"Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer."
As I look at the world around me, with its many injustices, it is at first tempting to imagine that all of this is new. An unarmed black man was shot seven times in the back by police, who then encouraged the violent vigilantism of a seventeen year old white man. He then openly murdered people who were protesting the violence of those same police. When he was arrested, he was not injured. How can this happen?
Well, to start, it's not new. In fact, it's just about the oldest institution in America.
Even a passing reflection of the history of policing in the US reveals that, as an organization, they are directly descendant of the first law enforcement institution, which was the slave patrols. They were formed with the sole task of returning escaped slaves to the plantations that "owned" them. The history of policing in the US cannot be told without telling a history of white supremacy and violent anti-blackness.
But things got better after Martin Luther King Jr., didn't they?
In order to understand why that isn't true, we need to take closer look at the life and legacy of MLK. If you aren't old enough to actually remember him (and I'm not), you could be forgiven for believing that he was a highly regarded and universally loved celebrity in his lifetime. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was begrudgingly tolerated as long as his Dream consisted solely of being judged "not by the color of [his] skin, but by the content of [his] character." This was an intangible and non-monetary dream. However, toward the end of his life, he began to advocate for economic justice in the form of wealth re-distribution and labor protections. And he was killed in the line duty when he traveled to Memphis to support black sanitation workers who were on strike.
I want you to really think about that when you read news articles about the athletes who are striking (yes, striking; not boycotting) the multi-billion dollar industry they work for. This is what heroes look like, people.
The two most insidious evils in the United States today are racism and capitalism, but what often goes misunderstood is that these two forces are manifestations of the same fundamental evil. Both are built on the concept of exploiting the labor of a class of human beings to benefit a smaller class of human beings. In fact, capitalism as we know it in the United States could never have come to be were it not for the concentrations of wealth that first occurred under slavery.
Now, I'm not going to pretend that my being forced to work for "slave-wages" means in any way that I have experienced anything like the horrible dehumanization of actual slavery. Anyone who makes that correlation does so from a vantage point of ignorance at their own privilege. But what I can say is that it is rooted in an effort by the same class of wealth to exploit my labor, for their benefit. They do so without whips and chains, and that distinction is more than a minor one.
But while they no longer enslave black people in the same way, they do murder them openly, and with impunity. The mass calls for defunding the police are coming from an awakening in the social consciousness to the fact that the police always have, and always will, exist to protect those who directly benefit from the exploitation of other human beings from the human beings they exploit. Poverty has been weaponized in this country, and the long arm of the law bears that weapon with brazen contempt.
During a global pandemic that has left hundreds of thousands of people without work and almost two hundred thousand Americans dead, Jeff Bezos has managed to accumulate two hundred billion dollars worth of exploited labor. This sum of money boggles the mind, but there are a few ways to wrap your head around that kind of number. There are about half a million homeless people (at least, before the pandemic). Jeff Bezos could give each of them four hundred thousand dollars. Or he could give each of them three hundred thousand dollars and still have fifty billion dollars for himself, which is still an obscene amount of wealth. If we taxed people like him, who collectively own four and a half trillion dollars worth of exploited labor, at a truly fair rate, we could end poverty, give our children a world-class education that would lead to mind-blowing innovations, and every American citizen could be living a life of their dreams.
And research shows that when people are stable, safe, housed, fed, and educated, they are also more productive and creative.
But what is evident is that this is not the goal. Those at the top of this tower of wealth seem to have become myopically deranged in a manner that correlates almost exactly with something like addiction. They are literally too sick with power and wealth to see that what they are doing is destroying the world and killing people. It has also led us into a kind of economy that only works when we remove regulations that protect not just individual human lives, but the planet itself. This economy also produces over two hundred million tons of garbage every year, of which only about thirty percent is recycled.
What we must reckon with is that no system of power exists that is motivated to serve our needs or combat these evils. It is on us. It is tempting to believe that we can vote our way out of this mess, but even a casual investigation of the inner workings of either party reveals that both are beholden to the same dragons, viciously protecting their ill-gotten hoards.
It is necessary to be angry now.
But, as the quote at the top of this article suggests, it is also necessary to realize that this evil, as old and terrible as it is, still has not crushed the indomitable human spirit. We have fought this battle for ages. Let me be clear, we're losing it very badly right now--perhaps moreso than ever before--but that is just all the more reason that now is not the time for complacency.
Which is exactly why I have decided that my career as a writer cannot continue without directly addressing the realities before me. I have decided that, however afraid it might make me, I must speak truth to power. And to that end, this will not be the last time I write about it. Far from it.
The gag has fallen.