Systemic Violence, Part 4

Systemic Violence, Part 4

(Systemic trauma) is happening right before our eyes; yet the response of American citizens has been muted by the argument that what they are seeing and hearing is not oppression at all; it is compliance with laws. But those laws just happen to be rife with ethnocentrism, rejection of the stranger, racism, and structural oppression of the poor. Barbara Holmes[1]

Systemic violence and oppression seldom have specific culprits to blame, making them difficult to track, identify, or change. Systems evolve over many generations. While we tend to point fingers of blame at political and organizational leaders, they too are (privileged) victims as well as perpetrators, like many of us. Elected officials make up a tiny and mostly transient part of the system. Some people hypothesize the existence of a deep state, or an exclusive, secretive group that controls the entrenched governmental processes and machinations. Personally, I think the system has just grown too big to be controlled or redirected in any significant way. It appears to be self-perpetuating and self-protecting as it absorbs attempts at change into its unwieldy being without significantly altering its inherent injustices. Should we blame the career bureaucrats who administer, monitor, and carry out the various governmental functions? They, too, are both victims and perpetrators of injustice. Even the privileged folks who primarily reap the benefits of the system are victimized, at least somewhat, by the discontent, accusations, and violence the opposition to the system creates. Regardless its origins, the system has evolved a purposeful existence of its own, quite apart from the intentions of anyone running or overseeing its various components. It appears we do not control the system; the system controls us.

None of this is to say our elected officials and career bureaucrats do not have a hand in feeding the unjust system. I have long believed the two parties in America do more to preserve the two-party status quo than to make meaningful changes for the citizenry, regardless of their largely-staged outrage at the positions and people of the other party. The system rewards those who feed it, and politicians and those who fund them are at the top of that list. The career bureaucrats, while supposedly politically neutral, are not incentivized to make significant changes to the system because the system supports them, too.

Government programs designed to help people out of poverty often keep many more people stuck in the system than are ever freed from it. The Medicare and Medicaid programs, intended to fund healthcare for those who cannot otherwise afford it, restrict the prices providers can charge for the care of their patients. Over time, providers have understandably raised prices on everyone else to make up the difference, often charging many multiples of what they can legally charge someone insured by a government program. One sign of a system resistant to meaningful change is when the system’s “balloon” is squeezed at one end and another part bloats in response. The unintended and tragic consequences of many well-intentioned government actions are staggering.

Unfortunately, I do not know how to change the stubborn status quo. The system may need to be blown up and rebirthed, even though doing so would cause much pain and suffering in the country and world. It may collapse of its own weight one day. The challenge will be to guide the collapse so the suffering is shared in a way that the haves will not simply accumulate more.

That the system does significant violence to wide swaths of people is clear. Is there a better system? Can the system be restructured in more just and equitable ways that do not leave increasing numbers of people outside of it? I hope so. If history is any indication, however, the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen until the have-nots become a majority and overthrow the haves and destroy the system. A new system will be established that, in time, will also overly reward the haves until it, too, is overthrown. Sadly, it may be an inescapable cycle.

At some point we need to recognize and accept responsibility for our part in systemic violence. Contemplative author Barbara Holmes writes, “No matter how tenuous and invisible the bonds of community may be, individuals must, for their personal and collective safety, work out their survival together.”[2] When enough of us change the way we conduct our lives in relation to others, particularly those in need, perhaps the system will do less damage. Jesus did not complain about the oppressive Roman system but went about the business of serving others with whatever freedoms the system allowed. Perhaps we should do the same.

I will pause the current theme of Guns, Violence, and Jesus for a few weeks and switch to Advent and Christmas messages. This series will resume early in 2023.

This is the 26th 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

Check out Greg’s interview on Contemplative Spirituality

with MysticMag here:

[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation, CAC Publishing, 2021, p. 67.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Crisis Contemplation, CAC Publishing, 2021, p. 67.

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