From “Savages in the Mirror,” Paula Gunn Allen (1974)

… The Americans separated themselves from their paternal heritage [Europe], or so they 220px-paula_gunn_allenbelieved.  They removed their maternal heritage [the natural world] from sight and embarked on the expediences of treaty, fraud, murder, mass enslavement, duplicity, starvation, infection – deliberate as well as accidental – whipping, torture, and removal.  They needed land, it is said.  They were greedy, it is said.

But to my mind, neither need nor greed can explain the genocide.  Neither can explain the raging destruction of the earth.  Neither can it explain the single-minded, horrifying assault on the tribes as tribal entities, long after Indian presence was reduced to nostalgic memory, long after Indians could possibly be a military or economic threat, so long after that even today the assault continues.  What obscure drive causes this single-minded pursuit of destruction?

America, the lonely hero, sprung full-blown out of the mind of God.  The moral condition.  The righteous imperative.  Without father or mother, alone, divided, singular, driven to destroy all that speaks of cooperation, sharing, communality.  The Puritans’ own communes couldn’t last a single generation.  I am told that “thirty years is a long time for a Utopia to last.”  (In America, I silently add.  Other utopias have lasted millennia.  But they weren’t based on the idea that a single individual was more than God.)  It seems that Americans, loving loneliness best of all freedoms, die from it.  Far from all that was familiar, the colonials learned, perforce, to view alienation as rugged individualism, making it their defining virtue.  Isolation and self-referencing became “self-reliance,” providing the basic theme for American civilization for the ensuing two centuries.

The loneliness of exploration was, and is, a compelling idea for Americans.  The lone hero still wanders, determined and self-assured, however lost, across the pages of America.  Ronald Reagan in the forties and Robert Redford in the seventies flicker in their autistic heroism across the projected screens of American life.  The Great American Cowboy is cheered for his self-reliance; the most hated American is the one who accepts society’s help through a welfare allotment.  And it isn’t a matter of virtue in the Protestant sense that creates this peculiarity: It is not that taking care of oneself is a virtue.  It is that the hero is, above all things, lonely and happy in his estrangement from all bonds that bind and cling, depend and shape.  Andrew Jackson was idolized for his singular determination to let no considerations of social need or wish, of moral or legal noblesse oblige, interfere with his isolated, splendid determination.

In America, law substitutes for custom.  In America, society substitutes for love of family, comrade, village, or trice.  Walden is the self-proclaimed triumph of the isolated, superior individual.  Alone with nature, not in it.  Not of it.  One can be with it as a scholar is with a book, but as an observer, not a creative participant.

Indians are called primitive and savage not because they commit atrocities; everyone commits atrocities one way or another.  Indians are designated primitive because they place the good of the group and the good of the earth before that of the self.  Mexicans are denigrated not because they speak with an accent, not because they take siestas, not because they routed American heroes at the Alamo, not because they have what Americans want – a large share of North America – but because they think sangre is more important than reason, that la familia is more important than fame.  The community is the greatest threat to the American Individual Ethic; and it is the community that must be punished and destroyed.  Not because Americans take much conscious notice of community, but because community is what a human being must have to be human in any sense, and community is what Americans deny themselves – in the name of progress, in the name of growth.  In the name of Freedom.  In the name of the Hero.

A person can’t cherish glorious loneliness from within a community.  So, most women, as keepers of community, are also despised: Remember “Momism”?  We are a constant reminder of the lonely male’s need to belong to others so that he can belong to himself.  And it was the natural and necessary belonging of the Native American that so infuriated the Americans, so that those men who are America’s greatest heroes rose to commit mass murder of the tribes.  The difference between Native Americans and Americans, William Brandon says (The Last of the Americans), is that belonging is most important to the Indians, while belongings are most important to the Whites.  But what are belongings but a badge of isolation, a mountain clutter that walls one off from those around?  Thoreau revealed the most about himself (and his admirers) by saying that he felt that the name Walden was originally “walled in.”  He was most taken by the idea that Walden (or White) Pond had no apparent source for its water, and no outlet.  Entire unto itself.  A very moist desert dependent on nothing.  Caused by nothing.  Surrounded by smooth, regular stones.  A wall to keep its pristine clarity, its perfect isolation.  Secure.

It is not so strange that everyman-America hates and fears Communism.  The very word strikes at the root of the American way and at the heart of the American sickness: a communist is one who must depend on others.  A communist is one who must cooperate.  A communist is one who must share. …

It is not that Americans are lonely that matters here, but that Americans cherish loneliness disguised as solitude as though it were a wife.  They take her to their breasts and cleave to her with the determined clutch of catatonia.  They will not let her go.  They protect her with all the ferocious murderousness of a jealousy-crazed lover and will kill anything that threatens to tear their loneliness away.

It occurs to me that governments are instituted among men to keep them apart.  And so is capitalism.  And its fodder, money.  And so are “nuclear” families – highly mobile, of course.  And so is progress, the touchstone of corporationism, of the nation, and of every American’s life.  It occurs to me that the ‘melting pot’ never worked because it was not intended to work and that schools and other institutions are designed to teach and reinforce the principle that group experiences are painful, anti-human, demoralizing […] . Loneliness, the beloved of the American Hero, is a coiling clinging snake.  It is strangling the life out of the people, the families around us, killed by the murderous creation of our own minds.  Yet it is seductive, hypnotic in its murderous intent, because however fiercely loved, solitude is not really possible in this world, after all.

… And when the last Red Man shall have perished and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone.  In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude.  At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land.  The White Man will never be alone.  — Sealth

Why is it essential that the American be self-reliant, communityless – without a place to belong, a past to remember, a beginning in the roots of time, a heritage that would give them a meaningful place in the living circle that is life on this earth?  Americans have an overwhelming, consuming need to be different.  Do we cling to loneliness because nothing can be so peculiar as this monstrous love affair with isolation?


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