Sunday, April 17, 2011

New York Times: The Missing Photo

I have been writing "utopic" visions and with others, have begun to envision a world of small, caring schools, floating to work on waterways and more time at home to hang laundry and grow gardens. This is the beginning of a lovely portrait of a shalom world, and it's fruitful to have these visions. "Without a vision, the people perish."

However ... in the real world, I sense something fearful.

I sensed it this morning when I woke up and pulled up the New York Times. I was faced with an image of illegal immigrants in Arizona, dressed in their black and white striped prison uniforms. For a moment, I couldn't quite register what I was seeing. If it hadn't been for the bright color photograph, I would have thought I was looking at a Nazi concentration camp. It was a disturbing image. So disturbing that I decided later I would blog about it.

But strangely, when I went back to grab the image from the New York Times, it had disappeared. A slideshow of five photos had been reduced to one image of students in Georgia protesting immigration. Hhhm. For some reason, the sudden disappearance of the inmates troubled me as much as the initial image.

The photo I've posted here is from the website:

The photo we now see is captioned: "Approximately 200 convicted illegal immigrants were handcuffed together and moved into a separate area of what has been deemed Tent City, by order of Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Wednesday, Feb. 4 2009. Arpaio is using Tent City to keep illegal immigrants separate from the rest of the inmate population. (AP photo)"

I wake up every morning and see the contours of life as I have always known it. There's food in abundance, a roof over our heads, warmth in the winter and gas for our cars. We take summer vacations and our children go to school or to college and we have gifts for Christmas and we read books and watch movies, take walks and visit friends. If we are sick, we go to the doctor. We put money away for retirement.

Yet since the financial crisis of 2008, I've felt anxious.

Roger and I spent a long weekend in Toronto last summer. We loved Toronto. Everyone seemed so relaxed and at ease. I didn't feel the undercurrent of fear that I do here.

At a weekend retreat in Barnesville, I asked a Canadian Friend about this, commenting on the different atmosphere I sense between here and Canada. Is it just me? I asked. Am I projecting my own anxiety onto the people around me?

No, he said. There's definitely some level of fear in the United States that's palpable. He feels it when he comes here. He doesn't know what it is.

Often, I want to brush all this away, like some nightmarish cobweb, to convince myself that it's some weird, warped fantasy devised by my own mind. Perhaps it's my fevered imagination that finds beneath the facade of normalcy that America is changing in unsettling and ominous ways. It must be me, I think. Perhaps I am spending too much time reading about Germany in the 1930s: Don't we always diagnose the illness we are studying?

And yet the dots ... I keep finding dots that unsettle me.

Five states, including Ohio, calling for sub-minimum wage for teenagers--along with a rollback on protections for teen workers.
IKEA taking advantage of the cheap labor in southern Virginia to open a factory there--$8 an hour for workers versus $19 in Sweden (their minimum wage).
Draconian laws against illegal immigrants.
A city in Michigan assuming "emergency powers ..." that takes governance from elected officials in favor of vesting it in an appointed board: (HT: MM)
Constant reports of the dramatic increases in the wealth of the upper 1 percent of our country, along with the flattening and even decrease of wealth for the rest of us.
News that Paul Ryan, author of the bill that would replace Medicare with inadequate medical vouchers for seniors, requires his staff to read Ayn Rand, a "philosopher" hostile to Christianity and apparently to any form of compassion save self interest.

I'm sure much more could be added. I worry that something strange is happening in the United States that will strip most of us of our rights and our livelihood, predicated on a financial "emergency." Am I even thinking this? How can this be? I fervently hope I am wrong and this current period and its excesses will dissipate as the American economy recovers.

Thomas Wolfe wrote eloquently about about his gradual, growing awareness of the profound evil of Nazi Germany during a visit there in 1936. It was this awareness of what he called a primeval evil that led him to conclude he couldn't go home again. He'd lost his innocence. The passage below, written on the heels of his visit to Germany, could equally apply to today:

From You Can't Go Home Again

I think the enemy is here before us, too. But I think we know the forms
and faces of the enemy, and in the knowledge that we know him, and shall
meet him, and eventually must conquer him is also our living hope. I
think the enemy is here before us with a thousand faces, but I think we
know that all his faces wear one mask. I think the enemy is single
selfishness and compulsive greed. I think the enemy is blind, but has the
brutal power of his blind grab. I do not think the enemy was born
yesterday, or that he grew to manhood forty years ago, or that he
suffered sickness and collapse in 1929 [or 2008], or that we began without the
enemy, and that our vision faltered, that we lost the way, and suddenly
were in his camp. I think the enemy is old as Time, and evil as Hell, and
that he has been here with us from the beginning. I think he stole our
earth from us, destroyed our wealth, and ravaged and despoiled our land.
I think he took our people and enslaved them, that he polluted the
fountains of our life, took unto himself the rarest treasures of our own
possession, took our bread and left us with a crust, and, not content,
for the nature of the enemy is insatiate--tried finally to take from us
the crust.

I think the enemy comes to us with the face of innocence and says to us:

"I am your friend."

I think the enemy deceives us with false words and lying phrases, saying:

"See, I am one of you--I am one of your children, your son, your brother,
and your friend. Behold how sleek and fat I have become--and all because
I am just one of you, and your friend. Behold how rich and powerful I
am--and all because I am one of you--shaped in your way of life, of
thinking, of accomplishment. What I am, I am because I am one of you,
your humble brother and your friend. Behold," cries Enemy, "the man I am,
the man I have become, the thing I have accomplished--and reflect. Will
you destroy this thing? I assure you that it is the most precious thing
you have. It is yourselves, the projection of each of you, the triumph of
your individual lives, the thing that is rooted in your blood, and native
to your stock, and inherent in the traditions of America. It is the thing
that all of you may hope to be," says Enemy, "for"--humbly--"am I not
just one of you? Am I not just your brother and your son? Am I not the
living image of what each of you may hope to be, would wish to be, would
desire for his own son? Would you destroy this glorious incarnation of
your own heroic self? If you do, then," says Enemy, "you destroy
yourselves--you kill the thing that is most gloriously American, and in
so killing, kill yourselves."

He lies! And now we know he lies! He is not gloriously, or in any other
way, ourselves. He is not our friend, our son, our brother. And he is not
American! For, although he has a thousand familiar and convenient faces,
his own true face is old as Hell.

Look about you and see what he has done.

1 comment:

Hystery said...

This week, I taught one class about the illegal arrests of American suffragists and their subsequent beatings and forced feedings in a facility where they were not allowed legal counsel. In my second class, I taught about the WWII era concentration camps for Japanese residents and Japanese American citizens here in the United States. Quaker activists were prevalent in both movements to counter these abuses. We must be vigilant, and we must not forget.