Posts Tagged ‘The System’

Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honest with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The videos from the student protests in Britain are inspiring. Of course, some will dismiss them as a minority of troublemakers. Well, thank God for the troublemakers. We live in terrifying times. The planet is burning up, species are going extinct at unprecedented levels, and the number of poor people on this planet is growing. In the wealthiest countries on the planet, the rich are crushing the poor and taking the last bits and pieces from the people.

Meaningful protest is what we need, and it is what we have needed for decades. The American people have been distracted for years by reality television, faux-scandals, false populist rhetoric on the right, the pressing bills piling above their heads, etc. etc. The American left has been relegated to the sidelines. We have meaningless stands of righteousness. We blog about how absurd the new tax deal is, how deranged the right is, how corrupt the politicians are, what liars the media are (I am aware of the irony, yes). We really show them, man! Meanwhile, the multi-national corporations are juggernauts which do not rest, and their mouthpieces are driving the folks on the right wing to new extremes.

I’m all for listening to heroes like Bernie Sanders. But we need to back him up. It’s not enough for us to know what he’s saying. The nation needs to know what he’s saying. They know by seeing, and the only way they’ll see is if we get out there and show we exist. Stewart’s rally was a farce, but it showed there are those of us still willing to show up, and that’s a start.

We on the left have been thinking (and I’m guilty of this myself) that online discussion is a sufficient replacement for activism. It is not. “I am what I do,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Writing is something, discussion is something, but to risk ourselves, to brave the cold, the jeers, the police – that is to truly stand for what we believe in, rather than sit in the warmth and wag our fingers at the naughty ones. The situation reminds me of a scene where Gandalf chastises the cynical Denethor in The Lord of the Rings:

The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?”

The exchange is one we would all do well to remember. There’s been far too many TLOR analogies in the world, but spare me one more. We are all of us responsible for our planet, we are responsible for resisting evil, and we are responsible for the deeds done in our name. We are all stewards. The task upon is not to stay home, but to go out in defense of the good, resting not.

I agree with Ian Welsh’s sentiment in this post. The situation seems all but hopeless. To leave, to preserve what we can seems our only option. The system seems intent on self-destruction. But I also have a deep fondness for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who did not flee Germany when his fellows did, but remained to protest the Nazi state, and was executed for his pains. He once wrote, “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.” And so we, whatever we call ourselves, are also called to line up our actions with our beliefs. This is the society we’ve been born into, and it was not all evil. I’ve had much happiness here, and I don’t want salvation outside it while others suffer and the leaders continue to accelerate the pillaging of the planet. We’ve had too many people flee for new futures in our history. We’ve had a perpetual frontier mentality, pushing on in search of more, rather than staying and challenging the way things are. I think it’s time to change ourselves in response to the faultlines in our history.

Charlie Strauss notes in this interesting post (the link taken from Gerry Canvan) that:

We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don’t bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.

In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.”

Maybe it’s impossible to resist. But it’s the right thing to do. How do we start a protest of this tax deal, or use the shocking information we’ve received from Wikileaks (see: Shell and Nigeria) to force our government and corporations to stop committing crimes in our name? I want to do more. How do we get started?

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I haven’t updated in a while. I’ve been working hard, but my upcoming unemployment may change the rate of posts around here. It’s hard to gather up the energy to post, though, when so many people already are doing good stuff. I could just blog links. Oh well, onwards…

This essay about Julian Assange is easily the best thing I’ve read about Wikileaks since they’ve come to my attention (I probably shouldn’t conflate Assange and Wikileaks, but so it goes). Reading Assange’s own intentions in addition to zunguzungu’s breakdown-within-the-larger-context made me more enthusiastic about Wikileaks than I already was, and I’m all about open information networks.

There’s only a few more hours left to contact the EPA about stopping mountaintop removal. Please do it.

That’s about it.

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…and then they must resign.


President Horst Köhler made some remarks last week in Afghanistan. These remarks were * remarkably * honest:

A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”

I mean, to be clear on my part, this statement comes from a worldview which is deeply and profoundly misguided, if not just outright fucked up. The Milton Friedman, growth-at-any-price-regardless-of-reality, neo-colonialism attitude is absolutely everything wrong with our world. And it’s this attitude which we’re all confronted with in life: to choose between our wants and desires to have everything, to live luxuriously, or to live in peace and in harmony with our neighbors, identifying ourselves with them rather than using them as means to our ends.

