Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Culture of Cruelty

A post in Integral Options Cafe alerts us to an opinion piece in Truthout, by Henry A. Giroux, called "Living in a Culture of Cruelty: Democracy as Spectacle." The second paragraph in the article attracted my interest as pertaining most directly to homelessness:
Increasingly, many individuals and groups now find themselves living in a society that measures the worth of human life in terms of cost-benefit analyzes. The central issue of life and politics is no longer about working to get ahead, but struggling simply to survive. And many groups, who are considered marginal because they are poor, unemployed, people of color, elderly or young, have not just been excluded from "the American dream," but have become utterly redundant and disposable, waste products of a society that not longer considers them of any value. How else to explain the zealousness in which social safety nets have been dismantled, the transition from welfare to workfare (offering little job training programs and no child care), and recent acrimony over health care reform's public option? What accounts for the passage of laws that criminalize the behavior of the 1.2 million homeless in the United States, often defining sleeping, sitting, soliciting, lying down or loitering in public places as a criminal offence rather than a behavior in need of compassionate good will and public assistance? Or, for that matter, the expulsions, suspensions, segregation, class discrimination and racism in the public schools as well as the more severe beatings, broken bones and damaged lives endured by young people in the juvenile justice system? Within these politics, largely fueled by market fundamentalism - one that substitutes the power of the social state with the power of the corporate state and only values wealth, money and consumers - there is a ruthless and hidden dimension of cruelty, one in which the powers of life and death are increasingly determined by punishing apparatuses, such as the criminal justice system for poor people of color and/or market forces that increasingly decide who may live and who may die.
The article on the whole sounds, perhaps, less shrill than this one paragraph plucked from it, but, shrill or not, the point is apt at focusing in on where I think American society has lost its way. [BTW, I don't know about the heightened racism claims; Sacramento probably suffers less from that than other places, or I may be, simply, unaware.]

We still greatly suffer from the George W. Bush Administration's incivilities and cruelties and its impact on culture. Also, the Obama Administration has not begun as well as most of us hoped. But for whatever reason, things certainly seem mean. There is reason to hope that the country is in recovery from snarling meanness, but, as a society, we still tolerate some mighty haters and truth twisters in the public sphere and some mightily haters and truth twisters on the local scene.

I very much agree with the sentiment from the quote above [enlarged & bolded] that homelessness is being increasingly criminalized and compassion for the homeless found lacking in many quarters. Unhappily, in Sacramento, the homeless-aid industry, partially smitten with communist utopian ideations, chooses to combat the public and stir its donation base rather than promote understanding.

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