As of May, 2003, I have decided to no longer run for this office. I am maintaining the website for several reasons, not the least of which is that the effort expended in developing the ideas was clearly worthy, and the work produced should therefore be preserved. My further reasons for no longer seeking elective office can be found in this essay - Saving America from Ourselves.
from the 2004 Presidential Campaign of Joel A. Wendt: working paper # 6
America's Growing Moral Debt
Before anyone completely looses their sense of reality, let me try to explain what I want to point to with the use of the terms: moral debt . It will help if we contrast this with the idea of moral gift .
A child receives a moral gift from the parent that raises it. A student a moral gift from the teacher that guides their learning. An employer gets one with regard to the gift of loyalty of their employees.
This is something that lies outside any accounting process - it is not quantifiable. This is all about relationships, and what it means when someone gives us a gift out of their own being. Often this gift is given freely and without thought of receiving something in return. Yet, we frequently feel a need to reciprocate. The film Pay it Forward made a wonderful play of this. One moral gift generates others.
A moral debt arises when we take from someone else what ought to become ours only through a gift.
Some people might get into ideas of karma being incurred, while others will not be bothered at all, considering that the fundamental rule is survival of the fittest. All of that is a kind of nonsense with respect to what I am trying to point out.
The social world is a world in which causes produce effects. Certainly other rules are involved, but this is not the place for philosophic inquiry. And, while all of this is complicated to be sure, it is not that complicated. The tragedy of the World Trade Center is a clear case in point. Actions produce reactions.
Some actions are very large and the consequences are equally large. The holocaust will trouble the German People for a very long time. The Catholic Church will be long in recovering from its current sexual abuse scandal.
The tendency is to want to hide from these consequences, or to deny they exist. Or even worse, to deny the acts ever happened. But we know from life that individuals redeem themselves with respect to moral debts. This then is the subject of this working paper - What are America's major moral debts, and what may we, as an aspect of our assumption of the responsibilities connected to Citizen Governance, do to redeem them.
I am going to confine myself to three major moral debts: the first is owed to the Native Peoples, from whom we basically stole this land through processes that were essentially genocidal in nature; the second is owed to the African Peoples, whom we took from their homes and used as slaves to develop our first significant quantities of material wealth; and, the third is ongoing, and is largely owed to Third World Peoples, whose wealth our corporations steal, while we live high on the hog, consuming 30% of the world's resources, while only being 4.5% of the world's People. These figures are estimates and of debatable accuracy, but their general sense of the situation is well understood - American's consume much more than their fair share of the world's resources. Understand, however, that this is only part of a true picture, for we also give a great deal away as well. One could argue, for example, that American military might, in that it has served to keep us from a nuclear world war, benefited the whole world, not just ourselves. With this last idea I just wanted to suggest how interrelated such matters are, and that one idea by itself - such as our excess consumption - doesn't really give us a whole truth.
There have been, and still are, consequences to all these acts, regardless of whether they occurred in the Past or not. Moreover, it is not the consequences that should bother us, or be the center of some kind of relief we seek. Rather the essence of our response needs to live first in acknowledging the debt and recognizing the rightness of some kind of redemptive action; and second, in understanding that this matter is quite necessary for developing the individual consciences necessary to the emerging Citizen Governance movement.
Now if you think I am preaching here, you are mistaken. These are not matters that should be of conscience, but rather these are matters already of conscience. All manner of people already feel deeply these moral debts and the need to redeem them.
In addition , this is not about guilt. Nor is it about pay back. It is about restoring balance.
If we were to find a way to live inside those who created these moral debts, we would experience another kind of awareness, an awareness that often didn't really appreciate what was at issue. I am not seeking to absolve their responsibility, but only to remind us that the world is filled with mystery, and that much happens that is not easily described with black and white moral judgments. The whole history of the world is filled with unjustifiable deeds, and we might do well to leave to higher powers the true justice that evil deserves.
