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Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games

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Posted on May 1, 2012
KendraKaptures (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

Then, of course, there are thousands more Americans who were so grievously wounded they might have died in previous conflicts, but are now surviving with severe brain damage, multiple missing limbs, or other profound mutilations. And don’t forget the trauma and mental illness that mostly goes unacknowledged and untreated or the far more devastating Iraqi version of the same. And never mind Afghanistan, with its own grim numbers and horrific consequences.

Our wartime carnage has been on a grand scale, but it hasn’t been on television in any meaningful way; it’s generally been semi-hidden by most of the American media and the government, which censored images of returning coffins, corpses, civilian casualties, and anything else uncomfortable (though in our science-fiction era when every phone is potentially a video camera, the leakage has still been colossal). Most of us did a good job of being distracted by other things—including reality TV, of course.  The US Ambassador and military commander in Afghanistan were furious not that our soldiers struck jokey poses with severed limbs, but that the Los Angeles Times dared to publish them last month. And those whistleblowers who took the effort to reveal the little men behind the throne are facing severe punishment.  Witness one Hunger-Games-style hero, Bradley Manning, the slight young soldier turned alleged leaker, long held in inhumane conditions and now facing a potential life sentence.

The Return of Debt Peonage

In The Hunger Games, kids in poor families take out extra chances in their District lottery—that is, extra chances to die—in return for extra food rations; in ours, poor kids enlist in the military to feed their families and maybe escape economic doom. Many are seduced by military recruiters who stalk them in high school with promises as slippery as those the slave trade uses to recruit poor young women for sex work abroad.

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And then there’s another form of debt peonage that is far more widespread in our strange and ever-changing land: student loans. The young are constantly told that only a college education can give them a decent future. Then they’re told that, to pay for it, they need to go into debt—usually into five figures, sometimes well into six. And these debts are, in turn, governed by special laws that don’t allow you to declare bankruptcy—no matter what.  In other words, they are guaranteed to follow you all your life.

One of my close friends wept when her husband began to earn enough money to pay off her $45,000 loan, structured so that it looked like she would continue to pay interest on it for the rest of her life; not so dissimilar, that is, from the debts sharecroppers and workers in company towns used to incur.

In other words, we’re creating a new generation of debt peonage. And she’s not the worst case by far. Early in the Occupy Wall Street moment, she told me, someone arrived at Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan with markers and cardboard on which participants were to write their debt.  What shocked her was how many of the occupiers in their early twenties were already carrying huge debt burdens.

According to the website for Occupy Student Debt, 36,000,000 Americans have student debts.  These have increased more than fivefold since 1999, creating a debt load that’s approaching a trillion dollars, with students borrowing $96 billion more every year to pay for their educations. Two-thirds of college students find themselves in this trap nowadays. As commentator Malcolm Harris put it in N + 1 magazine:

“Since 1978, the price of tuition at U.S. colleges has increased over 900%, 650 points above inflation. To put that number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the U.S. economy, then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But… wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession. The result is that the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt.”

About a third are already in default. You can only hope that this bubble will burst in a wildcat strike against student debt, and if we’re lucky, a move to force tuition lower and have a debt jubilee.


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By prosefights, May 3, 2012 at 10:37 am Link to this comment

Future electricity cost and supply problems deserve study, we believe, now that the liberal arts ‘educated’ are trying to take policy control.

http://www.prosefights.org/nmgco/intervene/hearing/hearing.htm#adopt

Electricity rate increase to subsidize solar generation of electricity appears to be on their agenda?

Mr Sweet has not responded.

http://www.prosefights.org/pnmrider/solarlights.htm#meter2

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By putoff, May 3, 2012 at 6:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sorry, Ms. Solnit, but your writing style is too convoluted for me to enjoy what you’re talking about.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my coffee this morning, but I think you’d do well to put in more commas and remove a lot of the clutter.  Methinks most of it is left-over scrap from when you used to eat books. I couldn’t get past the first page.

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 7:38 am Link to this comment

no, not imo, revolution did not errupt in most arab lands,
russia….protests errupted there.
and to date, as evidence proves, protests are for kids. they not only fail
but actually exacerbate an already horrible situation.
destruction of libya, denial of a palestinian state, NDAA and other acts,
assassination of some individuals, stand your ground ‘law’, continued
occupations, greater poverty/hatred/racial divides all happened while
people protested.
===
we witness in this piece once again [it never ceases] the usual lament,
enumeration of symptoms, etc., but not the cause for them!

Report this

By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 7:19 am Link to this comment

that’s as communist as there is likely to be. unfortunately the people at the
“vanguard” of the Soviet Union” weren’t at all communists in that sense (or much
at all).

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 7:12 am Link to this comment

hetero,
USSR had proportionally more fascists [or people who’d defend with life own
serfdom/dependency] than countries like germany, italy, spain, venezuela, cuba, vietnam,
korea…
and SSSR broke up only because of that.
russia was probably about the last country in which one shld have started building a more
egalitarian society.
how about u.s? does anyone think that structure of society in u.s can be changed by solely
protesting, complaining, wishful thinking or only by getting political.
let’s face the fact: politics is all!
===
i may be a communist, but as jesus had meant it or as i think he meant it!