But at least he was honest about it. Better the bitter truth, so people know the true philosophy they’re up against, then lies and platitudes.

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Republicans are never right, but there is the seed of a shadow of a sliver of truth there: we do need to worry about death panels. Specifically, the U.S. Senate, and behind them the major corporate contributors, lobbyists and media pundits who refuse to acknowledge our global crisis.

Our Senators have the position of deciding who lives and dies in the world. Not just in terms of drone warplanes or watching millions go broke as they struggle to deal with a broken health care system, but in terms of their insidious, selfish, downright evil lazy greedy cowardice when it comes to dealing with global warming.

The delegate from Tuvalu (a small Pacific island nation) has reminded us how strange it is that a few men and women can decide the fate of billions and who-knows how many untold future generations.

Then there’s Bolivia, another nation who is staring at massive, frightening changes in the next few years:

A World Bank Report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people.”

I think it’s safe to say our government is failing when a handful of elected officials can hold up and obstruct the public will on every issue, including those which are in desperate need of being addressed immediately. There’s an enormous Democratic majority in Congress and the Senate. We have a Democratic president, and there’s no use blaming him for the loss of the public option or the weak stimulus or the utter lack of addressing global climate change, because he’s not in the Senate to vote on these measures. All he can do in that stage of the game is encourage and push and make his views known.  The fault lies in the fact that the U.S. Senate is a profoundly corrupt, self-interested body. Senators Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman or Blanche Lincoln or Olympia Snowe represent an incredibly tiny part of the country. The people of D.C. have no vote in the Senate at all, while the state of Wyoming has two Senators. And even with a Democratic majority, the Republicans are so enormously selfish, stupid, and greedy that they have made it their goal to defeat every piece of Democratic legislation. Even if it’s something like, oh, you know, against rape.

They are people without ethics or any interest in the public good. There are people like Joe Lieberman, who said he would support a Medicare buy-in just a few months ago, and now is threatening to filibuster if Harry Reid doesn’t bow down to His Majesty and remove it from the bill. Not out of principle or anything. Just because he is an obstructionist jackass, him and about 45 other Senators (Oh yeah, there’s some corporate Democrats in there). These people are irresponsible and immoral, and they have this terrifying power to affect the lives of every living creature on this Earth. But they don’t care, it’s an all-they-can-get buffet right now. It’s heart-breaking. All I can hope is that there’s a major initative to massively reform the Senate before things get worse here and everywere else, and that people don’t take their anger about the lack of change out on the party which is really trying to get us reform just because a few of them are rapacious wolves in (thin) disguise.

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Oh, senators. You guys would be so adorable if you weren’t such assholes. I’m talking to you, Jeff Sessions. Most politicians crack me up as self-interested ego-maniacs with no interest in the truth, but GOP Senators take it to outer space. They must not be getting enough oxygen since they lack even the smallest iota of self-reflection, awareness, wisdom, tolerance, intelligence, brains, thoughtfulness, reason, logic, comprehension, coherency… well, I could go on all day, but let’s get to the issues.

Why oh why do Senators keep talking about judicial activism? Let’s get this straight. Judges make decisions, and decisions involve values. They do not just call “balls and strikes,” as Chief Justice John Roberts once said. No, judges make decisions about the morality and justice of laws. About what is unclear, about precedents, about striking down bad laws (sometimes). Roberts himself knows this, because he himself is a flaming judicial activist. He’s just a right-wing one. As Jeffrey Toobin summed up beautifully a few weeks ago:

His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.”

So what we have here is a Chief Justice who is not at all about balls and strikes, about letting the law decide. But the truth is that being a judicial activist is not in and of itself a bad thing, and it is also hardly avoidable. First off, laws contradict each other. Second, the Constitution is not a perfect document. Third, our amendments can and do come into conflict with one another.

Sacrilege, I know. But the law is not a perfect thing. Laws are made by people, usually men. The Constitution is an imperfect work written by imperfect men. To turn it into an idol is to condemn us to the morality of a very small group of people who weren’t really all that moral. They were self-interested, and willing to allow other people to suffer in order to serve themselves: 3/5 rule, anyone? The Supreme Court itself has made lots of lousy decisions, and with Chief Justice Roberts at the helm, it continues to make rulings I find abhorrent, because Roberts and other right-wingers have different value systems than my own. Men like John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia seem to have value systems based on the narrow (and short-sighted) self-interest of wealthy, (usually) white men, and the protection of their biases and powers. So I find their judicial activism awful.

