Acting on Principle

Reading this post – – has triggered a familiar feeling.

What do you feel when you read about horrifying things that are done in your name?  That are undertaken to protect you or that claim to protect you?

I feel anger.  I feel disgust.  Sometimes, I feel hatred.

I feel shame.  Because I have the low-impact, long-term vision of changing the world.  Existing, living the change I want to see.  We talk about compromises and how some are more uncomfortable than others.

When I read a post like the one linked above, I realize how many people are being hurt and killed while I hope that my ways will rub off on the people around me.  Is my method of change effective?  Perhaps.  I think it’s the only way to create deep shifts in culture.  Living my life, adhering to my values, working toward my goals.  That’s the way I make real the world in which I want to live.

And then I read that.

Suddenly, my way of living looks like walking to work along a street full of burning houses.  I am doing my part by walking rather than driving, by avoiding jobs for dirty companies, by keeping up my side of the social bargain.  However, shouldn’t I help pull people out of the burning buildings?

At risk of my own safety?

Or perhaps I should be calling everyone who could help.  Pointing out the lack of adherence to building codes and lack of oversight by inspectors.  Helping someone “qualified” don their specialized clothing so they can enter without being hurt.

I’ll start with the call.  I’ll start by saying what I think.

Immigrants are not our enemies.  The people who hurt us are not in custody in Abu Ghraib; they are running it.  The people who hurt us are not being caught crossing the Mexico/US border; they are inciting others to form vigilante groups to keep immigrants out.

Power corrupts, right?  We trade some freedom for safety, handing power to our government and asking it to act on our behalf.  When we are privileged, we hand over very little power to those who keep us safe.  Privilege is, in part, the ability to remove power from other people and hand it to others.  A rich person living in the Oakland hills – that person wants cops to wield great power but isn’t trading their own power for security.  They trade the power of the people who are “most likely” to threaten their security.

Anti-immigration laws remove all power from immigrants and give it to the captors.  This creates an enormous power differential.  And people who want to act with impunity toward other people – they are drawn to this differential.  Why would such horrible things happen in detention facilities?  Because the people being detained are powerless in many more ways than people being detained within the regular judicial system.

I’m not saying that people aren’t abused within the prison and judicial systems we have here in the US.  There is violence and there is abuse of power.  However, the system is a tool and might be refined eventually.  Yes – we need to make the justice system dispense actual justice.

Meanwhile, immigrants and people suspected of certain leanings are denied even the lean protections of that system.  Why were so many people outraged by the existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay?  Because it gave clear evidence that our government considered justice an obstruction.  That our government wanted more power than we had bargained to give them.

Every extra-legal detention facility is an extension of the power of government. If people are being held in places that don’t observe the rules we’ve come to, they are at serious risk.  Our justice system is appropriate for any human being.  To advocate withholding that system for any person is to deny that person’s humanity.  The ultimate power differential comes into play then.  I am human and you are inhuman.  Anything becomes possible.

The facilities owned and run by private corporations are extensions of that power into arenas that never, ever should have it.  When these issues are discussed based on financial merit, which arguments make little sense to me anyway, it obscures the point.  Government should not be able to lend the power it is given.  It should not be able to act outside its own rules and it should never pass its power over.

I do not consent to the use of my power, the power I’ve traded to the government, for torturing and killing people.  I do not consent to the government’s sale of that power to private corporations.  Do I scream this?  How can I be heard?

I can pursue my slow change, living in the way I consider best.  Eventually, though, I have to admit that my privileges safeguard my power.  Dangers to my power exist in the ways I’m not privileged – my femaleness, my queerness.  Those fights are obvious and I hold them to be important enough to risk my safety in fighting them.

The problem is that my world, the hope of eventually living in a society that shares my values – these are endangered by every oppression.  This is what intersectionality means to me.  This is the (ultimately selfish) reason that racism and nativism pose a strong threat to me, though I am white and US-born.  Beyond the empathetic give-a-shit that motivates my desire for social justice, I am reminded that my power is reduced, endangered, and bartered away every time a human being is dis-empowered.



  1. yeah—-I find myself more and more actually getting nauseated when reading or hearing about the things going on in our world, and so I avoid the news or other places that tell me these things. But that doesn’t change anything, doesn’t cure the ill in our society, and it is sick. When I look around I see similar if not worse shit going on in so many places in the world and I am sickened by it. I don’t know if the problem is terminal for the human race.or if there is a cure, if this is the best we can be do we deserve to continue. I have the sci-fi thought of an advanced race coming to Earth looking us over and either leaving in disgust or wiping all humanity out so maybe something worthwhile can evolve on this planet—and that is on my more positive days.

  2. …You are right! It was the human race that created the concepts of government, industry, justice and integrity. But it was also the very same thinking that resolved to put those concepts at odds with each other. By living life as close to a prime example for positive scocial change you are indeed taking a slower path to resolution but it is a path that you can, indeed, live with…
    Beautiful post my love!

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