Tag Archives: film

Skeletons in Societies’ Closet

The world slowly decays
Destruction fills my eyes
Harboring the image
Of a spiraling demise…
Slayer – Skeletons of Society

TLDR: If the world get’s any more economically unbalanced, we’re all fucked. Don’t believe me? Watch “Tell Me and I Will Forget”.

Somewhat fitting that on the last full shopping day before Christmas that I should spend the day with a few choice documentaries on Netflix. My own bias is that I will watch anything on Netflix that has a 3.0 or greater and I must watch anything that Netflix tells me is a 4.0 or greater. This system is working well for me. Countless stories I would ignore have become unexpected gems in my personal cinematic experience (cough, Revenge)[1]. Today Netflix took me to someplace new. With two documentaries and three hours of my time, I found myself thinking about the meaning of social justice. The two films:

“Tell Me And I Will Forget”

“Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal”

Both are available online for the cost of nothing more than your time. Both are worth an investment. Go and watch them; I’ll wait.

Invest 3 Hours of Your Life

We live in an increasingly disturbing world. One where mass shootings and work place violence increasing[2]. We search for answers but find none. The media declaims that these incidents are the works of deranged individuals and have neither rhyme nor reason. Politicians seek to win easy votes by explaining away the violence with the panacea of gun control[3] while ignoring the increasing trend of decreasing funds for mental health services[4].

Social Justice is a term often bandied about but seldom infused with personal meaning. It is difficult to understand societal problems in a meaningful way. The abstract nature of a societal scale problems pushes the problem towards the intangible and then the intractable. Some vague conceptual construct that only matters when impressing friends with cocktail conversation. That’s how I viewed social justice before spending three hours with these two films. In three hours I gained a sobering – no – chilling understanding of the “true” meaning of social justice[5]: Social justice is not about equality. It is about sustainability. Societies without a bias towards some form of Social Justice lack sustainability and as a result cannot have stability. Unsurprisingly, this instability is attributable to extreme economic disparity between rich and poor.

A society without social justice doesn’t need to ask if its society will collapse; it needs to ask when.

Societal Collapse by the Numbers

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
– Abraham Lincoln, the “House Divided Speech”

“… What he said, but s/slave/poor/g ; s/free/rich/g
– Me

Context is important. History has shown us time and time again: societal division eventually leads to revolution[6]. The most common division is along Economic lines. (I submit that the majority of religious revolutions were/are in fact driven by economics, but that’s another rant.) Never in the history of America has the chasm between rich and poor been so vast. According to the “State of Working America Report”, “America’s low- and middle-income families have suffered a lost decade” and could face “Another lost decade…”[7]. CEO compensation reached an all time high of 300 times the average workers’ pay[8] in the 1990s. As of 2005, CEO pay represented an astounding multiple of 821 times minimum wage[9]. In the years 1979 to 2007 63.1% of all income accumulated to the top 10% of earners in the US with the top 1% gaining the largest share of 38.3%. Or putting it thus: of all income growth between 1979 and 2007 only 36.9% went to the bottom 90% of earners in the United States[10]. These number represent a staggering inequality of income distribution. However, when considering actual wealth distribution the distributions are even more screwed – er – skewed[11]. The data clearly supports the following conclusion: the difference between the haves and the have-nots is undeniably really and grossly understated[12].[13]

Income Growth from 1997 to 2007 - provided by

Income Growth from 1997 to 2007

Where are we going and why are we in this hand-basket…

In an era where people continually ask where “American Society as a whole” – one of many contrived fictions we hold so dearly about the structure of America – is going, “Tell Me And I Will Forget” allows us to see all too clearly the endgame of America’s Economic Apartheid.

With a GDP of USD $408 billion, South Africa represents the largest economy on the African continent[14]. Since the fall of Apartheid in 1994 South Africa is in a rapid spiral of societal decay and is currently courting failed state status[15]. (Ironically, the US does not earn the highest ranking of “sustainable” and comes in at 159 on the list with a “moderate” rating: behind such economic luminaries as Romania [126], Spain [153] and – wait for it – Greece [138].)

“Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal” is the story of how lack of social justice becomes imbedded in our everyday institutions. Using the postal killings as a case study, “Murder by Proxy” peels back the layers beneath the surface of spontaneous violence. Revealing that the violence is neither spontaneous nor attributable to simple sources. The film exposes common factors behind people “going Postal”:

  • economic pressure
  • social isolation
  • embedding in an abusive environment (work, school, home)
  • No or limited access to mental and social support services

Both films present strong cases that the root cause is primarily economic in nature. In the case of the Postal system privatization created a shift from sustainable work environments towards profit at any cost. In the case of South Africa, the physical end of Apartheid did little to change the economic circumstance of the underclass of South Africa. Overwhelming economic advantage had already accumulated to the White superclass in South Africa and as a result, the end of Apartheid merely legitimized the amassing of wealth in to the hands of very few by allowing them the chance to say “mea culpa” without actually having to cede any previously plundered advantage[16]. “Tell Me And I Will Forget” depicts literal life and death inequality comparing the two “separate but equal” systems that provide emergency medical services throughout South Africa. In an era where the New Deal is dead and everything from the “US” Postal Service[17], to prisons, to the Military has been privatized[18]. We are faced with the disturbing likelihood that a strictly for-profit society is inherently unsustainable over any period of time covered by human history.

Being a part/beneficiary of the system doesn’t mean that you can’t see the injustice of the system.
If this continues… we’re all fucked.

  1. A show I never expected to like. But that is strangely engrossing. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit this.  ↩

  2. Detailed breakdown of workplace violence in the US covering the years 1997 to 2010(pdf) is available from the Bureau of Labor and statistics  ↩

  3. The Washington Post has a well balanced article backed by research that clarifies there are no easy answers to “gun violence” and “mass shootings”  ↩

  4. According to this report by the National Alliance on Mental Health States have cut more than $1.6 billon from mental health service budgets between 2009 and 2011  ↩

  5. Yes this is a bit rhetorical. Like everything there are multiple aspects and equality is just one of many  ↩

  6. Wikipedia has a list of revolutions going back to c. 2380 BC. The most fascinating part is that the list is not exhaustive and the “See Also” section is extensive. There is an entire “taxonomy of revolution” that we use to summarize the reasons behind social violence  ↩

  7. Key findings from the report on “The State of Working America”  ↩

  8. Economic Policy institute study on CEO pay from 1965–2010. The majority of this growth clearly started in the 80s’ and the introduction of “Trickle Down Economics” under the Regan administration.  ↩

  9. ”CEO Minimum Wage Ratio Soars”  ↩

  10. Source – EPI State Of Working America, figure 2Y  ↩

  11. A plain english explanation of Wealth distribution in 1998. Available data shows that the accumulation of wealth by the top 10% of Americans is still increasing. CPBB Study on “Historical Trends in Income Inequality”  ↩

  12. Pew Research Center, “A Nation of Haves and Have-Nots”  ↩

  13. The Economic Policy Institute has great research on the current state of the US economy. You can follow them as @EconomicPolicy on Twitter.  ↩

  14. Source: TradingEconomics.com Current GDP is USD 408 Billion, or 28th world wide  ↩

  15. Wikipedia “List of Countries by Failed States Index” South Africa ranks 115 out of 125 states under the “Warning” category  ↩

  16. ”Poverty and Inequality after Apartheid”(pdf) by Jeremy Seekings  ↩

  17. According to CNN Money, the USPS is the third largest private corporation in the US. Despite being a private company, and being the second largest civilian employer in the US after Wal-Mart, the CATO institute sites the USPS as having myriad economically damning problems  ↩

  18. I think reduction to absurdity provides the strongest arguments against unbounded capitalism. Few people would enjoy a justice system where murder of a loved was not prosecuted because the perpetrator could afford the going market price of a murder. Or consider if a doctors rate for providing services went up depending on if were suffering from a gun shot wound or merely tennis elbow. (The general term for this would be extortion.) In most cases we can argue that capitalism without limits results in a society without moral authority to carry out day to day processes.  ↩