Monday, April 30, 2012

Arizona to Illinois

Eveyone has heard about the anti-immigrant sheriff in Arizona. But we ought to be paying more attention to the Sheriff of Lake County, Illinois, Mark Curran. He was one of the speakers on a panel hosted by a bunch of pro-gun groups and was vigorously supporting changing the law in Illinois so that everyone would be able to carry handguns. He wore a gun on his hip as he spoke, and no jacket, so that it was obvious to everyone just how strong and personal his support is for guns. To people who are not familiar with the upper middle class suburb where sheriff was speaking, it might not seem odd for the sheriff to be openly carrying a gun. But anyone who knows the town of Buffalo Grove will understand how incongruous his display of weaponry was.

Most of what Sheriff Curran said was just the standard pro-gun stuff – we should all carry guns to protect ourselves from muggers, rapists, and other local bad guys. But one statement Curran made was quite remarkable. He said that Al Quaeda and the Taliban are going to come to Illinois because they know that Illinois does not allow people to carry guns to defend themselves.

Well, that's different, isn't it? Sheriff Curran didn't tell us how he knows what the Taliban and Al Quaeda are planning. Maybe he pulled one of them over for having a broken tail light and they started talking. He didn't tell us if he has shared his information with the federal agencies which are responsible for our national Security. But he was quite emphatic. So, not only does Curran think we need to carry guns to protect ourselves and our wallets from common thugs, he thinks we need to carry pistols to protect the country from international terrorists. Apparently Curran thinks the Department of Homeland Security, the police departments, the National Security Agency, our armed forces, and the CIA aren't capable of protecting us from this foreign threat. We are going to have to protect the entire United States ourselves with our handguns.

It would be easy to simply dismiss Curran as a nut case. But he is a powerful elected official. He runs a jail. He has armed officers patrolling the streets. He is the highest Republican official in his county. And he thinks that the bogeyman is coming to get us.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ready To Kill

The National Rifle Association and like-minded individuals and organizations are trying to convince Illinois legislators to pass a law that would allow people to carry concealed guns on the streets, in their cars, and just about everywhere else. They think that people should be ready to kill one another everywhere they go.

I have no interest in killing anyone, no matter where I am. But apparently there are a lot of people who always want to be ready to kill. They want to be ready to kill when they take their dogs for walks, when they see their kids off to school, when they take their lunch breaks from work, when they go out for dinner and a movie, when they go shopping for groceries or clothes, when they ride on bicycle trails, and when they sit on the beach.

I don't ever want to be ready to kill anyone, no matter what kind of day I had. But there seem to be a lot of people who want to be ready to kill people at the end of a long day, when they are tired. They want to be ready to kill when they have been cut off in traffic. They want to be ready to kill when their bosses have given them a hard time, when they have had a few drinks, when they have headaches, when they think the plumber charged them too much, when they have had to wait in line at the bank, and when their airplane is delayed. They want to be ready to kill someone when the vending machine doesn't return the proper change, and when their hamburger isn't served the way they ordered it.

I don't carry much on me. I carry a few dollars and a little change. I sometimes carry a pen or my reading glasses. I never carry a gun. I am ready to catch a bus, but not to kill anyone. I know of women who carry band-aids, emery boards, moist-towelettes, mirrors, lip-balm, rubber bands, paper clips, needle and thread, and countless other items in their purses. They are ready to deal with all kinds of situations. They are ready to go on “Let's Make a Deal,” but most of them don't carry guns, so they're not ready to kill. Nonetheless, they manage just fine.

I don't carry a cell phone, so when I want to make a phone call, I have to find a pay phone, which has gotten to be difficult. Most pay phones have been removed from public buildings. The result is that I don't make as many calls as I used to. Sometimes if I really need to make a call I borrow someone's cell phone. People are pretty nice about lending me their phones. I don't think they would lend me a gun if I asked to borrow it because I wanted to kill someone.

It seems obvious to me that the more people who carry guns and are ready to kill someone, the more killing there will be. Maybe the NRA thinks we need to be killing more people. I don't think so, so I don't want more people walking around with guns. I'd rather that when someone decides they want to kill someone, that person would have to go to a little trouble to find a gun.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Violence Now?

As a nation, we seem to assume that the frustrations being felt by the middle and lower classes of our society will never give rise to a violent revolution. I'm not so sure that this is true. There is plenty of violence right now, but it isn't being directed in a productive way. People in our ghettos are shooting one another, but they aren't shooting the members of the privileged class who comfortably ignore the suffering that is often just a short distance from their own homes. That could change.

There is also plenty of violence outside the ghetto, largely among lower and middle class people whose personal experience of the world around them is strained. There are domestic batteries, workplace rampages, rage shootings at middle schools, high schools, and colleges, and lots of suicides scattered all across the country. And there are a lot of people who sit at home or patrol their subdivisions with guns, just waiting for an excuse to shoot someone.

It is unpredictable when or whether the tipping point will be reached and our country will rise up in arms. The tipping point is different for different people, and revolutions don't require the participation of everyone, just enough people.

In the 1960s we had riots which looked like incipient revolutions. They were quashed. Faced with riots today, our government would again use its mighty police and military resources to defeat its own people. In order to maintain control, our government would do exactly what it is criticizing the Syrian government for doing.

Whether a violent revolution would succeed cannot be known. Sometimes they do. The more important question for those of us who reject violence is whether anything else can help this country. Because if there is no other avenue for accomplishing reform, the only choice that masses of people will have is between continuing to suffer and attempting to improve their situation through violent means.

