Jay C. in comments over at the Crack Den, on the wildfires and coverage of the same:
Just a tossed-off observation in a radio news segment, but the whole tone -“Man, that sucks. What else is on?”- seems to be indicative of how we’re all little islands of consumption, rather than a society with a mandate for dignified living for all. When something goes wrong, it’s that person’s problem I guess.
Which is something I noticed during coverage of Katrina, as well, not the immediate of course but the aftermath, this idea that it’s all very far away, and we don’t need to worry, that we can watch like it’s a soap opera, just another missing white woman, something to chew over while getting our hair cut but not something that affects us beyond basic voyeurism.
And if it’s far away, it’s not our responsibility to fix it, it’s not something that could happen to us. It’s not something we need to worry about, when the insurance companies deny these people’s claims, or politicians turn their backs, or radio hosts say they hate America. It’s not something we need to get all that pissed about, because we’re okay in our little island.
Until we’re not, and here’s the thing. We’re always okay until we’re not. We’re always employed until we’re not, well until we’re not, rich until we’re not, safe until we’re not. Nobody walks around all day saying, “Well, it’s a matter of time until I’m fucked.”
No, you tell yourself, I may not be rich but at least I’ve got a good job. Then your company moves its factory to Mexico and its call center to Malaysia and tells you it’s Mexico and Malaysia’s fault you’re hosed so don’t hate us for increasing our profit margins, it’s all just business.
You tell yourself, I’d never live in New Orleans, because of the hurricanes, and then a tornado rips through your town and takes your roof off.
You tell yourself, I’m okay health-wise, I don’t smoke or drink too much, I work out. Then the cancer comes along, the birth defects in your kids, the rare genetic disease your parents didn’t even know the name of. Then you just drop dead one day, brain anyeurism, or a stroke.
You’re always okay until you’re not, okay on your island. Well, if not on your island, then in your city. If not in your city, then in your neighborhood. If not in your neighborhood, then on your block. If not on your block, then in your house, with your locks and your alarm system and your worry and your fear. And then you start looking at the people inside your fortress: Are you safe from them, too? More horrifying: Are they safe, from you?
My point is this: We can keep distancing ourselves. We can keep watching what’s happening in NOLA and SoCal and saying, “Eh, they moved there, their fault.” We can keep thinking of ourselves as separated from others’ trouble, and turn the channel, and find a way to blame the victim, and make it okay not to care, and go to sleep secure until we’re not, and then wonder: Why didn’t somebody stop this? Why didn’t I get help? Why isn’t anybody here for me? Why am I alone?
Or we can make ourselves one country. We can take our chalk or sand or salt and draw that line around all of us, one to the other. Until we’re all inside it. Until we’re all protected. Until we’re all safe. Because until I take responsibility for you and you take responsibility for me, neither of us is okay. Until I care about you and you care about me, neither of us is cared for.
And I think what holds us back is the same thing that always holds us back. We’re so afraid of being conned, of being taken, of giving something out there and not getting anything back. We don’t trust in the decency of others and man, can you blame us sometimes? People are basically assholes. We’re so used to thinking of the world like a vending machine, like you put something in and should get something out, when in truth, sometimes it doesn’t happen like that, sometimes you put in virtue and get vice spit back at you. Sometimes you are being conned. Sometimes people do suck and lie and not deserve it.
But you know what? Until we stop using the equation entirely, until we stop making it about deserving on the receiving end and start making it about decency on the giving end, until we start caring about people not because they’ve somehow earned it but because that’s what we do, this dynamic’s never going to change.
There will always be a story about people who asked for what they got, by moving to SoCal and hating America, by making bad choices, there will always be a story about some dirty hippie who spit on a veteran, a story somebody can use to answer the question, “Why should I?” The trick isn’t to argue the answer. The trick is to stop accepting the question. The trick is to make it so that it isn’t a question-and-answer at all.
Then California’s not “eh, whatever, they hate America, they’re losing their homes.” Then NOLA’s not “they spent their relief money on bling.” Then the neighborhood I live in isn’t “eh, they’re all on welfare and smoking crack, anyway.” Then all of that is America, and all of that is us, and all of that’s our problem, and the question, the answer, the equation, the vending machine, all of that means nothing, because we’re not watching it on TV anymore.
It doesn’t just suck to be them. It sucks to be us, and we’ve got to fix it.