June 28, 2009
A few posts back I discussed the disturbing trend in some parts of the American political landscape to categorize all “right-wingers” as being in some way inherently dangerous and violent. The more radical “liberal” voices in America have called for surveillance, pre-emptive arrests, and other measures that only a few months ago they would have decried. But a few months ago the other Party was in power. Now their Party is in power, and that makes all the things Bush et al did completely kosher. Because one’s own Party can do no wrong.
But I digress. Going back to the subject at hand, part of this trend to vilify “conservative” or “right-wing” elements includes such glorious acts of legislation as the “Hate Crimes Bill” that Alexander Cockburn has rightly condemned for its brazen assaults on free speech, as well as erasing the whole idea of equality before the law. Some animals are more equal than others. Measures like “hate crime” legislation, as well as the whole cultural milieu that reeks with disgust and loathing for lesser Americans- that is, conservative, right-wing, rural, uneducated, excessively religious, and so on; Americans who do not share the cultural, religious, and moral norms of the American elite and their followers. Many of the “wrong sort” of Americans are in the South, and many of them are lower-middle class or poorer whites, but not all. African-American Pentecostals in northern urban areas are just as frightening to the Great and the Good, though harder to attack and loathe due to their membership in one of the ostensibly “protected” groups.
But the usual target, or intended target anyway, of elite loathing and disgust is probably white, probably lower-middle class, somewhat educated perhaps (but not sufficiently in any case), “reactionary,” and dangerous. Particularly when they have guns- and God knows a bunch of them have guns. Sometimes their guns and their Bibles meet, and that’s a perfect storm of scariness, as in this weekend’s (rather bizarre to be sure) Kentucky guns in the church-house event. Everything about the situation is incomprehensible and frightening to many other Americans- the liberal elite, the “creative classes,” the Great and the Good in general. Read the comments at the New York Times article- the readers hailing from the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest maybe, but mostly the urban, elite, and educated seaboards- to gauge the levels of fear and disgust. The basic drift: these people are dangerous. They have guns, they have Bibles, they are not like us.
It follows then that these people, these backwards, Bible-toting and deer-killing crackers, need, at the very least, regulating, controlling. Some of their actions- whether it’s “hate speech” or gun-toting or child-raising- must be criminalized. Some of them need to be locked up, whether it’s as part of the war on hate or the war on guns or whatever.
Criminalizing vast swathes of the American population is of course nothing new. Many of the inhabitants of our inner cities and our outer rural hinterlands are part of a vast criminalized class as part of the war on drugs; occasional stabs at “reform” are occasionally made, to be sure, and some states are trying to reel back the extent of their criminalization of so much of society, but only because of rising costs and declining revenues. No one is particularly worried about the fact that we have consigned so many people to be perpetual “criminals,” always subject to the violence of the State and the violence of the drug-market and all its related evils, from broken households to prostitution to unstable inner-city economies. No one is worried because the inhabitants of this criminal class are also the wrong sort of people, are unattractive people, and, crucially, right and left pretty much agree on this. The left might moderate its language and sometimes its actions with weak calls to “reform” or greater emphasis on “rehabilitation,” but that’s about it. Undocumented immigrants comprise another “criminal class,” but their criminalization is at least somewhat more controversial, probably because many “illegal immigrants” are, after all, rather hard to condemn: hard workers, thrifty, family-oriented, and perhaps even physically attractive (certainly more so than, say, an inner city hooker or meth addict).
