Note, this is an extended blog and touches on history, global affairs and where we live.
One can debate the fault of the teenager or the cop but there is a much deeper story here. That is the sustained anger - confrontations with the police and looting in Ferguson each night for over a week after the incident.
In the current on line Time Magazine, there was a guest opinion - "The Coming Race War Won't Be About Race" - by basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar. If you dont know, Jabbar, in his post basketball career is an author, speaker, educator, film maker. His opinion in Time actually is pretty radical and he is much closer to the core explanation of a very timely issue for which the tragic killing serves as only another symptom. His comments are far more insightful, than just about any other I have read about the Ferguson shooting.
Still, they do not go far enough. I will refer to them for describing a larger and more expanded point about what is happening in Ferguson, within a broader social, economic, political and historical context.
Here is the link to Jabbar's commentary. http://time.com/author/kareem-abdul-jabbar/
Jabbar is saying the riots and unrest are result from social and economic dis equity in our society. He is not the first to identify dis equity as a huge social issue but to identify a deeper social cause goes beyond the familiar superficial daily news about the Ferguson incident - who is to blame - teenager or cop. I am impressed Time ran his view point. The six time NBA MVP has a lot more to say.
Jabbar's perspective is heavy on racism but that's not all. No one denies racism is a real problem. But even more rad is he sees the incident of a white cop shooting a lower income black teenager as an example of class warfare. [his words] Its not just Black and White. He says the discussion about the incident needs to go way beyond the narrow story of who is at fault with the shooting and beyond the fact that the victim was Black and the one shooting was White. I don't think Jabbar is a Marxist, but you don't have to be [much of what Marx said would happen with capitalism has come true] to understand how the system caters to the well off at the expense of the majority and social "progress." [while degrading the Planet. And, who defines "social progress."]
The trends of dis equity and concentration of capital relating to financial wealth and ownership is well documented in the US, to the point that just about anyone knows its the 1% of the 1% who have really raked in the money and political power over the past generation or two. You can search that topic - "trends in concentration of wealth and power" See for yourself.
Jabbar's commentary speaks of disinformation and distractions [makes me think of popular distractions - celebrity culture, cute stories about pets, buckets of ice fad and sports to name only a few kinds of media products that distract] to keep the majority glazed over and disempowered. He sees the mainstream news and media as a tool to maintain the rich poor arrangement. If people don't have accurate, honest and real information, they will not be able to make good decisions and will continue to suffer by making not good decisions. And the angst will accumulate. Again, that is not such a novel observation but Jabbar is getting prime time exposure writing these opinions that are not so flattering to our society. A lot of people read Time. And there is more in the commentary.
Jabbar touches on previous incidents such as Kent State and Jackson State, both where students died at the hands of the authorities but the two received vastly different levels of attention by the media. Kent State, mostly white, a lot and Jackson State, mostly black, not much. He says the protests in Ferguson are justified and there is need for more protests. He sees that focusing on race misses the larger issue.
The poor, regardless of race, are on the receiving end of injustice and that is where the attention needs to be. According to a story in Al Jazeera America, shooting victim MIchael Brown graduated from a high school known for its poor academics and violence.
A quote from the August 21 article by writer Madeline O'Leery
"Inequality in education – and efforts to block students transferring from impoverished, predominantly black school districts into those wealthier white ones – were a focus of local resentment even before Brown’s killing."
What can be done to correct that condition. Jabbar's prescription, he writes -
"The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future."
That assessment is very good. But depending on the System to ALLOW ITSELF to be corrected is not a good bet. [See comments here relating to Cultural and Economic Mythologies.] Can common people influence Leviathan? Certainly. Can they actually cause Leviathan to become friendly to people and planet,,,to share the wealth and political power much more fairly? I don't think so. But people DO have power at the level of home and neighborhood and even into the local community.
If enough people went green and local a la permaculture, how would that be? Better to try making permaculture happen than not. I think transforming suburbia as pioneers are doing here and there all over the country is one of the most important actions a person, couple, family or neighborhood can make.
