The Heart of the Matter

When most people discuss globalization and income inequality, they talk about policies to alleviate the problem. That is an important part of the equation. But Pope Francis recently addressed the heart of the matter.

I recognize that globalization has helped many people to rise from poverty, but it has condemned many others to hunger. It’s true that in absolute terms it grows world wealth, but it also increased the disparity and the new kinds of poverty.

What I notice is that this system is maintained with the culture of waste, of which I have already spoken several times. There is a politics, sociology, and also an attitude of rejection.

When at the center of the system there is not anymore man but money, when money becomes an idol, men and women are reduced and simply instruments of a social system and an economy characterized, indeed dominated by deep imbalances.

That reminded me of something David Simon said a few years ago when he talked about why he created the HBO series The Wire.

We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts…

The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.

And finally, I was reminded of what Derrick Jensen wrote in The Culture of Make Believe about a conversation he had with a friend on the similarities between hate groups and corporations.

He said, “They’re cousins.”

I just listened.

“Nobody talks about this,” he said, “but they’re branches from the same tree, different forms of the same cultural imperative…”

“Which is?”

“To rob the world of its subjectivity.”

“Wait – ” I said.

“Or to put this another way,” he continued, “to turn everyone and everything into objects.”

Robbing the world of its subjectivity means removing empathy and our feelings of mutuality. It means creating distance between “us” and “them.” It is also what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was addressing when he said this:

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Seven years ago then-Senator Obama spoke to this most difficult part of Martin Luther King’s (and Nelson Mandela’s) legacy in a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny…

We are told that those who differ from us on a few things are different from us on all things; that our problems are the fault of those who don’t think like us or look like us or come from where we do…

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media…

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .