So I read a post on Facebook today, by a guy I barely knew from back in high school. It basically said “I’m sick of all this #prayforgaza shit, people die everywhere” and then went on to say stuff about how people should wake up, because the Nike shoes you wear are made in sweatshops that are probably forced labor, people in Detroit running out of resources, and there are people dying everywhere even in our backyards, so we should all wake up to these realities.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think his points were wrong or invalid. I think it’s true, people are dying and struggling everywhere, even in the United States, like in the poorer neighborhoods. People are struggling, in the U.S., in Thailand, in France, wherever. But honestly, I’m sick of people (and here I’m talking specifically about Americans, and most of this post is directed toward Americans) thinking that everything bad that happens outside of their hometown somehow happens in a vacuum, and that because it doesn’t happen to people they know specifically, then it doesn’t affect them and more importantly (and more destructively), they shouldn’t care. No. Because everyone should care. You know why? Because America is a powerful country. We won wars, we start wars, we invade countries, we have the power to do that. We have the power to support countries that are going through wars, we have a powerful say in international relations. You know why we have a powerful say? Because, as many American exceptionalist would say, America’s the greatest fucking country in the world. For the record, we’re not, but we’re pretty damn powerful, that’s for sure. You know who’s powerful in a powerful country? People who run it. Politicians. You know who gave those politicians the power? Ordinary people like you and me.
When I say America has a powerful voice in international relations, I’m saying we, ordinary people like you and me, have powerful voices in international relations. Sure, stuff that happens outside of the U.S. don’t really affect us, but what we do, especially when it comes to civic duties, does affect people outside. And we should wake up to those realities.
Now let’s be clear here, I’m not saying the whole system’s perfect, because it’s not. Being a journalist, I firmly held the belief that in order for a democracy to function, the citizenry has to be informed (ergo the media, although you know, the media can be corrupt too). Is the American citizenry informed? Not as thoroughly as they should be. And even if they are informed, or have the privilege to be informed, many of them think differently, and so disagreements happen. Disagreements are not inherently a bad thing, but it’s definitely a bad thing when it causes shit to not get done. And oh boy, has that happen way too often for our own good. And on the other hand, there are always ways for people to get power even when we don’t elect them, and that’s a huge fucking bummer. You know why that happens? Cause we live in a capitalistic society, and that creates injustices. Money makes the world go round, and in a world that values free-market, money makes it spin. When I was in grade school in Indonesia, we were taught that in a socialist society, everyone gets the same thing, no matter who they are and what they do and how hard they worked. But in capitalism, it’s based on the concept of individual rights, so theoretically, everyone would get something that reciprocates what they worked for. I thought, that’s a good idea! Cause people are different so of course their successes would be different! Go capitalism! But of course, only years later did I realize that yeah, that’s a good idea, if only everyone got an equal playing field to begin with, that way when some people get less things, it will actually because they didn’t work hard enough, not because they started lower than everyone else. And how can people start lower than everyone else? Well, the United States was based on imperialism, silly, do you expect people to have a jolly good time after that? Racism, sexism, white supremacy, anyone? That’s how corrupt the system can be. This whole paragraph’s totally off topic, but probably worth saying anyway.
Now back to my point about Gaza and our civic duties. We have the capacity to care about more than one thing at a time, we’re humans, we’re fucking smart and evolved and whatnot. And yeah no, just posting #prayforGaza isn’t gonna do anything unless you do something about it. But that doesn’t mean that you should stop doing things, it means you should start doing things. So start doing things. Realize just how much power you have. When you say “America is the greatest fucking country in the world,” don’t just say it with blind pride and nationalism, say it with the recognition of how much power and privilege you have by being an American citizen. Check your privilege. Our votes are powerful, our media’s everywhere, even our passports are powerful. Do you know how many countries we can get to visa-free? (Or get visas upon arrival?) Lots.
Caring about things that happen a world away doesn’t mean you should forget the things that happen in your neighborhood. Caring about children being bombed in Gaza doesn’t mean you should stop caring about kids being targeted by police because of their skin color in New York City. Yeah, sure, it gets tiring caring about a lot of things, people getting bombed and frisked and stuff, but do you know what’s even more tiring? Getting bombed and frisked and stuff.