A friend of mine sent me this speech by Thurgood Marshall the other day, though, and I think including an excerpt would make my primary point clearer:

I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

For a sense of the evolving nature of the Constitution we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘We the People.” When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens. ‘We the People’ included, in the words of the Framers, ‘the whole Number of free Persons.’ On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes  at threefifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years…

…What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America’s history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue…

If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the ‘Miracle at Philadelphia”‘ will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.”

The law is a living thing. There are good laws, and bad laws. I think this means our sense of justice lies outside the law; or at least it should. Upon what that basis for morality should be is a matter of great disagreement. Without involving religion, though, I think the basic premise of human morality should still be some version of  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s actually not the height of morality, because we all do want different things. But our reach so often exceeds our grasp, and I think this is a circumstance where it’s better to accept as a root definition of justice something most people can understand.

Almost no one likes to be made the means to other people’s ends.  Almost no one wants to suffer. These are fairly universal characteristics. They imply a standard for treating people as ends in themselves, as self-conscious beings who wish to avoid pain. We also have a sense of history, of cause and effect. So while we should treat people as equally as possible, we must also seek the cause of why certain inequalities exist, and do what we can to remedy them. Eugene Robinson made this point quite succinctly the other day:

Pretending that the historical context doesn’t exist — pretending that white men haven’t enjoyed a privileged position in this society — doesn’t make that context go away. Yes, justice is supposed to be blind. But for most of our nation’s history, it hasn’t been — and women and minorities are acutely aware of how our view of justice has evolved, or been forced to evolve.”

We must also be willing to protect the innocent from those who would violate their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There are people who are predators, and institutions who are predators as well. We must keep this in mind when we talk about the law. The law can protect either the people or those who seek to make a profit at the expense of the common good. It cannot do both. One must be more important than the other.

Words are used with less and less concern for their actual meaning. That’s why corporations have ‘personhood’. Sorry, but an institution is not a person. It simply doesn’t have the same rights as a human being. This is an instance where our laws have gone berserk. I don’t think being a judicial activist is a bad thing in and of itself. I like to see people consider whether the law is good or bad, to think about the Constitution, and to think of it as a living and evolving document. I like to see judges make their decisions, though, with the idea of there being something more important than the law: human beings.

Chief Justice John Roberts isn’t as interested in human beings or their rights as much as he is interested in corporations. He’s not just interpreting the Constitution to defend that view, but he’s twisting the Constitution that way. I think breaking with the Constitution to give women and minorities the same rights as everyone else was an excellent break. That’s good judicial activism. But John Roberts is a judicial activist too. He is interested in protecting the rights of corporations to subvert laws and wreak havoc and escape consequences, and he uses the law to justify that. I think this should remind us that the law is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but it is the intent behind the law which matters.

These hearings are a joke. The hypocrisy, the smearing of Sonia Sotomayor as a racist by actual racists, the attacks on empathy as some sort of negative quality: ridiculous. What I wouldn’t give for some honesty. The GOP opposes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination because they are interested in a certain interpretation of the law which advances their own agenda; or, rather, the agenda of their financial contributors. Be honest about it. If they think corporations have the same rights as people, come out and say it. If they are worried that Sonia Sotomayor will make less conservative decisions than Roberts, say so. Be explicit that you want right-wing judges in order to advance a certain agenda, and stop hiding behind some false image of the law as an unchanging deity, and of our judiciary as its faithful, emotionless worshippers without any sort of moral or personal thoughts of their own. I wish we could get to the real argument and stop using words like ’empathy’ and ‘judicial activist’ as smears to prevent any real dialogue.

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It’s unbelievable that the banking and credit card industries get away with the things they do. Well, wait. Let me calm down. It’s actually not unbelievable at all. Our government has shown so little interest in doing their job that it’s just the way things are these days.

Citimortgage no longer allows credit cards to be used for mortgage payments.

There’s so much wrong with this. Let me swallow my anger and try to put this in a larger context.

