by Alton C. Thompson
I have a coffee cup that has pictures of wildlife on the side, but whose side is dominated by a picture of Mt. Rushmore, in South Dakota. I probably acquired the cup on a trip that my wife and I took “out west” to Oregon in the early 1970s. I often use that cup—I did this morning, in fact—and it occurred to me this morning that Mt. Rushmore itself can be perceived as s symbol—of what’s wrong with our society! (And not just our society.)
The late Native American activist Russell Means [1939 – 2012] labeled “Mount Rushmore, The Shrine of Hypocrisy. He . . . [did] not see the signors of the Declaration of Independence as his ‘Founding Fathers.’ Many Indians agree.” From Means’ standpoint, Mt. Rushmore symbolized the imperialistic orientation of white Americans, their stealing of land from the “inferior” Natives.
But Mt. Rushmore can be perceived not only as symbolizing the arrogance and rapaciousness of white Americans in their relationships with other people(s), but as symbolizing their relationship with the environment. That relationship can, for example, be characterized as one involving desecration. That is, for many Natives Mt. Rushmore was sacred, so that the carving of figures on its side amounted to desecration. (By the way, here’s the way the mountain looked before Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum did their sculpting: source.)
What’s ironic about the carving that occurred on Mt. Rushmore, is that one of the individuals whose face appears on the mountain now—Abraham Lincoln—was responsible for the worst mass hanging in United States history!
What brought about the hanging of 38 Sioux Indians in Minnesota December 26, 1862 was the failure “again” of the U.S. Government to honor it’s treaties with Indian Nations. Indians were not given the money or food set forth to them for signing a treaty to turn over more than a million acres of their land and be forced to live on a reservation.
Indian agents keep the treaty money and food that was to go to the Indians, the food was sold to White settlers, food that was given to the Indians was spoiled and not fit for a dog to eat. Indian hunting parties went off the reservation land looking for food to feed their families, one hunting group took eggs from a White settlers land and the rest is history.
Authorities in Minnesota asked President Lincoln to order the immediate execution of all 303 Indian males found guilty. Lincoln was concerned with how this would play with the Europeans, whom he was afraid were about to enter the war on the side of the South. He offered the following compromise to the politicians of Minnesota: They would pare the list of those to be hung down to 39.  In return, Lincoln promised to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. Remember, he only owed the Sioux 1.4 million for the land.
So, on December 26, 1862, the Great Emancipator ordered the largest mass execution in American History, where the guilt of those to be executed was entirely in doubt. Regardless of how Lincoln defenders seek to play this, it was nothing more than murder to obtain the land of the Santee Sioux and to appease his political cronies in Minnesota.
What an insult to Native Americans! Given, however, that:
Always balancing pragmatism with idealism, he [Lincoln] waited for a convincing enough victory [during the Civil War] to give the impression of dealing from a position of strength, which [the battle of] Antietam provided, and then issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.
That is, given that the “Great Emancipator” approached slavery from a perspective other than a moral one, why should one be surprised at his decision to execute 38 Native Americans, and then promise to “clear” Minnesota of “Indians”?!
If the sculpting on Mt. Rushmore symbolizes U. S. imperialism, along with the fact that nothing is sacred for us USans (those of us with European ancestry in particular) , that sculpting also symbolizes for many of us our general attitude toward Nature (which we typically refer to as the “environment”). For many of us USans, Nature is a mere thing, that has value to us only in utilitarian terms: We are interested in what we can derive from Nature that is useful to us, and in doing the “deriving” are not only not concerned with (a) the possibility that we are desecrating Nature, and possibly (b) destroying its esthetic value, but also (c) not concerned about possible impacts on Nature—reflected in the fact that:
Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day . It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century. 
What’s so ironic about our lack of concern for our possible impacts on Nature, including the extinctions that we are causing, is that those impacts—which became especially notable with the Industrial Revolution, and the later discovery and use of petroleum as a fuel—have been “catching up with us.” Not only did we humans—led especially by us USans—cause a trend in increase in the global mean temperature, but we have caused an increase in the number and size of storms, an increase in their severity, and an increase in variability in atmospheric conditions at any given location (more so at some locations than others, of course).
Although we have known that global warming has been occurring since Guy Callendar’s research in the late 1930s, we have not perceived that warming (and its correlates) as a problem until recently—and now it’s likely too late to halt the further “progress” of global warming.  Too few in our society recognize that even if the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation were to cease tomorrow, because (a) the “greenhouse” gases that we have introduced to the lower atmosphere will dissipate only gradually (e.g., it might take several hundred years to get back to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm), and (b) we have set in motion processes whose end cannot be foreseen,  our species is in deep trouble.
Few in our society—and elsewhere—are aware of the dangerous position we humans are in at present. As a result most in our society will continue to “fiddle while Rome burns,” and little, if anything, can be done to change that sad fact. However, even if many in our society would “wake up,” because they would tend to look to technology to solve the problem, it’s likely that they would merely exacerbate it!
- The number “38” given at the beginning of this quote is correct, as the sentence of one of the 39 referred to here was commuted.
- A highly ironic fact, given that this has been a basically “Christian” country until recently.
- I prefer the term “climate disintegration”!
- By which I mean that it is unknown what negative feedback mechanisms might “kick in” at some point—if ever.