The Conscience Test

This year is shaping up to be what social theorists call a “vortex year,” when unprecedented events jolt people out of their comfort zones and denial systems.
What we have feared, what we have been warned about, is coming true. What will we do about it?

The unthinkable happened in 2005. Cities drowned. Politicians sank to new depths of depravity and corruption.

It’s frightening to see the world is unstable and not moving in the direction of utopia. It’s hard to admit that the era of cheap oil is over, that environmental disasters caused by hubris and greed are occurring with ever more frequency, and that government officials have no conscience.

Things are so crazy that an Australian woman was in danger of being executed by a firing squad, for marijuana. So crazy that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration used a “drug kingpin” investigation and an international police treaty to arrest a penniless Canadian who never sold drugs. So crazy that we see armed soldiers in helicopters attack a legal dance party in a Utah canyon, terrorizing innocent young people.

We see military hardware, poison, and soldiers used against fields of plants around the world.

We might almost comprehend why the DEA violates other country’s sovereignty to go after Pablo Escobar and cohort “kingpins” who allegedly engage in wholesale violence to maintain hard drug empires. But why is the full force of the U.S. government used against a candid cannabis seed salesman and activist like Marc Emery?

There are guys who ride big, loud motorcycles who are now in Canadian prison awaiting trial, and they are laughing at the irony of Emery’s bust. These guys were taken in after Canadian police raided their heavily-fortified clubhouses and allegedly found hard drugs, weapons, and lots of cash.

When police raided Emery, they found magazines, bongs, a few seeds, no money, no hard drugs, no drugs at all, unless you consider seeds a drug.

There are allegations that the motorcycle guys engage in cross-border illegal business. So guess who gets busted in a cross-border extradition case and faces life imprisonment? The motorcycle guys? Naaah. It’s Emery who faces the hardest prosecution and the longest prison term.

That’s why some of us feel that the U.S. government has taken on the appearance of evil Sauron from Lord of the Rings.

The White House AdministrationThe White House AdministrationSauron is a wholly malevolent entity who searches endlessly for ways to harm people, to gain power, to destroy.

When Sauron’s ever-seeking, lidless slit-eye becomes aware that someone exists, that’s the moment Sauron immediately wants to control and destroy that individual. People spend their lives hiding from Sauron’s ugly eye.

In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sauron was in a constant, sleepless quest for “the Ring,” which represents the quest for total world domination.

He was always building and using his armies, which are bloodthirsty, amoral and equipped with overwhelming firepower. His domination desires create tension, fear, and death across the world.

Is this all just a bunch of fantastical mythology, some old book and a Hollywood movie trilogy about a bunch of hobbits?

Not when you realize what it feels like for an Iraqi village to be strafed by American helicopters or bombed by depleted uranium weapons that cause lingering sickness, or what it feels like for black-suited, snarling men to batter down the door of a dying medical marijuana patient in California. Then, you recognize that Sauron is an apt representation of our modern forces of evil.

It is hard to know if many Americans understand why their country is viewed as a 21st century Sauron, and an updated Roman Empire.

In a way, it is a tremendous compliment for Americans that the world is so afraid of America. The fear comes from acknowledgement that America represents all that is noble and also all that is accursed in the human species, and that America is “the most powerful country on earth,” with the biggest military and a tendency to use that military to intervene in dozens of countries.

The USA is a mighty brand: it exports its movies, television, way of life, drug war, and value systems around the world. The USA is global headquarters and enforcement arm of the planetary corporate ultra-rich elites who control banking, energy, transportation, communications, medicine, food, water and raw materials.

America strides the earth like Sauron’s eye, broadcasting its political whims to continents far and wide, plotting assassinations of foreign leaders, invading tiny desert countries, disrupting the United Nations, trashing treaties meant to reduce land mines and global warming.

America sends black-suited, armed and armored agents to other countries, where they creep into the halls of power and infiltrate local police forces, and from there carry out a U.S. drug war on Canadian soil, Colombian soil, Peruvian soil, Jamaican soil… on all soil everywhere, these horrible U.S. drug wars rage.

America seeks to imprison so many non-violent people. It seeks to force its values and prejudices on everyone. But what is “America”?

As is frequently said in Canada: “We love Americans, it’s their government we are opposed to.”

But some suspect that the American government is in some ways inseparable from the governed. Americans live in the one country that consumes the most resources per citizen of any country on earth. They’re proud people who’ve been told all their lives that their country is the greatest on earth. They drive huge cars and pack guns, and they eat a lot. That’s the stereotype.

They’ve been told that the highest good they can do is to consume, reproduce, obey laws, pay taxes, spend lots of money, and bow down to authority.

The President of the USAThe President of the USAAmericans aren’t encouraged to feel guilty about what they do. They’re encouraged to ignore their conscience. Why ask why? Just do it, they’re told.

The newly-employed formerly liberal Seattle resident who now makes $65 an hour building weapons of war tries hard not to feel guilty about what he does for a living.

When their government illegally invades helpless countries and kills lots of innocent people, many Americans refuse to accept that the invasion and killing are wrong. Besides, war is good for the economy.

When their government spends hundreds of billions of dollars to kill and injure people in illegal wars while depriving American citizens of effective disaster relief, some shrug their shoulders.

