U.N.-cooperation or uncooperation

News & Politics

Warning: Slightly mawkish post. (If it's more Rove you seek, go here)


Running along the east side of the East River this morning was a bit of a disappointment.

Humidity and car exhaust formed a noxious cocktail and the Manhattan skyline was barely visible through the July haze. On the bridge to Queens (before you marvel at my wind, I live right on the border) the boxy UN building opposite became visible. Right wing spittle over the institution sprung to mind.

Beck's "Go It Alone"
was playing (yes, really).

Admittedly, the UN has its problems -- it is, after all, just an organization of humans -- and this particular iteration of world cooperation may indeed fail to be the ultimate solution to global poverty, war and environmental degradation.

But the point is greater than the UN. The point is whether, on a fundamental level, cooperation or selfishness is the best way to improve the world and keep us safe. The point is whether we allow ourselves to get hit by terrorists and then run in fear from the rest of the world. Yet another in a series of now tiresome ironies has those who profess to follow Jesus condemning the UN most bitterly.

Now don't worry, I'm not going to get all liturgical on you. There's nothing more dispiriting or unproductive than getting caught in a chapter and verse crossfire and taking shrapnel in the form of some obscure Revelations passage. All I'm saying is that Jesus, the supposed fountain from which much of the UN-hating crowd draws its water, was about cooperation and drawing people together -- not just people within the same municipality, ethnicity or ideology. Do unto others, etc.

Make no bones about it: UN opponents do not have a recommendation for a new and improved institution to promote cooperation. They seek to destroy cooperation.

Meanwhile on my run, my energy ebbs, the bridge's grade is a killer. Headed home I can see where the World Trade Center used to be (which, not to take anything from the tragedy or symbolism, were two of the ugliest, most inefficient monstrosities). One set of symbols is gone, destroyed. And now angry right wingers want to destroy another symbol, another building. More irony. Still not funny.

Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" comes on
-- maybe the most perfect of the popular civil-rights gospel-tinged tunes ever made, traversing some very complex emotional terrain within its modest three minutes (and maybe a bit too much considering the overwrought string section).

The song traces the life of a black man in America from a segregated childhood by a river who, "like that river I've been running ever since" to the breaking point: "it's been too hard living but I'm afraid to die." All throughout he maintains the hope that "A Change is Gonna Come."

Then, about 2/3 of the way through he reaches out to a white man, who, despite everything, he's still able to call brother: "I say brother help me please/But he winds up knocking me back down on my knees."

And despite that, after everything he's endured and after having reached out, he maintains the hope that A Change is Gonna Come.

Cornel West calls it "spiritual maturity":

For me, one of the great moments of American culture actually occurred in August of 1955. Very few people want to talk about it. 1955, of course, Emmit Till was murdered by fellow citizens, a victim of U.S. Terrorism. The body was found in the Yazoo river under the Tallahatchie bridge, but his body was brought back to Chicago, and the first major Civil Rights demonstration took place.
125,000 fellow citizens walked by to take a look at Emmit Till. His mother left the coffin open so they could see. It was at Pilgrim Baptist Church, led by the Reverend Julius Caesar Austin. He introduced Mamie Till, Mobely. She walked to the lectern. She looked over at her baby whose head was five times the size of his normal head. Then she looked in the eyes of America as well as the folk at south side Chicago, she said what -- I don't have a minute to hate, I'm going to pursue justice for the rest of my life.
That's a level of spiritual maturity and moral maturity that does not give up on the Socratic attempt to interrogate the mendacity and hypocrisy of American life, but is rooted in something deep. It's rooted in an attempt to keep track of the humanity of the very people who have dehumanized you.

Have we reached that level of maturity? Hell no. But given the current elasticity of facts in this PR blizzard of a media it's easy to forget the fundamentals and remember that despite Karl Rove's best efforts to spin it otherwise, this isn't about strength vs. weakness. It's about fighting together or alone, honestly or through connivance and duplicity. Republicans, Christian conservatives, and most of all, the president, want us to be fundamentally, irreparably, dangerously, alone.

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