Beatrice: Are there class distinctions in torture?
Capt. Segura: Some people expect to be tortured. Others are outraged by it. One never tortures except by mutual agreement.
Beatrice: Who agrees?
Capt. Segura: Usually the poor. In your welfare state you have social security, therefore you have no poor. Consequently there you are untorturable.
-From ‘Our Man in Havana’ by Graham Greene
Does a person have to earn dignity? Or is dignity something we just have, something we’re entitled to as human beings?
It isn’t a theoretical question. I realized recently it’s been nagging at me almost every day through this already-endless election season.
I’ve spent most of my life holding my nose and voting for the lesser of two evils. This year, I’ve been following Bernie Sanders, though this blog isn’t really about him. It’s about a different sound I hearing behind his policies and programs, one that I hope will survive and grow regardless of the fate of his candidacy.
That is, that we’re all of us in this together and all of us entitled to be treated like creatures with dignity.
The other candidates, like almost every politician of the last thirty years, come from what I think of as a post-Reagan point of view – if you haven’t ‘succeeded,’ it’s your own fault, so why should we worry about you?
Trump’s boast that he could shoot someone in front of cameras and still get votes seemed fanciful once, remember? Now, it’s inarguable. On the other side of the coin, the un-powerful in this country (it helps if you’re black) can be shot in front of cameras without consequence.
This has nothing to do with government, by the way. Have you tried calling for business support lately?
Want to hear someone laugh? Just say ‘Your call is very important to us.’
Every aspect of the ‘support’ experience reinforces the impression that you are of absolutely no importance to the company that took your money.
The wealthy and powerful can create pharmaceuticals that kill, airbags that kill, powerplants that render their surroundings uninhabitable, investment instruments that wreck the economy of the Western World and walk away with a slap on the wrist.
Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, was just convicted of sexual abuse against an unspecified number of teenage boys; he got 15 months in prison. If he was some inner-city gym teacher, preferably with white middle-class students testifying against him, want to bet what kind of sentence he’d have gotten?
As Graham Greene would have understood, we now have a torturable class. I’m sorry – we now are the torturable class.
And that’s where Bernie Sanders is truly different.
His programs don’t make distinctions – they help everyone. They’re based on the concept that every citizen is deserving of decent treatment, whether that means getting into college based on merit instead of financial ability, making healthcare decisions based on medical need rather than maximum profit for insurance and Big Pharma, imposing jailtime because ‘you did the crime’ instead of ‘you were born unfortunate (and are destined to remain that way).’
His ideas grow out of the idea that ordinary people’s lives matter, that they’re not just guinea pigs offered up to the highest bidder.
The Republicans and Hillary Clinton may differ wildly on policy and style – I do think there are real significant differences between them – but none of them challenge that ‘Us Against Them’ world that Reagan created. Sanders’ worldview does.
And in the end, that worldview is what’s going to matter. Whether or not Sanders takes the Democratic nomination this year, millions have heard this message and we’re not going back. We may vote for Hillary or Trump in November or we may stay away from the polls altogether but, longterm, we’ve been reminded that we are full citizens, entitled to have our grievances heard and our needs met, human beings with dignity, not animals consigned forever to fight over the scraps on the floor of the cage.