About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, and the wages of American cruelty

I really don't know what to say about the events in CT today, so close to where I grew up, at precisely the time my own children were in school. Tragic events like this are, in the end, inexplicable -- but much like the 9/11 attacks, to simply describe what happened as a consequence of 'evil' is, frankly, a moral cop-out. 

We live in a society that lays claim (sometimes a unique claim) to loving our children. But we don't. Not really. We love our own, yes. But not other people's children. Our children will learn and practice love when we provide them with institutions, laws and communities that reflect and reinforce it. We are cruel to the children of the poor, the undocumented, and the incarcerated, more so than any other developed nation. We tolerate -- even revel in -- breathtaking levels of violence and inequality, giving our young people a sense that using other human beings as a means to our own ends is OK. Its Ok in our foreign 
policy. Its OK at work. And its OK in our relationships.

Silenced by a patriarchal culture that reproduces and rewards male aggression, and that devalues and denigrates humility, doubt, interdependence and vulnerability, we underfund the treatment of mental illness while living in a society that produces it in great quantities. We continue to allow the free flow and use of firearms, far beyond any reasonable definition of self-defense and constitutional protection, ensuring that our children -- especially our poorest children -- will grow up experiencing daily stress and insecurity, perpetuating almost everything I've described above.

I don't know what lessons we're supposed to draw from the events in CT today. But I do know that the cruel and bitter edge of American society, there at its very slave-owning birth as a kind of original sin, seems to have become even sharper in the last two decades. Cruelty is all of a piece, woven together, constricting all of us, even the most privileged and safe. But love is all of a piece, too. And it simply isn't enough, in the end, for us to hoard it, household by household, like one more zero-sum game we're trying to win. Once we commit to loving ALL of our children, the society we construct out of that love will finally make this country -- finally -- a source of great hope in the world.


Beth-Anne Vieira said...

Mark, this was beautifully written.

I share your sentiments and hope that we, individually and collectively, will do better by our children, our poor, and our ill.

In the words of Hubert H. Humphrey, "...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. "

Thank you for sharing this on the Forum.

Beth-Anne Vieira
Asst. Director Health Services, Health Education & Promotion
UMass Dartmouth

Mark Santow said...

Thanks Beth-Anne -- I really appreciate your kind words. And I apologize for not thanking you sooner! I'm still getting used to people commenting on the site...usually, I'm writing for a small and silent audience!