Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When Decency Confronts Predation

Fellow blogger Stormchild recently wrote a thought-provoking post on her blog, Gale Warnings. The title of the post is “The Underground Railroad, 2010.” Her post makes a point about the role of decent people in protecting their fellow humans from the predations of the powerful. In making this point, she uses the historical events of the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War America, the hiding of Jews from their Nazi persecutors in occupied France during World War II, and her own experience of being rescued from an abusive work environment by the intervention of kind and perceptive senior managers.

Speaking of workplaces, she writes, “A band of uninformed 'nice guys' does not a decent workplace make; it takes an understanding of the psychodynamics of abuse, sufficient perception to know that manipulative and abusive individuals are plentiful in organizations, and sufficient moral courage to resist manipulations and see through efforts to 'set up' non-abusive individuals to be exploited. This is a tall order, and when it happens, it usually happens because one or two people, placed where they can have an impact, are willing to see, understand, and refuse to play.” She closes with a prayer that this nation (yes, our own U.S.A.) might begin to experience an outbreak of decency, that people might rise up who are willing to “...recognize abuse, call it what it is, and do what they can to oppose it and to support those targeted by it...”

I say “Amen” to that prayer. My focus is the larger society at this time of economic contraction, resource constraints and widespread man-made environmental damage. We are facing an historic transition, and there are preparations that should be made by as many of us as possible, to insure the survival and well-being of as many of us as possible. Yet the making of those preparations is being thwarted for most of us by a rich, powerful minority whose members seek to continue fattening themselves by making a prey of as many of the rest of us as possible. Whereas the abuse that occurs in smaller group settings is often due to complex psychological factors, the abuse that is being perpetrated on a large scale in our society is due mainly to the sociopathic greed of the rich. “Resilience” is hard to achieve when you're constantly having to defend yourself from people who want to turn you into lamb chops.

A typical and repugnant example of large-scale abuse and predation was recently posted on another blog, Shalom Bayit. The author, Ahavah Gayle, wrote a piece titled, Class Wars, followed by Return of the Robber Barons. Will the Serfs Strike Back? ,” in which she cited a news article about two towns in Kentucky whose water utility was bought by bailed-out insurance giant AIG in 2005. From 2008 onward, the utility began a program of raising water service fees to a level so high that at present, many residents are threatened with choosing between continuing to receive water versus being able to buy food. In November 2008, the utility announced that it was raising water rates by 51 percent, in an attempt to collect an additional $750,000 from a customer base of 8000 persons. By the way, Kentucky is not a rich state, and the residents of these towns are poor in comparison to the rest of Kentucky.

Such predations as these are taking place with ever-increasing frequency all across America. Yet there is very little visible outrage, as most people still seem to be hypnotized by television and deluded by the “American Dream” that promises that just about anyone can get rich – and by Gum, everyone should want to! If there was a genuine outbreak of decency in this country, what would it look like?

For one, it might look like people suddenly becoming willing to inconvenience themselves and link arms with each other in order to stop supporting predatory systems run by predatory masters. If I lived in one of those Kentucky towns whose water service decided to raise its rates to crushing levels, I'd be motivated to get together with my neighbors to create a safe, workable alternative to the water and sewer service. I'd save what cash I could, and use it to buy things like multiple copies of the Humanure Handbook. I'd invite people over to my house and we'd form study groups to learn how to compost our own waste and re-use graywater. I'd form a “rain barrel club,” and we'd be buying, refurbishing, scrounging or making rain barrels like nobody's business. I'd do my best to create an activist community of decent people whose “refusal to play” was able to bring down the strategies of those wanting to make a prey out of them. And it would be work, and it would be inconvenient, but in the end it would be worth it.

There are many systems, many providers of consumer “stuff,” many wealthy captains of commerce who by their sociopathic predation show that they deserve to be boycotted. But righteous boycotts almost always involve some inconvenience, because the targets of these boycotts have done so much to make themselves all-pervasive and seemingly indispensable to modern life. The more you turn your back on these providers and the goods they provide, the harder you will have to work to create alternatives for yourself. A point comes when you can't do it all alone; you need to rely on neighbors and friends, and they need to be able to rely on you, in order to create sustaining alternatives to the things that must be boycotted. I think of the black boycott of the bus service in Montgomery, Alabama, one of the hottest conflicts of the American Civil Rights movement. There is also the boycott of British goods instituted by Gandhi during India's struggle for independence from Britain.

May there be indeed such an outbreak of decency in this country that huge numbers of us turn our back on the predators who now dictate our course, and that we learn to oppose their predations. Let us not be lulled by false promises of ease or convenience into a continued silent support of these predators, a refusal to rock the boat, a default into just “going with the flow.” And may there be many who rise up to defend poor, abused people from their abusers – whether that abuse is relational, societal, political or economic.

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