Sam Smith, 2013
One of the hazards of being a long time journalist is that you get used to some people doing bad things but most other people not giving much of a damn. It used to piss me off but eventually I began to take it for granted. Now I sometimes describe my efforts as drawing animals on the walls of a Lascaux cave of our time. Maybe someone will find it; most likely they won’t.
Yet, like Quakers and existentialists, you can still witness, even if you’ve lost faith, because it is the only chance you have. You either defend justice and the right thing or you become their silent subverter. Besides, much of what is going wrong is happening in the penumbra of power. If you live far enough away, live a life well removed, and occupy your mind with distant thoughts, loves and occupations, there is still much that sadly you have lost, but you and those around you at least remain remarkably freer than those caught in the trap at the top.
Rummaging through the unrecycled trash heap of the First American Republic, there are little things that still surprise me. Not great catastrophes but trivial matters that also seem deeply revealing.
Like the refusal to let a German author into America because of what he had written about the NSA. Or the Seal kidnappings in countries that are members of the United Nations but which we now treat as if we’re the Chicago cops of the world and they are just part of the global ghetto. Or the Clintons thugging a documentary producer out of his efforts before Hillary Clinton has even announced her campaign.
Small but nasty stuff that most, from perps to media to public, now just take as normal –little indicators of how we have given up.
Part of the dirty little reason for this is because the people who used to stand up against such things are far more typically afraid. Churches don’t want to lose their members, universities their big bucks from government and corporations, reporters their jobs, non-profits their funding from foundations that have become co-conspirators with those they once challenged,
I have always been fascinated with stories about, and interviews with, major criminals. How can they possibly justify such a life style? How do they really feel when they kill someone? But over time what I have learned from these interviews is that all you have to do is redefine normal and evil becomes just another routine day. The very absence of concern is what lets them act the way they do.
This works as well in politics and not just with Whitey Bulger. Which is why dictatorships often do not need military force to have their way. All they have to do is to get people to shrug their shoulders and look someplace else. As the French say, “It exists.”
The big story of America’s past few decades has been the normalization of wrong. We have lost the sort of major leaders who might challenge it, tell us why it is wrong, and build alternatives.
To be sure, plenty of the less powerful are still on the case, but never in my lifetime have I seen such little support for a better way coming from places like Capitol Hill, churches, universities, and those folks who dub themselves “public intellectuals.”
But while I’m short on faith, I still have a few dreams, one of which is that some black, latino, labor, ecological, youth and women’s organizations will finally discover how to stop defending just their own back yard, and join together in a movement that will make the Tea Party seem a minor anachronism. The numbers are there, the will is waiting, and the soul is just slumbering awaiting the sound of joyous rebellion and creation.
And if you need me, you can find me in one of those caves painting animals on the wall.