Friday, November 06, 2009

Peace, at last.... ?

I'm an historian. That means I'm a skeptic, that I question everything we have done in the past. There's a bit of responsibility in understanding that. So, I take it upon myself to assume responsibility in that regard. But, historians in the south have been "influenced" to skepticize in different directions. So, I find my task difficult. Some things have been off limits to inquiry. Some stories have even been concocted to explain another version of history. I see that as a violation of everything the historian exists for. Endeavoring to understand what events caused this (as is my job) led me to actively seek an explanation for this. Capitalism was at the root of the cause.

I was shocked to discover that, in 1790, the United States gained its greatest assets from a certain business. At a total value of $140 million, twice the national debt of the time, it was worth 20 times the national budget. It continued for decades to garner those same profits, involving an international system of trade and a great part of our merchant fleet. It is the primary business that gave this country the wealth and power to build our present status of "superpower." It defines us as “capitalists.” And, yet, it is the one business that we don’t talk about, turn our very thoughts from in shame even today. However, it gave us the immense wealth to surpass all other nations... ? Why don't we want to talk about it?

The largest contributing factor to this American business lived in abject poverty for more than a century after achieving its due recognition. And, American society in general, lived as the greatest power in the world for a time, utilizing a third of the world’s resources at its height. We still come close to that today. We’re the richest country in the world! Still, the reason for that immense wealth remains socially destitute. Its inhabitants lived in horrible conditions, suffering social anathema for more than a century. Truly, this resource was “capitalized” upon. We capitalize upon natural resources like oil, natural gas, wood from forests, and the very air that we breathe. I know of places, other businesses today, that dump waste products into recreational rivers, poisoning the water, in violation of EPA regulations. They continue to do so because the heavy fine for this environmental violation is simply factored into the cost of production. It is not stopped because of the health or environmental issues. It is still profitable. This environmental devastation is no less than a rape of the available resources for profit.

But, we’ve raped before. We’ve raped for centuries. We capitalize the resources for a profit. “It’s all about the bottom line…” “We can turn a clear profit…” Department stores hire only part time employees to avoid paying for benefits and for the ability to “let the employees go” when they need to… to maximize their profit. Workers still work 36 hours a week to maintain part-time status. However, we agree to this abuse. Why? Because it’s difficult to find work sometimes. Last year, the entire world was economically threatened by the profits of a mere few… a few who wanted to capitalize on us and our lives. We still commit the crime of rape. Have no illusions about one part of society over another.

Have no illusions about how we got here. In fact, we practice denial… claim not to be responsible. “That was my ancestor, yeah… but, I didn’t do it.” An easy response. “Let’s just move on.” Another easy response. It’s always easier when you live comfortably and drive the better car.

Thankfully, this is changing. The “natural resource” that I speak of is slowly climbing to the country’s heart-felt guilt. Still, this is only one battle. A large one, to be sure. But, only one case of rape to be tried in the courts of humanity. Recognition of this particular rape, however, may reduce the continued incidence of rape. Exposed and “uncolored,” it may help to encourage awareness of the past, present, and future crimes of society, prevent the undue loss of life.

I cannot mention the name of this crime… not yet. There’s still too many out there who would flee from it, who would bolt upwards in denial. In a short time, perhaps I can speak openly of this subject. First, we need to overcome the stark memory of this social poverty, radical disenfranchisement of voters, the 5,000 cases of lynching, the government-backed support of vigilante groups spreading violence in the name of this crime. First, we need a social healing from this crime that definitely affects us still today. I am a southerner. I was born in 1961 and taught not to feel about this. But, I know it’s still here. Only a few decades before I was born we had Wilmington, N.C., in 1898, New Orleans in 1900, Atlanta in 1906, Tulsa in 1921, and dozens of other violent demonstrations of supremacy. I know that none of us (and I mean ANY of us) have peace about this. In the words of Marcus Rediker, "The slave ship is a ghost ship, sailing on the edges of modern consciousness." Yes, it is. I love you all and want you to have this peace.

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