Monday, December 19, 2011

Lynch Mobs and philosophical tangents

Here's an old blog that I was hesitant to post. It's called 'The Dark Side of Poverty.' Maybe you're thinking: poverty has a light side? At the end of the post, I'll share my thoughts as to poverty's 'light.'

The Dark Side of poverty: I've learned recently that in the big cities, crime is dealt with by lynch mobs. My students tell me they've all seen a lynching. Theft is crime #1. When the police do nothing, the people take justice into their own hands. Patrick traveled to South America during college and he told me they burn thieves there, so it's something rather common, I think, in unorganized parts of the world. It is horrifying, but I've been working to get an angle on it. What I gather is that I can't understand how horrifying it is to live in a world where your only possessions are clothes and food living without any protections from bullies and neer do wells. Like all evil, the evil paid in retribution pulls the good people down. Ordinary good people turn into a righteous mob ready to serve retribution with sticks, petrol, tires, and a match. It's hard to understand such rage without knowing the conditions that foster it. So, that's my limitation, the cultural barrier: class.

What reassures me is 'Normal Goodness.' Everyday people do incredible things when no one is watching. Where is the person who finding a wallet full of money returns it without thinking to take a dollar? Where is the mother who rocks her crying infant into the night, sacrificing her rest to give her child comfort? Where is the person who gives up their chair on the bus for the elderly? I think of men on the titanic who let women onto the life boats, because it was their duty to die so the women and children might live. People do right because they are good, and it are these small actions that uphold humanity and such goodness gives me immense reassurance.

Poverty's 'Light'

Oscar Wilde said: 'The poor don't know how idylic they are.'

This belief is borne out by pastoral paintings in banks and boardrooms of cows and farms, old houses, 'simpler times.'

I think there is widespread fear that our society has grown too complex or materialistic for its own good. I fear my blog may make friends and family guilty for having technological tools and guilty pleasures. It's the: 'children are starving in Africa and China,' deal.

I've tried hard to steer from that angle. Pity and guilt are more likely to atrophy will and blunt insight. Compassion and laughter on the other hand reveal our common humanity. That's what I hope you come away with from these reflections.

A less controversial persepective to take is 'simple vs. complex.' It's easier to be objective in that guise.

Some anecdotes:

An elderly woman I walked with to a Christmas stroll tripped on a new driveway's lip and bloodied herself. An ambulance and paramedics were on the scene in less then 5 minutes with a hydraulic stretcher and an ambulance with head room. Cones were set up that night and before the week was out, cement had been laid by the town to smooth the lip.

My father told a story about his dryer crapping out a year after purchase, one week after the warranty expired. He had to pay to have it repaired. Later he learned there was a class action lawsuit against the company for the common malfunction his dryer experienced. He got all his money back for the repairs from the suit.

I took a bus ride and had wifi access and a seatbelt. I navigated from Brattleboro VT to Hartford to Old Saybrook CT and was picked up by a waiting technician to drive me to my father's car's dealership.

Coordination and systems abound. Certainly they fail more often then succeed, but there are much higher standards of accountability and more efforts invested to see that success is finally reached.

Not Machanga.

There they don't get pissed off about broken dryers because they don't have dryers. There they don't navigate all across creation and need web access while en route because everyone they need to contact is in their community a walk away. They don't have seat belts in their buses because no class action lawsuit or government initiative is encouraging people to 'buckle up!' And there they don't have police or systems funded that can ensure your possessions aren't stolen. Nevermind those more pernicious crimes of molestation, sexual harrasment, and rape.

But, you don't have to pity the people 'there' or admire them. Just love them as you love the people in front of you and next to you because of the beauty and imperfection of us all. Decency is always a simple human characteristic and an enduring one and is totally divorced from location, time, and race. That's why they call it 'common decency.' It's everywhere.

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