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Friday, July 13, 2012

Days Of Destruction Will Become Days Of Doom Without Days Of Revolt

So we do not share the same theological beliefs. He is a liberal theologian and I am a Christian Fundamentalist. And yet I regard Chris Hedges to be one of the most important moralists in the last two centuries. He has just co-authored a book with Joe Sacco called Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt. You can watch a short video of Chris describing the book below



You may not agree with their proposed solution, that is joining revolts such as Occupy Wall Street (OWS), but one cannot be unmoved by what they report unless one needs a heart from the Wizard. And here is the problem with Conservative Christians like myself. We normally do not care about the suffering of the oppressed when those doing the oppressing are our heros. And the ones doing the oppressing here are viewed as Free Market Capitalists who want all of the chains that government uses to "shackle" them to be cut. We could call this Capitalism without responsibility.

With the book talking about unfettered Capitalism, the story, of course, starts with the plight of America's Indigenous people. Why? Because it was in the ethnic cleansing of this land that we saw the roots of today's Capitalism. For time after time, treaties were broken and Indians were slaughtered for economic profit in the end. As a result, there are two basic themes established in this chapter that hold true for most of the rest of book. The first theme is that when business opportunity speaks, government listens. The second one says that though we treat others like dogs, we will blame them for acting like animals.

In telling about the plight of the American Indians, Hedges and Sacco focus on Pine Ridge, South Dakota and the surrounding area. Why? Because what was done to the Indians there served as a model for what would be done to others. When gold was discovered in 1874, treaties were broken and then replaced to allow Whites seeking personal treasure to ransack and remove Indians from the lands promised to them. The effort to displace/eliminate the Indians led to Custer's last stand. But in the meantime, natural resources were destroyed, Indian women were raped by Custer and his officers, and many Indians of all ages were slaughtered.

When news of Custer's death was heard, he became a hero and inspired a national call for vengeance to finish what Custer started. As a result, gold prospecting by Whites flourished while the indigenous population, and their way of life, was all but snuffed out. And many of those who were left, became destitute which caused a spiraling effect on Indian life as they visited on each other what our forefathers violently did to them.

The scene then switches to Camden, N.J. where economic abandonment and the voiding of social responsibilities replaces invasion as the immediate culprits, though history and opportunistic politics harbor several accomplices. And though the methods used by the guilty have changed, the motivation remains the same: GREED.

Looking at it now, it is very difficult to believe that Camden was once a thriving metropolis of its own. But it is just as difficult for many who have to see how what was forced on Camden has hurt the residents so that many of them turned their rage on each other because they could. It is difficult for the haves to understand that the victories gained by the Civil Rights movement were incomplete and that many more victories, such as economic ones, were needed as well--that what was gained during the battle for Civil Rights did not result in eliminating all of the significant impediments that hold people back,

Camden is a perfect picture of the regard our economic system has for many of its stakeholders. That most stakeholders have no intrinsic value to the system is an ethic that is never criticized by the Bill Gates of the world. And as our economic system deserts the residents of Camden, life spirals downhill to the point that only the exceptional exhibit human values such as compassion. What has happened in Camden is now happening in other cities too. Along with that comes the same problems such as spikes in violent crime and a breakdown in society. More and more of its residents show the same respect for each other that the system has shown for them. All of this is done in the name of maximizing profits while the majority of victims remain to be people of color.

The third.scene examined by the book returns to the effects of violence and assaults only, this time, the victims is the land and the environment.  Here, Hedges and Sacco examine the strip mining practices that are turning the mountains of West Virginia to an uninhabitable area. The current practice of strip mining uses explosives to destroy the state's mountaintops where coal is being sought. The result has been increased unemployment, a spike in serious diseases from the poisoning of the environment, and the potential, if not certainty, for further environmental disasters.

What is the recourse of the people there? Since, according to Hedges and Sacco, the coal companies own the government, from the legislative to the judicial branches , the people have no legal defense. In addition, they report that the coal companies control what is taught in the schools. Finally, some who speak out against what is happening have become targets of the other residents who take criticisms of the coal companies as an economic threat to their region.

The final scene of destruction investigated by Hedges and Sacco is Immokalee, Florida where migrant workers are used to harvest our food, tomatoes to be specific. Many of these workers have paid to get here and are here illegally. What wages they do have are often stolen. They are threatened with violence against themselves or their families if they leave. They suffer physical and sexual abuse.They have no benefits and so when their labor ability is used up, they are thrown away without having anything to fall back on. Those who supervise them view them as slaves or property. The labor of these workers is both harsh on them and essential for the rest of us. And yet, our capitalistic system seems to be in no rush to fully reward them for their labors. These workers have won some wage battles against fast food chains but Hedges and Sacco report that supermarkets like Trader Joe's, Walmart, and Giant refuse to sign an agreement that would raise their wages.

There is one more scene that Hedges and Sacco visited. It was OWS. But we will leave that out of the discussion here because many conservative Christians do not regard it as a viable solution. Though this book is not specifically a religious book, it deals with moral responsibilities and thus it touches on religion.  And what we are witnessing today is a rejection of moral responsibilities in favor of maximizing profits. This shedding of morals for profits is easy to observe in corporations and financial institutions, but those consumers who buy at the lowest price so they can purchase much more than they need are just as guilty. And what is sad is that we look at our ill-gotten prosperity, and victims' immoral actions as a result of being abused, as proof that God has ordained our prosperity while we are in no way responsible to reach out to them. We rationalize the high costs that others have to pay for us to enjoy our prosperity.
 
The Bible talks about God's people receiving a new heart or becoming a new creation. So to be unmoved into passivity by the injustices reported by Hedges and Sacco can only imply that one has a heretically cold heart rather than a new one.  Believing the Gospel can never limit our concern solely to what happens to us after we die. For when heaven is our only concern, though our treasure might have changed, our basic sin of self-centeredness remains.

This post could never do justice to this book. For example, the touching stories of the individuals in each location have been left out.  These stories are essential in understanding what has happened to our country. Though I am not familiar with Sacco's other works, this is perhaps Hedges' best work. However, this book is a tough read, not because of the writing style but because of the emotional content that comes with so many tragic stories. This book is also a must-read. But Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt is more than just a must-read; it is a must-act on book.






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