However we want to slice it, America has a problem with predators. Sexual, financial, social, cultural. Why is that? We can dismiss it as merely the actions of a few bad men, who are inherently only that, chalk it up to destiny and misfortune. Or we can look deeper for answers. Warning, you won’t like mine.
If we look a little deeper, what do we see? America’s cruel, in strange and unthinkable ways. It is something like a religious mission, a crusade, and the only object of this pilgrimage is to purify the weak with suffering. That is the reason its institutions and norms and values punish the broken, not protect them. Mercy is the truest crime of all. So the American way is to punish those who cannot stand up for themselves, and to celebrate, aggrandize, apotheosize those who can stand sneering, smirking, grinning, above everyone else.
To apotheosize those who stand above everyone else. America elevates men who have mastered the arts of conquest into the status of gods among men and women and children. We can consider the case of a non-abuser, even a decent person, like Elon Musk, who is celebrated as a saviour for every problem America has. And yet hyperloops aren’t going to heal the sick and raise the dead. It is laughably wrong for us to apotheosize power and conquest, because then, soon enough, cruelty becomes brutality. How?
Here is what I think. America needs its predators. It celebrates their cunning and guile and heartlessness and above all, their cruelty. It supposes that all these are the price of greatness, of triumph, of accomplishment, whether in art, science, literature, film, sport. So it laughs with them, appreciates them, loves them for being brave enough to be cruel, shrewd, unscrupulous, calculated, self-absorbed-and-centred, greedy to the last penny — until, at last, too late, it turns right around and is shocked at what that very worship of cruelty has created: predators. But why would a society need its predators?
First, let’s note: all human endeavours — art, science, literature, film, and so on — are only contests in the American mind, not joint human efforts towards a deeper, nobler, more beautiful truth. They are only things to be won, with mass appeal. Hence, the celebration of Cosby and Weinstein and so on as “geniuses”, as “greats”. LOL, they’re not exactly Fritz Lang and Ingmar Bergman and Antonioni. No one is going to watch the Cosby Show or Pulp Fiction a century from now looking for profound insight into the human condition, except maybe American film blog dorks. But people will still be poring over Metropolis and the Seventh Seal and L’Avventura. So the idea that we must celebrate predators, for their guile, cunning, shrewdness, is itself a myth that fails at the merest examination. True greatness is something else entirely: not to extract the most profit from the human condition, as America thinks, but to examine it, reveal it, illuminate it.
And yet, somehow, America needs its predators more than its predators need America. Why would that be? Because those very predators prove to America it’s potency and might and genius. That it is, indeed, as special and wonderful a case of destiny and history as the myths say: a chosen people, who struggled, fought, and conquered a promised land. Now how would a chosen people be able to do that? Well, they would have to be very cunning, very sharp, very strong, very brutal. America needs its predators to prove the worth of its own myths to itself, myths of conquest and power and exception.
How else could such myths of conquest and brutality and power be proven? With gentle, kind folk? Philosopher-scientists? With Van Goghs and Leonardos? How could such people prove those myths, instead of disproving them? If one subscribes to the religion of brutality, then one needs brutes to stand atop the temples that one sacrifices virgins to.
So America needs its predators, but there is a price. The man who has been celebrated for being all these things — brutal, heartless, as remorseless as a preying mantis, as calculated as a hibernation — cannot then so easily undo what he has become. Perhaps, instead, only a man who is prone to violence is the only one who can succeed at becoming a god when cruelty is a religious crusade. America needs its predators to prove the worth of its own myths, but when one has created predators, then those predators cannot somehow be violent and brutal in only one aspect of life, and gentle and wise in another. That is like asking an alligator to become a saint.
Predators prey. And yet who gave birth to the predators? America is like a religion of brutality now, the strong, the conquerors, elevated to gods, the weak seeking absolution from even a tiny moment of their divine cruelty. Absolution: a moment of thrilling expiation, of cleansing, by the absolute. Therefore the average person looks up to predators, celebrates their brutality and cunning and power, hoping maybe some of that heavenly magic will rub off on them — until the very moment that, somehow, it’s revealed: power and cunning and brutality aren’t good, wise, beautiful things that lead human beings towards the good. We call that an epiphany in America today, and in that way Americans are now the most foolish people of all. After all, what would a reasonable person expect from celebrating brutality, cunning, conquest but violence?
Of course, we can should and all must condemn violence. In the strongest and clearest terms. It is execrable, wrong, disgraceful, and much worse. Still, condemnation is not explanation. And without explanation, condemnation is only that — a reaction, full of emotion, but impotent to prevent the causes of its own creation.
America has a predators problem. But that problem is not a virgin birth. It holds in it a human cause. America’s cruelty, laughed at now, the world over, is only really the holy book of a religion of brutality — perhaps it always was — and the gods in that religion are predators. Towards them, the pilgrims walk, chanting songs of adoration, seeking absolution in their divine grace. And yet, the sacrifices are chosen from among the congregation.