Saturday, May 27, 2017

So...Who's the Dangerous One Again?

I have a couple of posts in the embryonic state, which I hope to develop and publish within the next few weeks.  But something happened that demands a response.  At around 4:30 yesterday afternoon, a male white supremacist began screaming racist and anti-Muslim insults at two young women on a MAX train in Portland, Oregon.  I think it was probably the same line that I often rode home from work at around that time for many weekdays over the last several years.  When some male passengers tried to calm this man down and de-escalate his behavior, he viciously attacked them with a knife, killing two of them and wounding a third.  Then he fled the train.

I wonder what was going through the accursed head of Jeremy Joseph Christian when he started his screaming and shouting, and when he began to kill.  Did he think he was being some kind of hero?  Was this his way of trying to get one last shot of narcissistic glory to compensate for a life wasted as a felon and a loser?  Some prominent politicians and community leaders have called on Donald Trump to publicly condemn the bigotry embodied in Jeremy Joseph Christian, but if I were them, I wouldn't hold my breath, because Trump, like Jeremy, is a loser and a felon who is trying to get one last shot of narcissistic glory before being thrown into an incinerator.  Trump and Jeremy, moreover, are symptoms of a larger national and ethnic narcissism which seems to have permanently taken hold of a certain sector of the American public - a sector which can easily be egged on to re-enact the myth of redemptive violence (see this also) at the slightest provocation because the enactment of this myth enables them to project the shame of their own lives onto convenient targets, even if the choosing of those targets makes no sense, as was the case with Pizzagate.  This is the sector which doesn't believe it actually exists unless it can prove its existence by terrorizing people who don't belong to it.  But it is inescapably - bit by bit - losing its ability to terrorize.  For its members, the future contains only a yawning abyss, because this sector is good for nothing.

I am a Christian and not a Muslim.  But when Muslims are actively performing deeds of reconciliation and healing in a nation and society that is being polarized and torn apart by knuckleheads for the benefit of its wealthiest members, what does that say about America as a "Christian" nation?  Only that "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Touching The Oppressor's Wound

A person who believes in a world created and ruled by an all-powerful, utterly moral Being must, sooner or later, also recognize that the world which this Being has created is moral on a very deep level.  This means that the actions - the choices - of us creatures have consequences.  The consequences are not just moral consequences, but social, relational and even physical, as declared in such succinct Scriptures as, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap," and, "The wages of sin is death."

But when a person makes such an assertion in open company, he is likely to be accused of easy, careless, useless moralizing, especially by people who argue that moral concerns are irrelevant, and that only might makes right.  "Look," they say, "we see people getting away with robbery and murder all the time, and nothing bad happens to them!  The only thing that matters in life is who has the most strength, who can wield the most force, who is cleverest."

Which side is correct?  The answer depends on the evidence a person uses to answer the question.  Over very short time scales, it often appears that those who say that might makes right are correct, for over very short time scales it appears that rich and powerful people really are able to get away with robbery and murder without suffering any penalty.  However, the picture changes in interesting ways as the time scale of study gets longer.  So we find, in books like Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, that there is a large body of evidence that confirms that people who struggle against oppression by nonviolent, non-destructive means have a much greater chance of neutralizing their oppressor than people who adopt the destructive means of their oppressors to wage conflict.  On a certain level, this is a vindication of all of the New Testament teaching of nonviolence as the means of confronting a violent society.  Let the data speak.

But what about the morality of the oppressor - and specifically, what about the morality of the oppressive actions of the oppressor?  Is it true that oppression is an evil act?  Is it also true that oppressors are evil?  That depends, I guess, on who you ask.  However, based on the Source I consult, oppression and oppressors are both evil.  (See, for instance, Isaiah 58, Ezekiel 22, Luke 16, and James 5:1-6.  You might also check out this excellent poem by Dave Barnhart.  Look at the Scripture references at the bottom.)

So if the Good Book is correct in condemning both oppressors and their oppression, I guess that means that the Scripture which says "The wages of sin is death" is being fulfilled in their case, isn't it?  I mean, we should be able to see evidence that they are reaping damaging consequences, shouldn't we?  There is indeed compelling evidence to confirm these assertions.  But you have to know where to look.  A good initial proposition or hypothesis helps in the search, and such a hypothesis can be found in Paolo Freire's book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where he describes the dehumanization that occurs in the oppressor as a result of his actions of dehumanizing those he seeks to oppress.  (You can read the first chapter of his book here.)  In other words, a person who chooses to be an oppressor damages both his victim and himself by his oppression.

What evidence do we have that this assertion is true?  The evidence can be found anecdotally concerning slave-owners in the antebellum South, of whom historian Albert Murray is reported to have said that their per capita suicide rate was much higher than that of the slaves they owned.  It can also be found in the suicide rate of soldiers and others in Nazi Germany during World War Two.

However, there is abundant modern statistical evidence to document the self-destructiveness which characterizes many classes of wielders of power in the present-day industrial world.  This is seen in the recent high suicide rates among the military personnel of certain countries.  (For instance, see this and this.)  But it is also seen in the high suicide rates among other wielders of power, such as middle managers in business.  By far, the most noticeable example of suicide among those who wield power is the suicide rate among police and corrections officers.  (One study found that most corrections officers do not live to see their 59th birthday.)  The case of corrections officers is especially interesting, given the large number of prisoner abuse cases which have been in the news over the last several years.  (See this for instance.)

But the risk of suicide is not the only damage done to those who wield power - especially physically violent, destructive power - as agents of oppression.  There is also the slow damage wrought by substance abuse and the difficulties in family relationships caused by a job which requires a person to act violently or inhumanely toward some of his fellow human beings for 40 hours a week.  People who work such jobs all too frequently find that they cannot just switch off their aggression when they come home from work.  When that aggression is released outside of its intended environment, it has consequences, as I described in an earlier post.

We see then that wielding dehumanizing power or violence against powerless people really does damage the oppressor.  How then does the oppressor become damaged by the oppression he commits against the oppressed?  What is the exact mechanism of this damage?  For, as Paolo Freire says, "As the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized."  How does this process work itself out?  For if we can create a model of the process of dehumanization, we can track the process of dehumanization as it works itself out in individual members of an oppressor occupational class.  Armed with this knowledge, we who are among the oppressed can begin to describe the process of dehumanization to our oppressors, providing the oppressors with the warning signs that show that process working itself out in our oppressors.  We now know something of the processes which disciplined nonviolent resisters activate in the agents of oppression who oppose them.  We should also work on developing a strong theoretical model of the self-destructive processes activated by the act of oppression in those who choose to oppress others.

This theoretical framework would form the basis for warning the oppressor that his oppression is killing him as well as hurting those whom he seeks to oppress.  It would be rather like the empirical observations of deaths in heavy smokers which led to the theoretical development and research which formed the foundation for the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking as a cause of death.  Such theory, backed up by research, would also be the foundation of a powerful appeal to the oppressor to give up his oppression - just as the Surgeon General's report was the basis of powerful appeals to Americans to give up smoking.  And such theory and research would serve as a foundation for making a personal connection with the secondary victims of the oppressor - such as the spouses and children who suffer domestic violence and the secondary effects of substance abuse resulting from the jobs held by the oppressors to whom they are married.