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Works and Days

Strangers in a Stranger Land

April 8th, 2012 - 4:00 pm

I am further confused: did Bill Gates’ extravagant mansion rob the rest of us (how many of us paid too much for Microsoft Word to pay for his indulgent investment?). Does Warren Buffett’s jet mean that the rest of us have less jet fuel as we sit cramped back in the tail section? Why does James Cameron get his own submarine to explore the ocean; could he not instead have cut the ticket price to his movies? Can we all go to Costa del Sol or Martha’s Vineyard; how many cruise missiles paid for that? What are the criteria that suggest some of the above is corporate jet-setting and some is not, when do pigs walk on four and when on two legs?

But this alternate reality is not just political, but also social. This week I read in local papers of a supposed flight from the San Joaquin Valley by the more affluent, either out of state or to the other California that is the coastal corridor from San Francisco to San Diego. The interior we are told is emptying out, keeping unemployment high and housing prices low. But the wire services also assured us that our net population did not dip, given the role of “international arrivals.” So was there an influx from Switzerland or Kenya into California that I was not aware of? Are we back to “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters”?’ Did Major Hasan lose it in a workplace rage?

In the tragic Trayvon Martin case almost everything that I saw or read for nearly two weeks seemed to me not quite true. As the days wore on, why did the narrative keep changing? Trayvon was not any longer the slight, preteen in a football uniform as his most widely disseminated photo suggested; that information matters as much or as little as information that George Zimmerman had a prior run-in or two with the authorities. Martin was not outweighed by his shooter by 100 pounds. He was not a model student; and George Zimmerman probably did not run him down in efforts to execute him. Zimmerman probably did not utter a racial epithet. To the extent that he sounded insensitive, it was largely due to a doctored NBC tape (NBC said that it was an inadvertent error but why did it err to bolster rather than weaken the media narrative? [fake but accurate?]). Zimmerman really did suffer a head injury. The latter was half-Hispanic; but the original white-on-black crime narrative was nevertheless somewhat salvaged with the new rubric “white Hispanic.” I used to think that the idea of re-arresting someone when probable cause is still in doubt was not a compromise solution to finding out the facts.

Putting a bounty on someone’s head is not a crime? Posting a private address to followers for the intent to foment violence against the residents is not either? Nor is doctoring a tape to inflame racial tensions in a period of unrest a terrible thing to do. For congressional representatives to label someone not charged with a crime an assassin or executioner is not considered bad taste and draws little rebuke.

These are the narratives that for purposes of social justice now become reality, but tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?

Who knows? “Truth,” after all, is not the Socratic absolute, but a socially constructed commodity, defined by power and predicated on race, class, and gender, concerns that can be made to serve the greater good, if adjudicated by — well, again, fill in the blanks.

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