What’s the price of injustice? What’s its costs to the human soul?
There is a lot of buzz in the world, from the Zimmerman trial’s 100-city rallies this weekend to Brazil’s millions-month-long protests of transportation costs and inadequate health care; from Edward Snowden’s search for asylum to the military’s intervention in Egypt to the ongoing insurgent fighting in the Sudan and the New York city council debate over Stop-and-Frisk that has made 4 million warrantless personal searches in a decade. In these times of massive scale events, little real change seems to be breaking through.
Why are we stuck? Not just politically, on budgets, rights, jobs, debt, the recovery, the environment, safety nets, and districts across the country drawn like fiefs, controlled by political overlords. Why are we stuck, inside our heads and hearts, in views and reasons that seem to accept or impose the intolerable? How did our spirits come to be divided?
Why are so many campaigns being conducted against basic freedoms, when we take a wide-angle view?
The main reason is wealth, its illusion, displacement and disenchantment—the way it historically fuses a reactionary penchant for violence into a society rather than the lazy idleness that the political bokors claim. A bokor is a leader of the zombies, one who can summon them at will—the mindless whom Marx once called the lumpen. Fanon called them “the Damned of the World,” (translated into English, “The Wretched of the Earth”).
As it does to the earth and the environment, wealth causes in society a violent dislocation and instability—we have seen the results of conquistadors and the Latin drug cartels; we have forgotten the lessons of the African slave trade, whose generation of wealth disrupted Africa and fueled the industrial revolution. America’s plantation slavery saved Sweden from bankruptcy by increasing the demand for its iron ore for hoe culture.
Real divisions created by the enormous tide of wealth—which the Koch brothers celebrated recently in ads reminding us, in America, we are still the 1% globally—the ad offered as a penitential source of pride—while utterly missing how much more grotesque that makes the contrast between “our” 1 %, their 1 %, and the rest of the world!
Real divisions of violence and conflict reside in culture; a maze of meanings, conversations and choices; the collective will and individual expressions that dial in who we are outside legislation, policy and Wall Street greed.
In politics, this culture divide is spoken of in images framed as stereotypes; straw figures offered as shrills and shells in debates over the balance sheet and safety nets. Politics cites issues and ignores real elements of the divide or exploits them. It clouds culture’s massive fissures and commonalities, and culture’s usefulness as a tactical guide.
A few decades ago, Washington, DC, the power center of the world, was a center of a fissure. It had alleys and corners along 14th and U Streets where the milling throngs were so high you could literally feel the buzz, reminiscent of China’s Boxer Rebellion.
It is a place where few recall another moment of power: the moment Mahalia Jackson stepped up to the bank of microphones before Dr. King addressed the crowd at the 1963 March on Washington, and with New York minister and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell behind her, using only the gift of her voice, sang the gospel song, “How I Got Over” to reset the emotional mood of the 250,000 gathered for the “largest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
Today Twitter explodes with expletives and racial slurs when the President’s appearance at a memorial for slain school children interrupts an NFL football game.
Culture says our behavior and values are patterned, conditioned and shaped by structures, ideas and experience, that in turn create new structures and values. It is a part of our national consciousness. Romney utterly misread it. It is an agreed silent meaning that tells us in loud voices what is acceptable, and lately we have been doing a lot of screaming at each other.
But fresh signs appear. The nation largely honored Trayvon with dignity—in contrast to the violence of his death and its injustice.
Culture is the unwritten rules at the organizing center of our collective lives, and poet Julia Fields captures the national angst, the hope missing in our times from our best and our worst:
wish you could be here
but you are nowhere near
Politics must have the moral center that culture provides. But right now too many of us celebrate a world view that contains the right to lie. And deny—to cover up the violence that goes with it. The forms of violence spread and take new forms, many legal. Against women alone: Texas, Florida, the Senate hearing rooms, the House floor, San Diego’s mayor, Mark Sanford—it’s even worse when you realize the last serious political mea culpa was made by George Wallace, who followed it by atonement—appointing more blacks to state positions than any other governor.
Mark Sanford’s “sorry” offered nothing new. He immediately pled guilty the day after winning election to multiple trespasses on his ex-wife’s property, in defiance of warnings and a court order.
A temporary employee thwarts national security. Claiming his support for openness and transparency, he flees to Russia and asks asylum from the world’s most intolerant, brutal regimes, with long legacies of killing imagined enemies and indigenous people. Guatemala’s former dictator, found guilty of genocide, his trial reopened, said the indigenous people lied.
Those who harbor the old desire of sentimental acceptance and marginality for the poor ignore the powerful challenge to America’s rich of the discipline in the Trayvon Martin protests—a challenge to privileges assigned by wealth to whites and men that also reclaims the moral center. It informs the symbolism of why, in the Texas Capitol, security confiscated tampons and not guns, and in California prisons, women are sterilized.
The sabotage of global society is a chaotic brute force executed by a strange coalition of state agents and the marginalized; it includes attempts to change the legal definition of rape and ending reproductive rights; the genocide of African villages where women are raped; the killing of schoolchildren and shoppers; of civilians and innocents.
In India and Brazil, on public transportation run by private operators, women are raped by groups of young men who see it as sport and who seldom suffer any consequences.
The Air Force Chief of Staff declares before a Senate panel that we live in a “hook up” culture, when the rates for assaults against women and men in the Air Force grotesquely exceed civilian rates. An amazing blindness to a problem that all statistics show is an military organizational problem.
An 9-year-old Academy Award-nominated actress is called a disparaging sexual name by a popular website, and social media defends it as free speech.
The leading gun lobby says the solution to school shootings and gun violence is more guns.
Two brothers decide to bomb the Boston Marathon to blame America for “killing our civilians,” and one writes a confession on the inside of a boat as he lies bleeding and wounded.
The current culture lacks a moral consciousness of critical mass. Too often now, good behavior is a way of avoiding harm. It is no longer an inner reward to feel good about. If we do the right thing, which means following a narrowly prescribed schedule of waking, talking, eating, venting, exercising with the right people, and maybe, at day’s end, our heads are not bashed in, our hearts not laden by cheesecake or hate speech, and the door is secure.
Horrible instances challenge morality. But the horrific acts of abortion that Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell performed were caught and punished under the same laws that many states now seek to overturn. More restrictive laws now use the doctor’s crimes to punish the women who were his desperate victims—and offer the same grave dangers.
Not a single recent bill, especially the ones in Texas or North Carolina, would protect the choices and safety of Dr. Gosnell’s female victims. Denying reproductive services doesn’t improve women’s health. It puts in place a political agenda of fear.
And an agenda of acceptance. The Martin case was decided on the assumption that it is okay for whites to “defend” themselves, to kill others for their own safety if they perceive a threat. The latest variation of blaming the victim. “He had a lot to do with his own death,” Juror B37 said. “He was cutting between the buildings.”
She did not know that as we push for grace, we should subdue the self-interest of our judgment.
And see the real patterns of which we must be vigilant.
Rape must become a global fight. Free speech must not be drowned out by noise and hate. Violence is global and local. Some among the marginalized will overreact and create carnage or become its victims. Those in charge will weave these elements into a narrative of fear and power.
Reject it. The price is too high.