"Without hope, we live on, in desire." -- Souls in Limbo, from Dante's "Inferno."After the British riots last month, some progressives said: This is what happens when people feel like they have no future.
What about those of us whose lives will be shortened by disease or disability? Some of us look for ways to enjoy what future we have. Our hopes have changed from “I hope I get a promotion,” for example, to “I hope I don’t die in pain.”
Last weekend at an event in Manhattan Beach, Calif., I talked to two people who were facing surgery because their leiomyosarcoma had returned. They accepted the facts, and were enjoying the beach and the weather. Although I know better, I approached them as if they had to be upset. Of course, some people with life-threatening conditions are upset, depressed, angry, etc. They’re just less likely to loot than poor, able-bodied young men.
Some middle-class people assume that poor people must be miserable. As a formerly poor person now on a fixed income, I can attest that poor people often find ways to enjoy life. Believe it or not, a person can live her whole life in poverty and still be happy.
When people with money imagine poor people as miserable, when able-bodied people imagine everyone with a life-threatening illness as miserable, they reinforce the importance our society places on stuff and its denial of illness and death.
One reason assisted suicide is controversial is that the person who wants to die might change her mind if her quality of life improved. In June, when my diagnosis was “intractable nausea and vomiting,” I snapped at my doctors that I wanted to go into hospice. Of course, what I really wanted was relief, which I eventually got.
When a young man throws a brick through a store window, he may think he won’t get caught. After all, the 10 commandments in the Urban Dictionary include: “It's Not A Crime If You Don't Get Caught.” Although the context is rape, it works for other crimes because rape culture is intertwined with a consumerism that values getting what you want at the expense of others.
Maybe the looter doesn’t care if he gets caught because jail time is proof of toughness, a component of masculinity. Maybe it solidifies his position in a gang. Maybe he thinks a conviction doesn’t matter because he has no chance of getting a decent job anyway. The latter isn’t true, by the way. One of my nephews did a year in jail for a joy ride on a Jetski when he was a teenager, and the conviction for felony theft has hurt his ability to get housing and work.
This post continues a discussion I started Aug. 19 about who expresses their anger and frustration through violence and who doesn’t. When violence makes the front page, politicians and the media discuss race, ethnicity, class and age, but rarely gender. Many people accept that men are more violent by nature, without questioning how attitudes about masculinity encourage violence. In a sense, this gives men more permission to be violent than women.
In the British riots, the Telegraph found only 8.4 percent of those arrested were women. In 2001, the Guardian paraphrased Heidi Safira Mirza, professor of racial equality studies at Middlesex University:
She argues that it is always assumed that it is a man's world and the male youth make changes by getting heard in the public arena of the streets. But this is the masculine model of change.
The Guardian has downplayed race and ethnicity in the recent riots, in part, because some white conservatives have blamed people of African descent. The Associated Press also reported that men of different ethnicities participated in the riots, unlike recent mob violence in U.S. cities in which blacks attacked whites.
Some progressives think that people of color have more right to strike violently because they have been the most oppressed, but that discounts other experiences people may have, and elevates one form of suffering over another.
We also need to pay attention to clashes among different cultures. The following comes from a review I did of the excellent "Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People," by feminist Helen Zia. She examined the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, and her conclusion might surprise some people.
The predominantly white media focused on the conflict between blacks and whites, ignoring the anger that African Americans felt toward Korean Americans. “Korean Americans overwhelmingly bore the brunt,” Zia writes, “with nearly 2,500 Korean-owned stores destroyed and more than $500 million in damages to the Korean community alone.”The mob violence of young men does not have to be our model for improving the quality of life.
Few in the mainstream media interviewed Asian Americans, however. The Los Angeles Times interviewed more than a thousand people about the riots, with the headline “Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Others.” The editor explained later that Asian Americans were not statistically significant, even though Zia points out that they composed about the same percentage of the population as blacks: 11 percent.