Many of you know that I spent about 20 years in public service, pretty much evenly split between firefighting and law enforcement. I’ve been debating saying something about this storm we’re in, and now I guess I will. It should go without saying that these are my thoughts, not gospel, but I’ll say it anyway.
There are definitely problems with our system. Injustice is certainly primary among them. Frankly, I see a lot of signs that lead me to believe that we’re probably not much of a democracy anymore. Our world is, in many ways, controlled by the 1% super-rich, politically motivated. Government is tacitly run by these poeple, and to a slightly lesser degree, big business in general. The buck speaks far louder than our protests. These people as a population are not at all like the rest of us. What we face every day means little or nothing to the majority of that minority. They live above law, justice, and the ills that beset the rest of the world. Even if they do good, like a Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, being a billionaire means they have no idea about what day to day living is about. They fear literally none of the things we do, simply because they never deal with them.
That said, the injustices we face are far broader than the media would have you believe, and no media facet is free of that truth, not NPR, BBC, or Al Jazira, or U.S. News & World Report. The media is absolutely, with no question, guided by the same tenet I outlined above. The buck speaks loudest. They report what pays them, in income, listeners, readers, watchers. The sooner we as a people stop listening to and depending on popular media to get a grasp on what’s happening, the sooner we can affect a solution. Media as an unbiased vehicle for the reporting of events is broken, perhaps irrevocably in its current form. It exists predominantly as a voice for the money and power behind any given perspective represented. The sooner we admit and accept that, the sooner we can start fixing things.
Our government, all three branches, legislative, judicial, and executive, is broken. It is bloated, ineffective, and out of control. Like the stock market in the summer of 1929, this government reflects only itself; it has almost nothing to do with us. The kind of people who are drawn to this form of service are not like us. Oh, there are a few good eggs, certainly. I know several who have and do serve faithfully, with the best intent, and do an admirable job; they are, unfortunately, very much a minority. Look at the blatant politics of the Federal judicial branch and tell me what you see. I see a reflection of those One Percenters I spoke of, again, with a few notable exceptions. Look at the Federal Legislative branch. About 47% of the members of both the senate and house are millionaires; is that what your neighborhood looks like? And what about the things our government does for us. Yes, Social Security and Medicaid takes a good bite out of the annual budget, and frankly, I think that’s as it should be, (call me a socialist if you like, but I prefer Agrarian Anarchist). About 1% of the annual federal budget goes to education. About 2% goes toward science and research. Infrastructural upkeep gets about 3%. Virtually all forms of non-military international aid get another 1%. On the other side of things, the military gets 19%. I also have friends serving, past and present, and that’s not at all a condemnation of the job done by folks like us. It is, however, a very telling emphasis, is it not?
Plato noted that, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” While ‘inferior’ might seem a harsh term, the ethics, morals, and general decorum we see displayed in government these days would indicate that he’s still not far off the mark. William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” That can be seen either as a derivation of the adage that the nature of the job dictates that those most qualified to serve would not, or possibly that the man knew his place in the scheme of things and chose to remain there. Would that more of our current ‘leaders’ had been so wise…
What are we to think of the latest wave of bad behaviors by cops, protestors, prosecutors, governors, and the like? The government representatives among that list are reflecting what I wrote above. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that’s a fact. The media is helping to paint all cops as murderers and psychopaths, all protestors as rabid looters, all prosecutors as crooked, and all governors as ineffective. All of that is, quite frankly, crap. Especially among the cops and the protestors, I can assure you that most are frustrated, scared, basically decent human beings. The fringes are not the whole cloth; if you hear anything I’ve written, hear that. I have friends on facebook, people I like and admire, painting all cops as sadistic killers mindlessly ruling a police state. Frankly, every single one of those folks that have posted some picture or quote or statement to that effect have just about zero idea of what actually being in such a position entails. For the record, I personally do not like what I have seen and heard about the two cops currently in the klieg lights; I don’t trust either of them, and I don’t believe them, and I don’t defend their behavior. I do not care for the management or tactics of either department either; I think they’re genuinely abhorrent. That said, none of you, not one that I have seen fomenting this rabid attack on the nature and behavior of all cops, has even a remote clue about what it is like to genuinely fight for your life. Three times in my career, an unarmed man or men went for my gun. On one occasion, a guy much bigger than me was literally picking me up off the ground by yanking on the grip of my weapon, trying to get it out of the holster; thank God for dependable retention. I did not shoot anyone in those instances, but believe me, the thought was definitely on my mind, and if I could have, I probably would have. I’d tell you that, were you in that situation, you well might have too. You people don’t seem to understand one very important truth: you pay cops and firefighters to deal with the shit that you can’t deal with. What you run from in terror, we run toward, to figure out, in the heat of the moment, what the hell is going on, and what we need to do to stop it. If you screw up at work, something bad happens; when we do, people die, sometimes for all the wrong reasons; it’s the wrong reasons that need to be addressed. The old adage that either of those jobs is 99% boredom and 1% Holy Shit is absolutely true. And after we’ve dealt with that 1% as the fallible humans we are, you endlessly dissect, critique, condemn, and castigate without a second thought. Armchair quarterbacks are always right…
So, back to those two cops; I don’t like them or trust them, but I can sure understand how things get out of hand. It’s not right, at all, but then again, neither are all the rest of us humans a fair share of the time. The system, just like our government, is badly bent, and needs straightening. If and when it does get fixed, keep in mind that you’ll still need people to do those jobs.
And then there’s the race card. I personally believe that we are all one; differences are skin deep and no more. None of that means that I don’t have biases; I do, as we all do. America has a race problem, without a doubt. It is blatant at times, sometimes subtle, but always there, and always a problem. I’m a WASP, so my forbearers stormed this country and took it by force, (you don’t need to read Gun, Germs & Steel to better understand that, but it can’t hurt). White Americans, regardless of our personal stripe, are colored with the bloody cloth of that past. There is no glib, snappy answer to solve that problem. I’ll go so far as to say that, at root cause, race issues among humans are likely not solvable. That statement is predicated on my belief that Robin Dunbar is likely correct; a hundred and some social relationships is the limit for us. Whether its Shiite versus Sunni, Dinka against Nuer, or Czechs and Bosnians, give a group of humans enough members and they’ll find a way to be at each others throats. Religion, politics, skin tone, language, food, land, anything and everything will be a bone of contention; it’s in our nature. I suppose one could infer from that synopsis that we’ve not come very far from our primal roots, and I’d say that’s absolutely true.
I’ve heard folks say this reminds them of ’64 in the south, or the Arab Spring. I personally hope that it is that kind of moment in history, because God knows we need it. I decry the events that lead us here, but sometimes, that’s what it takes to wake up a people and a nation. And since I’m on a roll, I’ll ask, where is religion in all this? In the 60s, the Protestant faiths were exactly that, protesting what was going on, an exhorting their flocks to get involved in making changes. Remember the Berrigan brothers? Where are our modern incarnations? The fact is that American religion has been through roughly two decades of a concerted attack by hard core right wing politics. Just as they did with governance, the rabid right attacked church after church, dividing and conquering, until at this point of critical need, the voice of faith is heard only dimly, a shadow of its former self.
Now the question becomes, what are we gonna do about it? Are you willing to wake up, step out of your routine, find ways to constructively and effectively change what’s broken? If not, I’ll politely invite you to clam up. If so, then right on; let’s light this candle, because it sure is past time.