But to the already existing criminalized classes, some in this country would very much like to add another: the gun-toters, Bible-thumpers, intolerant hicks, however you want to label them. And at least some of the gears are in motion, certainly the ideological.Will the effort to create a new criminalized class succeed? Perhaps. But at the same time it could well overburden the system: there will increasingly be few people left in America who have not been criminalized, as whole states are in effect consigned to the outer darkness, their inhabitants condemned by the Great and the Good for any number of infractions. And the newly criminalized are unlikely to just lay down their guns- literally and metaphorically- and accept their lot; even more unlikely are they to reform their thoughts and accept their legislated proper behaviour. Rather, one should expect “blowback,” just as our meddling and cultural imperialism in other parts of the world have had less than pleasant consequences. Treat anyone like a colonial subject and he will react; if you continuously inject violence into a situation do not be surprised at the results. The strain of criminalizing so many in so much of American could perhaps prove to be too much for the system to bear- how many people can one nation realistically lock up? How much of the population can the State directly antagonize before it loses its ability to control and coerce all of them? How long before blowback, violent or otherwise? To be clear, I do not want to suggest that we will face, say, vast swathes of rural Southern America producing terrorists or something, anymore than most Muslims have become raging jihadis after years of American provocation. Nor is it likely- though I may be wrong- that the criminalization of “right-wingers” will ever reach the extent of the criminalization associated with the drug-war. But in the event of any ongoing campaign for mass criminalization, the results will not be pretty, and will certainly not contribute to a more decent and more just society.
June 26, 2009
Song of Solomon 5.6: I opened to my Nephew; my Nephew had gone, and my soul went out with his word.*
‘See how, as she opened, He had gone. This means that once I had lifted the eyes of my mind to the meaning of Scripture, to behold the inexaminable depths of the knowledge of His grace, once I had opened my heart to embrace that fleeting glimpse, and to examine and become informed of and comprehend the depths of his knowledge, what eluded my weak mind’s grasp so awed me that for desire of it I would have forgotten that knowledge which I had received when I opened.
‘For that reason she says, my Nephew had gone; it is as if no sooner was He seen that He at once withdrew, swift as the lightening. And my soul went out with his word; that is, “having obtained a small glimmering of his words my soul left me and pursed His words.” To put it another way, I recognized Him, and I was united to His love, and I was ebullient with His commandments. And thinking that I had attained something, I recognized myself to be all the more distant from attainment; seeing the true Sun, I recognized by His light how distant I am from knowledge.
‘I brought to mind that which this same divine Solomon said in another place: “Whoever increases knowledge, increases pain.” By saying this, he does not discourage one from gaining knowledge of Holy Writ, lest one’s pain increase; rather, he exhorts one to grow yet more in knowledge, and by that amount of knowledge to understand that the knowledge of what eludes one is knowledge unfathomable. For as a drunkard but thirsts the more, no matter how much he drinks, so also is the person who yearns after the meaning of the divinely inspired Scriptures: no matter how much he learns, he desires to learn yet more, knowing that he will never uncover the full understanding of the sacred Scriptures. Once his desire for its meaning has been kindled, it becomes a kind of hurt in his spirit, for by means of a little understanding he recognizes the boundlessness of what eludes him, and the desire for that knowledge infects him like a pain, albeit that pain and solicitude increase his healing discoveries.’
St. Gregory of Narek, Commentary on Solomon’s Song of Songs, trans. by Roberta Ervine (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2007)
* Note: you will notice even from this excerpt that St. Gregory’s text is somewhat different from either the Septuagint or Masoretic recensions; in lieu of ‘beloved’ this Armenian recension has ‘nephew,’ among other differences.
June 17, 2009
A man whose job it was to keep the peace
Beat up a drunk, who fought for his release
And cried: ‘It’s you who’s tippled too much wine;
Your rowdiness is ten times worse than mine-
Who’s causing this disturbance, you or me?
But yours is drunkeness that men can’t see;
Leave me alone! Let justice do its worst-
Enforce the law and beat yourself up first!’
Farid ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds (Mantiq al-Tayr)
June 16, 2009
Today is the feast-day of St. Tikhon of Kaluga, a fifteenth century Russian saint, who, according to the brief vita on the OCA daily saints’ page, left his native Moscow in order to live in a great hollow oak out in the hinterlands. Apparently this oak was on royal property and St. Tikhon had not bothered to secure a residency permit. When the prince holding title to the oak tree and its environs threatened to run the saint off however, the prince found himself suddenly incapacitated and St. Tikhon got to stay…
I particularly love saints like this, whether they were living in old trees or hanging out with wild deer, who express a deep and innocent ‘return to nature’; in the case of the saint, a quite literal return or restoration and transfiguration of nature, both within himself and within the world surrounding him, of which he is in fact a part, and to which Christ has united Himself and exalted with Himself into glory. The saint realizes, albeit in a local and limited manner, this glorification, and hence one of the important functions of hagiography across Christian traditions is to emphasize the transformation of the natural world especially through the presence of the saint.