The world is in the midst of an economic crisis (among others). America’s financial crisis is tied in to a) the deregulation of the banks b) deregulation of credit card companies c) the housing crisis, which is bound up with both of the former, and D) the health care crisis. These things have happened very predictably, as the result of a number of actions taken together.

After the New Deal, a number of wealthy Americans spent a long time figuring out how to go back to the good old days, when small numbers of people could make vasts amount of money with no oversight or thought of social responsibilities. Since the New Deal was so popular, it took some time. Milton Friedman was a voice in the wilderness  (an insane voice) of a society which had realized that government could actually do good. But he was persistent, and there were all sorts of people ready to listen to a man like Milton. Most importantly, those listeners had money and influence. It took a long time, but deregulation became a golden word.

I remember sitting in my seventh grade history class and hearing the word “deregulation.” I didn’t know what it meant, but my instructor spoke glowingly of how “deregulation” would save us all. I recall a few years later some of Maryland’s companies (PEPCO and BG&E) were deregulated. Many of our teachers told us how wonderful this was, how our parents would pay less money and it would be great for the economy, or something like that. All that regulation was “socialist”, and business was more trustworthy and efficient than government. It was very vague. I came home and asked my mother what was deregulation. She got one of those faces she gets where it seems like she accidentally ate something really vile, but really she is disgusted. I got an earful of the evils of deregulation. But my desire to not think poorly of teachers I liked, and my eternal love of being the devil’s advocate, meant I argued with her a little while. Poorly. She threw up her hands and told me to wait and see. Since my Mom is nearly always right about social issues, a large part of me expected she would, unfortunately, be proven right.

The years have passed, I’ve waited and seen. I feel pity for my poor teacher and the millions of other Americans who have trusted their politicians to work for the public interest. Why not? Some politicians once did such things, and created social security, unemployment benefits, welfare. But then there were those who are motivated by greed and power. These people used the changing social roles and structure of the 1960s to appeal to people’s base prejudices. It was very successful. They spent decades and decades chipping away at the outer bits of the New Deal, and then they came to its heart. They have blocked the good things government can do at every turn, and have undone the good things government has done in the past.

Obviously, government is neither good or bad in and of itself. It’s what government is used to do. Government can either be used to take care of all the people, or it can be used to take care of some of the people, or it can be used to protect a very few from everyone else. Over the past few decades it has been used to protect the wealthy, even from themselves (the Wall Street bailouts). Government is being used in the hands of the wealthy as a sort of class warfare: the very rich against everyone else.

There are consequences to living in a for-profit, me-first world. The consequences are catastrophic when nearly all of the elites use their money and power to enrich and protect themselves. Normal, well-meaning people like those teachers and classmates believed what the right-wingers and conservative Democrats told them. They believed deregulation was going to make things better. Now people like them are in danger of losing their homes, and Citimortgage has no desire to help them.

Let me be very clear. Paying your mortgage off with a credit card is not good. It adds to your financial debt, it is using illusory wealthy to repay a real loan. You are converting low-interest debt to high-interest debt. It is not a long-term solution.

But let me be clear about something else. We are in a unique financial crisis. Unique in the fact that common sense has flown out the door. Or, conversely, reason is being used to justify all sorts of shitty things. Of course paying off your mortgage with a credit card is not healthy financially. But you know what else is bad? Losing your home, having to go through a foreclosure. What is going to happen to a family where the breadwinner is unemployed for a few weeks or months? What if they have used up their savings, and their unemployment benefits are not enough?  What about people who have worked hard their whole lives but owe $200,000 because they sent their children to college? What about people who put their savings in 401ks because they were told that was the economically smart thing to do, and then lost everything? What about people who don’t take vacations, who buy used cars, who don’t eat out or go shopping, who do everything they can to not live beyond their means, but can’t help falling behind because the cost of living has skyrocketed over the past 30 years and real wages have not? What if, for just one or two months, they need to rely on paying off the mortgage with the credit card? Things may improve later for them, but it doesn’t matter. All the surrounding circumstances don’t matter, and they can’t count on a government bailout. No taxpayer funds for them to soften the blow, no month or two of borrowing to get by. This is because we live in a world increasingly oriented to serve the wealthy, where government and corporations feel no desire to respond to the desperate needs of others.

