Never before have I written a political commentary based on an animal video, but I suppose there's a first time for everything.
I was touched by the recent news coverage of two dogs suffering in the midst of the debris and devastation left by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Trembling and apparently afraid, a spaniel wearing a collar leads reporters to another dog that is injured. The dog is standing next to his sick, prostrate friend, as if to protect him. And in a few minutes of footage of these canine creatures-- struggling to survive under circumstances we dare not imagine-- we see the essence of humanity, more humanity than can be extracted by some humans who walk upright. And so we, as people, can learn from pets a lesson in compassion, in protecting the vulnerable and the suffering, as we fail to exhibit those qualities in our daily and political lives as Americans.
With over 18,000 estimated dead and countless displaced in Japan, a great deal of humanity is needed. And it is clear that the needs of people must and will take precedence over profit motives. The importance of community in hard times is on full display in japan, as even the Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza, are providing tons of crucial goods in the relief effort. The word Yakuza is a self-effacing term which loosely translates as "loser" or the "losing hand" of society, a reference to a Japanese card game. "There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese," said one Yakuza member. "We all need to help each other."
And yet, it would be hard to imagine organized crime in the U.S.--specifically, the banks--displaying such acts of charity and selflessness. Recently I wrote that if a reconstruction effort ever came to the U.S., America would stop all efforts in their tracks, due to greed, a shambles of a political system, and the legalized bribery that finances our politics. I want to take it a step further and speak to the humanity which is in such scarce supply in American political discourse and public policy. America could use some humanity, a big smoothie made with the milk of human kindness.
In the U.S., we worship and honor those who have plenty, yet steal more when many others go hungry. Reality shows such as "Secret Millionaire" attempt to change the subject by depicting undercover rich people who go into impoverished neighborhoods and give away some of their money. Meanwhile, in the real world in which we live, the stewards of American government give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires in these tough times, even as greed caused our recessionary problems in the first place. Conservative governors, appendages of the corporate interests who bought them with cash, preach as a stern parent to the common folk about the need for austerity. They lecture us on shared sacrifice, and cut social programs for poor and working people, funding for public schools, and collective bargaining rights for union workers. This, after they just rewarded the banks, big oil companies and other industries that bankrolled their campaign. And in the process, they would wreck the economy for no other apparent reason than as a 2012 election year ploy to change the occupant of the White House.
In a nation with so many millions unemployed, the unemployed are barely an afterthought. With all of this talk about the urgency of creating jobs, the Tea Party Congress takes their opportunity in the sun to holds hearings on radical Islam, as state legislatures, captured by the forces of insanity, pass legislation banning Shariah law.
Humanity is lacking because the good thinking people have surrendered their authority to the morally bankrupt, those whose priorities are warped and perverse. In 2011 a majority of Americans favor same sex marriage, which is astounding, given that most people opposed interracial marriage when it was legalized by a "liberal activist" Supreme Court in 1967. Further, back then nearly half believed such marriages should be prosecuted as a criminal offense. Yet today, our public discourse is controlled by homophobic hate groups and their elected enablers. The religious right claims to care about values, yet values to them is such a narrow term, curiously limited to a discussion about banning abortion, criminalizing gay marriage and upholding gun rights.
A nation short on humanity in its public policy fails to ask certain questions on purpose. For example, how can we sustain democracy when the top 1 percent takes home 34 percent of the pie (they only took 9 percent in 1976), more than the bottom 90 percent? How does this nation justify paying CEOs 300 times more than their workers, when they only made 30 times more in the 1960s?
Why are black and Latino boys in urban neighborhoods more likely to attend the penitentiary than the university? Why is it so easy for a child to acquire a gun, but so difficult for him or her to get a quality education, or a balanced and nourishing meal? And why do our lawmakers ignore the epidemic of gun violence across the land, responding instead to college shooting sprees with legislation that would allow students to pack concealed weapons on campus?
How can the quest for dollars consume some individuals so as to justify nuclear power as a viable energy source, in the midst of the nuclear disaster in Japan?
Animals teaching humans about humanity is a novel idea. And yet, unfortunately, it is rather "human" to dehumanize the "other," to depict groups as different, as animals, as a pretext for the humiliation and suffering inflicted upon them. It happened to black people under slavery, Jim Crow segregation and apartheid. Nazi Germany conjured up images of Europe's Jewish population as subhuman in order to enact laws to marginalize and eventually annihilate them. The U.S. depended on dehumanizing cartoon images of Asian people to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Genocide in Rwanda was facilitated by the Hutu referring to the Tutsi as cockroaches. And even today in the U.S., we are witnessing the racial and ethnic scapegoating of Muslims, people of Arab descent and Latino immigrants through measures designed to strip them of their civil rights and their dignity.
Right now, America is a cold-hearted place, and in our midst is an anti-democratic movement allying the uber rich and the super greedy with the plenty ignorant. Without question, they are cruel, callous and brutal, and we must resist them. But comparing them to dogs would be an insult to dogs.