suffering

Ferguson, O’ Ferguson

Reading time – 87 seconds  .  .  .

“They’re just protesting and rioting so that they can loot the stores and vandalize other people’s property.” That’s what the woman said to the radio talk show host about the people in the streets of Ferguson, MO. My reply is a double, “Huh?”

If I understand her correctly, she is saying that thousands of people are in the streets protesting so that a few people can loot stores, vandalize property and shoot guns. If that were true, it would be an astonishing coordination of activities – far too astonishing to be true. Yes, some people are looting and vandalizing, yet there has been very little of that, considering the depth of the rage and sorrow that blankets that community. Suggesting that looting is the purpose of the demonstrations and protests requires a willful self-blinding to the suffering of others, this on an epic level.

Nearly all the people in the streets are there not just because Michael Brown appears to have been murdered by an angry cop, but because Brown is just the latest black male to be killed in a string of violence visited upon people of color by “the authorities” – the ones who are supposed to protect all of us from violence. Brutality like that goes back hundreds of years in America. There are too many dead kids who were treated as guilty until proven innocent and then given a trial and sentencing by Judge Service Revolver. There have been too many anguished mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Whatever Michael Brown was, he did not deserve a hail of bullets as his hands were raised in surrender.

So, that lady who called the talk show is probably wrong in her assumption of why people are in the streets of Ferguson, MO. But why would she make such a huge leap beyond good sense? That is the second part of the double “Huh?”

We human beings have a natural fear of those who are different from us. It’s a tribal instinct born of the ancient, existential imperative to survive. Back then those who were known were presumably safe, while those who were unknown seemed different and might have been lethal to us. That was a valuable attitude 20,000 years ago. It’s not as valuable today, amidst the conglomeration of people in our urban and suburban settings.

Every one of us is uncomfortable with not knowing, so we make up stories to fill in the blanks. If you pay attention, you’ll find yourself doing it multiple times a day. The corollary to that is that when we are anxious, the stories we make up are always negative. And it is only a small, self-protective leap from not knowing someone to wild assumptions about them.

Apply that to caller lady and you might get this knee-jerk progression:

– Those people are rocking the stability of my world and that makes me feel anxious.

– They don’t live in my neighborhood and they look different from me. In fact, they look like a lot of the perps I see in mug shots on the evening news. I’m afraid of them.

– I don’t know why all those people are in the street but they look angry and scary.

– Some of them are looting and vandalizing.

– They’re probably all crooks and they’re protesting so that they can loot stores and vandalize other people’s property.

It takes just a few short steps to jump from anxious near-ignorance to the comfort of “knowing” crazy stuff. Worse, in doing so there is no need to stretch ourselves and find compassion for people in pain.

Ferguson, o’ Ferguson, I hurt for you and for all the Fergusons with different names but with the same torment. I even hurt for caller lady and her self-imposed tribal limitations that keep her small and extend the hate in America. But, honestly, not much.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Who Cares About Buffalo?

Reading time – 75 seconds  .  .  .

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine:

– that you live in Buffalo, NY;

– that a militant group in Toronto was firing rockets into Buffalo;

– that the rockets and other war materiel were stored and launched from the homes of civilians, from hospitals and from schools in Toronto;

– that the Canadian authorities did nothing to stop the militants;

– that the militants had dug tunnels that ended in Buffalo and they were murdering Buffalo residents from the exits of those tunnels (ignore the geological impossibility of this thought experiment tunnel);

– that the militants were committed only to the destruction of Buffalo, NY and driving its citizens into Lake Erie;

– that the militant group refused to discuss its grievances or to negotiate for any non-violent solution;

– that the entire world community was indifferent to all of that/

As a citizen of Buffalo living with a rain of rockets that kill your people every day, what would you do? You would do exactly what the Israelis are doing now as they endure the conditions listed above. You would do whatever is necessary to stop the murdering of your people. Yet none of that is what we’re shown by the world media in today’s coverage of the Middle-East conflict.

The sensation-seeking world press is playing into the hands of the Hamas murderers, who seek to become the world’s greatest victims, as the reportering media seek ever more gruesome pictures to tweak us into subscribing to its offerings. We are shown images of dead and maimed Gazans, children and women, tragedies every one. And none of those deaths had to happen.

We are not shown Hamas militants encouraging or ordering people to stay where they are, living with rockets ready to be fired from their midst, but that’s what happens. They are told to stay even after the Israelis have dropped pamphlets from airplanes and sent text messages warning the people to leave because an attack to destroy Hamas rockets is coming. The children and the women – all the non-combatants – die because they weren’t allowed to leave – and because they allowed Hamas to dig tunnels into Israel from their houses and to store rockets in their schools. And we are shown interviews of people complaining about their deaths and the brutality of the Israelis.

We never feel or hear of the terror that visits the people of Hebron and Tel Aviv, as they repeatedly get alerts to incoming Hamas rockets and have 15 seconds to find shelter. And we don’t know what it feels like to live with the knowledge of the imminent violence of over 2,700 rockets already fired at Israeli civilians and 8,000 more awaiting a Hamas militant to light still more fuses because that image doesn’t sell TV advertising. We don’t know what it’s like to live just a few miles from Islamic terrorists who are dedicated solely to killing us, because the world press has largely ignored this truth for decades.

So grieve for the wailing mothers and ailing children, of course. But don’t imagine for a second that their pain stands in isolation or that it was necessary. The world should be careful about condemnation of Israel as its government seeks to protect its citizens. They are doing what you would do if this were happening in Buffalo.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Meals and Deals

You’re sitting at a window table of a delightful restaurant with a companion who is both interesting and interested and the conversation is engaging.  Your waiter brings your food and drink at just the right times and everything is delicious and so satisfying that you don’t even notice your growing sense of contentment.  Your belly is full and all is right in your world.

You glance to your right through the window and notice a man looking into the restaurant.  His clothes are in poor condition, he has a plastic bag slung over his shoulder and his back is hunched as he peers through the glass.  He looks hungry, but that is something that is difficult for you to understand, because you are anything but hungry.  Indeed, empathy – feeling what another person feels – is very difficult when you are feeling the opposite and it’s almost impossible to imagine a homeless person’s feeling of hunger in that moment when you have just completed your meal.

So it is for the 1%-ers and their political pawns.  Their lives are working quite well, they are more than content and, hard as some might try, there is not even a remote chance that they can feel what the members of a family feel as Mom and Dad lose their jobs, one because of a plant closure and the other to a layoff because business is depressed.  It’s impossible for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to have even a remote understanding of the powerful feelings of the members of that family as they lose their house to foreclosure.

And when Mom and Dad join the local Occupy march, it is so easy for the 1%-ers and their political pawns to dismiss them as rabble, as lazy people and to blame them for their circumstances.  According to Herman Cain, if Mom and Dad aren’t employed or rich it’s their own fault.

But here’s the thing: Mom and Dad played by the rules.  They stayed in school and got an education.  They got jobs and worked hard, paid their taxes, coached their kids’ soccer teams and went to their holiday pageants.  They followed the American playbook, page by page, doing the right things and doing things right.  And now they have lost everything and are wondering what happened to the dream they were promised.

The answer, of course, is that it was stolen from them by the big money interests who purchased their way into power and influence and who then rigged the game.  They changed the playbook and didn’t tell anyone that they were gambling with the welfare of the entire world.  They didn’t care about consequences because they would get their payday whether their bets paid off or lost, since all the rest of us would bail them out of their failed bets.  They were confident of that bailout because they had a gun to the head of every one of us.

So much has crashed and burned and so many millions of people are suffering that it is a wonder that their cries aren’t heard.  Yet what is happening instead is as predictable as the tides.  Those 1%-ers and their political pawns aren’t even able to hear the cries of hunger of the millions because the rich have always just finished that metaphorical meal.  Furthermore, they don’t want their world challenged or changed because it works so well for them, so they have their local muscle brutalize demonstrators, as though tear gas, nightsticks and rubber bullets might somehow make the challenge to the rich go away.

But they won’t.  Swatting at symptoms never makes the root cause disappear.

The root cause is an unanswered human need for fairness.  Until the game gets un-rigged and the promises kept there will be people in the streets and nearly everywhere else with the simmering anger of having played by the rules and in return gotten screwed.

There are consequences to treating people that way.  1%-ers and political pawns beware: You may not like what’s coming.  Just know that you set it up to happen this way, whether you’re simply unable or, worse, callously unwilling to understand the hunger of the people.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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