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Painting by Maxfield Parrish

“The myth of innocence and violence is a dominant theme of the culture of the United States, innocence and violence and the constant movement back and forth between the two….

So we have an increasing volume of violence in the culture, no one can understand why, everyone gives sociological explanations of it, and they are all valid by the way, the poverty and the oppression and the racism and the decline of education, the sociological reasons are absolutely valid, I’m not decrying them, but there’s a myth also in here.

We came to America, the Pilgrims and the Puritans and all the rest because it was a new paradise, we came with innocence in mind, the innocence of the lamb, these are mythical motifs, and our movements were full of violence, the earth of the United States is filled with the blood of what we killed in order to make it our paradise, the buffalo blood, the tribal blood, the animal bloods, the bloods of the African American slaves, that’s what’s in the soil. And other peoples are very aware of what’s in the soil, but innocence keeps us from even looking at it, until very recently, we begin to look at it. Those of you who went to school in my generation, or at least lets say ten years less.. the story of the Indians was something you saw on TV.. you played Cowboys and Indians, ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’, and you know, it was built in, they were just irrelevant. That’s our ground, that’s our soil, and in the Greek perspective what’s in the soil is constantly working at you, constantly affecting you. They would call it “Blood Guilt.” — James Hillman

Leaving America, I was an innocent abroad for many years. I had been planted in Texas but my real growing up happened in Europe. It proved to be impossible to return to my original culture. I tried and failed more than once. My roots in my family of origin became more and more tenuous.

I was embarrassed to be treated like the clueless monolingual American that I was in my twenties, but I’m glad I was able to get the inevitable culture shock out of the way early. If you wait to leave the country until you’re retired, it’s probably too late. Your “innocence” is baked in. America seems to have an impenetrable bubble over it that prevents real news from entering. We’re very proud of our free exchange of ideas so we don’t see the range of things that are excluded. The system of exclusion is very effective.

The connection of innocence to violence that Hillman makes is astute. He puts his finger on the thing that is never visible to us Americans who swim in those waters from childhood. In one of my attempts to live in Texas again, I worried about the safety of visiting French friends who had no idea that people are armed and might shoot you if you come on their land without notice. They refused to believe it. The idea was just too crazy to entertain.

How will America grow up and grow out of these myths of innocence? The reality of life as a person of color is invisible to people who call themselves “white.” The secret life of America hides a lot of injustice and loneliness. We have a strange feeling of disconnection from each other and from nature. We think in terms of utility. The peoples and land we use to get ahead have a long history we’d rather not see. We go blithely on, ignoring our own implication in crimes that are building a heavy load of karma.

America has a personality, a character. It could use some introspection and some truth-telling. Growing up is hard to do. That unconscious innocence needs to be confronted because of its links to a violence that keeps growing. Keeping a lid on it is a failing strategy. Not only that, we export that violence around the world.

Caring is fundamentally different from seeing potential profit. If we see the world in terms of tools to make money, we’ll mistreat and decimate nature and the web of life. We are now close to the point of no return. It’s time to confront the cultural blindness we all participate in. We’re circling the drain.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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