St. Tikhon the Tree-Dweller, pray for us!
(On a rather tangentially related note- East Tennessee was also home to at least one hollow tree dweller, though presumably not a particularly saintly one, one Big Foot Spencer.)
June 14, 2009
Posted by Jonathan under Culture
, Current Events
, North & South
| Tags: Conservative
, Loving One's Neighbor
|  Comments
The following are a few thoughts, more or less in order but of fairly rough outline, on the looming specter of ‘right-wing terror.’ Comments or corrections welcome.
I am struck by how similar the current establishment left campaign to vilify the entire conservative movement and everyone else on the right and the (on-going) efforts by the right to do the same sort of thing to the Muslim world. Both are preposterous; both are rooted in a desire to see one’s political enemies as one massive, undifferentiated (and hence quite faceless) horde that can then be easily attacked through the worst examples inhering in said horde. Thus, in the current campaign of anti-rightist hysteria (for examples, just take a look at Krugman and Rich in that bastion of rational peace-mongering, cough, the NYT) everyone on the right is placed in the same box of ‘right-wing’: paleoconservatives to Tea Party types to white nationalists to neo-Nazis to pro-life activists. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to notice the vast discrepancies that lie between these different groups, including the fact some of them have nothing more in common than some common enemies and, usually, shared melanin content. A Tea-Party neoconservative sort and a neo-Nazi anti-Semite- come on. Glenn Beck and Stormfront are not the same thing, even if they happen to converge on some points; only through the simplistic device of ‘left and right’ can they be at all grouped together. The same logic would equivocate Hillary Clinton and Murray Bookchin (assuming one could be a convincing case for a Clinton being at all on the left; just barely maybe…), and would be equally flawed. And the same logic, going back to my comparison, has been used to mass all Muslims together as being either outright or secretly violent and just waiting to go crazy, for either inexplicable (‘they hate our freedom’) reasons, or because of religiously inherent animosity towards all non-Muslims and especially America. Salafists become al-Qaeda become Sufis. A similar sort of reckless essentialism and equivocation is going on, if not as deeply or widely- for now- against right-wing and conservative Americans, and with it calls, some explicit and some implicit, for the State to start busting heads.
Particularly gregarious are the attempts, some more obvious than others, to equivocate genuine hard-rightists (in the classic, European sense of the term) of the neo-Nazi variety with the average conservative, or, for slightly more comparative purposes, particularly intense conservatives. Such an attempt is, of course, an attempt to smear the broader right with the charge of antisemitism, which, at first glance, seems a promising venture. After all, much of today’s conservative movement has at least ancestral roots in the old Southern segregationist movement (though this does not necessarily mean much of anything, but that’s another topic), which wasn’t exactly known for being pro-semetic, to say the least. But the present is rather different: the modern South is, if anything, a rabidly prosemitic place. And I don’t just mean pro-Israel- sure, no doubt one of the significant reasons for Southern evangelical (and I suppose evangelicals elsewhere in the US, but my lived knowledge base of American Christianity is mostly limited to the South) support of Israel and hence prosemitism developed out of a very particular interpretation of dispensationalist theology that places a high value on Israel and the Jewish people. But it would be false and unfair to suggest that Southern evangelicals only support Israel and ‘like’ Jews as part of an apocalyptic scheme to bring Jesus back. Growing up evangelical in the South, I was taught- both explicitly and implicitly- to value not just Israel but Jewish people and Judaism in general, even as the distinction was maintained between the two. Say what you will of groups like Jews for Jesus, but having Jewish people in rural Southern churches acting out Jewish ritual- that’s pretty significant. And it’s pervasive- I’ve encountered a fair amount of anti-African American sentiment in the South, and some anti-Latino sentiment, but I can recall having witnessed only a couple instances of antisemitism. Maybe some of my readers have encountered more, maybe it’s lurking out there somewhere- if so, probably outside the orbit of Southern evangelicalism. But therein lies part of my point- right-wing conservative evangelicals are, if anything, rabidly prosemitic; advocating limits on Jewish settlement expansion borders on the blasphemous. Yet we’re supposed to imagine them and neo-Nazis on the same scale, as somehow being part of the same movement?
