Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Something Gone Wrong
With disasters like the recent quake and tsunamis in Southern Asia, we stop to ponder again those eternally unanswerable questions such as, Why did this happen? Then we come up with various answers, each of us trying to make sense of such a destructive world because the destruction doesn’t seem right, doesn’t seem natural. There’s a collective sense of: Something has gone wrong. Something has departed from how it ought to be. More than the disasters—natural or man-made—I try to focus on that nearly universal, innate sense we have of people and the world running on basic fairness and justice. Of wanting to bring things back into justice and fairness, into a more natural balance when they depart from that. Where does this strong, intuitive sense of direction come from? From something inside us that is not-wrong, something good?
I visited Tamil Nadu once, the southern Indian state where much of the devastation occurred. Right now, just writing this, I can internally see scenes from there. A busy market and a cheerful young man selling mangoes while I struggled with the bit of Hindi I knew (too dumb to realize that what he spoke was Tamil). Tiny temples with doors flung wide open onto the lazy street, the priests in white dhotis ringing bells and pouring milk over Durga or Lakshmi or Shiva—any of the gods and goddesses that personify a myriad of human and divine aspects. The gray-haired woman walking with a woven basket, thin brown breasts drooping nearly to the waist, her simple sari yellowing with age but very clean. The children everywhere, sleeping next to a mother selling marigolds, children laughing, running, playing, watching silently.
There is an order here, a community, human ties and aspirations, dreams and heartbreaks—all of the things you can find anywhere in the world.
And then, in my mind, the wave comes. I don’t need to turn on the TV to see it, to feel it, to grieve.
The grief passes over me like a wave and then recedes. None of us can take in so much devastation, so much human wreckage. But as time goes on and the bodies mount and the wailings rise, a silence also builds. And that silence grows and grows until it becomes an anger, a fury in me.
You see, I was waiting for our president, the president of the largest, richest nation on earth, to respond—for the sake of appearances if nothing else motivated him—with more than a perfunctory nod of trite words and a call for other nations to come forward with aid. I could picture him being pressed upon to leave his heavily gated and ostentatious Christmas celebration for a brief statement, and then retiring back to that celebration without a second thought. I do believe from all that I have seen and heard of him over the years that he reassured himself that this disaster was God’s will, something that could never happen to him or his because he was “favored.” I do believe that he has no empathy at all for people who are not like himself—not white or English-speaking or born into wealth. I do believe that he doesn’t even have the faintest glimpse of his own hypocrisies or shallowness. And I have much sad reason to believe that too many U.S. citizens share this attitude.
We yell to the high heavens about 3,000 dead on 9/11, one of the worst calamities in history supposedly. But we don’t bother to even discuss as a nation the hundred thousand Iraqi civilians we have collectively killed, whose innocent blood is on our collective hands. Our attention and our resources are turned toward oil, profits, invasions and self-righteousness. We are too busy with “important” matters to be much bothered by the deaths of Iraqis or Asians, or the total devastation and despair of the survivors.
Many, many other countries are responding much more readily and genuinely to the recent disaster than we are. We seem to have lost a sense of “mission” as a nation to work cooperatively with others toward a common good. We seem to have forgotten that the world is one place and we are only a small part in it. We seem, to me, supremely arrogant. I believe this is in part because that arrogant attitude has been continuously displayed in our leadership and so that attitude has been normalized, naturalized across the country. But I do not believe that approach to life is normal or natural to the vast majority of people.
There are things that human beings can control and things that we cannot control. But if we do not hold ourselves responsible, accountable, for what we can control, that seems to me to be the far graver reality of: Something has gone wrong. Something has departed from how it ought to be.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Is God Sexist?
The dollar is falling, minimum wage still stagnates at $5.15 an hour, health insurance costs rose 25% in the last year, we invaded a country where its citizens refuse to give up their resources and self-government and will fight us endlessly. A hundred thousand civilians have died there as well as over 1,300 U.S. soldiers. Many others have been maimed (30,000 sent back to the U.S. with disabilities), a draft looks increasingly plausible, more jobs are being shipped overseas, average salaries are being drastically lowered, and we haven’t had such a small middle-class since the census began after World War II.
But don’t despair. Halleluiah, our political administration is Christian. George Bush is the instrument of God’s will, and we are watching it unfold. You see, God loves embryos and wants more of them; that's why s/he arranged to put Bush back into the White House. However, other circumstances strongly indicate that God is not as concerned about actual human beings, and seems to have it in for women and children in particular. Check it out... Single mothers and their young children comprise the largest poverty population, and funding for all their social programs is being radically stripped by God's henchmen. The money is rapidly disappearing for battered women shelters, homeless shelters, schooling, daycare and job training for single mothers, food for children and their unemployed mothers, Headstart, social workers, drug rehab, health care ... Well, it’s actually a good thing that battered women won’t have places to go anymore because that might lead to divorce and we know God hates divorce almost as much as s/he hates embryo killers. And if a poor child has a disease that takes money to treat, well, isn’t it really God’s mysterious will that the child has the disease and no health care?
God also has been having a real issue about too much information going on in our educational system, but St. George and his disciples have been taking care of that problem. It turns out that we do have enough federal money to pay impoverished school districts to teach mandatory “abstinence” classes that forbid discussing contraception and frequently teach such “facts” as: touching a person’s genitals can lead to pregnancy; half of gay male teens have HIV; and abortion can lead to sterility and suicide. You see, lies are OK if they serve a higher truth: these “facts” scare teens into not having sex. Or at least, that’s the hypothesis; all the studies actually show that this approach is only increasing teen pregnancy rates. But God did like our country better before 1936, when even doctors couldn’t give out birth control information; that was forbidden under federal “obscenity” laws. Women knew their place back then. And St. George intends to correct those mistakes of long ago.
St. George also got another gold star from God for recently signing into law the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA). This gives anyone in health care, or even corporations giving health insurance to its employees, the right to—at any whim—not even give women basic information about their options with unwanted pregnancies. Now legally, anyone can withhold information for personal religious reasons—or just to save a company money in women’s health care. (Kind of like the companies that pay for men’s Viagra but refuse to pay for women’s birth control pills.) Now if only God would tell St. George to enact the KNDA—the Killing Non-Discrimination Act. You know, the one where citizens can have a choice as to whether they want to participate in killing Iraqis or not.