Bitterroot Duo, June flowering (Lewisia rediviva) [ click photo for next . . . ]
It is from the perspective of recent Northwest
history not at all a strange idea to feature
the beautiful Bitterroot above, with the miniature
below, THE TWO FACES OF EMPIRE.
The Bitterroot, like the Camas Lily, is and was a
central icon and species of Native American culture.
They were introduced to the Lewis and Clark Corps of
Discovery by the indigenous peoples they encountered
along the way, and, of course, there native Shoshone
So we can see that, from a wider cultural perspective,
the act of "discovery" here is very relative, and is
really a kind of non-native cultural re-naming. From
the Firt Nativeon point of view, it is not hard to see
that this really a kind of cultural usurpation. I know
talented Native American botanists who to this day,
probably for this very reason, refuse to learn the Latin
names of the plants. I can sympathize. Especially
when we consider the disingenuous and contradictory nature
of the Corps of Discovery's mission. From the Native American
point of view, the collection and naming of plants can easily
be seen as part of Jefferson's more general intention
captured in the telling phrase,"To create an empire of
* * * *
There is much to explore here. The Bitterroot is a part
of my THEATER OF THE NEW project. It is the central
feature of the documentary, THE STORY OF THE BITTERROOT:
A CROSS-CULTURAL ODYSSEY OF DISCOVERY (1997)
And then, of course, there are the deeply troubling
raw metaphysical facts of the current-style American Empire
of Liberty, at work now over our entire planet. What I
call the Earthrise Path of non-violent resistance needs
to know both of these stories, both the one of the
Bitterroot above, and the one of the two faces of Empire,
Explore what I call the Earthrise Path
On the road in the American Northwest.
THE TWO FACES OF EMPIRE—
Contradictions are non-renewable
Oderint dum metuant
Sometimes, Empire puts on a happy, cheerful face as it takes what it
wants from you, all the while promising you peace and protection, and
giving you a solid silver medal stamped with a President’s image.
Other times, Empire puts on a more straight forward, mean and ugly
face which projects military power and a willingness to use it. Like the
Romans said, and the epigram above has it,“Let them hate, as long as
For those peoples who are suppressed and exploited, which face, say,
an American president puts on makes very little difference. Democrats,
for example, seem to prefer the cheerful face, whereas Republicans
evidently tend towards the mean and ugly. The real question, however,
is not the face which is used, which after all is merely a projection.
The real question is rather how much longer the violence of Empire
can continue to wear the cloak of Democracy. For this is a hybrid,
contradictory form of government if ever there were one, a form of
government which should for reasons of clarity be called exactly what
it is: Democratic Empire. Democratic Empire is contradictory because,
on the one hand, it is based on the hard-won constitutional principles
of equality, freedom and civil rights, while on the other it requires
massive forms of exploitation and economic slavery beyond its visible
boundaries to sustain itself. Democratic Empire will therefore neces-
sarily be threatened with collapse on two fronts simultaneously. There
will be the protest on the home front by citizens—especially those who
do not benefit from the spoils of empire or who feel that it is morally
unjust—demanding more open and less corrupt representative gover-
nance. At the same time, liberation struggles in the physically far away
but in terms of modern information technologies right in your living
room resource colonies will resist, as they always have, all suppression
So, regardless of which face is put on for public display, Democratic
Empire must necessarily collapse because of its contradictory nature.
It did in the Greece of Athens. It did in the Rome of Julius Caesar. It
nearly did in the Great Britain of Winston Churchill. And now, in the
North America of Mr. Obama?
Contradictions, as any naturalist knows, are non-renewable.
Contradictions, because they are in essence conflicting movements of
energy fighting against one another—can only be kept alive by massive
artificial inputs of energy from outside the system. And these in turn can
only be obtained by equally massive amounts of waste and use of force.
Not a pretty picture, not a pretty face, indeed.
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All Photographs & texts by Cliff Crego © 2011 picture-poems.com