Of course, there are the genuine out-and-out white nationalists and the members of the paleoconservative right who tend in that direction- and some of these people probably are genuinely racist and possibly even antisemitic. But again, lumping them together, first of all part of some cognent unified movement of- what, paleoconservatives?- is artificial and inaccurate, and become even more gregarious when trying to bring the ‘mainstream’ conservative movement into it. Trust me, the average right-winger in America has probably never heard of V-DARE and probably hates Patrick Buchanan almost as much as he hates Barack Obama. But again, we’re expected to group them altogether and be sufficiently afraid of all of them.
Ditto on the pro-life movement: we’re supposed to imagine pro-lifers all being rabidly waiting to blow up or shoot (God knows those people are armed to the teeth, not like civilized White people) saintly abortionists like the Martyr Till. It’s not a huge leap, of course, to move from such hysterical diatribe to demanding the prosecution of all ‘radical’ pro-life activists, with the parameters of ‘radical’ being stretched further and further. First rosaries, then firebombs, right?
In the end much of comes down to a simple fear of especially, though not exclusively, a certain sort of American, usually rural or perhaps suburban (but imagined no doubt as rural), evangelical, possibly Pentecostal (the scariest sort), likely Southern and white (but not White, naturally), uneducated (or at least in the right way), and heavily armed. God, the guns- nothing is as frightening as their guns. Crackers with guns. They have ideology- ideologies if you’re being slightly fairer and not entirely collapsing them into one mass- which makes them even more frightening; they have grievances, they listen to idiots on the radio, like the wrong music, and read the Bible far too much and take it far too seriously.
Maybe I exagerate a little, but not too much, I think. And let me add the caveat- certainly, I can’t stand much of what goes on and is accepted and advocated in various corners of the right. I find the near and outright xenophobia and racism of the paleoconservative right disgusting and destructive, along with similar manifestations elsewhere in the more mainstream right; the warmongering of the neoconservative right is equally repulsive. Certainly, elements all along the right have engaged in ugly tactics and advocated awful things; they have also and continue to advocate many good things, whether on behalf of the unborn or against aggresive foreign policy or in favour of free markets (though one rarely finds all three of these in one place on the right…). There is nothing dangerous or particularly wrong about pointing out the sins of the right. But the tone and intentions that seem to lie behind the ongoing campaign against an undifferentiated right-wing in general- from Stormfront to Bill O’Reilly- is deeply troubling and dangerous. Letterman’s recent crass jokes at Sarah Palin’s expense- a politician, it should be obvious, I have some serious issues with myself- are a snapshot of the prevailing attitude in America’s elite and in much of the centre-left. There is a hatred for conseratives, in particular, because they are the wrong sort of people. They vote the wrong way, they have outdated notions, they can’t accept change. They’re like natives in a colonial state, they’re like the image of Muslims that right-wingers had crafted as part of the ‘war on terror’: ignorant, different, dangerous, a horde. Sure, maybe they feel threatened by Federal policies, by changing culture- that’s because they’re natives, uneducated, different, violent.
And like natives in any good colonial state, they must be controlled before they lash out. For their own good, of course. We’ll see how far the current hysteria carries- it may well die down and things chug along with mutual hatred and miscomprehension, which would be better than a ramped-up police state and random acts of terrorism. For if you treat people like colonials they’re likely to respond; and one should not forget that Ghandi was something of an exception in anti-colonial struggle. The possibility for xenophobia and outright racism certainly exists all along the right; persecuting and vilifying people isn’t going to help things. The average right-wing American is not violent, even if some folks get hot on internet forums; indeed, not unlike with the Muslim world, if even a small percentage of right-wingers were willing to carry out mass violence, we’d be in trouble.
