Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Risky Business and the Politics of Cruelty

Risky Business:

The Politics of Cruelty:

Charlie Pierce on Cruelty (h/t Ducky's Here):

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. 

We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled -- until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. 

We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics. Because of that, the daily gunplay no longer surprises us. The rising rates of poverty no longer surprise us. The chaos of our lunatic public discourse no longer surprises us. 

We make war based on lies and deceit because cruelty is seen to be enough, seen to be the immutable law of the modern world. We make policy based on being as tough as we can on the weakest among us, because cruelty is seen to be enough, seen to be the fundamental morality behind what ultimately is merely the law of the jungle. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like a cold river, and we call it our politics. It does not have to be this way. After the greatest exercise of systematized cruelty in the country's history, Abraham Lincoln gave the greatest speech ever given by an American president, and in its greatest passage, he called hold, enough. 

 "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." 

On one of the cruelest nights of 1968—which was a very cruel year; indeed, a year the cruelty of which eventually would claim his own life—Robert Kennedy stood in the dark in Indianapolis and offered a similar gathering hymn. 

 "And let's dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people." 

The time for camouflage is over. Cruelty is cruelty. It should be recognized as a fundamental heresy against the political commonwealth and wrung out of all its institutions. That is the only way out.


Infidel753 said...

This puts into words, and very well, some of the feelings I've long had about this dark and horrible world that the conservative/libertarian/Randroid mentality wants to force us all to live in. "What the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world" -- that's part of what it meant to build up civilization. People like the Koch brothers seem to think they can tear down all that and still keep the benefits of civilization, tear down everything civilization has built to shield the weak from cruelty and still have a world where men live to the age they themselves have reached and where concepts like a billion dollars of private wealth still have meaning.

The thing is, an entirely cruel world is as artificial as an entirely cruelty-free world. Compassion is part of human nature too. Even chimpanzees are often kind and helpful to weak and helpless members of their own kind, even if they confine that only to members of their own communities, as primitive humans did. It's possible to crush those feelings out of people, but it's not possible to specify very exactly where it will end, as the ruthless of other ages discovered. The Koch brothers and their ilk offer a hundred clich├ęs for why the cruel world they want is just and right and really better for everyone on some abstract level no matter how many people it hurts in reality. I imagine Louis XVI thought the same way, right up to the end.

I'm much less interested in abstract theories of economic justice and property rights than in the simple fact of not wanting to live in an ugly, cruel world. We have the means to create a society where nobody is homeless or uninsured or gets the crap beaten out of them by thugs because they're different from the majority. I know about all the libertarian objections. I simply don't care about them, if they prevent us from achieving that.

Rational Nation USA said...

Oh, the cruelties. If only life was fair. If compassion and good intentions could only was away the realities of existence. If by willing it man's inhumanity to man would miraculously dissolve away to only a distant barely discernable memory. If the lessons history makes available for us to learn from were understand perhaps life would be serene and acheivement of the elusive utopia realized.

Not in my generation or the next, or next, or next. Someone will see this thread a thousand years hence and say, damn, the more things change the more the stay the same.

Human nature I guess...

skudrunner said...

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him forever.

Even if you are not religious that statement makes sense even in today's society. The problem is it is much easier to give people something than asking them to participate in getting it.

The government is very quick to increase welfare and food stamp rolls but has no plans to enhance skills to create jobs. After all it is much easier to blame than to motivate.

There are a people who cannot work for either physical or mental issues. They deserve our assistance but there are far more who Choose not to work because why should they, they will be provided for without effort.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Why do people think that providing a living wage is making working folk dependent? Why would offering affordable health care make someone dependent? Why would affordable and decent education make people lazy? Those are a few of the basics people need to have a decent life for themselves and their families. . People in countries where citizens have access to basic human services and needs enjoy happier and more productive lives. This has nothing to do with life being unfair or teaching people to fend for themselves. This has to do with making basic human
needs affordable and available to people regardless of their ability to pay.

The supposedly best and richest country in the world can't deliver to its citizens what other countries can. There are reasons for that. Among those reasons are cruelty and greed.

Anonymous said...

It's always misleading to quote fine words as if they should be the norm. Both John and Robert Kennedy have uttered quotable words, fine words with great meaning I have quoted myself many times. But we forget, Robert Kennedy was one of the most combative, vicious people in government at the time and as AG signed off on totally illegal actions against citizens.
Are you lamenting the reality that the world is a mean, unfair, vicious place?
Idealism always conflicts with reality. Just as the great words of our founders fly in the face of their reality as slave holders, degrading women, and other accepted practices we would abhor today. Idealism is a spark. It's what we make law that changes behavior. That's clear as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of civil rights and voting rights for blacks. It's the reality of law that has changed citizen behavior.
The sky is not falling Chicken Little; it's just the crap coming back down that we put up there. We have progressed and will progress, but human suffering will never end even as we better ourselves.

Shaw Kenawe said...