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

yes, no jobs! but there is work; and, as always before, in all lands—but
not enough hands to do it or to do all we needed and need now to do.
and who decides, what shall and what shan’t be done? 
in u.s, seems, 98% of americans; alas, deluded, dumbed, frightened,
angry, racially/ethnically divided, blood-thirsty, hateful, etc., beyond
belief.
and so made by whom?

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

balkas——do you much mourn the Soviet Empire?

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 6:28 am Link to this comment

most powerful nation? or most powerful region, inhabited by many
ethnicities; 3 or 4 races; led by one or two top ethnicities; which are
enriching selves more than any other!
most powerful region [there is no longer an amerika, but, then there
never had been one in the first place] doing most of the killings,
maimings, destruction, harm to the biota, threatening, blockading,
sanctioning, etc.
and that’s the politics in US which have prevailed thus far and worst yet
to come!

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, May 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

The facts of this article is philosophically remindful of Jonathan Swift
and his essay “for the benefit of the clergy” in ”A Modest Proposal”
but its entire title is ”A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children
of the Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents, or the
Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick”
  The insanity
that was partisan politics and religion in the early 18th century was a
clarion perspective of the mental derangement that exists in our
contemporary society, as The Hunger Games illustrates, with
absolute clarity.  Swift’s pamphleteering approach was to use satire,
whereas Hunger Games takes a much more serious attitude drawing
on the electronic tyranny that permeates our youth today, youth meaning
from about 14 to 25-year olds. 

Swift’s grotesque thesis was a direct demonstration of an utter
outrage at what he considered disgraceful economic and political
policies of the Irish and English governments, using the contrived
voice of an economist, giving a copious amount of detail, metaphors
for the unexaggerated conditions of the corruption of those in charge
and the effects on society, also using irony and parody with extraor-
dinary wrecking effect.  Doesn’t this sound too too familiar?  Are we not
sickened enough yet?  Swift simultaneously targets his biting criticism at
Protestant-Catholic divisions, contemporary economic theories, and
other oppressive factors.  How far will this pluralistic society allow the
confiscation of a naive public’s thinking power to continue?

With Hunger Games, food becomes the prize for an ever hungry
district-divided society.  We know from the description above the young
people are sacrificed.  At least there will be 23 less stomachs to feed at
the end of the combat.  Is that what civilization has come to?  17 million
American children go hungry each day, according to an ABC news report
in August 2011.  Is that what we have become today?  a nation that
defines millions of kids with morbid malnutrition?  Hunger Games
action is more in physically reminiscent of the Roman Gladiator Games
in training preparations, there is only a cursory indictment in Hunger
Games
of the ruling class and a more or less capitulation to the situa-
tion not as incisive as Huxley’s dehumanization found in his negative
utopian Brave New World’s unsuccessful rebellion.

John Savage was not able to integrate having to accept the “brave new
world he came to hate and found himself unfit to come to terms with it
to have even an unassuming life. He ultimately finds death the better
part of valor. 

Hunger Games is our era’s cautionary tale of the dreadful social
disparity that is our reality, but it does not quite approach the power of
its literary predecessors.  I do wonder, though, if the consequences
portrayed in this more or less melodramatic story for adolescents will
seep into their conscience and affect their morality to any significant
degree?

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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment

because they were nothing like soup kitchens in any real sense and nobody among
the homeless was turning to those poseurs because it was the only place to get a
meal.


OO’s commitment to feed anybody was about an inch-deep veneer over what they
were about and there was no OO effort to make any feeding program sustainable.

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By azythos, May 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

” ‘camps like Occupy Oakland last year was the way they became de facto soup
kitchens’

“and couldn’t reading this sophomoric jumble”

What exactly is “sophomoric” about that quote, and exactly why? Articulate, please.

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By gerard, May 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment

Yeah, one of the things we have to liberate ourselves from is the deep awareness of tragic probabilities that fill our hearts with sorrow and terror and demoralize our will.
  At the same time, the spirits of the One PerCent are being injured, splintered, emptied of spiritual power. Right action is stifled. Vast sums of money are available, but souls starve.
  Led astray by wealth, the people locked in the towers might be shaken free by some pixilated public celebration—a Wall Street Aerial Art Exhibit—millions of pieces of paper the size of dollar bills, painted in bright colors—hand-made original designs of all things loveable and good—dropped down from several towers near the Exchange, to float in silence on the breeze between the canyon/buildings and picked up by passers-by.  No anger.No curse, No criticism. No cry.
  Just an acknowledgement of common humanity.
  A reclamation, an offering, an introduction:

  Hello!      From me to you.  Here we are!
    Now! This moment!
              This once-in-a-lifetime
                              day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                                !

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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

well, I tried… i got to the point where she put out that stuff about

“camps like Occupy Oakland last year was the way they became de facto soup
kitchens”

and couldn’t reading this sophomoric jumble.

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