In closing, one of the things that has for some time struck me as both ironic and tragic is the way in which both Islamic societies and Southern white culture are so often construed in similar ways, even as Southern whites enlist and are enlisted into campaigns against Muslim peoples (I doubt whether most Muslims have any awarness of the South or Southern whites as distinct but if they did no doubt perceptions would be equally bad). The Southern white and the traditional Muslim are both cast as backwards, inherently violent, religion-bound, incapable of dealing with change or ‘progress,’ wedded to their traditions, and in need of paternalistic (or perhaps not so paternalistic) care. In both cases, one can easily enough find examples to flesh out the stereotype, and thus enforce the faceless image of a foreign, deadly threat. And sure, if one looks one can find unsavory views and attitudes in both the average Southern white and the average traditional Muslim (along with views and attitudes you’re not taught to expect in either); but this does not prove in either case that average Bubba or Ahmed is out to wreck and kill, and it certainly does not justify dehumanizing reduction to a faceless other.
The great Bill Kauffman has often articulated a vision of society in which the ‘wrong sort of white people,’ like our much-maligned crackers with guns, can join forces or at least stop sniping at other ‘wrong sorts of people,’ whether commune hippies growing their own food or Latinos in the rural barrios of the South. These various groups- for so long played off and playing themselves off against each other- could then work for their genuine interests, united in so many things that they share in common. It’s a beautiful, humanistic vision, and Mr Kauffman remains fairly optimistic about it. Mass lumping of conservative Americans, of all stripes, into the category of the violent irrational Other does not move us any closer to a humane goal like Kauffman’s; it only serves to perpetuate the divisions and excaberate the already existing hatred and mistrust. Add in the sorts of police-state measures some people are advocating and it will only grow far worse. If we try, on the other hand- all of us, whether conservative or socialist or libertarian- to see our neighbors as genuine human beings who carry concerns and harbour fears like the rest of us, we move much closer to a more humane and livable future. God knows it can be hard- God knows I’ve felt some pretty nasty sentiments towards people in my native South, I’ve gotten frustrated and angry, I’ve failed miserably at loving my closest neighbors, much less my more distant ones. I’ve shot back with all but bullets, and being a contrarian libertarian sort, I usually end up shooting in all directions… But it remains that, as cliche as it sounds, fighting fire with fire, xenophobia with xenophobia, is only a recipe for more pain, for more violence, from all sides.
God have mercy on us and teach us to love our neighbors, or at least to stop shooting, with bullets or otherwise, at them.
June 9, 2009
The following are a few shots I took while biking around Knoxville a couple afternoons ago, most of them within a mile or two of my house. Back in the late forties an American travel writer dubbed our fair city the ugliest in America, which words spurred the city notables to action. In time the beautification, if that’s what we want to call it, of Knoxville would include the Sunsphere (see below)- a structure that is- well, let’s just say it’s charming in a kitschy-I-see-it-everyday-so-I-have-to-like-it way. Maybe. At any rate, the scruffy little city- another epithet it was given in the later half of the twentieth century (in the first half it was known as the Underwear Capital of the World, for what that’s worth)- is actually a quite pretty little city, if you know where to look.
Maybe even including the Sunsphere.
I had driven by the old- built in 1905- Louisville and Nashville depot nearly every day since moving to Knoxville and had been telling myself almost every time that I needed to stop and have a look. I finally got around to it- the delay mainly caused by the awkward location the depot is now in, with the construction of a major intersection hard against it; it’s no longer in the route of too many people on foot or bike, so it has to be searched out. But it’s an absolutely beautiful building that deserves greater use than it’s currently getting (the city’s main public library may be moving there, I’ve heard).