Non-violent revolution is possible. It worked in India, and more recently in parts of the Middle East. But our government is just as dedicated to suppressing that sort of call for change as it is in preventing a violent overthrow. George Bush, Barack Obama, and mayors like Bloomberg and Emanuel have made it clear that they will not allow their citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances.

Reform through the ballot box is a theoretical option, but the apparatus of elections has been so overborne by party, corporate, and monied interests that in the most recent elections, almost no one even bothered to show up. Most people have given up on the electoral process.

The least likely route to change is through an appeal to reason. The powers that be simply aren't listening. A spiritual awakening could lead us in a new direction. Or a catastrophe could set us on a new course.

It is all very unpredictable. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe people will continue to suffer and their fellow Americans will not respond. We can sit back and wait to see what happens, or we can choose a strategy and work to make it happen. With the possibility of violence looming, it seems like a good time to figure out if any other option is feasible.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Boss

A friend recently told me that he has started counting the months until his retirement, which, if everything goes as he plans, will be in about three years. He has a new boss who is irritating him. He has outlasted quite a few bosses at his job, and he figures he can survive this one, too.

Another friend also has a new boss, and she says that for the first time in twenty years on the job, she is not enjoying the work. She is looking forward to her retirement, if she can make it that long. Other friends have been telling similar tales.

The news outlets report that, because of the tough economy, older workers are clinging to their jobs. Some need the paycheck, and a lot of people need the health insurance that their jobs provide. But the news isn't talking much about the stress and distress that these older workers are experiencing on the jobs. As they near the end of their working lives, many of them appear to be increasingly unhappy with their work. It is as if their bosses and their companies are preparing them for leaving their jobs by convincing them that they really didn't like their jobs anyway.

Although some companies do try to force older workers out, most of the dissatisfaction I am hearing from my friends does not seem attributable to any deliberate plan to make them unhappy. Instead, the unhappiness is being caused by new bosses who do not know or value or respect the way that the companies they are managing have been doing things. They do not take the time to get to know the employees they are assigned to supervise, or to listen to those employees' input about how they have been doing their jobs.

There are plenty of reasons the new bosses act the way they do. Many of them probably realize that they won't be around for very long themselves, and they therefore don't feel they have time to learn from and about the people that they command. Some of the new bosses may look at older employees and assume that those employees aren't planning on staying around much longer, so they are not worth spending much time on.

Whatever the reasons, the effect is that not only are these companies losing the wisdom that their older employees have accumulated over the course of their work lives, they are discouraging those workers, diminishing them, and making their final working years unpleasant. When these workers retire, regardless of any praise they may receive at their going away parties, they will feel that they were not appreciated. Some will come to believe that their work was not useful to society, and that they wasted their working lives.

Some cultures are said to revere their elders. Other cultures may not go that far, but they at least respect older people. But the people I am hearing from are not elderly. They are not even in their sixties yet. They are not old, just older than their new bosses. They are fully capable. And yet, they are not only being discarded, they are being destroyed.

Maybe it has always been thus. Maybe I am just reacting to the way these end-of-career workers are being treated because I know them. But whether this has been going on for a long, long time, or whether the situation is getting worse, it makes me sad.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Crucify Him!

I sat in a church on Palm Sunday. The Deacon was the narrator and members of the congregation read other characters' parts of the The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, telling the story of Jesus' betrayal and crucifixion. When the person reading Pilate's lines asked “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” the congregation read aloud, “Crucify him!” When Pilate went on, “Why, what evil has he done?” The congregation read again, “Crucify him!”

I could not possibly add anything to the mountain of commentary that must exist on this passage. But I can't stop thinking about what it was like to sit among a group of perfectly lovely people and read aloud such ghastly words.

I thought of some crowds I have been in which shouted their displeasure with various politicians. I thought of the pogroms against Jews that used to arise in parts of Europe as an accompaniment to the Christian Holy Week. I thought of the calls for violence against Muslims that were heard in the U.S. after the attacks on September 11. I thought of the Mormons being run out of towns many years ago and ultimately fleeing to safety in Utah. I thought of mobs all over the globe throughout time.

The people in the church I visited on Palm Sunday were warm and welcoming. As they read their lines, there was no trace of anger. To the contrary, they seemed to draw comfort and strength from the reading. They accepted history and their obligation to carry the messages that have been handed down to them.

I thought of the readings in the Jewish Holy Days services where the congregation takes collective and individual responsibility for the wrongs committed during the preceding year. “For the sins that we have committed...” we repeat over and over as the list of sins is worked through. None of us has committed all of them, nor has any of us avoided them all.

The differences in the ways that society was organized and governed in Jesus' time as compared to our own are significant. I am sure that Pilate's asking the crowd what to do with an accused offender would be understood differently than if a governor were to ask the same question to the citizenry today. But by playing the part of a member of the crowd, everyone in church with me this morning got to have a taste of what it is like to judge and condemn. I am sure I am not the only one who was discomforted, and I am sure that it is not an accident that those were the only lines that we as a congregation were given to read.

None of us is responsible for Jesus' death thousands of years ago. Each of us is responsible for the voices that we add to today's calls for violence. Many people called out for the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and the cry was answered. Our Congress and President are calling for “crippling sanctions” against the people of Iran, and threatening the same kind of violence that we visited on its neighbors. Many are crying out for similar treatment of Syria's leadership. As we make our voices heard to those to whom we have given the power to carry out our will, we should consider to what extent we have learned the lessons that have been given to us, and to what extent we are ignoring them.