[Author’s Note to Establish Context: I composed this on 11/24/06, the day after Thanksgiving]
. . . Look at yourself instead of looking at me. With accusation in your eyes. Do you want me crucified for my profanity?
. . . Tell me the truth and I’ll admit to my guilt if you’ll try to understand. But is that blood that’s on your hand from your democracy?”
-- Ozzy Osbourne,
“You’re no Different,” 1983
Bow your heads and drop to your knees, brothers and sisters! Feel the power of the Holy Dollar coursing through your being as you humbly offer your prayers, exaltations and gratitude to Mighty Mammon!
Lay the perpetual argument to rest. There is no separation of church and state.
It is indisputable that the United States is one nation, under God. Our nation worships the unholy trinity of the Dollar, Acquisitiveness, and Opulence with the fanaticism of the Inquisitors.
‘Tis (officially) the season to be greedy.
Yesterday, most of us initiated the “Holidays” by performing the annual rite of gratitude. Millions gave thanks for living in a nation that has become obscenely corpulent by suckling at the teats of genocide, slavery, and imperialism.
Sandburg once christened Chicago “hog butcher for the world”. Accounting for a mere 5% of the world’s population while gluttonously devouring a quarter of the world’s resources easily qualifies the United States as “hog to the world”.
And meanwhile . . .
According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year. (1)
While millions of children are starving to death, we in the United States grapple with afflictions born of over-indulgence. Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions as we wantonly indulge our edacity. As a result, the United States is facing an alarming rise in cases of Type-2 diabetes and a significant decline in life expectancy. (2)
What collective behavior better symbolizes our gluttony than Thanksgiving? Gorging ourselves to the point of nausea (while millions were grappling with starvation) yielded at least one humane result yesterday. We relieved 265 million Earth-bound avian creatures of their misery. (3) How rewarding to recognize the “good” that came from our disgusting act of over-indulgence.
The Sandman Cometh
As we slept off the ill effects of our swinish binge, visions of sugar plums, MP3’s, PS3’s, Hummers, Escalades and all manner of goodies gamboled about in our dreams, fueling our lust for more, more, more… and as the new day dawned, tens of millions of true believers arose with renewed spirits, ready to adhere to the edicts of the high priests of Capitalism.
Into the Maelstrom
Embracing the delusion of individualism in the midst of life’s undeniable web of interdependence, the unwavering disciples charged into the fray to avoid the unthinkably tragic fate of dying without having the most toys.
With the wild-eyed desperation of meth addicts pursuing their next fix, obedient consumers joined the hordes of shoppers assailing malls like Vikings plundering unsuspecting coastal villages. Armed with credit card spending limits exceeding their annual salaries, the loyal foot-soldiers buttressing the economic tyranny of US fascism stampeded to indenture themselves to Visa.
Corporate retailers reveled in the glory of the “biggest shopping day of the year”.
Acts of Heresy
Delivering an invective that would awaken the most comatose conscience, the Grinch once admonished us of our dereliction of even a semblance of temperance:
That's what it's all about, isn't it? That's what it's always been about. Gifts, gifts... gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts. You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I'm saying? In your garbage. I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump. And the avarice... The avarice never ends!
Yet his poignant reminder of our moral bankruptcy fell largely on ears deafened by the overwhelming din of Madison Avenue’s powerfully alluring appeals to our greed and narcissism.
While abstractions like Seuss’s Grinch had already penetrated the briery thicket of deeply inculcated narcissism densely entwined around my social conscience, my commitment to dwelling in a spiritual realm approaching the antithesis of our indoctrination reached new heights this Thanksgiving.
One way I have found to exercise my values and beliefs is to donate my time, energy and money to homeless shelters. And Thanksgiving 2006 was my first opportunity to serve meals to indigent human beings. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Kansas City Rescue Mission for the allowing me to participate.
