Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Crucifying the Victims

We go to great lengths to imagine ourselves as victims, and we don't give up on that idea come hell or high water. Imagining that we are victims makes us do things we wouldn't normally do. It makes us act without compassion and without thought. We overlook injustices. We behave irrationally. There is real contradiction in our logic, too, when we describe how we are victimized and rationalize our response. Our response is to penalize and crucify the object of our scorn, both the bad and the good or innocent, anyone who fits our imagined description of bad guys. It makes us crucify true victims. For example, take some of the explanations President Bush is giving for his actions; he's on tour to promote his book, "Decision Point." His explanation for invading Iraq was "to protect America from weapons of mass destruction (WMD)" and "those Iraqi terrorists" and he makes that statement in the same paragraph where he says he was "sickened" when WMD were not found. And we know that there were no Al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq until after we invaded and opened the door for them. You would think, like Chris Mathews says, that he would now see how illogical it is to say that he "was protecting America" in the same paragraph where he admits that there was no WMD. What was he protecting America from? Imaginary weapons? Yet, he still claims that he was. The illogical logic reminds one of the definition of a psychopath; a personality disorder characterized by an abnormal lack of empathy combined with abnormally immoral conduct despite an ability to appear normal. In fact, Bush lost, or never had, the ability to step back and objectively evaluate data, or even to insist on objective data about Iraq. Actually, he never had that ability and it is because of his complete lack of compassion. He is totally self-absorbed. He was and still is incapable of seeing the destruction he caused in Iraq. I knew he totally lacked compassion and that he was totally self-absorbed when he was running for President in 1999.

Bush said, blatantly, that he ordered water-boarding, "because his lawyers said it was okay." "Use 'em," he said when he was told that extreme interrogation methods were legal. A person who has compassion and empathy for fellow humans would hesitate. He would ask the questions that need asking. He would listen to experts and military leaders, such as Colin Powell who said "it's a bad idea. It puts our troops in danger when we don't follow the Geneva Convention (that outlaws torture)." But, Bush asked no questions. He got no advice beforehand. "Use 'em," he said. "It worked," he said. What Bush doesn't know, even after the fact when more facts are known, is whether normal, less extreme interrogation techniques would have worked just as well or even better. There is evidence that normal techniques did work, and would have in all cases. Back then, there were reports from experienced interrogators, who did not agree with and did not use torture, that indicated that they got just as much, if not more, and better information by using normal techniques. But, we refused to listen to those professionals too, even though they were professionals, because we were victims and we knew better and we wanted vengeance. Here's Bush's interview with the Washington Post. It's interesting.

It is a group thing, because if we disagree with the common beliefs of our group, we would be disagreeing with our friends, neighbors and family who do agree. Everybody yelled, "Yeah! Torture the rag-heads," and we did. We follow the majority's opinion of those around us whether we would agree with the opinion or not if we were not associated with our group. Group pressure sucks us in. We're afraid to object or disagree when we're with our group. We are nice and comfortable being a victim along with our buddies. And, we tortured the innocent along with the guilty without distinction.

The same self victimization effects our ideas on almost every important issue. The other day, I listened to Ronn Owens, our local Right-Winger Talk Show Host, disparage the unemployed. He was discussing whether England's compulsory labor plan to force the unemployed to work without pay for a month would work in America. He agreed with the plan. The plan is proposed by the new conservative government that recently won in Britain's national elections. It follows the conservative idea that the unemployed are "milking the system," are in a "cycle of dependency," are "lazy" and "laggards." I hear the same thoughts expressed by conservatives in the group I associate with. An overwhelming number of callers to Owen's program expressed the same idea. "They're lazy bums!" most said, even though a few callers called to tell their own stories; in tears they explained of not being able to find a job, of how embarrassing it is getting food for their children from the local food charity and of being in despair that they are at the end of their rope. Poverty, welfare or homelessness are in their future. Even after those heart breaking stories, subsequent callers shouted, "lazy bums!" At no time did an unemployed caller say, "I'm milking the system." At no time did I hear a caller actually site evidence or a reference that proved that the unemployed are "lazy bums." Owens and all of those callers who said that are guessing; they have no evidence of it. Neither does anyone else.

