Monday, May 23, 2016

Cognitive Dissonance


How a culture treats its poor, its infirm, its mentally unstable, is a measure of its moral nature. Friends, we are not doing well.
Yesterday I marched with a small group in protest of the murder of a homeless man—by police. In San Francisco, my hometown. The police came to move him out of his tent on a sidewalk, he started to run away and they shot—and killed—him. For the crime of living on the street in a city where rents are astronomical because we’ve built a culture of excessive wealth for people who make machines.
In the first moment of cognitive dissonance, we walked through the streets chanting, “How do you spell murder? S.F.P.D.!!!! (San Francisco Police Department)” while a police car moved to the front of the line to escort us through the traffic.
At the end of the march, we went to a Mass to honor the murdered man and others who also had been killed recently. But strangely, the man was never mentioned, not even in the prayers for the sick or recently departed. Perhaps the family didn’t have enough money to donate to the church to earn that privilege. Here was a great opportunity for the priest to remind the congregation what Jesus said about those in need:
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.…Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of my brothers, you did unto me.”  (Matthew 25:34-40)
Instead the young priest talked about how Holy Communion was like a McDonald’s Happy Meal. The young boy in front of me was bored, so his parents let him watch a cartoon on one of those little devices that Silicon Valley, the folks who brought you an increasingly unlivable place for all but the rich, made. More cognitive dissonance.
This murdered homeless man happened to be a relation of someone I know. His was not an isolated incident, but another in a string of police killings of—surprise—poor, Latino and African-American people. There has been a hunger strike at City Hall in protest and just Friday, the police chief, with evidence of racist and homophobic statements, was finally asked to resign. A sliver of justice in an epidemic of misuse of power.
"Cognitive dissonance" is the state of having beliefs that don't match behaviors. In a country that proclaims itself Christian, we have a Presidential candidate who publicly makes fun of the disabled, pretends to be a candidate of the working class while vowing to keep minimum wage low and living on his inherited millions (or is it billions?), calls the Latino folks who help keep our economy going by doing the grunge work lazy and rapists, relates to women on the basis of their sex appeal, calling his own daughter "so hot that he would like to date her." We have a national party trying to subvert affordable health care. We have churches talking to children about Happy Meals instead of Jesus' message of helping the poor and infirm. We have police honor bound to protect shooting without trial "the least among us," which as the Bible says, is equivalent to murdering Jesus. We have young people making excessive money for inventing apps while teachers can barely afford to live in the city they teach in. 

The ounce of satisfaction that justice sometimes prevails in the form of resigned police chiefs and memorials for the fallen is far from enough. How about the pound of satisfaction that the poor are given jobs, the sick are cared for, the homeless given shelter, the drug-addicted given help, the people that work with machines paid the same (or less) than those who teach children? Wouldn't that be a good idea?

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