The Suffering of Humans

Posted January 12th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on The Suffering of Humans

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

So this little pile of articles sat by my side much of yesterday as I thought about what I wanted to post (trying to keep to a Tuesday/Friday schedule right now), articles about how coal plants are killing trees and other plants over a broad swath of Texas, about the rapacious scourge of rare earth mineral mining opening awful wounds in our biosphere to feed our addictions to smart phones and plasma screens, about more evidence of how fracking for natural gas is polluting rivers and streams – you know, all the bad news that piles up when your work in life is to address the impacts of industrial society and the need to live differently, and soon, if we are to keep things from truly unraveling.

You know, the stuff we reflect on here.

But I couldn’t get Tucson out of the way. I couldn’t focus because of the images that I could not get out of my mind, of dead bodies in a parking lot, of Rep. Giffords being wheeled away, her hand held by her brave volunteer staffer Daniel Hernandez, of the incredibly brave older folks who wrestled the gunman, Jared Loughner, to the ground, of the face of someone so obviously ill and how no one got him the help he needed – or that we needed to keep him from getting his hands on a gun and blowing people away.

And I couldn’t get past the insanity of the commentary, the blame and/or defensiveness focused on our ugly political discourse, and the use – and we have to just say this, I don’t care what anyone says, this is not a balanced phenomenon – of so much gun imagery and violent innuendos on the far right, the folks who believe all our freedoms can be boiled down to one – the unlimited right to have as many guns as we want with almost no constraints on who gets to have them. We want to be able to wear them to church, to legislative chambers, to concerts, and national parks.

We are a crazed, violent culture. We own more guns per capita than any country on earth. The results are chilling, as Rachel Maddow pointed out somberly on her first show after the Tucson shootings when she listed massacre after massacre at the hands of ‘unstable loners’ over the past couple of decades.

[If the video does not appear, go here.]

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Friends, this kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere. This is unique to the United States.

What is the matter with us? While political vitriol continues to be, well,  vitriolic, while many voices rightfully and passionately beg the hate-mongers, the inciters, those who make their fortunes making us afraid of one another, those who draw to the surface and then nurture racism, white rage, fear of the future, who shout out wild accusations about people who work for social justice (a favorite target of the fear-mongering Glenn Back) or President Obama (he’s a socialist who hates white people), to tone it down a little, these people seem way too often to have only one intent – to stir up an audience and make a fortune, to enjoy the sensation of power that comes with that.

But, as Leonard Pitts wrote today, this is not so much the seed or immediate cause of what happened in Tucson; rather it is the soil in which the seed was planted.

This is what I think the seeds are: a country lacking the compassion and resources to address mental illness, to deal with a young man obviously sinking into psychosis and obsessions, at just the age when brain disease so often begins to manifest itself; and the other seed – guns, the availability of guns, the gun culture, the movement that has become obsessed with guns and powerful ammunition, a movement bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association which has become such a fearsome lobbying power that almost no politician dares to stand up to it.

We write here about spirituality and ecology. Ecology is about everything, about the interconnections among all the aspects of life in which we are embedded – biological, economic, social, spiritual, cultural, political, even moral. If any one of these aspects of life is severely diminished, corrupted, dysfunctional, the other aspects will suffer.

Friends, almost nowhere are we allowed to say this right now within the larger culture, but there is a violent urge that lies deep within the American experience from the days in which Europeans first arrived here. These outbursts we know, we know, are not just the acts of loners but product of a social and cultural dysfunction. Indeed, the effort to emphatically insist that only Jared Loughner is responsible for this massacre is part of the dysfunction.

I have known people who suffered from brain disease; I have have several friends whose children, after beginning to show symptoms of mental illness, struggled with bipolarity or schizophrenia, and some lost the battle to suicide. I know how lacking the social safety net is for these families, especially if one is not wealthy, and I know how the society stigmatizes and ostracizes the mentally ill.

But are these people any more insane than those who can think up and then actually develop technology that can fly unmanned drones over Afghanistan and then, while sitting at a computer in Colorado or Florida order an attack on a village, and then, oops, we’re sorry, a bunch of civilians just got killed?!?! Is Loughner any more insane than those who torture detainees, humiliate them and then take photos of that – or those who approve of these tactics at the highest levels of government?

Is calculated torture and murder any less insane than what this guy did?

Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, the type used by Muhammad & Malvo

I lived through the experience of mass murder, this one a longer more drawn out affair. I lived in Takoma Park, Maryland, when John Muhammad and Lee Malvo went on a 3-week long shooting rampage in 2002. The year before we had suffered the 9/11 attack and then the deaths at the post office from anthrax – which was the post office in the neighborhood where I worked. For weeks after the anthrax attack, our mail came in plastic wrapping, the ink often melting the paper together from the radiation used to protect us. One of my young staffers had been in the post office when the anthrax was floating in the air and had to go on antibiotics for 45 days.

And I was at Ground Zero with my New York sister just 10 days after the attacks, and many, many days after that through 2001-2002.

Maddow is correct – there is nothing right now that indicates we will learn anything more from this than we did from all the other horrors. As long as we are a culture steeped in violence and the allurement of power at the end of a gun barrel or a missile fired on enemies, as long as we insist that the right to wear a gun on our hips at political rallies is more important than our right to be safe from violence, as long as we believe that war is more important than providing social services, care and compassion, for those most marginal and vulnerable —

well, neither will we be able to rise to the challenges of climate change or ecosystems threats or the power of corporations to waste our planet for the sake of profit, or figure out how to provide food, water, and the energy needed for life and well-being for a human community about to reach 7 billion sometime this year.

The suffering of humans is growing and the signs are not good right now that we have what we need to address it. As evidence, here is just about the most despairing post-massacre fact I have found thus far: since Loughner opened fire on all those people in front of a Safeway supermarket, sales of the weapon he used, the Glock semi-automatic pistol, and the extended clips, have skyrocketed in Arizona.

How will we deal with the suffering of humans in this society? The answer to that question will say a lot about the essential question we keep asking in this project: as the ecological crises deepen all across the planet, what kind of people will we be as we go through the crisis?

I want to end with this reflection published at Huffington Post today by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. As I read this, his description of the atmosphere in Texas at the time in which his “Uncle Jack” was assassinated sounded all-too-current. That was more than 47 years ago now. Are we better people since then?


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