It's sad that as we approach Christmas and as our economy actually needs many more people to shop this Christmas and we need much more money circulating in our communities that we have a situation in Congress where many of the unemployed will go without because our Congress believes we are victims. We would rather crucify the unemployed and innocent because of some imagined offense against us. This article, Dems Lowering Expectations for the Lame Duck Session - Blog - OpenCongress, says that since there is little "interest" for passing an extension of unemployment benefits through Congress that it will not be brought up in the lame duck session. In the time of greatest need of the unemployed and our economy, Congress is scaling back. There is a complete lack of compassion when we're a victim, real or imagined.

I suppose that there are a few unemployed who could be milking the system. But, I don't believe they would do it for long, if they do it at all, or that the overwhelming majority do. I haven't observed too many lazy people in America or, for that matter, in those other countries in the world that I've had the good fortune to visit at one time or another in my life. In fact, I've seen people do some of the lowest, filthiest, demeaning, belittling, laborious jobs that I would never think of doing myself, yet they did them; seemingly without complaint and without any display of being lazy. 

As a victim, we also are blinded to the side effects of our actions. We failed to see the uproar of world opinion when we tortured only a few. In fact, the side effect of using torture proved Osama bin Laden's point that we are a ruthless people. World opinion changed from respect for America to one questioning whether America was an imperious hegemonic country or not. Where at one time America was thought to be compassionate, we began to be seen as completely lacking compassion. We are blind to side effects of our policies at home, too, when we believe we are victims.

When I hear of the prevalent attitude against helping the unemployed, I also think of the street corner beggar, the guy trying to wash my car windshield, the guy wanting to paint my house number on my curb and the homeless. The growing homelessness is a side effect of refusing to help the unemployed. The ongoing argument in the Bay Area is whether to give the homeless cash or whether to give them in-kind services and goods; i.e., stuff. The prevailing thought is that if we give them cash, they will buy alcohol and get drunk, but if we give them services and goods; a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, they will be forced to "come back" into society using the stuff we give them. It's as if all of them, 100%, are alcoholics. Maybe most are, but we don't know how many are. And, we refuse to help them with the disease; we would rather they suffer abstinence alone. In either case, it's up to the homeless to make their own way back from despair. There is no "system" to help them come back. We do not help them learn ways to survive. We've done our part, we think, by giving them cash or stuff and we step back to see if they prove our point that they're lazy laggards and are only milking the system and victimizing us by staying homeless.

My wife and I got to know, as well as we could know, a homeless guy several years ago who, at one time, stood at the end of the 580 Center Street exit begging for handouts and later washed windshields at a gas station. I gave him a five dollar bill about every other week for a while until he no longer stood at the exit. A few months later, at my wife's suggestion - to get a windshield wash from a homeless guy, I stopped at the World Gas Station in Hayward. It was same guy that stood on the highway exit. I recognized him and, surprisingly, he recognized me.

"Hey," he said, "you gave me a five a couple of times at Center Street." he said. "I'll give you a free wash," he said. Imagine that! A homeless guy giving a free windshield wash!

I declined the "free," but accepted the wash. "My wife told me to stop here to get my windshield cleaned," I told him. He beamed at being remembered, like a kid getting a compliment; a smile from ear to ear. After I pulled into a parking space where we could talk. It was clear to me that he was not well educated and he didn't clearly understand how he became homeless or what he did that was so wrong that landed him and his family in the circumstances they were in. He had been, however, functional in society. From his ramblings, I pieced together his story. His name was Ken.

