ interest in gold and other minerals, and then further reduced to 12.7 million acres through the Dawes (General Allotment) Act of 1887. The Dawes Act ended the tribes’ communal holding of land and allotted set acreage to individual Indians, who were required to farm the land for twenty-five years. Any land that was not so allotted would be sold to the public.⁶

Less than thirty years after the 1890 slaughter of some 150 children, women, and men at Wounded Knee, Choctaw men whose parents and grandparents had been removed from their land in the 1830s enlisted to fight in World War I and became the first “Code Talkers,” using their native language so enemy spies could not understand messages. Some thirty-three tribes, most famously the Navajo, would similarly serve in World War II.

Fast forward to 1980: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in 1877 the U.S. government had in fact illegally taken the Black Hills in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The ruling upheld a 1979 Court of Claims decision that called on the U. S. to pay $17.5 million plus 5% annual interest, which at the time totaled about $106 million. The Sioux refused to take the settlement, which is now worth more than $1 billion, asserting that the land was never for sale, that money was not just compensation, and that the value of the gold, timber, and other resources removed from the area is significantly greater than the money offered.⁷ The issue remains unresolved in 2022.


1. Adam Rutherford. “A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas.” Atlantic. October 3, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/a-brief-history-of-everyone-who-ever-lived/537942/. Accessed March 8, 2021. The article is adapted from Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. New York: The Experiment, 2017.

2. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, (Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 133–34.

3. Elizabeth Prine Pauls, “Trail of Tears,” Encyclopedia Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears, Accessed February 10, 2021.

4. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, (W. W. Norton, 2020), 280.

5. Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Article XII: https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/fort-laramie-treaty#transcript

6. Miles Hudson, “Wounded Knee Massacre,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 22, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre Also: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Dawes General Allotment Act,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Dec. 4, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dawes-General-Allotment-Act. Accessed April 23, 2021.

7. Numerous legal, historical and journalistic sources exist for this story. See Kimbra Cutlip, “In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 7, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/1868-two-nations-made-treaty-us-broke-it-and-plains-indian-tribes-are-still-seeking-justice-180970741/; and Tom LeGro, et al. “Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion”, PBS News Hour, August 24, 2011, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/north_america-july-dec11-blackhills_08-23 Accessed May 4, 2021.

Healing America’s Narratives: Fear of the Feminine & the Subjugation of Women

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Three of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

True for a boy as well, a girl born in 1774, 1862, 1917, 1963, 1971, 2001, 2017, 2022,* or any other year received cultural givens and expectations that were unique to the time, place, and familial, ethnic, racial, and financial circumstances of her birth and childhood. That she was born a biological female provided an additional given that would impact what was expected of and available to her.

While an investigation of any aspect of our collective national Shadow discloses disturbing manifestations of what we refuse to see in ourselves, the fear of the feminine and the subjugation of women are both disturbing manifestations and foundational elements of America’s Shadow. More to the point, it is the persistent absence of the qualities of the healthy feminine, further undermined by the relentless presence of the qualities of the unhealthy masculine, that encourages and amplifies and may very well be the primary cause of America’s collective Shadow. Specifying “healthy” and “unhealthy” above is essential to this argument.

The feminine, as used here, tends more toward a concern with care, embrace, collaboration, mercy, and compassion, among other traits; the masculine tends more toward a focus on rights, independence, individualism, justice, and wisdom. While this not an exhaustive list, notice that each tendency, whether it’s considered feminine or masculine, can be beneficial in its healthy manifestation and that all of them are descriptive, not prescriptive: we can observe them, but we’re not suggesting that any woman or man is “supposed to” embody the respective feminine or masculine tendencies in a certain way.

While the historical subjugation of women is visible to any honest person who is willing to look, the fear of the feminine manifests in less obvious ways. This essay posits that those men who primarily manifest unhealthy versions of masculine traits like rights, independence, individualism, justice and wisdom — which historically have resulted in dominance over, violence against, and subjugation of women and others — often fear healthy feminine traits like relationship, care, mercy, and compassion as emasculating rather than integrating. More specifically, cisgender, heterosexual males who historically have been conditioned to “be men” (i.e. stereotypically unhealthy masculine) experience both a strong attraction to the power of the feminine in women and a fear-of-emasculation-based aversion to the feminine in themselves. They mistake healthy feminine-masculine integration as emasculation, which terrifies them, so they subjugate what they fear.

The white, British, Christian, male founders and earliest leaders of the United States were captives of their cultural givens (as we all are of our own). Their Bill of Rights did not explicitly demonstrate any care about or for women; their Declaration of Independence did not embrace women; their proclamations of freedom and justice for all included no mercy for women, and the significant wisdom inherent in the Constitution they framed lacked compassion for women. These statements are true as well for the Africans they kidnapped, brought here, and enslaved, for their enslaved descendants, and for the native peoples whom they betrayed, expelled, and slaughtered.

And, yes, it’s easy to look from the third decade of the twenty-first century with the benefit of much of what these founders gave us and invited us to subsequently discover and amend, and point out where we think they came up short. They had the benefit of neither the documents they created nor the learnings from subsequent fits and starts of implementing those documents, as we do, in our 246 years of history. Their documents remain remarkable; their human shortcomings were real. Both are true. We have progressed in our movement toward equality for women; we still have a long way to go. Both are true.

