Feeling sympathy when anger is called for


Back before we called them terrorists, a gang of hoodlums commandeered a Swedish train and held the passengers captive. They made demands, so the authorities went to work to negotiate with them. Since all this took days, the victims themselves became distraught during the wait. But strangely enough, they began to show a kind of sympathy for their oppressors. To bystanders, this seemed illogical. But to psychologists, it made sense because, after all the time of anxiety, a self-defense process activated because, while contemplating what violence they could suffer, it was easier to feel sorry for their captors. Psychologists called it the Stockholm Syndrome.

Welcome to Stockholm because we are captives on a train of a different sort. Helpless in the face of a four-year recession and as motionless, we have begun to feel sorry for those most responsible for obstructing the train. We meekly call for tax mercy for the wealthiest, thinking that will endear us to them so that they might perhaps hire us, given their resources to build factories that would mean jobs at a time when there are four applicants for every job being advertised. It does not occur to us that such mercy, shown by George W. Bush’s tax cut for the richest, never produced many jobs. But since illogic reigns when held captive for so long, we keep expecting the same failed experiment to succeed. Studies show that their accumulated wealth went into investments, not into new factories. After all, there was no law saying the rich had to build them.

Likewise with the bailouts for brokerages and banks. There was no law saying they had to take the huge loans made by us taxpayers and bail out qualified home-owning families facing foreclosure, of which there have been at least 2 million. There should have been, of course. But that would have been called interference by big government. Stockholm Syndrome kicked in just as average taxpayers got the chance to police government as it once again rescued the rich while ignoring the rest. Logic matters little when much of the 99 percent vote for the party of the rich, thinking that this will endear them to the mighty. Consider that the top 1 percent takes home nearly a quarter of all income earned in the United States.

Consider too that one out of every four children in this country is poor. We howl for the heads of the Penn State University officials, claiming to deeply care for the vulnerable young. But when it comes to actually seeing to their wellbeing, we have CBS’s 60 Minutes expose how the ingenious homeless survive by sleeping in cars, if they have cars, and bathing in the restrooms of gas stations. Our purported care for the children stops when we have to go beyond charitable donations, and move to legislated injustices that systematize the poverty of the poor and of the shrinking middle class. How so? For one, our country is one of the last in the world to refuse to provide universal health insurance. Countries far poorer than us long have provided this.

A few months ago, a Vatican agency, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called for a world authority to oversee the rampant mega-theft routinely done by Wall Street giants and their counterparts worldwide to sell corrupt derivatives, the things that sent us plummeting into this recession. George Weigel, a syndicated Catholic columnist, wrote that the agency’s document was “rubbish, rubbish, rubbish,” snuck out of Rome without the pope’s having seen it. A few years ago he made the same preposterous claim about another document he disliked. With more loyalty to capitalism than to Christianity, he and many like him charged that the council was wrong in calling for legitimate authority to curb the ruthless excesses of unregulated greed. Do we now see why the right wants to deregulate so much? Do we now see why they charge objectors with class warfare when they protest the yawning disparity of incomes?

And do we now see how far traditional Catholic social justice and its concern for the common good are from the rugged individualism of hog-wild capitalism? The 1 percent can sell much of the electorate of the 99 percent on the capitalist argument that the rich earned it and are entitled to do with their wealth what they want. Our church teaches that this is rubbish.

Next stop is Stockholm, voters.