Real People, Real Suffering
At one point in my evening at the Mission, I had the distinct honor of breaking bread with human beings who were engaged in an epic struggle to avoid drowning in a sea of wretchedness.
I met a black man named David. His face bore deep scars of an unknown origin. Adorned in dirty, disheveled clothing, David obviously hadn’t had the “luxury” of a shower, hot meal, or bed in awhile. I quickly concluded that life had brutalized David. Looking defeated, and perhaps tired of living, he spoke softly with his eyes cast downward. David had a gentle nature about him. And he was surprisingly articulate as he quietly informed me that his day had not gone quite as well as he would have liked. Apparently, David is a master of the understatement.
Seated to David’s right was William. In stark contrast to David’s morose countenance, William’s face beamed with an inexplicable radiance. Sparkling like polished gemstones, his eyes captivated me. Clean-shaven and dressed in unsoiled casual business attire, he could easily have passed for a shelter employee or another volunteer. Yet when he spoke, his voice was even more subdued than David’s. And his halting speech and child-like observations suggested that William was socially, emotionally, or intellectually challenged in some way.
I smiled and chatted with them. Small talk about things like the weather and football. They seemed more intent on eating than talking, for obvious reasons. I offered to get bring them more food. William accepted, but David declined. As the meal ended, I shook their hands, thanked them for the privilege of eating with them, and wished them well in their struggle. I wanted to embrace them and tell them that everything was going to be all right very soon. But social taboos and my deep reluctance to lie prevented me from doing so.
Later, I worked in the kitchen. My task on the “assembly line” was to ladle heaping portions of sliced potatoes onto each plate. A capable, authoritative figure named Marx directed us volunteers as we strived to satisfy the onslaught of hungry people. Based on his appearance, demeanor, and role in the kitchen, I assumed he worked for the shelter.
However, I eventually discovered that Marx was newly enrolled in the Mission’s program. He told me that meant that he had become a Mission resident who was on a path to long-term sobriety and reintegration into society. As I left that evening I confided in him that I had hit rock bottom thirteen years ago. I told him how much I wished for his success.
In all we served over 130 individuals that night. The Kansas City Rescue Mission is a men’s shelter, but some of the men had brought female companions along for the Thanksgiving meal.
Exhausted, yet feeling fulfilled, I spoke to as many Mission clients as I could once the meal was served. Some acted shy, a few were a bit surly or even hostile, but most of them appeared genuinely happy that another human being took a moment to acknowledge them with kindness and respect. Their responses affirmed the Mission coordinator’s observation that most homeless human beings have become conditioned to being “invisible” in our society and sorely ache for the fulfillment of basic human social needs like recognition, dignity, and compassion.
[The United States is a “classless society”? Tell that to our homeless people… Human beings who share much in common with India’s Dalits or Untouchables]
In retrospect, I realize I could have done more to buoy their spirits. I neglected to remind them of some incredibly hopeful aspects of the United States, including:
our robust economy
the invisible hand
of the “free market” that would lift them out of their economic despair
Yet I can console myself with the virtual certainty that they will learn of such pleasant fictions through at least one of the MSM’s many vehicles for delivering its opiate-like agitprop to the masses.
As I returned to my modest apartment to share the rest of the evening with my family, my eyes welled with tears. An overwhelming feeling of anguish threw me into a brief period of mental torpor. A tsunami of empathy flooded me with despondence. Intense memories of the hells of addiction, unmanaged bipolar disorder, self-hatred, homelessness, loneliness, hopelessness, and despair forced their way to the forefront of my conscious mind. Less than fifteen years ago I too had teetered on the edge of the abyss.
Through prolonged perseverance, and by the grace of the Higher Power of my understanding, I had managed to reclaim my soul, my mind, my family, my dignity, and my humanity. And now my challenge is to toil onward in my spiritual journey. Contemplating the trials people like David and William would endure as they pursued a similar course, and mourning the ones who would fall short, I felt a profound wave of despair wash over me.