Everyday, I open my Digg Reader, cause I subscribe to a lot of RSS feeds from different news outlets, watchdog organizations, analysts, NGOs, and all that, just in case there are story ideas there. This means that every day I get a dose of just how evil this world can be. A plane with innocent people was shot down because the people below it are killing each other for power in Ukraine, and a few friends of mine actually know someone on that plane. In Gaza, people are getting fucking bombed. In Bosnia, people are just starting to properly bury the victims of war crimes from WW2, which they recently found in a mass grave. These are like 2 percent of the depressing headlines.
At work, I like to sit with the guy who does the World pages, because he gets the news from the wires, and you can really analyze the difference between American news orgs’ coverage and Eurpoean news orgs’ coverage, especially on Middle East issues. But anyway. Yesterday, I left work seeing headlines of 300+ people dying in Gaza. Today, I left work seeing headlines of 400+ people dying in Gaza. Within 24 hours, more than a hundred people were killed. Sure you may read, oh wow there are more than 400 people dead. But read it again. There are more than 400 people dead. Many more are dying and injured. If you’ve ever gone to court, watch a movie about crimes, or just not live under a rock, you know that generally, the sanctions for killing one human being are pretty rough, right? Well multiply that one person by 400+. Logically, shouldn’t the sanctions be 400+ times rougher? Theoretically, sure. In practice, what’s really being done about it? I’ll tell you when we all find out. God knows when that’s gonna be.
Today at work, we were trying to find photos to go along with the depressing stories. The sheer nature of the photos got me so so depressed. Like what the fuck world. How did we let this happen. My stomach turned, God knows what the photographer’s stomach might be like. Both Rajive and I couldn’t do anything but shook our heads and wonder how something like this could happen. I feel like there must be a way to stop this. But then again, I feel like it’ll need to be a combination of ordinary people talking louder and people in power listening closer. God knows when that’s gonna happen.
You know what got me really depressed? The fact that when I die, when my generation dies, things like hate and the hunger for power won’t die, so there will probably still be people suffering. When I was in grade school, we had a religion class, and I remember someone asking the teacher why God invented the world, the universe, the earth, mankind, etc. The teacher said because God had a lot of love and he wanted to spread the love around. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, because I was just too busy waiting for lunchtime. But now, I am honestly baffled at how he could say that with a straight face and so earnestly. God wanted to spread the love around? Tell that to the 400+ dead people in Gaza. And Bosnia. And Ukraine. And Burma. And everywhere. Makes me so giddy with love. If only the deceased were told the same thing I was when they were in grade school. Maybe they can follow-up with God when they meet. “Is it true you wanted to spread the love around? Or was Imana’s grade-school teacher just spreading a load of crap?”
Anyway, sorry for the depressing post, but I’ll just leave you with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite humanists of all time. It’s not cheerful, but it’s spot-on and witty, and that cheered me up slightly. Wit is a great pick-me-up. It’s from the book “A Man Without a Country,” and it’s seriously one of the greatest books ever written. SO many brilliant insights on life and spoken so simply, with the classic dark humor and razor sharp wit that Vonnegut so effortlessly embodies.
A note from Vonnegut early in the book: "I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I’m kidding.” Without further ado:
Loaded pistols are good for everyone except inmates in prison or lunatic asylums.
Millions spent on public health are inflationary.
Billions spent on weapons will bring inflation down.
Dictatorships to the right are much closer to American ideals than dictatorships to the left.
The more hydrogen bomb warheads we have, all set to go off at a moment’s notice, the safer humanity is and the better off the world will be that our grandchildren will inherit.
Industrial wastes, and especially those that are radioactive, hardly ever hurt anybody, so everybody should shut up about them.
Industries should be allowed to do whatever they want to do: Bribe, wreck the environment just a little, fix prices, screw the customers, put a stop to the competition, and raid the Treasury when they go broke.
That’s free enterprise.
And that’s correct.
The poor have done something very wrong or they wouldn’t be poor, so their children should pay the consequences.
The United States of America cannot be expected to look after its own people.
The free market will do that.
The free market is an automatic system of justice.