Citimortgage does not mention their new policy on their website, of course. You have to go to pay your mortgage with them, and find out there is no longer an option for credit card payment. You have to call them up, and their customer service people won’t know what’s going on. You have to ask to talk to a manager, and they’ll tell you it was a quiet change made two months ago without a lot of publicity. You’ll be put on hold, and no one will talk to you. They’ll ignore you, because they can.

This is happening to real people. Good people who have paid their bills their whole life, people who have worked hard and played by the rules. Unfortunately, the people at the top aren’t interested. So people will lose their homes, because in the midst of a financial crisis it’s more important to protect the banks and credit card companies than to protect the people who have nothing to fall back upon.

Companies like CitiBank , Morgan Stanley, AIG and the rest of Wall Street are responsible for this situation. Companies which are not interested in protecting people who gave them their money and trust. Companies which used their vast wealth to persuade elected officials to deregulate, to take away the burdensome laws which bound them to some meager semblance of social responsibility. Companies which are made up of people, people who don’t see anything wrong with what they are doing. People who have somehow lost all connection to social responsibility to their fellow human beings. People who hide behind their companies, who justify their actions because they only work for the System, but they are not the System. People who point to everything around them and say they can’t help it.

But they can help it. They can choose to fight those policies. Those who make these rules can choose to stop looking out only for themselves. Those who make our laws can risk the media attack machine and try to bring common decency back to our government. The rest of us, we who don’t make the laws or the rules, have to keep speaking out against such greed, to keep siding with the egg, and never the wall. It bears repeating:

Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg…

….What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor.

This is not all, though. It carries a deeper meaning. Think of it this way. Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. This is true of me, and it is true of each of you. And each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, is confronting a high, solid wall. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically….

…We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong – and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.

That is all I have to say to you.”

-Haruki Murakami

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Glenn Greenwald is a very good writer. He is responsible, thorough, and unswerving. I read him semi-regularly, but I always feel a little sad after finishing one of his essays/posts. This is because as persistent as he is in calling for justice, as often as he lays the facts out, it won’t happen, and the underlying cause of the situation will persist. On the one hand, writers like him have kept the debate about torture alive. By pressing the point he has kept vital matters from being swept under the rug. Thank God for people like him who take the time to deconstruct right-wing talking points, who endlessly research and pull facts together and present them to the public. We need many more Glenn Greenwalds.

But I do get sad, and one of his posts this week provides a very good example of why. Here is an excerpt:

The interrogation and detention regime implemented by the U.S. resulted in the deaths of over 100 detainees in U.S. custody — at least.  While some of those deaths were the result of “rogue” interrogators and agents, many were caused by the methods authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House, including extreme stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and others.  Aside from the fact that they cause immense pain, that’s one reason we’ve always considered those tactics to be ‘torture’ when used by others — because they inflict serious harm, and can even kill people.  Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we Look to the Future, not the Past — are thus literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.”

Of course they are advocating that people get away with murder. This is not surprising in the least. Take a long, hard look around. This is a society where it is perfectly acceptable that men who sit at desks and lunch at Charlie Palmer’s make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It is also perfectly acceptable that people who work 2 to 3 jobs as janitors, housekeepers, construction workers can’t make enough to pay their bills. We are okay with punishing the Bernie Madoff’s of the world, but we do not examine the system which enables and encourages people like him. We reward people who do not make things except illusory wealth, and we punish people who are vital to our system’s functioning. We rationalize their poverty and say that if they would just pull themselves up by their bootstrap, maybe some wealth will trickle down to them. We can’t have government hand-outs or socialized medicine helping these people out, after all.

We are okay, perfectly okay, with bombing and targeting civilian populations. We have been perfectly happy to overthrow democratically elected governments and install mass murderers who use torture to keep the population quiet. We are okay with jailing drug users instead of providing treatment. We are okay with global warming because we need to drive our cars to the movies right now. People go to fundamentalist churches where they learn a fetus is more sacred than a woman, where the guilty need to receive divine justice in the form of lethal injection, where countries with terrorists deserve to be bombed, and it doesn’t matter that the lives of the innocent are made miserable if they are not outright destroyed.

We are okay with this because we put ourselves first, always.

