Friday, May 23, 2014

Wall Street and Main Street: Our inescapable network of mutuality

I believe that one of the problems with a lot of liberals is that they focus too much on the enemy. Looking at the treatment of our financial system and the 1%ers by them is often instructive. The rhetoric is all tied up in calls for retribution and defeat of the enemy.

In saying that, I am in no way attempting to excuse the injustices. They are very real. But if we are going to address them, we must maintain our North Star - a focus on who we are fighting FOR.

I am often struck by the approach of leaders from the past that we revere...people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. Both of those men led movements against oppression far beyond what we experience today. I believe that much of what guided them can be summed up in these words Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a Birmingham jail.
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
It is the same grounding that President Obama acknowledged as the basis for what made Mandela such a powerful leader.
There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us...It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth.
Mutuality and Ubuntu are not merely statements of sentimentality. We now know that they are well-grounded in the science of everything from biology to economics. A simple focus on retribution against our enemies ultimately affects all of us. Whether or not we are willing to heed King's call to "love our enemies," we have to at least take that into account.

While I might not agree with every action taken by President Obama and his administration in the midst of the Great Recession, it is clear that they were guided by an awareness of the economic mutuality between Wall Street and Main Street. They knew that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." That is exactly what is meant by the idea of "too big to fail." Even as we are justified in decrying how we got there, no one can deny that a "failure" would have had catastrophic effects on everyone - not just Wall Street.

And so here we are six years later and the immediate crisis is over. We're back to dealing with the growing income inequality that has been building for over 30 years. Liberals whose primary focus is on defeating the enemy seem more resentful of money being made on Wall Street than they are in figuring out what to do for Main Street.  I suspect that what drives that is an assumption that if Wall Street suffers Main Street will prosper. To me, that is just another example of assuming that the master's tools will be able to dismantle the master's house. It is the master's way to pit one group against another...divide and conquer...survival of the fittest.

Ultimately what will dismantle the master's house of income inequality is a recognition of the fact that "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." That means that we demonize neither the poor or the rich, nor do we call for their defeat. Instead, we begin to imagine how we can "free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well."

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