Overpass in the Old City; while the ridiculous tangle of over-sized highways slicing through downtown is agravating, I still find the interplay of the stark lines and colours of overpasses with the sky.
The infamous Sunsphere. As mentioned above, our giant disco ball on a stick does start to grow on you after a while.
Flowers at the roadside: left, primroses in the Island Home neighborhood; right, wild parsnip (?) in the Old City.
Wonderful house and garden over here near Morningside. The glass-block mail box is just brilliant.
Below: sort of posing cat atop a car in Island Home, and the Gay Street Bridge, looking back at downtown.
Finally, a piece of roadside art/graffiti I seredipitiously chanced upon in Island Home. I’ve had a project of sorts in my head for a few months now: to document all the religiously-themed graffiti I come across, and if I can- though this is much less likely- find people who have actually inscribed religious graffiti. The stuff is pretty ubiquitious down here- and elsewhere, and has been for a long time, whether in the simple ‘Jesus Saves’ stencils that dot the interstate from here to New Orleans or in the prayers of pilgrims in medieval shrines East and West. Anyway, this particular instance is interesting not just for the seeming contradiction of religious graffiti- it’s still technically vandalism and all that- but also the fusion of religious imagery, in this case Scripture reference (and maybe the cryptic, to me anyway, words ’1st Nature’), with nationalist American imagery. It’s also a pretty impressive piece of street art- even though it’s pretty well hidden down a retaining wall.
June 3, 2009
I spent part of this week in and around Atlanta, the ever-expanding capital of the ‘New South.’ I’d not been to Atlanta in years, other than in passing while traveling; this week I wandered around the city some, both intentionally and unintentionally, since I didn’t get a hold of a decent map until the last day of my visit. It’s a big city; most of my experience in urban navigation has been in ‘Old World’ cities where my means of transport was my own two feet, and in New Orleans, a city set apart from pretty much every other North American city I’ve visited. Atlanta is, I suppose, the South’s paradigmatic example of the modern city- big, ever-expanding, new and shiny (in the up-scale parts anyway, never mind the poor parts for the moment), with precious little of any considerable age, even for North America. Of course, General Sherman bears some blame for that, but not very much; there wasn’t a whole lot there back when my unfortunate ancestors were getting shot up at Kennesaw Mountain and Peachtree Creek.
There are of course some sections of the city that are fairly old and historic, and feel it. Auburn Avenue, which was the center of African-American life and commerce after the imposition of segregation in the early twentieth century, has some wonderful old and funky buildings; the Episcopal Methodist Church with its hodge-podgy neo-Gothic and big blue neon ‘Jesus Saves’ sign on the steeple is singularly wonderful, and is still in good shape. Further up the street, the Park Service has purchased and renovated a whole neighborhood worth of old buildings associated with Martin Luther King Jr., who was born and spent his boyhood in one of the old houses. But the stretch of street running back from the historic site is, with all its lovely old structures and venerable history, pretty decrepit. As my friend and I walked up from downtown towards the MLK site, we were approached by a homeless man offering an impromptu tour, followed by a request for donations. The whole area is now run-down, boarded up buildings and heavily armoured likker and mini grocery stores here and there; our homeless tour-guide told us he lived back up under an overpass of the interstate which now dissects the area.
The historic site is quite nice itself however, a sudden imposition in the immediate landscape, neatly trimmed shrubs, a rose garden, a fairly new looking museum, as well as a new Ebeneezer Baptist Church (the old one is still there, though it is at present closed up for renovations). There are signs up in the National Historic Site warning visitors against giving anything to ‘panhandlers,’ reminding one of signs in less urban Park Service sites prohibiting the feeding of bears.
