News & Politics

Excerpt: Life Out of Context

Since natural reasons are not motivating us to unite, we have to create a rallying point -- a reason for us to get together and work as One.
The following is an excerpt from Walter Mosley's "Life Out of Context" (Nation Books).

If the circumstances of life don't bring us together and force us to act in concert, then we must create our own circumstance. This seems to be a self-evident truth. Being an artist, not unlike the venerable Public Intellectual whose presentation sent me on this path of investigation, I feel that it is my duty to try to construct a system that will illuminate those important issues we all have in common. Only in this light can we see each other and transcend the tyranny of the pocketbook.

That's the only reason I'm writing this piece: to try and figure out how we get together and work as One. There are a thousand reasons for people of color and their supporters in other racial communities to come together, but a thousand reasons may have just as many groups that form around them, each organization claiming that their commitment is the most important. There are Afro-centrists and urban planners, feminists and gays, NRA members and Democrats, conservatives and rap masters, radicals and socialists; there are artists and philosophers, rich businessmen and the cultural guides that have seen themselves as our leaders since the sixties came and went.

The unjust, unjustified, and barbaric war against Iraq is obviously not enough to shake our moral foundations. Our rock-bottom salaries and nonexistent medical insurance coverage doesn't move us to question why. Four million black men and women going in and out of the prison system must be guilty because they were, or will be, convicted. Natural reasons are not motivating us to unite and so it seems we have to create a rallying point.

I make this claim this with a great deal of trepidation. My fear comes from the knowledge that I'm not the first late-twentieth century would-be do-gooder who has come to the conclusion that our context must be fabricated. Politicians fabricate all the time. They cull the radical fringe and the special-interest groups for commonality and then profess belief where they have none. They promise a chicken in every pot or warn about homosexuals or communists. They babble and stutter in public because they think that the common citizen babbles and stutters. More to the point, they create enemies and threats that bring us together in fear. They see terrorist collusion and weapons of mass destruction behind every beard. They militarize and kiss bloody wounds. They find zealots that actually believe these things and press them into the public eye.

Our politicians are masters at creating context. We come together under the great umbrella of one of the two major (so-called) political parties and ask, who am I? They respond, you are the innocent victim of those that hate freedom. You are the unknowing pawn of thieves that defraud our great public works. You are a member of a great democracy whose fate it is to protect the world from its own misguided notions and ancient belief systems.

And we believe this jive. Why wouldn't we? These are our leaders talking. Our notions of human rights and democracy have been cooked up in their mothers' kitchens. They created the language that we were taught in school. Their friends own all of the major media outlets. It is only through their largess that we might have comfort in our lives.

We want to believe in our political leaders. Let me say that again: We want to believe in our political leaders. This phrase by itself is worth much consideration. At first it seems patently obvious and simple -- not a very deep statement at all. But of course it is. Our leaders lied about weapons of mass destruction; they lied about Iraqi collusion with fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. And if you're a conservative reading these words, let me modify it for your benefit: Our leaders were wrong about weapons of mass destruction; they were wrong about Iraqi collusion with fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. In either phrasing, we were given erroneous information by people who we want (in the worst way) to believe in.

They gave us the wrong information and still we listen to them as if they were fully capable of telling the truth.* In our everyday lives, this would never fly. If somebody came up to you and told you that it was the guy across the street who vandalized your car and then went with you to beat and torture that man, only to admit the next day that his information was faulty, you would never trust that person again. But when our leaders do the same thing, we act as if it never happened. We don't ask for an accounting. How can this be? The answer is simple: We are living a life out of context with our own belief systems, with what we believe to be good and right.

"I am not an assassin, a murderer, a thief, a torturer, a sexual deviant, or a criminal of any kind," most Americans would claim. But all of these acts have been carried out in our name in the Middle East. We are all culpable for our nation's actions; all of us. But we don't actually feel guilty because in some way we don't acknowledge the crimes. We don't because we want to believe in our leaders and our nation so strongly that lies magically become truths and we are purified in the nearly alchemical process. We don't ask for an accounting because we don't want to know.

This is the reason that politicians and political leaders can construct moral contexts for us to invest in without having to be answerable for the consequences of our, or their, actions.

I want to create a context, but not like that. I don't want to lie to people in order to get them to move in concert. But, you might say, I don't have to worry about that. I'm not acting in the service of Big Money or the Military-Industrial Complex.** I'm not a flunky of the government or its attendant interest corporations. I am an idealistic individual trying his best to make a better world.

It sounds very safe and very good. But those fifty-three years have taught me that no human being or human act is wholly innocent. So-called idealistic leaders and thinkers have been leading us toward calamities forever.

The terrorist through history is the prime example. Terrorism is almost always anchored in idealism. You belong to a people that you believe have been mistreated and abused by a powerful group which refuses to accept responsibility. You have tried to appeal to this power's human side, you have tried to go to third parties for justice, you have marched and given speeches, you have seen your fellows martyred and assassinated. You have seen children die for no reason, and finally you have decided that your truth is more important than their power. This is a very powerful decision; one not lightly made, and something to be feared. Because when an idealist comes to the end of his or her patience, anything is possible. Suicide is the idealist's sister, murder his unavoidable rendezvous. A man or woman whose belief in their own truth is unshakable becomes a potential nightmare.

How far are we from that nightmare when we decide to create our own context? Hitler did it with European Jewry. Pol Pot did it with anyone who had soft hands. It's easy to make your audience into victims hungry for revenge, but the power and commitment you unleash may be way beyond the actions you wish to take. Look at what has happened in Iraq. We were told that they were in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, and now there are at least a hundred thousand dead, each one of those dead human beings innocent of any crime against us.

Would you want to be the one who made that claim?

* I hope you realize at this point I am not singling out Mr. Bush and his cabal. The Democrats are the same. They lie and mislead. They ignore the truth along with their right-wing counterparts.
** The Military Industrial-Complex is a term coined by one of America's great conservatives -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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