Friday, September 25, 2009

Violence Abroad And In America

Lots of influences brewing at breakfast today. Barbara made an out-of-character, uncharitable comment about some congressional blowhard on the radio. I turned the radio off, because I’d rather listen to her anyway. No comment about my calling Republicans names yesterday, but she did quote me to myself, something I don’t remember writing, but I’ll take credit anyway: “I’d like to think my government's got my back.” (Translation: The libertarian point of view is that government’s role should be limited to protecting citizens so we can build wealth. If that is the case, we should recognize that there are complexities of biological, ecological, chemical, and thermal cycles that weren’t known to our eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ancestors, and that modern systems understanding of world economy and polity reveal aggressions and thefts that governments don’t protect genuine wealth makers against.)

Influence: Milwaukee urban farmer, and MacArthur Foundation Genius Award winner, Will Allen appeared in an interview in Thursday’s Star Tribune. Allen, of Growing Power, was in town at the behest of the Women’s Environmental Institute and Little Earth of United Tribes, to organize a training institute.

Influence: Review, in the August Harper’s Magazine, of Richard J. Evans’ The Third Reich at War. Everything you know about Nazis? Square it -- cube it -- and you might get some idea of how completely and violently nuts an educated, cultured, modern society can get. (And this was on the good side of peak oil [go to the link and scroll down to the M. King Hubbert quote just below the ad for the cookbook].)

Influence: Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville. A big, third-ring-suburban, supermarket-style food co-op, but with ambitions of providing healthy food, cultivating community and diversity, and building a sustainable economy. By the way, we know them because Barsy’s Almonds has been pursuing them, and they have begun to carry Smokies.

Influence: The Life After, an article by Phillip Gourevitch in the May 4 New Yorker, about Rwanda’s enforced and bitter recovery from the 1994 genocide of around eight hundred thousand Tutsis by members of the Hutu tribe (Rwandan population is estimated to be just shy of ten million).

Influence: Latin American “death squads.”

Influence: Part-time census worker, Bill Sparkman, found hanged near a cemetery in Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. Somebody had scrawled the word “fed” on Sparkman’s chest. (Comment: Plural, non-standard name for cowards as well as women’s genitals, modified by vulgar gerund.)

Influence: The violence in Darfur, between farmers and nomadic herders who had coexisted prior to the current, ostensibly carbon-related, drought.

I said that the important factor in reactionary violence is relative wealth, rather than absolute wealth. Envy, reduced means, or perceived threat precipitates violence in situations short of starvation’s desperation.

Barbara said that objectifying women was the important factor, that if you oppress half your population, you acquire the habit of seeing people as less than human, therefore fair game. I had a hard time catching on, thinking that she was somehow saying that the Rwandan violence had been against women, maybe because she knew -- say -- that the Hutus are patriarchal and the Tutsis matriarchal (not the case, as far as we know, but she’s always turning up weird little nuggets of trivia, and I’m saying, “How did you know that?”). I think what she was doing was recognizing African machismo and connecting it to the Latin version. But would Germany’s Dagwood and Blondie version of sexism, seventy years ago, have been enough to allow the Holocaust?

And are we objectifying women, here and now, to the extent that it hanged Bill Sparkman (or killed Matthew Shepard)? And is that enough to bring about the violence that Barbara and I were implicitly speculating still waits in our wings? The Third Reich shows that widespread political violence is not limited to less absolutely privileged societies.

Or to non-Aryans, but sweet reason doesn’t seem to be highly valued among the reactionary. That’s why Will Allen and Valley Natural Foods made it into the conversation. Allen’s Growing Power demonstrates a strategy for creating wealth in an era of declining resources, and he’s spreading it among the urban poor, in Milwaukee, here, and in Chicago. Valley Natural Foods is planting the seed among privileged suburbanites, people who don’t recognize their privilege, or display an understanding of the complex phenomena and “men behind the curtain” that truly are threatening their wealth. Beyond some threshold of diminished circumstance, there will be blood.

Once again, Buckminster Fuller wrote to a young admirer, “The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done.” People go to the developing world to help them feed themselves and grow economies. It’s being done, but two thirds of the world's population is poorer than the poorest Americans. Will Allen is taking very advanced food production to America’s forgotten. There should be more of him. Next stop: appropriate technology to the people who don’t know it but are waiting to be forgotten. That's probably the key to helping the rest as well as keeping the privileged peaceful.

I stole today's illustration from Beto Hernandez from Chapter Two of his story, Poison River, in the July, 1989, Love & Rockets. The Hernandez Brothers got me reading comics, late in my fourth decade.


GooseBreeder said...

Bucky was right again.You and Barbara should come round for coffee some morning and we'll sort it all out!
Another great post!

Tom Roark said...

That would be nice, but I'm afraid of the jet lag.