Systemic Violence, Part 3
Religions, governments, and all corporations and organizations are highly capable of evil while not recognizing it as such – because it profits us for them to be immoral. Fr. Richard Rohr
Last week I noted that society has ostracized a relatively new group of people from the fruits of our economic systems. I describe this group in generic, stereotypical terms which may not fairly portray individual variations or situations. I am not a part of this group, so my view is of an outsider looking in. This group, however, presents a current example of oppression and exclusion by social systems designed and maintained by those of privilege. I present this analysis not only to call attention to a serious problem, but to illustrate why it is in everyone’s best interest, including those of privilege, to willingly restructure our systems for inclusion and equitability.
Unlike ethnicities and orientations we traditionally associate with oppressed people, this particular group, while including some minority members, is mostly white. A generation ago they were either firmly in the socio-economic middle class or grew up in the middle-class lifestyle of their parents. Some are blue-collar folks, meaning they or their parents work(ed) in various trades like manufacturing, mining, and other important industries that those not pursuing higher education often gravitate toward. Another part of this group has an advanced education but cannot find work that pays enough to support a reasonable lifestyle. Others had good jobs out of high school or college but have since lost those jobs to corporate downsizing, automation, job migration, or other circumstances. Retirees with inadequate income, as well as those drowning in medical debt or student loans are also in this group. It does not discriminate for age, race, or education. The ones who are employed often settle for a fraction of the salary they or their parents once earned, sometimes with no benefits, guaranteed hours, or job security.
Here is what separates this group from other groups of oppressed people: they were not always oppressed. They were once participants in and beneficiaries of the same socio-economic system that now fails them. They know what they are missing. It is not just that the fruits of the system are unavailable to them, the fruits of the system have been taken away. They resonate with the Make America Great Again (MAGA)sentiment (emphasis on the word again) because they desire a return to better days gone by. Some, though not all, gravitate to Donald Trump, who popularized the phrase. For long-oppressed people, however, there is nothing great to return to because little has changed for them in recent history.
An estimated 60% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck today, meaning they are one medical condition, one car or home repair from not meeting their basic living expenses and possible homelessness. Living without a financial cushion and with no reliable or adequate income to recover from financial challenges feels exhausting, stressful, isolating, shameful, and demeaning. Large swaths of people who were once proud participants in and contributors to the American economy find themselves at the mercy of relatives, on welfare, or relying on shelters and food banks as temporary and undesirable bridges to sustain themselves until something changes. They have no idea, however, what will change, if anything will change, or when changes may occur. In the meantime, they grow increasingly desperate.
Anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen to near-epidemic levels over the past generation. Those rates have always been high in more traditionally oppressed populations, but they are rising exponentially in this new group. A subsection of this group were participants in or supporters of the riots in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. The MAGA group is particularly threatening to the status quo because many are well-armed and trained in combat techniques, having served in the military protecting the systems they feel (with good reason) have since abandoned them. They are ready for a fight.
Being outside the systems of economic and social power limits one’s options for changing the systems. Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus provided models for non-violent paths to change, but few representing the oppressed are calling for or organizing such non-violent responses. Many likely feel they cannot wait for non-violent movements to play out, even as they doubt such plans would work anyway. That being the case, it seems likely we will experience increasing violence against the system in the foreseeable future in response to the violence the system has inflicted upon those it oppresses.
If those of us who benefit from and sustain the current socio-economic systems do not restructure those systems in inclusive and equitable ways, including for those historically left on the outside, the oppressed minority will become a majority, and the systems will be changed without us, probably violently.
This is the 25th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of other individuals or organizations. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at email@example.com.
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 Richard Rohr, What Do We Do With Evil?: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. CAC Publishing, 2019, p. 46.