I apologize for the length of this article. I know that most of my readers lead busy lives. I also know that I am preaching to the choir in that most of my readers are already aware of most of the ideas I talk about below. I felt the emotional need to get these ideas down on paper, but I promise to get back to shorter Nuggets in the future. So bear with me and please offer me your thoughts and comments on the article.
I’m concerned that we are missing the point in our public discussions about Baltimore, Ferguson, and other cities experiencing social unrest. Most of the news reports and editorials that covered the rioting in Baltimore were focused on the symptoms, not the core problem. The riots in Baltimore, last month were not created by poverty alone. They were not the result of police brutality and profiling alone. They were not the result of racism alone. If we continue to blame poverty, police behaviors, and racism as the primary cause of riots in our cities, I fear we are going to continue to experience violence and social unrest in our cities.
I believe the root cause of the violence we see in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson reflects a growing wealth gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10%, a fundamental loss of liberty in the bottom 10%, and a profound loss of trust of those in power. The people trapped in the inner-city ghettos know that those in power have intentionally disempowered them for decades. The very systems that should be supporting their struggles to break out of the grinding poverty they are trapped in have abandoned them. They no longer trust the “system” to help them break out of that poverty and embrace the liberty, and justice promised in our constitution. They feel victimized, powerless, helpless, and angry. History is clear that when the bottom 10% see no way to access the liberties and opportunities enjoyed by those in the middle-class and above, the result is a destabilization of the social culture. This rapidly growing gap between the wealthy and those living in poverty is a sobering reality in most of the world’s cultures.
The young adults growing up in the ghetto see no viable way of escaping the fate their parents and grandparents have been forced to experience. There are few job opportunities in the ghetto’s that don’t involve crime. They have no access to higher education that would give them mobility, so they have very little incentive to stay in school. Moreover, they live in a ghetto culture that offers little in the way of family support, or the social guidelines of a normal supportive community. They are angry, and most importantly, they have very little to lose. They were not “thugs” vandalizing CVS, they were angry young people who have no vision of a viable future. And they have no trust that the “system” is interested in helping them.
Freedom And Liberty Are Not The Same
Freedom is the ability to make choices about our lives. We are born with the freedom to make choices regarding our personal lives. Liberty means the government or rulers of a society actively support the ability of those living in that society to make choices and access the resources needed to make their dreams a reality. In the case of Baltimore and those living in ghetto poverty in other American cities, the people do have the freedom to make decisions and choices about their lives and their futures———a concept that the politicians financed by the 1% are quick to assure they are protecting for us.
Unfortunately, what the ghetto poor in cities like Baltimore are telling the world, is they lack the liberty to realistically reach their dreams. They get food stamps, but they lack a government and social culture that actively supports their dreams and choices. For example, access to jobs that pay a decent living wage, the ability to secure home loans so they can move out of the ghettos, or the ability to secure small business loans to create their own small business. In the case of those living in the ghettos of Baltimore and other cities, the opportunity and liberty to improve their lives so they can begin to share the wealth of the affluent white culture that surrounds their ghettos, is denied them. They have no economic “traction” to escape the suffocating poverty of day-to-day life.
The Power of Trust In Human Society
Trust is like a powerful magnet in a human relationship. It is the invisible binding power that holds people together. When the magnet of trust is lost or broken in a relationship, the pain of that loss will destroy the relationship unless, and until, that trust is reestablished.
We see this simple reality play out all the time in our personal relationships. Marriages and friendships always reflect the presence of trust. When trust is lost in a relationship, it will create deep anger and a sense of powerlessness in the victim of that loss. Anyone who has experienced the pain of a broken friendship or a divorce will affirm that loss of trust was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Just as in a friendship or marriage, trust is the invisible force that holds a society together. When trust in those who govern us is lost in a society, that society is in grave danger of economic and social collapse. Liberty is defined as the right to live without external control over the choices we make about our life. Those who are trapped in the ghettos of Baltimore have lost trust in their ability to experience the liberty that would allow them to access the privileges afforded to the affluent white communities that surround their ghettos.
