Fireside Chat on the Open Veins of the Americas
16 August 2015
Good Evening, Friends.
Earlier this year, a man named Eduardo Galeano was laid to rest in Montevideo, a city almost 5,000 miles from where this message is being recorded. Galeano is said to have repudiated his most famous work, The Open Veins of Latin America, only last year – not because of its core message, but because he was embarrassed by the writing style of his younger self.
It seems that Galeano, in his old age, had come to regret the insolence of his youth. The heavy-handedness and bombastic language of the younger Galeano disturbed the peace and the bowels of the older, wiser man.
But there is a wisdom of youth that is oft-discounted by the old & grey. See, to me, as a young man, a semi-conscious torrent of ferocious passion is infinitely more in keeping with the way of the Universe, and so is of greater wisdom, than the plodding self-effacement of a mortally wounded spirit in retreat. What has become overmellow with reason; what is hollowed out and filled up with self-doubt; what rejects action in favor of endless debate and criticism and critique ad nauseam; must be seen for what it is: the lackluster expressions of a tired, fading soul.
This is not to dishonor Galeano. To the contrary, what I mean is to vindicate the man as he was at my age, when in 1971 he wrote Las Venas Abiertas. The author opens his book by speaking of “those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throats of the Indian civilizations.”
Certainly his language was florid & colorful, his tone harsh & severe – but was he incorrect? Is there truly a soul alive who cannot see a pattern of greed and corruption and exploitation in the history of Latin America? Or in the Western Hemisphere as a whole? It seems to me that the history of the New World is a continuation of the Old; that we have seen the rapaciousness of civilization on a grander scale than any in history. If I might use my own colorful & severe language: We have seen the Grey World of Man devour the Ancient Wilderness of the Americas.
And at what cost? During my Pilgrimage to the Mojave Desert, I passed through the plains of Oklahoma. I saw a sign reading “Tecumseh.” It’s strange, but before that moment I suppose I never really comprehended the magnitude of the tragedy that befell the Amerindians. But there, looking over the plains & hills that were once Indian territory, I saw houses & trucks, paved roads & fences. And I finally understood what it meant for the Amerindian to lose his land, to be forced out, gunned out, crowded out, cheated out of his land by a horde of foreign invaders.
And what have we done with that land? And what have we accomplished as a race since forcing out another race from their home? Have we flourished as gods? Or have we simply been content to fester, to breed, to coagulate, to live simply & without purpose? Our fathers believed in Manifest Destiny & conquered; and here we swarm like maggots, without any purpose beyond the day.
This may not be the most uplifting of my Fireside Chats – but there are certain questions we have been loath to ask ourselves, whether as Americans or as human beings. Is this land our land? And if so, what is the meaning of the land? Is it nothing more than something to be exploited and used as we see fit, like maggots feasting on a bison’s carcass? Or is our land something sacred, something to be worshiped, glorified, and preserved? Have we lived in this gorgeous landscape with purpose and with dignity? Or have we settled in the dirt, content with allowing the corporations and the politicians to destroy this land for profit?
These are important questions. And if we cannot look to the past with clear eyes, our future will remain uncertain. We must acknowledge the sins of our past; but we must not allow guilt to cripple us. We must live in the present to ensure a better future; but we must allow the past to inform the present. We must study the mistakes of our youth, yes; but we must cherish & encourage the strength of the young.
My Fellow Americans, we must look into the mirror with searching eyes. For without a brutal self-examination, we cannot move forward with confidence.