Sunday, August 31, 2014

Strung Out On Anodyne

The United States is a selectively forgetful nation, thanks to the mainstream media in this country. We are trained to remember everything that reinforces apple-pie patriotism, while any news that challenges the notion that America is the greatest nation on earth is quickly buried.

So it is that many American media outlets have begun to forget Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager who was shot to death by a white cop in the town of Ferguson, Missouri. (Just as we've been made to forget our ongoing problems with mass shootings in this country, and the implications for American society.) I have to confess that I am a bit amazed by the speed with which Mr. Brown's story was replaced with stories about germs on keyboards, a rehash of the last moments of the RMS Titanic, the saga of Michael Sam, and a list of freaky things that happen to ordinary people, such as “8 year old girl saved by adoring pit bull.”

Fortunately, Mr. Brown's story isn't entirely buried. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued a condemnation of the shooting of Michael Brown and a call to the United States to eliminate ongoing racism and discrimination in this country. The committee also called attention to the pernicious effect of “stand-your-ground” laws in this country, and the continued inequitable enforcement of the law by police departments which remain largely white. But that's not front-page news today at, or the New York Times, or USA Today, and certainly not at the Wall Street Journal, which was eaten a few years ago by Rupert Murdoch, a bigoted rich Australian who applied for US citizenship in the 1980's so that he could consolidate his ownership of American media. And Michael Brown certainly didn't make it onto the cover of People Magazine and other magazines like it, which have indeed at times chosen to publish stories about ordinary Americans caught in extraordinary circumstances. I guess he didn't have the potential star power of Elizabeth Smart.

Forgetfulness can be dangerous. As can be the refusal to think through the implications of a thing. When the town of Ferguson erupted in unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown, the doofus mayor of Ferguson declared that “We don't have a race problem here.” That statement is an example of willful blindness. And as Margaret Heffernan stated in her book titled Willful Blindness, problems that are ignored only become worse. The problem in the United States is that for a very long time, the members of one dominant culture have subjugated, oppressed, exploited and in many cases murdered other peoples both in the United States and abroad, simply on the basis that the skin of those other peoples was not white. The privileged people of the U.S. did so in order to secure all the benefits, both material and psychological, of being at the top of a heap. Such behavior has unintended consequences, even though the consequences may seem to be a long time in coming. Eventually the heap comes down, due in part to the consequences of the actions of the people who built the heap in the first place.

Consider the “Stand Your Ground” laws, the latest outgrowth of the rabid devotion to “2nd Amendment Rights” on the part of many Republicans and white supremacists. A Wikipedia article states that, according to many researchers, the effect of those laws was “...a significant increase in homicide and injury of whites, especially white males.” (Emphasis mine.) Consider also something I wrote in an earlier post, namely, what happens when a large, dominant group scapegoats another smaller and weaker group. Eventually, if the scapegoating is cruel enough, the smaller group is eradicated or removes itself from the scene – but the dysfunction which led to its scapegoating continues to exist within the larger group. There must always be a scapegoat in such groups. Therefore, a fight ensues to see who gets to create a new heap, and who will be at the top of it. The losers get to occupy the place of “poor trash.” Some of the newly-minted trash will be quite surprised at the change of identity bestowed on them by their newly-minted masters. With that change of identity will come the deprivation of civil rights and the denial of due process, along with pervasive, yet subtle discrimination based on the place of one's birth, one's income level or the last names of one's parents. All these things have happened before – even in seemingly homogeneous societies.

But all this assumes that the builders of the heap are allowed to continue sitting at its top. Those who comprise the lower levels of the heap might just decide one day to tear the heap down. That sort of thing has also happened before. A nation can't unrestrainedly exploit its natural resource base without reaching a point of diminishing, then negative returns. Neither can it exploit other peoples without the same thing happening.  So if you're not in a forgetful mood, here's something to think about: first, how, in the midst of diminishing resources, to create a society (or a social circle) in which resources are shared equitably and people are valued equally.

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