*Selected (among many) years that directly or indirectly impacted the lives of girls and women:

  • 1774: two years before the nation’s ‘birth’;
  • 1862: the Emancipation Proclamations & three years before the Thirteenth Amendment freed enslaved women (and men);
  • 1917: three years before the Nineteenth Amendment would give women the right to vote;
  • 1963: two years before the Voting Rights Act would begin to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, especially in the former slave states;
  • 1971: a year before Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 would make it illegal to discriminate based on sex in any educational or federally funded program;
  • 2001: the September 11 attacks impacted the direction of the country for women, girls, men, and boys;
  • 2017: a record number of women decide to run for Congress, and most of them win in 2018, many in response to the behavior of the U.S. president;
  • 2022: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York continues her efforts, begun in 2013, to change the way sexual assault cases in the U.S. military are adjudicated.

Our Collective National Shadow

[Adapted from Chapter Two of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra (October 2022)]

In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin and others in Payson, Arizona, for five days of an experience entitled “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities, and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, the United States began bombing Iraq. So while we were exploring our respective individual Shadows and projections, our country’s collective Shadow and projections — “the evil out there” that we tend to see in other nations, groups, cultures, genders, colors, orientations, and people — was on full display, providing us an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration at the national level as well.

Jungian analyst Robert Johnson refers to “persona” as “what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world.…our psychological clothing” — the mask we wear. He refers to “ego” as “what we are and know about consciously” and to “Shadow” as “that part of us we fail to see or know…. that which has not entered adequately into consciousness.”¹

In A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly posits that behind each of us in childhood, “we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag.” In order to keep our elementary-school teachers happy, we continue to fill the bag, and in high school we further fill the bag in order to please our peers. “We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed.”² Bly points out that “There is also a national bag, and ours is quite long…. we are noble; other nations have empires. Other nations endure stagnant leadership, treat minorities brutally, brainwash their youth, and break treaties.”³

So, Shadow refers to disowned or repressed traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly projects onto others, whether or not the trait is considered positive or negative and whether or not the others actually embody the projected trait. Sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. If I tend to have a disproportionately highly charged emotional response to someone I experience as angry, there’s a good chance that I’ve repressed or disowned my own anger — it’s in my invisible bag.⁴ Until I recognize this dynamic and work to integrate my anger, anger will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people “out there” everywhere I go, while I remain oblivious to being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not. Oops.

Finally, the word shadow is sometimes used to refer to negative or undesired traits that we don’t like about ourselves. We might refer to these traits as our “dark side.” These undesired traits that were never in or that we’ve already retrieved from our invisible bag are not what we mean by Shadow in this essay.(6) We don’t know our Shadow is there. Our repression and denial are not conscious choices. Collective Shadow, as used here, refers to elements that are common to individuals in the United States. A nation does not have a discrete psyche or Shadow. A nation’s Shadow exists in the collective impact of individual Shadow elements that are common to many — not necessarily all — of its citizens.

As developed in Healing America’s Narratives, the collective Shadow of the United States historically and currently includes at least nine traits: ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness. Chapter Ten of the book argues that one man — a former president — embodies all of these traits and that his life unintentionally presents us with a gift: an invitation to recognize, own, and integrate our national Shadow amid our ongoing American experiment.


1. Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow, 3–4.

2. Robert Bly, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, 17–18.

3. Ibid., 26.

4. Anger is not necessarily a “bad” thing; it is clarifying. What can go wrong is how we understand and what we do with our anger.

Cultural Givens & the View From Here

[Adapted from Chapter One of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra (October 2022)]

Everything we do or say arises through our worldview, which arises through our experiences, beliefs, values, relationships, aspirations, and development. It includes those aspects of ourselves of which we’re not yet aware — our Shadow. Each of us, in our earliest moments and years is given a view of the world — “cultural givens,” — direct experiences of and beliefs about the world that our family of origin holds to be true. These experiences and beliefs include everything from ethnicity to local community to religious belief (or lack thereof) to national citizenship to our parents’ personalities to geography, climate, and year of birth.

It is possible to embrace these givens and live our lives without ever questioning them. It is also possible, and advisable, from the perspective of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, to embrace these givens early on and then, most commonly in adolescence and beyond but sometimes earlier, to reflect on them, challenge them, and see how they hold up against our direct experience of life.

An example: my current worldview is not the one I was given at birth and began to accept in early childhood. That worldview held that I was living in the greatest country in history and tended to favor being Italian-American, Catholic, and a New Yorker, among other characteristics. Our intention here is not to criticize our cultural givens. Criticizing our earliest views and ways of being in the world makes as much sense as criticizing an acorn for not yet being an oak or an infant for not yet being an adult. There is, however, a time to wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up. In waking up, we commit to seeing ‘what is’ through various states of consciousness. In growing up, we develop by seeking and taking increasingly inclusive, comprehensive, complex, and balanced perspectives. In cleaning up, we recognize, own, and integrate Shadow. And in showing up, we live authentically and help others. You get the idea.

The obvious (and easy to forget) importance here is that every person born anywhere and at any time since humans first appeared has his, her, or their own set of givens — in every location on the planet, with or without religion, and in poverty and wealth. Makes sense, yes? Each of us has a given story — an initial set of givens — whether or not we are aware of it. Some of it is given in order to simplify a complex world for young children; some of it is given as literal truth by the adults who believe it; and each of us continues to be given more input through late childhood, adolescent, young adult, and adult experiences and observations. What we choose to accept, embrace, revise, or reject is up to us. Each of us is responsible for our choices, acceptances, embraces, revisions, and rejections. No one is exempt.