State Sponsored Violence

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

This disturbing documentary from the New York Times made me remember a long ago lecture on violence by Bob Bryant, my professor of Constructive Theology and my friend.

The gist of the lecture was this, violence exists on a continuum. At one end is extreme trauma meted out by instruments of destruction like bombs and bullets. At the other end of the continuum is violence perpetrated by neglect, by public policy, by omission.

President Duterte of the Philippines bends the continuum into an Ouroboros-like circle where his policy results in extreme trauma. As “I’ll kill you.” gets carried out by police, military and vigilantes, the rule of law, the notion of a system that can make mistakes and must be checked by the courts, gradually dies, too.

It would seem that Duterte is an outlier in both his rhetoric and the results of his policy. Yet consider this. Estimates by policy wonks about the number of people who would die in the USA without Obamacare suggest that approximately 43,000 a year-a year-would die from lack of medical care if ACA had been repealed and replaced by the Republican “plan.”

What Bob Bryant taught me was that the violence continuum was only about means, about tactics. The results are the same. If you die from a vigilante’s bullet in the Philippines, you are no more dead than a young child in the US who dies because they can’t afford an inhaler for asthma.

This is important to understand. It means the healthcare debate, for example, is not only about medicine but also about state sponsored violence. Even the debate about Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are also about state sponsored violence. Framed in this way the matter is not one for think tanks and ideological purity but one for those who believe compassion and care are marks of a decent society, who believe government exists to serve, not deprive.

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