“Homeless.” “Bum.” “Drug addict.” “Black male.” “Ex con.” “Gang member.” “Drunk.”
As the gap grows between the very few who control most of the wealth and the rest of us, I’m afraid I see far too much of what I think of as the “crabs scrambling to get out of the pot” syndrome (officially, the CSTGOOP Disorder—it will probably find its way into official lexicon in the near future). I see an increasing number of scared and angry people yearning for the “Good Ol’ Days” as they dash to align themselves with the powerbrokers serving the wealthy, desperate to believe they have a status of safety and superiority in this world. One of the places this plays out is in state and federal government.
If we start with the premise that it is the wealthy who drive the economy, if “successful businessman” is now The Job Creator, then government’s role is to serve business. If we then direct collective resources to support those interests, we will have insufficient resources when it comes to things like education, infrastructure, and social welfare. And we will not find political leadership talking about the common welfare or government’s role or responsibility when it comes to people struggling in poverty. But how does an elected official too far aligned with the interests of the wealthy stand up and announce, “I’m compassionate!” in the face of actions like denying access to health care for thousands? There are several moves that can be made: show a softer side (“In my church I…”); talk about supporting our veterans and all the men and women in uniform; dehumanize the poor. Of course I am not attacking anyone who attends church, and there are a ton of reasons why we should support our enlisted men and women and their families. But there is pretty much no defense for dehumanizing people in poverty. Many people draw lines separating society with phrases like “able bodied” (message? ”They” could work for a living but they’re lazy and irresponsible) or by talking about people “from away.” A news story showing one stupid couple buying and then emptying bottles of water using their EBT card to get the petty cash from the deposits shouldn’t trump 20 single mothers working hard but not making the six o’clock news. Why can’t we assume the best rather than light up and yell about the worst? How narrowly do we want to define community? It is factually in our own interests to see the consequences of our own actions, even with events halfway around the world. Saber rattling may help to get someone elected to Congress, but whose responsibility is it when a child living in poverty in Pakistan witnesses a U.S. drone strike that fills his mother and sister with shrapnel, is orphaned and grows up to be a 17-year-old lost and angry young man with a bomb in a knapsack and his hand on the switch? Is it only the radical cleric? Can we at least try to connect these very complex dots?
This country’s military has a history of dehumanizing the enemy to help our soldiers be able to kill human beings. “Redskins.” “The yellow man.” “Japs.” “Slopes.” “Gooks.” “Towelheads.” And now we’re doing similar things domestically as elected officials and talking heads work to deny even reasonable conversations about issues like hunger, poverty and racism. It’s resulting in national dysfunction, a sort of collective mental illness. Kind of hard to deny a young woman with 3 children, one of whom is disabled, a less than modest sense of security that continuing TANF benefits would bring. Better to paint her picture as an abuser of welfare. Pretty convenient to let a delusional, paranoid man not get a qualifying descriptor that would bring some support to his life simply because he is so ill he won’t go to a provider for the evaluation that would confirm a diagnosis. And Jimmy O is seen as a scary looking black guy, and no one looks hard enough with a compassionate eye and sees that Jimmy endured terribly painful suffering after being used by us to hunt terrorists. The world is not a set of simple, convenient labels—and we are connected by what we say, and what we do. Astronauts have been powerfully affected by looking back at earth from space—some have called this “the overview effect.” Through that, one sees things known but not experienced—that we are in fact interconnected, that we are one system.
“Homeless.” Mother. Son. Brother. Sister. Human Being.