It's apparent that people are reading their own prejudices and misconceptions into the two items I posted. Nowhere do I say anything about completely eradicating poverty and inequality. I don't believe we humans,in my lifetime will achieve that.

This post is about a country that constantly brags about how great it is and yet tolerates having people lose everything from a catastrophic accident or illness. That doesn't happen in other modern civilized countries. And a major political party has done nothing but try to repeal what little help there is from the ACA with no plan to fill the void the repeal would leave. That's cruel. That same political party denies an increase in the minimum wage with bogus excuses about what would happen to small businesses. That's cruel that same political party together with a number of cowards from the Democrats in Congress refuse to pass even the most innocuous restrictions on gun rights, even though we are the most murderous country in the world where guns are concerned. That's cruel and greedy.

Robert Kennedy and the past has nothing to do with this subject. He quoted a Greek. That he did so doesn't diminish the truth of those words.

As for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation, it would be wise to understand the chipping away at some of those rights going on today in various states.

Also, let us remember this history: after Democratic President Johnson passed that historic legislation, the voters in the south left the Democratic Party and have voted as a bloc for the GOP ever since.

Anonymous said...

"That doesn't happen in other modern civilized countries."
Total BS.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Percentages of persons in families with selected financial burdens of medical care: United States, January–June 2011.

From National Health Interview Survey.

Medical debt is an especially notable phenomenon in the United States. In less developed nations those on low income in need of treatment will often avail themselves of what ever help they can from either the state or NGOs without going into debt, but in the US medical debt has been found by a 2009 study to be the primary cause of personal bankruptcy.

A 2007 survey had found about 70 million Americans either have difficulty paying for medical treatment or have medical debt.

Studies have found people are most likely to accumulate large medical debts when they do not have health insurance to cover the costs of necessary medications, treatments, or procedures – in 2009 about 50 million Americans had no health coverage.

However, about 60% of those found to have medical debt were insured. Health insurance plans rarely cover any and all health-related expenses; for insured people, the gap between insurance coverage and the affordability of health care manifests as medical debt. As with any type of debt, medical debt can lead to an array of personal and financial problems - including having to go without food and heat plus a reluctance to seek further medical treatment.

Aggressive debt collecting has been highlighted as an aggravating factor A study has found about 63% of adults with medical debt avoided further medical treatment, compared with only 19% of adults who had no such debt

According to a study conducted in 2012 by Demos that among indebted households 62% cited out-of-pocket medical expenses as a contribution to their debt.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Johns Hopkins University professor Vicente Navarro stated in 2003, "the problem does not end here, with the uninsured. An even larger problem is the underinsured" and "The most credible estimate of the number of people in the United States who have died because of lack of medical care was provided by a study carried out by Harvard Medical School Professors Himmelstein and Woolhandler (New England Journal of Medicine 336, no. 11, 1997).

They concluded that almost 100,000 people died in the United States each year because of lack of needed care—three times the number of people who died of AIDS."


Shaw Kenawe said...

"...a May 15 study from the Commonwealth Fund study comparing the quality of the U.S. system with five other countries found that despite spending twice as much per capita, the U.S. ranks last or near last on basic performance measures of quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. "The U.S. stands out as the only nation in these studies that does not ensure access to health care through universal coverage," says Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis."

Shaw Kenawe said...

The date of that report from Bloopmberg Business Week was 2007.

Uca Pugnax said...

The global warming deniers are very smug in their ignorance. They talk to each other and enforce what they don't know. Very much like everything they're so sure of.

okjimm said...

I am very much against cruelty to reason I do not say nasty things about Sarah Palin.

okjimm said...

skud said. 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you will feed him forever." is then a good thing that we have the government to thank....
that the fish are safe to eat
that the fish are not extinct
that we montitor the quality of the fish sold
......we shou8ld have programs to teach folks to fish....yupperz...but if there are no fish, if the fish are not fit to eat.....

wellllllll.......go fish alla you want

Duckys here said...

skud, let me ask you something.

This piece was written largely in reaction to the statement that Detroit is turning of the water of thousands who are behind in their water payments.

How does depriving someone of water, "teach them to fish"?

Just asking.

Dervish Sanders said...

RN: If by willing it man's inhumanity to man would miraculously dissolve away to only a distant barely discernable memory.

It is a process RN. Even if we never get to a day were man's inhumanity to man is only a distant barely discernable memory (and I seriously doubt we ever will) every step we take in that direction (no matter how small) is a victory. Libertarians say we can't fix the problem entirely and therefore should not even try.

It's a specious argument designed to protect the wealthy from taxation (IMO). And, as Infidel pointed out, compassion is part of human nature too. Except for those who subscribe to a Randian worldview. For them compassion is a matter for the individual to ponder (and then to partake or not partake in)... instead of a RESPONSIBILITY of society.

Shaw has it right: a living wage, affordable health, affordable and decent education... these are some of the building blocks of society. We ALL do better when everyone has access to them. Or, as a society we all do better. But for those who the INDIVIDUAL trumps society... they view the providing of access to those things as a "theft" from them. Thus is the irrationality of "rational self interest".