As I ate my belated dinner, the turkey and pumpkin pie that typically delight my palate might as well have been sand. Contradicting years of conditioning, I felt my excitement over the Chiefs evaporate as quickly as dry ice on a scorching summer afternoon. I watched the game with a dearth of enthusiasm. As the television blitzkrieged my psyche with visual and auditory paeans to riches and consumption, my indifference toward acquiring unnecessary material possessions metamorphosed into repulsion. My passion and commitment to social justice and human rights redoubled.
In short, my spirit took a further evolutionary step last night. And for that precious blessing, I am deeply indebted to a group of human beings whom we have tossed aside like sacks of fetid garbage.
Like it or not, they are human . . .
Viewing our homeless as fundamentally flawed in some way eradicates a scathing indictment of the sacred tenets of Capitalism, relieves guilt, and quells fears of sharing a similar fate.
But these are human beings who are no different than me. Or than you.
Which brings me to Ozzy Osbourne’s apt rhetorical question. “Where do I belong in a sick society?”
Sick indeed. The social, political, and economic systems of the United States (and its mimics, like India) inflict untold suffering on innumerable human beings. Aside from condemning billions in developing countries to lives of abject poverty via its neoliberal economic exploitation, the most prosperous (and reputedly most benevolent) nation in history leaves an unconscionable number of its own to wallow in economic despair.
Bearing in mind the nearly boundless resources of the United States, consider the following:
Accomplishing a logic-defying feat, the wealthiest nation in the world has “attained” the highest rate of homelessness amongst developed countries. 3.5 million human beings experience homelessness each year in the United States. Almost a million are homeless every night.
In the most heavily militarized nation in the history of the human race, 30% of its homeless men are military veterans. What happened to “support the troops”? Obviously once military personnel return home, the slogan changes to “good riddance to bad rubbish.”
What was that about a sick society?
While a complex network of power elites in an array of industries, corporations, government entities, the media, and think tanks bear the brunt of the responsibility for our malevolence, we cannot evade our complicity in buttressing the institutions that sustain our criminal class. This group is no intangible Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Many of the principle culprits are readily identifiable. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove, the Walton clan (which collectively still owns 38% of Wal-Mart’s stock), William Kristol, Henry Kissinger, and a host of others are guilty of the direct (or in some cases indirect) infliction of human misery on par with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il. And we have collectively enabled the twin evils of fascism and imperialism by deifying money.
Motivating large numbers to take the radical step of divorcing themselves from the worship of material prosperity appears to be a nearly unattainable goal. At least until many more people have experienced significant pain.
Yet those of us intent on evoking drastic changes in the prevailing paradigm are not impotent sans mass participation. Like the forces of wind and water erosion, the steady action of even a relative few can flatten mountains over time.
Jack Kemp once observed: "The power of one man or one woman doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time, is the greatest influence in our society."
Familial obligations, the formidable military power of the establishment, and a reticence to engage in asymmetric warfare may limit one’s viable options in waging opposition against the powers that be, but there is no compulsion to unconditionally bulwark the Kleptocrats and their attending sycophants.
We the People, one person at a time, one day at a time, have it within our power to undermine and subvert a system premised on hubris, savage militarism, nationalism, exploitation, and rapacity.
Simply by embracing ways of being which are antithetical to maintaining the malignant status quo:
* opposing evil through non-violent means
* placing people before profits
It is not too late to “tell [ourselves] the truth”, abandon the idolatry of affluence, and “wash the blood that’s on (our) hand(s) from (our) democracy”
Remember, Humankind and Mother Earth are counting on us!
Jason Miller is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically; his essays have appeared widely on the Internet, and he volunteers at a homeless shelter. He welcomes constructive correspondence at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his blog: Thomas Paine's Corner.
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* City Union Mission: http://www.cumission.org/
Other Articles by Jason Miller
Collective Delusion Must Endure: Domestic Genocide of an Economic