There is a part of Naomi Klein’s book that deals with an issue of great importance and one that I spend a lot of time thinking about and, in that thinking, struggle with feelings that have much to do with long held beliefs that I tried to live by that might actually be faulty enough to jettison. They have to do with causes, the causes I have supported throughout my life, causes that are related to what are now called “identity politics,” politics related to how people group themselves or are grouped in the society and by the society. Issues of race and gender fit into the category and, to an extent, so do issues of class. I have belonged to groups that work to deal with these issues and taught in the courses I taught what I understood to be needed to get my students to think about how various people with particular group affiliation are treated in the US, whether the treatment received is justified and/or humane, why it is that people are perceived and treated as they are and what needs to be done to create a society that is humane and just for all.
Klein faults Bernie Sanders, claims that one of the reasons Sanders could not win the support of, for example, people of color and women, is that he was insensitive to their needs and their causes paying attention almost exclusively to economic issues.
I agree with Klein. He did not embrace enough the causes and the movements that existed to address the treatment, the needs, and the means to push the society toward equity, justice, and opportunity for all, no matter with what group they identified and or were identified with by others. On the other hand, I believe, have found others who do to, believe that the focus on identity and the needs and desires of particular groups, no matter how righteous their causes leads to too little focus, too little concern for the element of society that are, often, the real cause of discrimination and unfairness that affects all who are not a part of the ruling classes, the wealthy elite who have so much of a hand in managing the reality that most of us find ourselves living.
This is not all to diminish the fact that some are treated more unfairly than others, suffer by their treatment and for the treatment they receive in ways people like myself never suffer and I have no illusion that that more bad causes kinds of pain that are not mine to feel, attitudes toward the society that are very different in mine, if not in kind, then in measure. I do understand that I cannot understand a good amount of what those so poorly treated understand. I can only do the best I can to be nearby, to talk to, read about, think about honestly and un-self-servingly about the world as they are experiencing.
And I am aware too that I am not they and this distancing is a part of the problem, a part that I have worked to address and succeeded at to some extent, but certainly not enough. I set up a tutoring program for students on the nearby Paiute Reservation and knew little of the people with whom I was working, of their reality, when the program ended after two or three years. I taught in a low-income white neighborhood in the hills above Roseburg, Oregon and never came close to understanding those who lived their lives in the tiny and dying logging town called Glide. I spent a part of my childhood at my father’s store on 103st in the Watts District of Los Angeles, met a lot of people but went home to thinking about them in or home twenty or more physical miles away, another reality away for where they lived.
I did a lot of things to get nearby so that I could understand but I never could, never had to live the life as the people who were they did.
But I have come to believe that getting nearby and into the problems that affect those who are somehow, somehow assume, have a right to assume they are different from me and I from them is not as necessary as I once thought it to be because in important ways, of, I will admit, of substantially lesser effect, I suffer too from that that cause others the greater pain. It is this ridiculously inhumane society in which we live, together, that causes me pain because I find it painful to have to look at and deal with the pain of others and the outward manifestations of that pain, seeing people begging on the streets, children in schools who do not receive good medical care, senior citizens how haven’t enough money to live decently in their old age, people living with water too polluted to drink, people with good brains not able to get the kind of education any sensible notion of humanity would dictate.
I cannot stand violent crime. I cannot stand children and women, anyone suffering abuse at the hand of others. I cannot stand the desperation I sense in people living on the margins or just inside them, scared everyday of their live that they might be pushed outside, in to the cold with the closing of a factory dismissed because the employer has found cheaper and more “efficient” means of getting the job done. I am sick of people being at the mercy of those who run the show, who can turn on and off what is necessary and desired, what sustains decent life.
And all of this, my “bigger concern” is about or economic system, one that traps people by giving large numbers something for some period of time, enough so they somehow feel thankful for what they have without considering what has been taken away or what might be taken away on the whims of those who own the economy.
So, I do know what Naomi is saying and I agree but with a caveat, that being that those who wanted more attention paid to identity issues, in focusing too much one them, failed to see the bigger picture, the issue that was central to the concerns of all, an economy that worked against everyone but a few, some more than others, some hurt in ways seemingly unrelated to the unfair distribution of wealth, but related in important ways to it.
I suggest, probably to no one who will listen, that we study primary causes and consider how other issues of considerable importance are related to them, that we look upon this economic system as it operated here today for what it is and what it does, how it makes possible and even enviable the mistreatment of others for the sake of personal gain, how it has made human beings chattel throughout its history, from the pre-nationhood days to today, on the plantations and in the sweatshops and in the Hardy’s and the Burger Kings, in Amazon procurement warehouses, in the schools where teachers work for absurdly low wages, and so on and so forth, in an economy where the very wealthy get even more wealthy daily—six human beings on this earth now hold wealth equal to that of the whole the 50 percent who are at the bottom—while the poor and even the middle classes struggle to hold onto some ground.
I wish we would rethink because if we don’t, even if we have the opportunity to rebuild, there is no hope for a better future.