When their government interferes with the sovereign rights, laws, and social customs of Canada by seeking to kidnap Canadian marijuana activist Marc Emery and imprison him in the U.S., some Americans see it as America’s natural right to go after anybody it wants to, regardless of borders and international law.

When their government illegally violates trade agreements, as it has done recently in disputes with Canada and NAFTA, few Americans know or care.

When their government arrests 800,000 people per year because of a “crime” involving a sacred plant, most Americans do nothing more than grumble.

They’re more upset that gas prices have gone up than that their friendly, harmless next-door neighbor was just raided and is going to jail for plant crimes.

When the president blatantly lies by saying, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” in New Orleans (even though breaches of the levees have been predicted by government officials for years), he deserves to be impeached, but where are the Congressional leaders who have the courage to start the impeachment proceedings?

Many of us in the rest of the world look at America now with a growing sense of disappointment, puzzlement and fear. We note with extreme gratitude that some Americans fight for peace, freedom and justice, but others sit back, doing nothing.

How can they tolerate their government’s incompetence and lawlessness? Why do they sit back so passively while their country deteriorates at home and wreaks havoc abroad?

In America, 800,000 people a year are arrested for marijuana. Other than the medical marijuana community and other hardcore activists valiantly fighting for freedom, most of those arrested do nothing more than enter into a plea bargain, or they nark on other people so they can get their charges reduced.

In Vancouver, Canada recently, people who have been arrested and shackled by the American government, including Marc Emery and Renee Boje, staged a public rally supporting marijuana and freedom.

Loretta NallLoretta NallIn Alabama, a mom fights bogus marijuana charges while preparing to walk across the state in her bid to become the state’s next governor. She’s Loretta Nall, prot?g? of Marc Emery.

It is so rare, and so encouraging, to hear of Nall, and courageous groups like the Rochester Cannabis Coalition, which held a concert fundraiser to benefit Emery. The Coalition is Rochester’s chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which has also been promoting support of the Canadian activist.

These brave cannabis advocates fight corrupt government and bad laws at all levels, but America certainly isn’t the only corrupt country in the world, and non-Americans who criticize Bush and the USA should also look at their own leaders and country too.

Canada’s government is crooked in many ways, in part because it cooperates too much with the American government’s agenda.

Holland’s right-wing government is gutting the country’s constitution and trying to dismantle the cannabis shop system.

Australia’s right-wing government persecutes marijuana culture while supporting the Iraq war.

Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia execute people for marijuana. The Chinese government imprisons and enslaves millions of innocent citizens.

Many African governments are run by despotic, bloodthirsty dictators.

Citizens in many countries need to throw off the yoke of oppression.

But America is held to a higher standard because it proclaims itself a beacon of hope, equality, prosperity and freedom throughout the world. Most corrupt governments do not advertise themselves as saviors of the world, but the American government does, and some Americans act like their country is the best in the world.

If you say you’re the best, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. You have to be the best. What’s “the best?” If you’re the best, your country has to bring hope, joy, peace, compassion, and healing to the world. If your country brings war, sadness and suffering, it is not “the best.”

That’s why there’s such indignant, bitter criticism when America displays criminal contempt for human rights, international law, the environment, and its own citizens.

It’s a big danger for all of us if America goes bad. America intensely affects the entire planet.

Change is only going to happen one person at a time. There are many choices to make, but perhaps the most significant choice is whether or not to confront changing reality and accept personal responsibility to make a better world.

That’s why I’ve been challenging myself to consider the following issues of conscience.

Patriotism v. Nationalism: where do you stand?Patriotism v. Nationalism: where do you stand?They’re framed in the form of questions for internal contemplation and self-dialogue. If you think about them seriously and with introspection, they’ll help you find greater understanding of your own conscience, values, and beliefs:

1. If you use marijuana, how do you feel about the fact that you can be arrested and thrown in jail for it, and that people have been injured or killed while being arrested for marijuana?

2. What does it tell you about your government’s respect for human rights and freedom that it has made you a criminal because you enjoy a plant?

3. Have you ever protested marijuana laws? If not, why?

4. If your government is involved in the arrest and prosecution of marijuana seed seller Marc Emery, what are you willing to do to end the persecution of Emery? What are you willing to do to help others who have been arrested and persecuted for marijuana?

5. Do you believe it is morally wrong to kill people who pose no threat to you? If so, what are you doing to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

6. Do you believe President Bush has committed impeachable offenses? If so, what are you doing to make sure his impeachment takes place?

7. What have you done to help victims of Hurricane Katrina? If you’ve done nothing, why?

8. Previous generations of Americans took to the streets to engage in civil disobedience to stop wars and topple corrupt governments. Are you willing to do that? If not, why?

9. What specific, personal sacrifices are you willing to make to help bring peace, equality, and justice to your world?

10. If you knew someone who had medical need for marijuana but could not afford it or had been arrested for it, would you provide marijuana to that person free of charge, perhaps by growing it yourself? If not, why?

11. Has the drug war ever made you think of giving up marijuana?

The scenes from New Orleans are among many horrific images we’ve witnessed in 2005, the vortex year.

We’re seeing too much pain, too many bullies getting away with brutality, too many babies crying.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We must build a better world, or we will all perish.