Thursday, August 11, 2011

Media Coverage of UK Riots and Venerable Moral Stories

Andrew Sullivan offers a fascinating smorgasbord of news coverage of the U.K. riots from the British media.  I think what fascinates me the most as I read through these snippets is the attempt of some commentators to do everything short of standing on their heads to avoid admitting the obvious, re: the riots in England.   This is that we cannot build peaceful and humane societies when we permit large disparities between the haves and have nots in our societies.  Or when we accept such disparity, along with the diminution of programs to assist those on the margins, as the price of prosperity.

There is a predictable moral center to narratives of greed and exploitation of the poor, which we ignore always at our peril.  This predictable moral center is the recognition that greed and exploitation of the poor come with a price tag, and that price tag is social fragmentation.  Societies that behave callously towards the poor fragment because they shove the poor outside circles of social participation, giving those who lack resources and opportunity the message that they have nothing vested in the society in which they live.

People taught to think of themselves as non-persons will inevitably behave like non-persons.  And when they watch spectacles in which the dispossessed act out justifiable anger at their marginalization, sane, moral societies don't talk first and foremost about mob violence and barbarism and the need for more draconian police systems. 

They talk, instead, about solidarity, human rights, and the imperative need--always--to bring those shoved to the margins into the circle of social participation.  For Catholics, that kind of discussion always has to be the discussion on which everything in a humane social order is premised, if that social order can be said in any shape or fashion to reflect authentic Catholic values.

As I noted yesterday, in recent years, as the center moves relentlessly to the right, more than a few centrist Catholic thinkers and media spokespersons have actively colluded in providing cover for ideologies that have little or nothing to do with the core values of Catholic social teaching--with values that revolve around the concepts of solidarity and human rights.  At the same time, these same Catholic commentators, who blow with whatever wind happens to be prevailing at the moment, want to adorn their apologias for the greed and gross consumption of powerful elites with window-dressing allusions to Catholic social teaching.

But events like the London riots show us the fatuity of such window-dressing moral analysis, which doesn't get anywhere near the moral heart of the story of dispossession in contemporary societies, and the price those societies pay for dispossessing the poor.

For those of us who live in the belly of the beast, in the declining American empire with its obscene disparities between rich and poor, that price becomes more evident every day, in acts of endemic violence throughout our nation, in the growing, casually accepted belief of many of our citizens that torturing suspected criminals and violating their human rights is an understandable price of our national security, and, as Raymond Schroth notes at America's blog yesterday, in the belief of many of us that by assassinating Osama bin Laden on the spot rather than remanding him to systems of justice, we have done God's will.

Sow the seeds of barbarism, and you will reap crops of barbarism.  Talk about those on the social margins as if their primary contribution to our societies is to provide human fodder for machines that increase the wealth of a few at the top of society, and you court violence, when the marginalized see any opportunity at all to act out their frustration at being defined as non-persons.

Always.  This always happens.  And we only demonstrate how far we are from the roots of authentic Catholic faith when we express befuddlement at seeing the predictable drama of violence fueled by injustice enacted once again in front of our eyes, after we've created the conditions for such violence by offering cover to those who build their prosperity on the backs of the poor.

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