Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Culture of Cruelty in Winter: Ignoring the Suffering of the Poor and Homeless During Snowpocalypse and Beyond

Chicago is still digging out from the blizzard of several days ago. New England was also treated to a second round of snow.

A thought.

The Culture of Cruelty is real: it is not speculation or a hypothesis.

America has internalized this sickness as a new/old norm: a country where black people were lynched and burned alive by the thousands cannot truly claim shock at how a majority of its citizens support torturing innocent people who are deemed to be "terrorists".

While 9-11 caused a more immediate and proximate outburst of national derangement, if we are honest with ourselves, it is apparent that the patient was already quite crazy and sick.

A society shows it true character by its taken for granted assumptions about how its members should be treated.

Prisons, schools, and mental health institutions also provide keen insights into a society's conscience.

How a society cares for and treats its elderly, children, the poor, and yes, even domestic and wild animals, are moral and ethical tests as well.

As Chris Hitchens brilliantly noted:
“We have preachers and savants who dilate endlessly on the sanctity of family and childhood but who tolerate a system in which a casual observer can correlate a child's social origin with its physical well-being.”
These examples exist under Foucault's broad umbrella of "biopolitics": how the State ("governmentality") manages the population, the bureaucracy put in place to govern it, and the means through which the apparatuses of power determine the relative value of individuals as members of a given group.

A society trains its members into reproducing these norms of relative human value.

Edward Bernays, dream merchant and master manipulator of mass desire and pleasure observed how that socialization is in agreement with the interests of the few and the powerful...and not the People:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. 
We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. 
Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet. 
They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons-a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million-who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.
Quotidian questions and observations about a given society often speak to deeper truths.

I am sitting here in Chicago, looking out my window at the snow, as the TV news announces that more cold and snow is approaching.

During this week of inclement weather, I have not seen one story, either on TV or radio, about the plight of the homeless during this very dangerous time.

Out of sight--for too many people who live a life where they are willing and eager Troglodytes, warm and happy in Plato's cave--is out of mind for the mass public.

As Walter Lippman detailed:
The hypothesis, which seems to me the most fertile, is that news and truth are not the same thing, and must be clearly distinguished. [Footnote: When I wrote Liberty and the News, I did not understand this distinction clearly enough to state it, but cf. p. 89 ff.] The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them into relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act. Only at those points, where social conditions take recognizable and measurable shape, do the body of truth and the body of news coincide. That is a comparatively small part of the whole field of human interest.

The cruel irony is of course that for reasons random or by design, that those who have learned to ignore others for the convenience of their own egos, or because the just world fallacy has stained their morality, can easily find themselves on the periphery, living as shadow people in the polity and broader society.

When we ignore the suffering of other human beings, we create the terms for our own suffering to be ignored as well.

How is your community treating its poor and homeless during the winter? Has there been extensive coverage of how the homeless and poor (many of who are elderly and cannot afford to heat their homes) are managing this winter?


kokanee said...

700 homeless or near homeless people die every year from hypothermia in the United States. —National Coalition for the Homeless Excellent volunteer opportunity!

chauncey devega said...

Makes me wonder. If 700 is the reported data, what is the actual number?

kokanee said...

Who knows? The National Coalition for the Homeless might want to inflate the numbers. Oh wait, that was rhetorical? ;)

In other news, police abuse entitlement seemingly only applies to white police officers:

Gable1111 said...

Heard and read about the Syrian pilot who was captured and burned alive by ISS, and all the subsequent pearl clutching and "horror" over the act.

My first thought was, blacks were burned alive routinely here in this country, and it was accepted as "part of the culture" of those white folk who reveled in such acts done to black people. For being black.

In fact, if you also consider what was done to Native Americans, Islamic terrorists have a ways to go before they reach the level of barbarity and depravity that was done here.

Gable1111 said...

The homeless have been disappeared out where we live. A project I'm working on finds me riding the Metra into Union Station, and the homeless are there, even in the cold and snow. Many are elderly or dealing with mental issues and can do little to help themselves. It should be obvious to anyone what this says about what kind of society this is, that this situation exists. Rather than using media to focus on homeless and bring attention to the severity of the problem, media is used to focus on helping people ignore it and justify feeling good about themselves anyway. (We're the Greatest Country in the History of the World!)

Gina said...

We must help instantaneously & practical, but there is an underpinning ideology the aim of which is exactly to make a big part of the population suffer. This must be tackled too.

Their goal is not to lose their wealth and power to a transnational middle class, but rather to extinguish the notion of a middle class, and transnationalize a lower, uneducated, labour oriented class, through which they will secure ultimate wealth and power.

The economic crisis serves these ends, as whatever remaining wealth the middle class holds is in the process of being eliminated, and as the crisis progresses, or rather, regresses, and accelerates, the middle classes of the world will suffer, while a great percentage of lower classes of the world, poverty-stricken even prior to the crisis, will suffer the greatest, most probably leading to a massive reduction in population levels, particularly in the “developed” or “Third World” states.
The economic crisis is perhaps the greatest “opportunity” ever given to the TCC [Transnational Capital Class] in re-shaping the world order according to their designs, ideals and goals. (...) The current global economic crisis has its roots not in the Bush administration, which is linear and diluted thinking at best, but in the systematic nature of the global capitalist system. Crisis is not separate from capital; crisis is capitalist expansion.

Gina said...

When we ignore the suffering of other human beings, we create the terms for our own suffering to be ignored as well.Yup. That's when empathy is educated away, & it is widely educated away.

As adults are so difficult to change, let's give the children a chance:

joe manning said...

They don't call it disaster capitalism for nothing.

Wild Cat said...

NYC hasn't been this bad since the Reagan Regime, when there were homeless (many mentally ill) living in boxes across Midtown and the now-famous "Mole People" took shelter underground. Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg spent decades building only luxury housing; I've no idea how DeBlasio will get the funds for his affordable-housing proposals, which are much needed, even though the city is doing "well." The rich will never pay their fair share of taxes again, so I think we're just heading into a national nadir.

Iraq/Afghanistan veterans; the elderly; the mentally ill; the physically ill; the evicted; those struggling with addictions: All very visible, many sleeping in subway cars or on platforms. Mostly African American, but whites (mostly elderly and in dementia) and Latinos are also affected. A year ago I saw many social workers and charity people with food about; I think they're overwhelmed now. I don't see them around anymore.

I should have checked out a link a few days ago. It was a short film doc set on the west coast that featured an in-service night bus (the #22 line?) functioning as a proxy homeless shelter. I can't think of a better metaphor for this armed madhouse of a nation.

I've been to Europe twice in the past 16 months. There are no homeless people. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic, at least, care for their citizens.

joe manning said...

The golden rule must go from utopian pipe dream to collectively institutionalized obligation. Austin has a large homeless population, 5,000 being the official guesstimation. CapMetro recently rescinded the policy of free bus passes to dissuade homeless people from riding. They have been known to ride the buses all day to escape the cold, the heat, and boredom. But buses are a poor last refuge for homeless folks who need facilities. Big cities could refurbish a couple of abandoned buildings and easily house the homeless. But such would contravene the "divide and rule" mechanisms of social control that are practiced by our power elites. Hopefully, the more the issues are exposed the more humanity will evolve past particularism and achieve universalism.

WaveRunnerMN said...

I would rather say the middle class did not understand economics nor did many of the upper classes. Rather, neo classical economic theory has never been tried before not has a history. All nations cannot be a creditor nation....and with consolidated power in the banking system these individuals and corporations can create regional warfare...the swoop in for the assets being sold off cheaply for food and water.

Gina said...

Yup. They don't have their heads on their shoulders. Ha Joon Chang is of another kidney:

Ha-Joon Chang, "Economics: The User's Guide"

Bruce said...

How cold does it get in Austin? If there are abandoned/available properties could be used with only cots and portapotties, even when the property may become unavailable later. I'm also big on the idea of urban gardening. That would give these folks something to do much of the day. If the cold issues are minimal then shelter could be minimal and still work well.

joe manning said...

It gets real cold and real hot here. Unused buildings would have to be winterized and summerized to be made into public facilities. Gardening and art are always good.

Bruce said...

Bummer, that. I always felt that any place needing AC very long might be considered uninhabitable. If it's dry enough, there's always the swamp coolers. I have had ideas about building a spring-house here some day. Take advantage of what nature offers,

joe manning said...

Austin is too humid for swamp coolers. Good luck with your spring house.