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). 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:
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. 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 while ignoring the increasing trend of decreasing funds for mental health services.
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: 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“
Context is important. History has shown us time and time again: societal division eventually leads to revolution. 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…”. CEO compensation reached an all time high of 300 times the average workers’ pay in the 1990s. As of 2005, CEO pay represented an astounding multiple of 821 times minimum wage. 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. These number represent a staggering inequality of income distribution. However, when considering actual wealth distribution the distributions are even more screwed – er – skewed. The data clearly supports the following conclusion: the difference between the haves and the have-nots is undeniably really and grossly understated.
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. Since the fall of Apartheid in 1994 South Africa is in a rapid spiral of societal decay and is currently courting failed state status. (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 , Spain  and – wait for it – Greece .)
“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. “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, to prisons, to the Military has been privatized. 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.