A Loss of Trust in Those Who Govern Breeds Social Instability
The unrest, riots, and violent uprisings we see in third world countries around the globe reflect a similar loss of trust in the rulers and governments that hold power in those countries. The protestors are fighting for liberty. They are increasingly losing patience with rulers and governments driven by greed and power at the expense of the needs and interests of the people under them.
Trust cannot be “ordered” from above. Nor can money buy trust. And words alone cannot restore trust. Trust has to be earned. Restoring trust requires years of behaviors that clearly reflect a deep desire to repair the trust that was lost.
This kind of behavior is not present in the current political and economic policies of our nation. Greed and the desire for personal power seem to have replaced the sense of social responsibility needed to create a sustainable future for our country and our world. Stated simply, the current “me” focus of our economic and social systems needs to be transformed into a more compassionate and inclusive “we” focus. A focus, on the whole, not just the economic and social parts that support our personal lives. Also, this transformation needs to begin in every one of our global cultures; not just our own.
The lack of wealth of those living in poverty severely limits the ability or liberty for them to choose the life that they would like to live. They have the freedom of choice, but they lack the liberties and social policies to make their dreams a reality. Decades of social and economic racial oppression have denied them access to the wealth needed to break out of poverty. Simply stated, they have been denied the ability to acquire the financial wealth needed to move themselves and their children out of the ghettos and walk the path toward upward mobility.
As some have reminded us during the history of our nation, freedom is a right we are born with. But liberty has to be fought for. And the battle for liberty in a world driven by personal, political, and corporate greed and power is a battle that will not end until our human consciousness has evolved its ability to manifest compassion for all life. And that includes all of the life forms that share this planet with us. The future we all would like to see for our children and grandchildren is going to require a “we” consciousness that embraces the “whole” of our small planet, not just the small local world we live in personally.
Unless our politicians and policy maker’s understand these simple realities I fear that we are going to see ever increasing violence from those who have lost trust and are fighting for their right to live in a just society and share the liberties they see offered to the affluent white culture that surrounds them. I also fear it’s only a matter of time before the violence spreads into the working middle-class who are also losing trust in the system as they watch their liberties taken from them one policy at a time.
I’m hopeful that the coming presidential elections will produce politicians that are willing to say no to the money of the multi-national corporations and the 1%, and yes to the needs and dreams of the poor and working middle-class.
There is a great deal of trust in our system that needs to be restored before we are forced to deal with global climate change, more violent storms, pollution, droughts, clean water, food, and the many other crisis that threaten to destabilize our global human cultures. We are going to have enough to deal with without the anger of populations that are fighting for liberty from oppressive political and financial systems that favor unregulated greed over compassion; systems that have great difficulty looking beyond the satisfaction of their own need for personal wealth and power at the expense of those they are called to serve.
When the poor neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. erupted in 1968, the great FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson said: “a riot is somebody talking. A riot is a man or woman crying out: listen to me, mister. There’s something I’ve been trying to tell you, and you are not listening.”
It’s time we began not only to listen, but to deal with the decades-long disinvestment and suffocating poverty of those living in the ghetto’s of our cities all across America——-and those living in poverty in other countries around the world. It is an embarrassing “me” focused social, economic, and ethical reality that needs to be addressed. If we don’t, we will certainly see more instability, civil unrest, and violence in both our cities, and in the many third world nations that are also struggling with poverty and hunger.
I am concerned that unregulated greed is a very dangerous threat to both the future of not only our country, but the planet we currently share with 8 billion other folks. A planet that is struggling with its issues of survival.
It is time the human race grew up and evolved beyond the self-focused primitive ego of childhood. We live in a complex world that needs an evolved and compassionate leadership that has the wisdom to embrace the needs of the whole. Individual countries focused only on their needs and concerns will find it all but impossible to embrace the level of cooperation required to deal with the global challenges that are coming.
I am convinced that the evolution of our collective human consciousness is far-and-away the most important challenge facing humanity in the 21st century. And Baltimore is only the tip of the iceberg.
Please post your thoughts below.