May 19, 2013
Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games
Posted on May 1, 2012
By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch
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.
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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