What's done is done. The question is what can we learn, and how can we find a creative way into the future that takes account of these realities. I am only going to be making some suggestions, as a way of opening the dialog over how to redeem the debt in a way that honor's those from whom we stole what was, and is and will be, in no circumstances ours to take.
The Native Peoples of America had a certain spiritual relationship to Nature here. They felt no need to exploit the Earth, for they understood that Mother Earth already gave them everything that they needed. They were not owners of the land, but rather its stewards. They took care of the Earth and the Earth took care of them.
We have (that is Western Civilization) sometime in the Past lost this connection to Nature. Certainly after the arrival of natural science (if not before) the world was seen as the natural prey of mankind. It was ours to use, to have, to own, to control, to manipulate, to destroy. That we needed it to live, that in fact we were dependent upon it for our very existence (water, air, food, shelter from the extreems of the elements) - such an understanding took second place to other appetites.
But the difference runs deeper. America's Native Peoples have never had the distinction that marks Western Civilization between the sacred and the secular. For America's Original Peoples, everything was sacred. In fact, if you look at it logically, if anything is sacred, then everything must be sacred. To the extent that Western Civilization makes a separation, it becomes trapped in a logical inconsistancy.
Now a major component of Civil Society (the initial iteration of the Citizen Governance movement) is the environmental movement. It has become clear to many that our relationship to the Earth is fragile and in danger of failing. This movement is strong in America, and it should be for the Spirit of America includes the Spirit of the Indian.
The moral debt, owed America's Original Peoples, can only be dealt with by work which takes upon its shoulders that responsibility they once carried. By our usurpation of their stewardship we now inherit the relevant call. Will we hear it? Lest we think this is optional, all we have to do is really consider the problems now facing Nature, due to our interference in its normal processes. Our abuse of the Natural world is already turning around to bit us in the behind (global warming, odd changes in weeds due to miscalculation as regarding the real effects of genetically altered agricultural products), and the taking up of a relationship of stewardship is as much a necessity as any other that confronts us in this time.
The situation with the African Peoples brought here as slaves is similar in some ways, for we (in cooperation with many other powers) tore them from their homes and cultures. But the differences are important. Not only did we destroy something, we made the further act of treating certain peoples as property - we committed a crime against their humanity. Would that it ended with the end of this slavery.
Now in order to appreciate the inner nature of this moral debt it is necessary to take some historic perspective. For whatever reason, the genius of history has brought to America some proportion of all the world's Peoples. In effect, over time, America is becoming the People of Peoples. We are not really a People in any way similar to what it means to be French, or Nipponese, or Tibetian, or whatever. Something else is happening here - some kind of experiment working out of the hidden guidance of the world.
Now clearly when new peoples arrive here there has been so far all manner of conflicts, each immigrating people made to pass through a terrible rite of passage before being accepted as part of whole. For the African Peoples, this has been worse, for (on the surface at least) they have been too different. While we know this is false, that there is no real White Race as against a Black Race, it lives in our culture that this is so, and our children are raised into this terrible sense of division. Moreover, as the time advances, new Peoples come to America. It is somewhat endless this migration (for details of some aspects of the meaning, see The Plan), which has gone far beyond a slave trade, and become a strange economic necessity (consider the economic motives which currently drives the Peoples from the South - Mexico and South America - into North America).
This is then our clue to understanding what the moral debt due the African Peoples needs to call forth. The instinctive rite of passage (the processes by which new Peoples are integrated within the whole), with all its terrible effects, past and ongoing, needs to be faced. We need to work at it out of the Citizen Govenance movement, and understand that it is something much more than just "racial prejudice". We have to also understand that government itself cannot change people's hearts. This is why the renewal groups need to have, as a fundamental aspect, the principle of inclusion.
If we wait for government to heal the wounds created within us as a people, by the failed healthy integration of peoples of African descent into the Whole, nothing will happen. Moreover, the integration of differing Peoples into the Whole is a problem that will continue, until such time as we found and create a living social process which undertakes to support that on an ongoing basis. The task then facing the citizen governance movement, flowing out of the moral debt owed to African Peoples, is to evoke new social institions whose basic purpose is to see that all are welcome, all belong, and that we as the People of Peoples truly understand the gift that we are to each other.