The area went down, as we say, in the late sixties; before it had been a thriving center of African-American businesses, churches, and residences, with it’s own economy and tradition of mutual aid. If the segregationist regime rejected their money, the entrepreneurs of Auburn Avenue reasoned, it was their loss- so they built up their own economy, and thrived. Dr. King’s family came out of this milieu, and the determination and communal (but deeply personalist) sense of mutual aid and support would go a long ways towards the successful challenging of the segregationist regime and its systematic but ultimately untenable oppression. This was one of the things that struck me most as I looked at the exhibits in the museum, and has always struck me about the civil rights movement, particularly in its early stages- it was community-based, and broad-based, with people of many cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and standings coming together in a truly powerful movement. The men and women who challenged the segregationist State did not have to resort to bombs and guns; they had built up lives and communities powerful enough to take on even a violent and deeply entrenched regime and succeed, without turning to violence and oppression themselves.
Returning to the gritty shot-up feeling streets of which Auburn Avenue is only one, one has to ask- what happened, and what can anybody do about it? Auburn Avenue itself is an icon of what has been happening in our cities and towns for years now, what is happening right now as I write. Desegregation had its part, of course- African-Americans were no longer restricted to their own self-contained economy, and could take part in the wider economy and succeed there- leaving behind in many cases places like Auburn Avenue. But this is hardly the only explanation, or even the primary one. At the same time as desegregation was going into affect other programs, Federal and otherwise, were coming on-line, many under the title ‘urban renewal.’ As one line was erased new ones were laid down, often with the best of intentions, but often resulting in Federally-supported ghettos. The drug war has only escalated and grown more violent and more deeply entrenched; the ever expanding field of operations of the Mexican drug cartels only harbours more violence and destruction, and it’s not up-scale gated communities suffering the brunt of the violence and the corruption and rot.
There are other problems as well- job losses, poor education, and so on- but they all share the quality that few of them are exactly intentional. Much ‘urban renewal’ was meant to help the poor, at least ostensibly, or was at least supported by people who wanted to do good. Of course, plenty of it was deliberate in partionining off the poor, especially but not exclusively minority poor, from the elite enclaves. There is ridiculous highway a few blocks from my neighborhood here in Knoxville that, I am pretty sure, was built primarily to separate downtown from the much poorer, and darker-skinned, east-side neighborhoods; maybe there were no such intentions, but the effect is the same. The drug war is supported by well-meaning people, and I am sure at least some of those carrying it out have only good intentions and genuinely desire to do good. The damage is the same though.
The problem is further presented though- the evils and problems afflicting places like Auburn Avenue are so various that they are hard to fight against. There is no segregationist regime that we can unite against and battle; there are no straight-forward targets, as much as we would like for there to be. There is less ground, too, for people to stand on, as so many urban- and otherwise- communities are shot-up and worn out. The work that is needed- and here I start to really preach to myself as much as anyone else- is personal, is on the ground, and is probably not going to yeild immediate or impressive results any time soon, maybe ever. The great failing of the American elite- who are often very well-intentioned people- is to generally stay safely away from the poor and the decimated places, while sympathizing for them, in the abstract, and proposing solutions that are sure to work in theory, in principal. But while there are some genuine general policy solutions no doubt- the drug war comes to mind- they are only a part of the solution, probably not a terribly important part.
When it comes down to it we have to stop thinking in terms of helping the poor, or saving the inner city, as if the poor were a different species or something (albeit an endangered and valorized one), capable of being saved through the right policy enactments or a sufficiently large charity pay-out. In the end, working to end the violence and destruction of our cities is a struggle for ourselves; it is not a case of our aiding the poor and downtrodden in their struggle; we are all in this together, my struggle is your struggle. I cannot cut myself off from the rest of the world; my sin afflicts my neighbor and it afflicts me, just as the violence and deprivation of endless war and seeping poverty are part of my struggle, against the violence and evil in my heart and the violence and evil that come from outside my heart.
Our Auburn Avenues are not going to be magically transformed overnight; if there is going to be change, it must begin in our hearts- my heart- and work outward, person by person, community by community, in knowledge of each person and place’s particulars, and with love for them, love that, in imitation of the love of God, offers itself in becoming one with the sufferer, by becoming a co-sufferer, from the inside, with all the danger and dirt and darkness that comes with being inside of a suffering world, a suffering humanity.