The cults of corporate “greed is good” capitalism, the “technology will save us we don’t need to change anything” faith in material progress are okay with these things. We have been taught to put out of mind that which teaches us empathy and compassion. We have been taught to focus on what is new and not what is best, and we have learned if we must ask questions at all, we should always ask “how?” and never “why?” As much as we say we deplore the things that take place in our name, we eat the same, we drive the same cars, we buy lots of oil, we need our computers, we have to have nannies, we just can’t take care of grandma so put her in a home, etc. There are some very real solutions to the problems facing us, but we don’t want to hear them. We can’t imagine having less, traveling less, doing less. We can’t imagine forming more life-long relationships in our communities, because it’s not as cool as going everywhere and seeing and buying everything. Because of that, we need material products and technologies which make that possible. In turn, there needs to be an underclass of people forced to accommodate us (but we do not call them slaves. slavery ended and people are all free now … right?), and our government has to have access to the resources which create these products and enable our lifestyles.

I won’t pretend I’m immune. I am as much a part of this as everyone. But it’s important to try to lose our illusions so we can maybe improve this situation. I do not think it’s impossible to keep many of the good aspects of our society alive; but some stuff does have to go. Which it will, whether we like it or not: it simply isn’t sustainable. A society which pays so little to the people caring for people (to caregivers, daycare workers) and the people who clean up after us, who teach us… it will have to change. A society which is more interested in building prisons than schools shows us the kind of faith we have in children. The middle-class and rich send their kids off to private schools, and the children of the poor can have their crumbling facades and ancient textbooks. We’ve set up an apartheid system of schooling in our country which basically still determines a person’s fate based on where they’re born and who are their parents.

As long as we refuse to acknowledge the underclass which lives amidst us, as long as we bomb and kill children in foreign lands and refer to them as “collateral damage”, there will be torture. As long as women do not control their bodies and are slaves to zygotes, we will be okay with punishing the living. As long as we worship wealth over work and those who have over those who do, we will continue to rationalize greed. As long as we value justice more than mercy, as long as we seek not to understand but to condemn, as long as we put ourselves before others, there will be torture. It is the logical conclusion of a mentality in which other people are not as important as one’s lifestyle. It is the outcome of not identifying with other people, of a mentality which seeks to possess and not to be. It will happen as long as other people are not important in and of themselves, but as means to our own ends.

I am not surprised at all that those who tortured and those who condoned it are going to get away with it. I’m grateful Glenn Greenwald and people like him are outraged and are still speaking out, and I hope they never stop. If there is any sort of justice, it will be because they never quit pointing out what is wrong. The Glenn Greenwald’s of the world are in the right, absolutely. But the people they are talking to just aren’t going to listen, because not-too-deep-down, they are okay with the way things are. They are okay with torture being used in the ticking time bomb scenario. They are okay with thinking only in terms of this moment, and not in terms of the past or the future. They are okay with children being crippled and murdered in Afghanistan and Iraq, because it isn’t them or their children. It’s obviously okay to love your own friends and family most in the world, but it is wrong to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, and it is wrong to justify it, and it is wrong to not call it what it is: murder. It is wrong to glorify those who kill, and it is even worse to justify and worship our leaders for making these decisions. But worst of all is this: perpetuating the disconnect between those who commit great crimes and those who created their possibility.

The most horrible crimes in our modern world have happened because it takes only one person to push a button or pull a trigger, and so all the other people involved are able to deny their own culpability. This is wrong. Those who torture and kill directly are responsible for their actions. More so are their commanders, more so the people who make the decisions to employ these strategies. Most of all, us. Those of us who elected the men and women who do these things are responsible. Yes, most of us say we do not want it. But we do not vote them out of office. We make some of them villains (and of course they usually are) so we don’t have to acknowledge our role in why they do what they do. We turn others into heroes; we think they will fix everything so we don’t have to, and we refuse to acknowledge the wrongs they do too. We keep voting for the same two parties, we keep purchasing products from the same corporations, we are tired and overworked and overwhelmed and we just want to relax for a little while. We didn’t make this situation, we too were born into it. There are injustices we hate, but we didn’t want them. We can’t all change the world.

But I can change myself. I can do whatever possible to never make other people the means to my end.

Maybe there will be reform, maybe there will be some justice, as there should be. Maybe we can avoid another Iraq for a while, maybe we can have some small efforts at global warming. Maybe we can stay off the devil for a bit longer. But it will happen again. It always will, until the day we stop asking anyone to serve us, until we decide to try to change ourselves first.

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