Now let us turn to the moral debt which is ongoing - the one currently growing at an alarming rate, and which is owed to the Peoples of the Third World from whose personal resources we steal our infamous and unjust material way of life and standard of living.
Some people look at this phenomena in the abstract, as an aspect of the mal-distribution of wealth common thorughout the world. However, we could ask the question (perhaps need to ask the question): is there something deeper at work here? Let's just think about the world as it is, without evaluations for a bit.
The world has this enormous history. Each part's history is different. When modern thinkers speak of the Third World as the least developed Peoples, this is not a picture of something wrong or out of order, but rather a picture of how the world grows, in one way in one place, and in another way in another place. It is all very natural - we would be making a misjudgment to think that development ought to have occured equally everywhere. Such a thought really is not only illogical, but asleep in a kind of way to real world processes. There is nothing that suggests the world ought to exist in accord with our ideological assumptions.
From appreciating this, we can the proceed to realizing that it is natural for the material development of the world to proceed at faster rates in some places and slower rates in other places. Where the steam engine is invented will be the place where it is first fully developed. Medicines will be made available first where they are produced.
It will also help to keep in mind that material development is something quite different from cultural or spiritual development. A society with a less developed material basis may well be more developed in its cultural nature. The world is thus differentiated not only on the level of material wealth, but also in terms of historical maturity and cultural inheritance.
It is really only in the last decades that the world has truly begun to be aware of itself as a whole. The globalization of eoncomic processes has been accompanied with a growing awareness of the Peoples of the World as also a human community. Prior to this, various Peoples really felt themselves as separate. Many cultures (such as the Japanese) were quite intentionally insular. No one imagined, even in the recent past, that what was right and just in one place ought to be right and just in another.
But today, things are different. And, it is not the world that has changed, but the people themselves. The Ideal that what is right and just for one part of the world, ought to be right and just in another, this Ideal is just now emerging as an aspect of the changes going on in humanity itself, as more and more individuals become aware of our common interests. The disparities that once were quite natural and expectable (and appropriate in their original time and place) are now felt by many to be false, to be wrong.
In a certain sense, while we today easily understand that there is a grave inequity of the flow of resources belonging to local Peoples toward America, the historical arrival of this situation does not appear in such a way that we could say that the American People sought out this privileged position. Many factors played a role, few of them really connected to the conscious will of the American People. For example, all manner of corporation, American and otherwise, have made investments all over the world. In many locales, local companies have acquired local rights to various resources, and the sale of those resources was the decision of these local companies. The history of colonial expropriation of local resources goes back before even the founding of America. If we look at the whole circumstances of how the situation arose, it is very difficult to treat the situation as if the America People sought out the situation. Rather the truth is that we have discoverd ourselves within the situation. Further, it is a situation of which we are not the cause.
From this more objective understanding of the problem of the moral theft of local resources for the benefit of certain limited Peoples, we can realize that in a way it is a problem that has more to do with the cultural/spiritual side of things, than it does with the material. Yes, the disparity concerns the allocation of the world's material resources, but the essential matter concerns a kind of maturation of the moral understanding of a newly emerging world community. This world community - Civil Society, or the Citizen Governance Movement - is new. Parallel to the globalization of the economy, which itself seems to be a quite natural process at the level of material wealth, there emerges a corresponding growth in the human community that represents a similar growth in spiritual wealth.
Now this Working Paper has to do with America's Moral Debts, with trying to help the American People find a way to a new maturity, and a new way of participation as part of the world community. Currently we have the benefit of access to material resources few in the world share. The question is not just what are we going to do about this, but what example do we wish to provide other Peoples on this moral issue and other related moral issues. Everywhere America, as the emerging People of Peoples, is seen as leading the world into the future. With what cultural/spiritual qualities will we do this?