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Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games

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

By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

The rest of us, the 99%, need to remember that, when it comes to public education, the crisis has everything to do with slashed tax rates—to the wealthy and corporations in particular—over the last 30 years. We went into bondage so that they might be free. Getting an education to make your way out of poverty and maybe expand your mind is becoming another way of being trapped forever in poverty. For too many, there’s no way out of the hunger labyrinth.

The Labyrinths of Poverty

Which brings us to the hungriest in our 2012 real-life version of the Hunger Games: the poor. The wealthiest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen is full of hungry people. You know it, and you know why. In this vast, bountiful, food-producing, food-wasting nation, it’s a crisis of distribution, also known as economic inequality, described at last with clarity and force by the Occupy movement.

One of the sad and moving spectacles of camps like Occupy Oakland last year was the way they became de facto soup kitchens as the homeless and hungry came out of the shadows for the chance at a decent meal. Some of the camps had really dedicated chefs who cooked superbly.  They also had rudimentary medical clinics where the poor received the healthcare they couldn’t get anywhere else.

We are in a new era of desperation, when lots of people who were getting by these last several decades aren’t anymore. There are no jobs, or the jobs available pay so abysmally that workers can barely survive on them.  

Of course, we do have one arena in which meals are guaranteed, and the population there keeps growing. Six million Americans live there, and it often does get gladiatorial inside. It’s called prison, and we have the highest percentage of prisoners per population in the world, higher than in the USSR gulags under Stalin. Half of them are there for drug offenses, 80% of those for simple possession.

Which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, hasn’t stopped the flow of drugs meant to numb the pain we’re so good at creating here.  We should create a measure for Gross National Suffering (GNS) before we even think about the Gross National Happiness they measure in Bhutan.

And once our prisoners get out, they’re a stigmatized caste, uniquely ill-suited to survival in this economy—speaking of hunger, debt, poverty, being branded for life, and hopelessness. Like universities, prisons are profitable industries, though not for the human beings who are the raw material they process.  In this age, both systems seem increasingly like so many factories.

In the Shadow of 900 Tornados

But if you want to think about all the ways we’re dooming the young, there’s one that puts the others in the shade, a form of destruction that includes not just American youth, or human youth, but all species everywhere, from coral reefs to caribou. That’s climate change, of course.

Our failure to do anything adequate about it has rocketed us into the science-fiction world Bill McKibben so eloquently warned us about in his 2010 book Eaarth. His argument is that we’ve so altered the planet we live on that we might as well have landed on a new one (with an extra “a” in its name), more turbulent and far less hospitable than the beautiful Holocene one we trashed.

There were 160 tornados reported on March 2nd of this year. Remember that, in April of 2011, 900 tornadoes were ripping up interior United States, and this April was similarly volatile.  Remember the unprecedented wildfires, the catastrophic floods, the heat waves, the bizarrely hot North American January and other oddities? That’s science fiction of the scariest sort, and we’re in it. Or on it, on the crazy new planet we’ve made ourselves. Here in the USA sector of Eaarth in the year 2012, 15,000 high-temperature records were broken in March alone, and summer is yet to come. A town in north-central Texas hit 111 degrees—in April! What turbulent planet is this?

One grain of good news: a lot of us, even in this country, finally seem to be of aware of the strangeness of the planet we’re now on. As the New York Times reported, a new survey “shows that a large majority of Americans believe that this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer, and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming. And by a 2-to-1 margin, the public says the weather has been getting worse, rather than better, in recent years.”


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By prosefights, May 3, 2012 at 9:37 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.

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

Mr Sweet has not responded.

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By putoff, May 3, 2012 at 5:54 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 6:38 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!

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 6:19 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 6:12 am Link to this comment

USSR had proportionally more fascists [or people who’d defend with life own
serfdom/dependency] than countries like germany, italy, spain, venezuela, cuba, vietnam,
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 5:49 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
and so made by whom?

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By heterochromatic, May 2, 2012 at 5:36 am Link to this comment

balkas——do you much mourn the Soviet Empire?

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By balkas, May 2, 2012 at 5:28 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 12:17 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
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

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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 11:42 am 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

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 11:23 am Link to this comment

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

“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 11:23 am 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










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By heterochromatic, May 1, 2012 at 10:47 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

and couldn’t reading this sophomoric jumble.

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