Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Reflections on violence, hopelessness and small sprouts of hope and life out of the ghettos

Sometimes, in fact more and more often, it is not the political and financial leaders who make news. It is the ordinary people, just doing their jobs who express what others may think and feel but do not have the muscle, or the street "creds" or whatever it takes to hit the mark.
Yesterday, it was a Medical Officer of a large urban hospital in Washington, Dr. Jan Orlowski, who calmly told the world, "There is something evil in our society, there is something wrong here," when we have multiple shootings in our country....I would like you to put my trauma centre out of business...We have to work together to get rid of this...This is not America...this is not Washington"...
Dr. Orlowski was briefing the media on the condition of three victims of another mass shooting at the Naval Yard and permitted herself to wander, courageously and articulately, "off script"...while the microphones were open, the recorders and cameras rolling and the world was listening.
Unfortunately, this IS America and this IS Washington today!
It is a place where people are more and more mere digits in a marketing plan, or mere digits requiring health care on a job site, or mere fodder for the production of profits, a cost and not an integral and integrated valued individual for anyone...a mere case for the academics....just another name on a list of victims in this case....for whom a few will mourn....and a nation will pause, gasp at another such massacre and wonder, "Was this another terrorist or just a madman?"
We cling to our phones or tablets hoping to be noticed, all the while wondering when the next drama will unfold to corroborate the multiple shootings that are available both on television and in video games every minute, every hour, every day for anyone twisted enough to participate.
Blurred lines between the violence (read excitement and thrills) of the manufactured evil we are fed, for profit, and for ratings and for the job creation of actors, producers, camera operators, and especially marketers, advertisers and the sale of some product or other...and "real life" has not only allowed but actually enhanced the "bleeding" of one into the other.
And in a culture where violence dominates the entertainment culture, and poverty and desperation dominates the ghetto culture, there are few escape routes from the inevitable explosion...one is professional sports, if one has talent, effective coaching and promised opportunity for scholarships or support of some kind. Another is the military, where one is driven through boot camp (to become a real man/or manly woman) and then expected to deliver on whatever orders are given by whatever commanding officer issues them. Another is the entertainment world where one is expected to audition, and audition and audition interminably while slogging it out in some meaningless service job at starvation wages, just waiting for the opportunity to get a "call-back" for another "look" to fill a slot that was originally offered to a "big name" who turned it down when offered more money and a higher billing in another production.
Another less obvious, perhaps, is the pursuit of pain medication....usually of the non-prescription kind! And that can and does often lead to the occasional and fleeting chance at a quick buck in trafficking....and a descent into the treatment centres, or perhaps incarceration and more of the same.
Athletics, the military, the entertainment world of stars or excessive illicit medication....is this the menu available to the average high school graduate caught between the lure of stardom and the  boredom of slaving for someone already rich and already jaundiced about the poor, in the richest country in the world.
When will the country wake up to the fact that wealth is not the goal of human life?
When will the country wake up to the reality that wealth is not the primary goal of a nation?
When will the country waken to the reality that it has lost both touch and care for the millions who are writhing silently under the picture of "deformity" in terms of not having even enough today, without being able even to contemplate the long-term future.
Poverty is not only an empty bank account. It is also an empty stomach, an empty larder and fridge. It is also a dark room in which to attempt the homework that is expected to be completed by tomorrow morning by some teacher in some classroom. It is also a single pair of shoes, probably with holes in the soles, a single pair of jeans and an electronic device with a "t"shirt broadcasting the name of a favourite group, or a favourite movie or star.....
In a world where violence is a daily menu of newscasts, storms are the daily menu of weathercasts, job prospects are available to the rapidly declining "top few" who are then paraded as the brightest and best of our generation...while funding is being robbed from schools and from social programs that might just provide that proverbial hand-up for those growing numbers who "need" it....and where Ellen DeGeneres, through her sponsors, offers a $25,000 scholarship from J.C.Penney to a homeless black man who has spent considerable time in a mission, looking out for his siblings as the "man of the family" because his mother has finally taken the step of seeking help for her alcohol dependency....and DeGeneres makes millions on her brand of  "reality TV" warming the hearts of millions of viewers around the English speaking world. And this story unfolds because a volunteer at the mission, herself previously homeless, saw something special about the young man and started a campaign to raise funds for his tuition to Howard University that caught the attention of some celebrities, including Ellen...and that project will lead to a foundation for homeless children to be offered a similar opportunity.
The poor and the homeless are the most promising light in an otherwise very dark culture...it is they who know their plight and who recognize a similar plight in others when they see it and believe they can "make a difference"....as compared to the historic model where the government attempts to ameliorate the gaping pain of inequality.
As Washington recedes into total dysfunction, and states go bankrupt, and cities find they have no choice but to offer real compromised solutions to real problems in the lives of real people, will the penny drop even further into the missions, and into the ghettos so that the DeGeneres show story is replicated sufficiently that those wondering if they are even known, never mind respected, wanted loved and supported can find a healthy way to exercise their talents and to form out of the twisted and gnarled and ugly concrete walls of the missions and the ghettos and the empty and condemned buildings a garden of humanity that cares for one another, that nurtures one another, that believes in one another, that rejects guns, violence and hopelessness and instead plants flowers of hope and promise and trust and compassion and peace and support and imaginative courage. Of course, it will be only a few seconds on the political agenda of some aspiring candidate to "swarm" such initiatives and taken them over as "my" pet project, as another way to market his/her candidacy.
The stories of humans feeling lost, hopeless and unnoticed (more painful than neglected) are typified in a recent story of a man who asked a postal clerk for a money order, purchased the money order and then commented, "I was raped in that transaction!" (He didn't like the fixed, non-negotiable price?)
Language of violence penetrating the normal discourse of commerce and everyday life is one more sign of the depravity and the collective dissonance we dish out in too many human (read inhuman) encounters....and violence is at its core, as are the pre-conditions of that violence in which we all are enmeshed.

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