Every March a big event in Seattle is the season’s first Copper River salmon, flown in from Alaska. KIRO radio’s John Curley hosted this last one, and one of the local celebrities was Seattle Seahawks place kicker John Hauschka. Curley had what he thought was a cute idea; let’s have Steven place kick a fish head! To his credit, Hauschka declined, but another volunteer stepped up — wow, look at that thing go! It’s quite a contrast with so-called primitive societies, where a hunter honored and thanked the animal that would provide his family with food. Which of these two narratives seems the most savage to you? I realize it’s impractical for each of us to hunt our own food (we’re too busy hunting for a job), and we’re unlikely to make a spiritual connection with a package of steaks from the supermarket. As far as the inhumane and deplorable conditions to which that cow was subjected, we’re either unaware or in denial.
Western civilization has a long history of disdain and even contempt for other cultures it seeks to displace, but for sheer boorishness, we Americans seem to have no equal. We built a nation on the backs of slaves, before our genocidal march to tame the West. This week is the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and black people are still looking for respect. Right now, opposing groups of white people are deciding if the term “redskins” disparages Native Americans. The word, incidentally, comes from bloody scalps needed to claim bounty for dead Indians. Yes, the white man introduced the Indians the first hair transplants. For the utmost in poor taste, there’s baseball’s Cleveland Indians and their cartoon mascot Chief Wahoo, a caricature clearly reminiscent of Little Black Sambo.
In 2007 Recapture Canyon, just North of Blanding, Utah, was closed off to motorized vehicles, as the area is rich in archaeological sites and sacred burial grounds. This last May 10th, about 200 beer-bellied bubbas had an ATV rally through the canyon, cuz they wuznt gonna be pushed around by big gubmint, by god. The previous October, also in Utah, we saw another desecration, a viral video shot by two scout masters. They were in Goblin Valley State Park, named for the 200 million year-old rock formations known as hoodoos. One of these bozos filmed the other as he heaved and toppled one of the stones, with a “Yee-Haw!” and a high five. I remind you these were scout masters, providing leadership for America’s young men, and while at a church camp out!
American foreign policy has redefined the term “cultural insensitivity.” During the first Gulf War, under President George H.W. Bush, we had thousands of troops at an air base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. To Muslims this is sacred ground, and to have U.S. personnel there drinking alcohol and watching pornography was an affront to them, to say nothing of women driving vehicles, and with their sleeves rolled up, showing their bare arms. Further illustrating our cluelessness, a few years ago the U.S. Air Force dropped hundreds of soccer balls over villages in Afghanistan, supposedly in an attempt to win hearts and minds. Upon the soccer balls was written the name Allah, in Arabic. I doubt you’d find any Muslim willing to kick the Holy Name of Allah. What the hell were we thinking, if we were thinking at all?
Do you remember when President George W. Bush went to Iraq in the mid 2000s? He was at a podium speaking, when an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at him (which he had to duck), yelling, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!” In Islamic society showing someone the soles of your shoe or throwing it at them, is the supreme gesture of disrespect. Then he threw the other shoe, which Bush had to duck again. The Seattle Mariners could really use this guy. I wonder what ever happened to him. People in the Middle East are very big on this respect thing, and we Westerners need to understand that. You can’t even draw a picture of the Prophet — blessings and peace be upon Him — without earning the death penalty. I may not respect the faith of fanatics who genitally mutilate young girls, but I can certainly respect their fierce beliefs and their commitment to their cause. They’re not afraid of anything. Well, except for girls reading books. That scares the crap out of them.
Shortly after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, a journalist said it would be “a day that lives in imagery. On May 21st the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened to the public, and President Obama spoke at the dedication (adults – $24, seniors – $18, students – $15, kids over 7 – $12). You can see video of the planes hitting the towers, hear cell calls of doomed passengers or people in the buildings, bidding farewell to their families. There are plenty of spectacular artifacts and displays. Part of the museum is the Remains Repository, where about 8000 body parts of unidentified victims are entombed. And then there’s the Gift Shop. There you can buy FDNY or NYPD T-shirts ($24.95) or baseball caps ($19.95), “United We Stand” blankets, dark hoodies emblazoned with “In Darkness We Shine Brightest!,” twin tower key chains, Osama bin Laden golf balls, refrigerator magnets, stuffed animals, mouse pads, mugs, bowls, tote bags, books and DVDs. A portion of all sales goes to blah blah blah. Many of the victims’ family members are not amused. I have never been to Dachau, Auschwitz, or any of the other Nazi death camp sites, but I imagine they are solemn places of reflection and contemplation. I’d bet there are no gift shops hawking toy ovens or licorice barbed wire, not to mention action figures of emaciated Jews.
I’ve driven or ridden all across the great American landscape, and everywhere I’ve gone I saw trash along the sides of the road. It seems to be, pardon the expression, second nature to us. In 1976 I drove through France and Italy, and on the side roads, not the tolled freeways. I don’t remember ever seeing trash by the roadside. People there wouldn’t consider treating their countryside with such disregard.
At places like Sea World you can see magnificent, noble animals like killer whales, kept prisoner and forced to perform cheap tricks for fat kids eating cotton candy. I previously alluded to the way our food animals are treated, and this is common throughout industrial nations. These animals could easily be raised on the open range, fed grass or grain, allowed to live their lives with the dignity to which they’re entitled. It would cut into profits, though, so we’d have to pay a lot more for beef. That won’t happen until enough of us care.
Our disrespect for the natural world will be our undoing. I think the problem began with that verse in Genesis, where God tells man to go forth and subdue the earth, and have dominion over the animals and fish and everything that creepeth thereon. Before being given the job of master, we should have had to prove that we could at least be stewards. That was a poor executive decision by the Creator, but we don’t have to be trapped by bad policy; we can change it. I know people have some sense of respect, otherwise they’d go to church in sweatpants and bring their dogs to funerals, and I don’t see much of that. Climate change has brought awareness of the need to relate to the world differently, as something we’re an intimate part of, rather than something for us to use. David Suzuki, host of CBC’s “The Nature of Things,” asks a question of us: when we encounter a forest, do we see a sacred grove or do we see timber? Master mythologist Joseph Campbell talked about the difference between addressing nature as ‘it’ or ‘thou.’ I haven’t gone into self-respect, a job better suited for the psychologists, but I would think there has to be a connection.
The human race is gutting the planet for its resources, so we can all ride around and enjoy our toys, and we are all complicit. This kind of disrespect comes at a high price. The bill is coming due now, and when it does, it won’t matter how much you or I may revere the environment, because we’re all going to pay — with interest.