So Jabbar, in my opinion, is half way "there" with his explanation and call for action. He sees the System not performing as it should. I don't think he sees the System as hard wired to be unfair. I think he sees the system as capable of reform and behaving in a responsible way. That belief is hopeful. I don't agree.
One could take Kareem's thinking and assessment [and I am sympathetic] a bit further. If one carefully considers the core foundation of the economic/cultureSystem - what it does, what it produces, how is it managed, who makes the decisions and who benefits, one will likely appreciate the view of a small but growing perspective that the System needs to be replaced. Regime change.
This growing perspective moves the discussion into the realm of values, ideals, goals and the questions seldom discussed in mainstream public venues such as election campaigns - what is the purpose of life? What are we supposed to be doing and by what guidelines? And by extension - what is the desired outcome of social and economic activity? and by extension - who decides?
What products are we manufacturing and for what purpose, what services are we providing and why, what are we working for, what are we getting an education for, what are popular goals and ideals and who promotes them?
The wealth that is becoming increasingly accumulated in fewer and fewer hands - the 1% of the 1% - is only a "what do you expect?" consequence of an economic system that has a by design DNA that all but guarantees favoring the wealthy at the expense of the not wealthy. The poor and not so wealthy are not making "significant" campaign contributions, after all.
Historically, trickle down does work, to a degree. Yet trickle down depends on a level of economic activity that is making big problems for Planet Earth. As many point out, a more even distribution of wealth could lift a lot of people out of poverty but may cost the wealthy one of their vacation homes or a thousand dollar hand bag.
So far, Planet Earth has subsidized our entire economy with cheap resources and absorbing the waste of affluence and trickle down. That vital service is looking to be overdrawn. There are many books and reports that document climate change, energy and resource trends, species extinction, pollution and more. Again, to produce the current level of wealth on planet earth, unequal in distribution as it is, exacts an enormous level of damage to planet earth. It leaves many in poverty even in the best of times.
What happens when the cheap resources begin to run low? We are already seeing that. What happens when clean water becomes scarce? We are already seeing that. What happens when economies and governments are controlled by the wealthy for their own benefit at the expense of many others? We are seeing that.
What happens when there are not enough decent jobs for people to earn a decent living? What happens when a large percentage of young people feel marginalized and forgotten, or are on the receiving end of a tear gas cylinder or worse?
Enter Ferguson, Missouri and a lot of other places all over the country. And the world.
Ferguson is only the most recent example of how the global economy, in its various regional dialects of market capitalism, is leaving a lot of people behind.
Here are several examples of what happens when lots of young people do not feel like they have a place at the table.
The Arab Spring. Several years later - did that really happen? The ideals and outcomes,,,, not what the people in the street had in mind - "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"
A seemingly insignificant event, a young man vending fruit without a license is busted. With so little to live for [and who knows what else was going on in his life] he burns himself up in protest. He lit a lot of other fires in the hearts of thousands of other young men and women all over the Mid East, if not other locations less in the news. Those were revolutions started mostly by young unemployed men and women and later many others joined in to shake up the status quo. At least for a while.
The Occupy Movement in the US and many other locations of the more affluent world was very similar. Many young people, unemployed, dissatisfied, angry. That Movement hit a nerve and many many local occupy groups formed to campaign for a more inclusive economy and society along with a host of other changes.
Ukraine is another example. It was mostly young people who occupied the square in Kiev that lead to the ultimate replacement of that country's corrupt leader. Many died for their efforts.
Perhaps a bit extreme, but the Islamic State is another cousin of these movements. It is made up of mostly young men, and others, such as former Baath Party members, marginalized by the post Sadam Hussein government, who have little to lose and have been drawn into an unbelievably horrible project under the name Islamic State. Few people with a life worth living would allow themselves to become the foot soldiers or even managers of such a brutal and negative phenomena.
One might say there have always been poor and marginal people. Probably so but when there are enough poor and marginal, history shows they are capable of taking initiatives ranging from mellow, like the Occupy MOvement, to the extreme, like the Islamic State.
What will happen as earthly resource subsidies and human created economic systems totally dependent on them, cannot maintain a growing economy?
We are already seeing the early going of that.
In the US, the proverbial middle class is in decline. There is growing poverty in the suburbs. More young people are living at home because they can't afford to live on their own. Fracking for oil and gas shows how desperate we are to maintain the fossil fuel based economy because the easy oil and gas is depleting. And fracking may be depleting far more rapidly than most people think.
One might consider the desirability or dependability of an economic system fraught with boom and bust cycles. The whole housing bubble was a scam fueled by near give away mortgages. There were lots of jobs building houses and buildings that had no real reason to exist other than to be flipped for a quick profit before the bust happened. That is not a desirable economy. When it all came undone, millions lost their jobs and millions slid into poverty and many have stayed there.
Already, some researchers and writers identify a wholesale down shift of demographic groups. A growing number of high school graduates of today will experience an economic and social profile of the high school drop out a generation ago. Today's BA degree is becoming something like a high school diploma of a generation ago.
That social down slope manifests in more teen pregnancy, drug use [legal or not], decline of civic culture, violence in the home, un healthy personal care choices, child poverty, bad food choices, increased likelihood of disease, dependency on external help,,,,,,
The low hanging fruit of economic expansion - at home and global is being used up. The diving board is being pulled away after the first couple jumps,,,,,,
As a growing number of people fall "behind," there will be an increasing level of frustration and an increasing part of manifesting that frustration will be opportunistic and public. Ferguson is a small example of an opportunistic rage. That anger predates the shooting incident. The incident served to provide an outlet for what was already there. Outside agitators? Maybe, but if so, consider why the locals are going along with it and why are the agitators agitating? Maybe they don't have anything better to do back home.
These trends of social and civil fracture are global and deepening. Certainly, there continues to be economic growth - like a branch still alive while the roots are in decay - but it depends on the continued degradation of the planet and often on economic make believe such as the housing boom that lead up to the the so called Great Recession along with a remarkable undervaluing of the services provided by the natural world.
The growing economy also requires an enormous amount of debt, public and private. What happens when the loans cannot be paid back. We are already seeing the response to debt - borrow and create more money.
One could also ask - what is the goal of all this economic activity in the first place? Is a civilization predicated on perpetual growth, indulging the less desirable qualities of human nature and material accumulation even desirable?
Virtually every great spiritual tradition advocates for a simple lifestyle, to avoid being preoccupied with money and material stuff.
Ferguson's upheaval is a canary in the coal mine. And the canary sings in many languages.
Kareen Abdul Jabbar's commentary goes part way in explaining the Ferguson incident. It does not go far enough.
Global Market Capitalism as we know it, imposes itself as a road map over the cliff. A growing number of passengers don't want to be on board.
That economic system is incapable of becoming friendly to people and planet. It is hard wired to externalize its costs on people and planet and can lead to no place other than a degraded planet and a degraded society.
People have far more capacity to act creatively in their own best interests than they realize, as individuals and as part of a larger community. There are many many allies and assets to share the adventure with. Taking what is already here - our cities, homes, civic structures, ourselves and reworking them all into something holistic, positive and uplifting offers itself as a far more preferable adventure.
Imagine a place for the many thousands disaffected young people and unemployed helping to transform our neighborhoods and towns - building community and school gardens, helping those in need, learning and teaching permaculture, reworking the urban landscape, helping to build a positive future for themselves and others. Transformation of the [sub]urban landscape could employ hundreds of thousands of people, young and old.
Americorps is a perfect model, already engaged with all of these tasks. Just about any town has a diversity of non profit and ad hoc groups doing good work in their communities that, whether they know it or now, are already addressing needs and issues that are important parts of transformation.
Its not a matter of inventing new technologies or civic organization, its a matter of upsizing and coordinating the good works that exist now and replicating those actions in other places where they are needed.
People do not have to wait for permission to help create a positive and uplifting home, neighborhood and society. A favorite phrase "you don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood."