…and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” –Book of Revelation, Chapter 6, Verse 6
A while ago I was thinking about the phenomenon of famine; about how blight, disease, war, human nature and the earth itself sometimes conspire to deprive us of what we need to survive. At times starvation is used as a political tool by those in power to insure their control; other times it’s just the season.
There are few afflictions worse than the slow death of entire families and villages, whole cultures that see death coming in each other’s eyes. In its pure form famine is hunger carried out to its inescapable conclusion: pain and suffering wending unerringly to eternal emptiness.
It’s not surprising that I was having these cheery thoughts while thinking about my country, my people, my race and how these intimate and integral parts of my life are juxtaposed with, and often aligned against, the rest of the world.
The deprivation of famine is certainly at its worst when people waste away and die. But there is also the possibility of another kind of famine: a dearth in the human soul. This barren emotional landscape, this spiritual famine is in full swing today among our people and in much of the rest of the world. Hopelessness, emptiness and senseless cynicism have taken up residence in so many of our hearts that we seem to be wasting away even while we are surrounded by riches and blessed with potential unequaled in human history.
We can see the deficiency in our nation through many sad manifestations: our willingness to go to war even though we are well aware that violence is the last resort of brutes; the poverty that grows daily like the vig on a loan shark’s bottom line; the enormous expansion of our prison population; the stark, hungry and rampant adulation of wealth and fame.
I decided to come to The Nation to see if I could publish a cycle of brief reflections to create a dialogue about this psychic anorexia that has weakened our spirits to the point of collapse. In the pieces to follow I will try to address some of the many areas where we are undernourished and morally emaciated. I will bring up actions and systems we might employ to change the downward flow of things, addressing questions such as: How do we repair the damage of slavery and imperialism? How do we reclaim American democracy for working people? I also try to address some of the attitudes and systems that stand in our way. Here I talk about corporate persons (or legal fictions), prisoner voting rights and left-wing despair.
These reflections are the work of an ordinary thinker with an average mind who, despite his limitations, desires to have the whole world move forward, leaving no child, woman or man behind. This work is optimistic and inclusive, not elite, restricted or an example of brilliance. The questions here are all that matter. If my inquiries about our situation strike any chord, then the dialogues that follow will be worth the effort.
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America stands on a fiscal precipice here at the start of the twenty-first century. China and India and South America present powerful challenges to our economic hegemony; Europe’s united economy also imperils our dominance. Our money is worth less daily, our children’s potential is dwindling; our medical insurance, Social Security and ability to make choices about when and if we retire are fast eroding.