Posted by: Michael George Daniel | February 5, 2011

The Underpinnings of Injustice

This note consists mostly of writing by author Derrick Jensen. I am on page 450 of his 700 page book, The Culture of Make Believe. If you wish to learn deeply about the subject of social and economic justice, then reading this book is a very good start. Social and economic justice are one of the four primary principles of the Earth Charter. I am the president of the Earth Charter of the Lower Valley, Inc. (ECCoLoV), in Connecticut – a non-profit group organized under the principles expressed by the Earth Charter. Sometimes one wonders what to do with that. This note is a response to that question. In addition to the obvious relationship of social and economic injustice to human beings, this note also touches on the wider reach of the underpinnings of this injustice on the nonhuman realm, ie., environmental integrity – another Earth Charter principle.

Yesterday, after much thought, I decided to view a video on Facebook. It was a video taken from a rooftop in Egypt. It showed a large, white diplomatic vehicle surrounded by thousands of milling people, which, in turn, were surrounded further by teeming, crowd-filled streets. In the video the car suddenly begins to surge ahead. As it begins, the pedestrians are able to get out of the way, but as it picks up speed this becomes impossible. Tens of people begin getting mowed down. There is the clatter of the impact of their bodies being hit by the car, being run over, striking one another; of bones breaking. The car gets faster, swerves from side to side taking out even more people – literally mowed down, run over by this bullet-proofed, multi-ton armored limousine used to transport and protect the very most cowardly people on the planet. It is sickening.

I am profoundly pained from this experience, and confused as to whether it serves some larger purpose. I can only turn to a spiritual interpretation, one that transcends the physical-ness of our existence. I will probably remember this image for the rest of my life. I do not know what to do with it. Other than this:

Having read some three-quarters of Jensen’s excellent book, I have been wanting to post excerpts of it the entire time, but have not done so. Forthwith is an excerpt from pages 448 and 449, offered as some sort of perspective, some sort of cathartic reaction to the abstract horror I watched yesterday. May it lead, or at least contribute to a deeper peace, and a shift of consciousness in the world. Aho. May it illuminate the structural deficiencies, and remedies called forth, inherent in where we are in the evolution of life, the evolution of the Earth, the evolution of the Universe, now. Aho.

While, from a spiritual perspective, I believe time is simply another dimension that is transcended by the oneness the underlies all, as a physically manifest, living aspect of that all – as someone that is going to die someday – time is of the essence. Time is of the essence if we wish the human experiment to continue to exist at the leading edge of the universe’s evolving consciousness – its awareness of itself, God’s awareness of its self. Time is of the essence if we wish to see that our being-ness and our doing-ness has a simple choice: between that which helps life organize and emerge, a fundamental quality of the Universe, and that which leads to increased randomness (entropy) in the Universe, a fundamental quality as well. In my writing, when I speak of ‘coherence’, this is what I mean; to choose to seek always greater coherence with the informational pattern that begets life is to be more fully alive.

“The relationship between economics and hatred is far deeper and more formative than what I’ve said earlier, that any hatred felt long enough and deeply enough feels like economics, tradition, religion, what have you. There’s more to it than that. First, because our economics (and our society) is based on competition, it breeds hatred, insecurity, and fear. In a Language Older than Words, I discussed how the anthropologist Ruth Benedict tried to figure out why some cultures are fundamentally peaceful and others are not, why women and children are treated well in some cultures and in others they are not, and why some cultures are cooperative and others are competitive. She found one simple rule that covered all of these. It has to do with our need as social creatures for esteem. In what she termed good, or synergistic, cultures, selfishness and altruism are merged by granting esteem to those who are generous. Cultures that reward behavior benefiting the group as a whole (and specifically that siphon wealth constantly from rich to poor) while not allowing behavior that harms the group as a whole are peaceful, respectful of women and children, and cooperative. Individual members are secure. If, on the other hand, your culture grants esteem to those who are acquisitive, that is, if your culture rewards behavior that benefits the individual at the expense of the whole (and if your culture funnels wealth from poor to rich), your culture will be warlike, abusive toward women and children, and competitive. Individuals will be insecure. She also found that members of the cultures with the former characteristics are, unsurprisingly, for the most part, happy. Members of the cultures with the latter characteristics are, just as unsurprisingly, not….

“Because competition is so central to our culture, because acquisition is so deeply rewarded, because this cultural urge to acquire is insatiable, and because this acquisition is inevitably based on the exploitation of others, there can be no limit to how thoroughly our culture will exploit others, both human and nonhuman [emphasis added]. And because increasing competition leads so easily and obviously, when our lives are at stake, to increasing hatred of our competitors (as well as hatred of those who resist our exploitation), there can be no limit as to the depth and breadth of our culturally induced hatred, both of our direct peers and of those from whom we wish to steal.

“But it is even worse than this. As discussed earlier in this book, another of the central movements of our culture-along with movement toward monolithic control-has been toward increasing abstraction, that is, away from the particular, away from Buber’s joining of will and grace, and toward perceiving others as Its, objects, numbers, resources to be used, or, as Kevin Bales said of modern slaves, to be used hard, used up, and thrown away. Thus there can be no limit, then, also to the abstraction of our hate, that is, to the increasing emotional and physical distance over which we can and do destroy, to the veils we place between ourselves and those others we may no longer consider as existing.”*

So on February 4, 2011, I watched the tiny screen in the middle of Facebook, and saw the abstract representation of an atrocity that I will never forget. The experience wells in me, churning with energy.

*Derrick Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe, 2002, Context Books, pages 448, 449

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