He was a carpenter who injured his hand on the job and the employer denied that the injury occurred on the job which in turn caused his workman's comp and unemployment claims to be denied. He used his meager savings for medical expenses. His union couldn't find work for him because, he claimed, word had gotten out that no employer would hire a person who filed for workman's comp. His union membership lapsed from non-payment. He was black-listed. He worked in the underground job market at odd jobs he could find for a while and then his wife lost her waitress job because of knee pain. They lost their home. He sold his carpentry tools; his livelihood. The state put his wife and kids in a homeless shelter, but the small two-room apartment the state furnished was too small for four people, so he took up sleeping where the homeless gathered in wooded areas around Castro Valley and Hayward and he visited his family daily if he could. The state, then, moved his wife and kids to another community without him knowing about it and out of his area and ability to see them. It took him weeks and miles of walking to find a state office that could tell him where they were, and even then he had to argue that he was the husband and father since he had no means of identifying himself to prove that he should be given private information about them. At the time we talked, he had been homeless for four years. The last thing, he said, was that his raggedy tent and what little belongings he had were stolen by other homeless from where he slept each night; in a small clearing beside the Castro Valley Creek. "I'm nobody," he said, in a tone that implied everything "nobody" could mean. He had nothing except for what he wore and nobody knew him. He had dropped out of every state and government system and off the edge of the Earth. I gave him ten dollars for the wash.

I saw him several more times and I gave him the phone number to Fresh Start, a charity I know about, and I offered to take him there. But, I don't believe he called them, at least at that time, and he refused my help to drive him. "Don't want to bother you that much," he said. He didn't want my help. After a while, he didn't show up at the gas station anymore. Chris learned that he worked occasionally at the Salvation Army in Hayward. She believes he had mental problems, and I don't doubt that. But, he did work and he needed much more help than my piddly ten dollars or whatever he earned from washing windows. He needed government sponsored system help.

In the midst of remembering Ken's story, I ran across this heart warming article about lending a helping hand, The Kindness of a Stranger that Still Resonates, during the Great Depression when there was no unemployment program, or any other social safety net for that matter. Back then, the unfortunate had nothing and no where to go, like Ken. All of the unemployed, 25 to 30% of the working population in those days, would have been considered lazy beggars by today's prevalent attitude. In this story, simple, anonymous kindnesses went a long way and may have been the one thing that turned the tide for those in need.

Please note that those in the story hesitated to ask and delayed asking for help as long as they could. “I waited two weeks because I didn’t want to apply for unemployment,” Mr. Macey, 25, said (in the story). “It’s embarrassing.” These are not signs, in my opinion, of people "milking the system." The story highlights the stigma attached to asking for help or charity. I don't see "lazy laggards" in this story. I see people who need systematic help. I also don't see people who need to be forced into a "compulsory labor" system just because of the imagined wrongs we believe, but can't prove, that they do to us. The "system" probably does need to be redesigned for more support, not less, to find better jobs faster as well as incentives for employers. But, in the meantime, we've got the system we've got and I don't see that the unemployed are guilty of doing us harm. They are not making us victims. Most, a huge majority, are innocent and probably trapped by an inefficient system. Why should we deny millions of that one thing, perhaps a single check, that may turn the tide for them? We haven't done enough, yet. I don't know when the time will come when we can say we've done enough. A safety net for unfortunate job loss is crucial, or else we risk having many more Kens. More Kens cost more than helping the unemployed because Ken has much more distance to come back to society and we must provide more support to help him come back. I called all of my congressional representatives a few hours ago to make unemployment a priority during the lame duck congress. I hope they pass a bill that Obama will sign to help them.

Oh well, today is a new day and we have another thing that we claim to be victims of; today the focus is on healthcare. There are 60 million, according to the radio today, more than we thought, who are uninsured. But, "kill the bill" is what we hear. It doesn't matter that the hype, exaggeration and distortion is imagined and false; the prevalent thought is that we are victims of this law. All who want to really know should check out this article and follow the links on life expectancy and infant mortality cited in the article, or look those statistics up here. Surely we can come to the same conclusion, you think? Are those who desperately need help the bad guys or is it our system that both caused their misfortune and refuses to provide support?

It's Christmas time. Time for giving. Or, is it just the thought that counts?


No comments: