"Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness intact... Thus compassion that might seem simply as generous goodwill is in fact criticism of the systems, forces, and ideologies that produce the hurt." (p. 88-89)
"Quite clearly, the one thing the dominant culture cannot tolerate or co-opt is compassion, the ability to stand in solidarity with the victims of the present order. It can manage charity and good intentions, but it has no way to resist solidarity with pain or grief." (p. 91)
The competing television news images on the morning after
Thanksgiving were of the unspeakable carnage in Sadr City — where
more than 200 Iraqi civilians were killed by a series of coordinated
car bombs — and the long lines of cars filled with holiday
shopping zealots that jammed the highway approaches to American malls
that had opened for business at midnight.
A Wal-Mart in Union, N.J., was besieged by customers even before it
opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Friday. “All I can tell you,”
said a Wal-Mart employee, “is that they were fired up and ready
to spend money.”
There is something terribly wrong with this juxtaposition of gleeful
Americans with fistfuls of dollars storming the department store
barricades and the slaughter by the thousands of innocent Iraqi
civilians, including old people, children and babies. The war was
started by the U.S., but most Americans feel absolutely no sense of
personal responsibility for it.
Representative Charles Rangel recently proposed that the draft be
reinstated, suggesting that politicians would be more reluctant to take
the country to war if they understood that their constituents might be
called up to fight. What struck me was not the uniform opposition to
the congressman’s proposal — it has long been clear that
there is zero sentiment in favor of a draft in the U.S. — but the
fact that it never provoked even the briefest discussion of the
responsibilities and obligations of ordinary Americans in a time of war.
With no obvious personal stake in the war in Iraq, most Americans
are indifferent to its consequences. In an interview last week, Alex
Racheotes, a 19-year-old history major at Wesleyan University in
Connecticut, said: “I definitely don’t know anyone who
would want to fight in Iraq. But beyond that, I get the feeling that
most people at school don’t even think about the war.
They’re more concerned with what grade they got on
His thoughts were echoed by other students, including John
Cafarelli, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of New Hampshire,
who was asked if he had any friends who would be willing to join the
Army. “No, definitely not,” he said. “None of my
friends even really care about what’s going on in Iraq.”
This indifference is widespread. It enables most Americans to go
about their daily lives completely unconcerned about the atrocities
resulting from a war being waged in their name. While shoppers here are
scrambling to put the perfect touch to their holidays with the purchase
of a giant flat-screen TV or a PlayStation 3, the news out of Baghdad
is of a society in the midst of a meltdown.
According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 Iraqi civilians
were killed in September and October. Nearly 5,000 of those killings
occurred in Baghdad, a staggering figure.
In a demoralizing reprise of life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule,
the U.N. reported that in Iraq: “The situation of women has
continued to deteriorate. Increasing numbers of women were recorded to
be either victims of religious extremists or ‘honor
killings.’ Some non-Muslim women are forced to wear a headscarf
and to be accompanied by spouses or male relatives.”
Journalists in Iraq are being “assassinated with utmost
impunity,” the U.N. report said, with 18 murdered in the last two
Iraq burns. We shop. The Americans dying in Iraq are barely
mentioned in the press anymore. They warrant maybe one sentence in a
long roundup article out of Baghdad, or a passing reference — no
longer than a few seconds — in a television news account of the
latest political ditherings.
Since the vast majority of Americans do not want anything to do with
the military or the war, the burden of fighting has fallen on a small
cadre of volunteers who are being sent into the war zone again and
again. Nearly 3,000 have been killed, and many thousands more have been
The war has now lasted as long as the American involvement in World
War II. But there is no sense of collective sacrifice in this war, no
shared burden of responsibility. The soldiers in Iraq are fighting,
suffering and dying in a war in which there are no clear objectives and
no end in sight, and which a majority of Americans do not support.
They are dying anonymously and pointlessly, while the rest of us are
free to buckle ourselves into the family vehicle and head off to the
malls and shop.
I'm in the middle of The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann. This book is a mind-blower, and much of it leaves me speechless. I could be posting quotes from every page, but here's one that just grabbed my attention:
"Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness." (p. 86)
Unacceptable. As in, "I refuse to accept this." As in, "This is not satisfactory." As in, "I cannot, in good conscience, tolerate this." As in, "I don't know what to do, but I know I must do something."
Compassion as criticism. Compassion as a statement. Compassion as a line in the sand. Compassion as a means to stand against what is unacceptable. Compassion as an afront to the status quo. There's an intentionality here that really resonates with me.
Mike's Note: Robert's been ruminating on the iPod...
When I first heard of the red iPod campaign, I was all over it. Infact, if you recall, I was hoping to get one for Christmas but gradually, something about it started to bug me.I couldn't put my finger on it but something about the idea of buying an iPod to assist the less fortunate rubbed me the wrong way. I wasn't sure why it seemed wrong to me, it just did. It took me a few weeks but I finally figured it out.
On the surface, it sounds like a great idea. Buy an iPod, send money to Africa. What could be wrong with that? Seems like heaven. I love the iPod. It's one of the great products of our time. Helping Africa is also pretty big with me so you figure, combine the two and Robert should be all over this like a fat kid on a Smartie. But here's the thing. You're not donating anything. You're buying an iPod, just a somewhat cooler one. Apple is foregoing a small part of the profit it makes on an iPod and figures the increased volume will make up the $10 it is giving up.
It's all quite cynical if you think about it. Almost insulting, if you think about it.
Our society has become so obsessed with consuming, so insatiable about acquiring "stuff" that do-gooders like Bono and Oprah figure they need to wrap aid for the less fortunate in an iPod wrapper to get us to participate. How about asking people to help even if it involves a little sacrifice? No, we need to wrap philanthropy in a Tiffany box or we can't get excited. Here's how it should have been done: Apple should have ADDED $10 to the price and matched our donations so that a total of $20 would have been donated. That way, you are getting your iPod and actually making a donation as well. So, since Apple flubbed it's chance to allow you to participate in a good karma (or pro-Jesus) exercise (as the case may be), we have come to the rescue!
Donate the same $10 you SHOULD have been giving Apple to our Stephen Lewis Campaign! Guess what? There's absolutely nothing in it for you! It is an opportunity to be completely altruistic. We have complete faith that we don't need to dress us a generous act because we believe that people are basically good and that good people will do the right thing when presented with a bad situation.
Help prove us right.
After all, we are the people we've been waiting for.
David has written a short post pointing us to a handful of his African images. As I said after picking him up at the airport and seeing a few previews, next year's World Vision gift catalogue is going to be a work of art.
Today's update will need to be short because I'm on the run this morning.
Five weeks... I can't believe it.To watch this idea grow has been an amazing experience. Thank you so much for making this happen. Here are the quick and dirty statistics for this morning:
Number of donors: 362!
Number of Blogs linking to (Red)emption (that we're aware of): 77!
Actually, the numbers are changing even as I type this. Robert is attending a Manulife conference in Montreal, and he is working the room like a politician up for re-election! (Not unlike his neighbours, I figure they'll throw him out by about noon...)
Here's our thought for today. If everyone who has already donated could find just two others to participate, we would blow right through our goal of 1000. Several people have already figured this out; five minutes ago I received an email from someone making donations in the name of their spouse and two kids.
Or there are these thoughts:
Do you know someone who would absolutely never go for this? Then, donate on their behalf and tell them that you did it. That ought to drive them crazy!