Homelessness in AmericaWritten by Gerald L. Campbell
Homelessness In America Part One .....With collapse of Soviet Union and its East European empire, United States has become undisputed economic, political, and military power in world. Abroad, America inspires a commitment to economic progress, individual freedom, democratic values, and peace that is shared in varying degrees by nearly all peoples and nations of world. At home, America’s economy continues to be an engine of opportunity and her technological inventiveness keeps on igniting dreams for countless dreamers. Clearly, it would seem that United States stands poised for a new and dynamic ‘golden age’ full of opportunity, prosperity, and peace. ......Nevertheless, long-term prospects for a bright and auspicious future in America are far from guaranteed. In what follows, I intend to paint a portrait of America’s social and spiritual predicament and highlight central national security challenge that threatens America’s leadership in world. Once this portrait is completed, pivotal role played by spectacle of homelessness in America will be better appreciated.
America’s Social and Spiritual Predicament
.....Who is not aware that dramatic changes in America have begun to seriously threaten our social fabric? Indeed, over past four decades, U.S. has become world’s leader in most categories of social pathology. Violent crime has increased sixfold since 1960. Over one hundred fifty thousand Americans have been murdered in U.S. since 1990 — almost three times number killed in Vietnam War. Thirty-five percent of all births in U.S. are illegitimate and nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. The chance that a child in America will live with both parents until age eighteen is now less than thirty percent. Even suicide rates among teenagers have tripled since 1960. Suicide now ranks as leading cause of teenage death and for every teenage suicide there are fifty to one hundred suicide attempts that have failed . .....Our schools reflect this social turbulence. In 1940, America’s teachers were asked to identify major problems in public schools. They replied: chewing gum, making noise, talking out of turn, running in halls, cutting in line, dress code infractions, and littering. In 1990, answer was: drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault, and homicide. This description is disturbing, but incomplete. For there are profound spiritual trends in our lives that should cause even greater concern. Reflect for a moment. Try to visualize how dynamics of spiritual alienation have been shaping American society. .....Personal relationships — whether within a family, among friends, at work, or with strangers — have become increasingly self-centered. The family today resembles more a collection of detached individuals than a community of love. .....Democratic atomism is on rise. The nation’s legal system has become excessively, and even ritualistically, litigious. .....Our national language has become disturbingly shrill, self-righteous, and judgmental. Too many Americans feel abandoned and alone. Competition has taken precedence over cooperation. Bureaucratic control has triumphed over genuine human interaction in both public and private sectors.Like it or not, there exists deep within American consciousness an existential apprehension about aimless and self-destructive fragmentation that characterizes so much of our social, economic, legal, political, educational, cultural, and even religious life. Try as one might, simple, but unyielding truth is that no individual today can escape ubiquitous impact of cynicism and distrust, violence and fear, intemperance and injustice, isolation and aloneness, spiritual emptiness and, most disturbing of all, absence of mercy. .....Clearly, there is a profound ‘spiritual restlessness’ across land and quiet voices of soul are beginning to ‘cry out’ in open rebellion against dehumanizing structures and alienating dynamics of daily life. .....This drama — which is truly a tragedy of American individualism — carries with it great dangers. For if spiritual forces of alienation are allowed to gain ascendency over spiritual forces of community — and if they are able to generate a profound and uncontrollable fear of all others by each member of society — a repressive political regime will slowly emerge as a practical necessity to protect freedom. Free individuals — acting from fear — will rush to embrace this regime as most practical means of securing their person and property. To be sure, many would resist. But, resistance itself would occasion further discord and need for more control. .....Already, ‘fear of others’ has begun to seep into American character. The freedom to go where you want, freedom to associate with whom you care, freedom to say what you believe, and freedom to be free of fear have all been marginalized. Indeed, if anyone were to analyze ordinary human relationships today they would detect contaminating influence of distrust and fear. .....Let’s not forget: freedom depends upon quality of relationships that individuals have with one another. Wherever spiritual alienation exists, freedom has already been diminished!
America’s National Security Challenge
.....This drama of spiritual alienation also has grave national security implications. Since collapse of Berlin Wall, American foreign policy has become confused and uncertain. And yet, is this merely a natural period of reassessment and readjustment in post-Cold War world? Or is something more profound taking place? Are new moral imperatives beginning to unfold in very bowels of history itself which even now are challenging basic assumptions that have guided American foreign policy for over two centuries? Indeed, is it possible that raison d’être of American foreign policy — freedom from political oppression — is slowly being disengaged from central dynamics of international politics? Is America losing her unique capacity to exercise moral leadership in this new era where forces of diversity are in ascendancy and where confusion, uncertainty, and social strife follow as its primary attendants? ......During Cold War, one of most powerful weapons in America’s strategic arsenal was language of freedom which, since Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock, had been forged from essential dynamics of American life. This language, however, was not merely a body of words or a method of combining words; nor was it simply a set of principles and documents. Quite contrary! This language was a complex set of ‘living metaphors’ about America whose imagery conveyed a portrait of human life as it exists when individuals are free from every vestige of political oppression. Indeed, it is a language which truly ‘tells story of America’ because it radiates from very being of every American and its utterances flow from whatever any American says, does, or creates. .....Whenever people in other lands, for instance, hear about events like a New England town meeting, an American election campaign, a Texas barbecue, a pro football game, a rock concert, and so forth, they hear this language. Through it they get a taste of freedom, diversity, and energy that a free society generates. .....Whenever they hear about Civil Rights movement, Watergate scandal, or Iran-Contra debacle, they listen to Americans struggling among themselves about meaning and future of freedom. Whenever they see pictures, or hear about social, economic, and political dynamics of free men and women, they come to understand that democracy is less a system of government than it is a system of constraints on government. And they understand even further that it is less a way of controlling people than it is a way of keeping government from intruding on sacred things in human life.
The Mercy of OthersWritten by Gerald L. Campbell
The Mercy of Others
These photographic images reveal through lives and faces of individuals an 'interior presence' whose poignant energy and pathos communicate to viewer conflicting dynamics of love and alienation. Initially, each image comes alive as a living metaphor symbolizing alienatation of individual from moral and spiritual bonds of communoity. But, more profoundly, each image penetrates beyond 'metaphor of alienation' and discovers in dynamic core of person a certain restless and irresistible 'crying out for love and community.'
The metaphorical quality of this 'crying out for love and community' gives these images a unique capacity to establish a profound and lasting dialogue with viewer. To be sure, each image presents a brutal and unsettling presence of moral and spiritual alienation. Many who see them will hesitate, grow uncomfortable, and perhaps recoil. Some may even take flight.
But, for those who go deeper, there is much more. For, by going beyond alienation, veil over community is lifted as viewer and image are melded together in simple humanity. Each viewer becomes reminded of their 'higher self' and potential they have for love and compassion, understanding and mercy. They feel a glowing sensation. Yet, they also awaken a sensitivity to their own vulnerability. Life is contemplated as though it were apart from love and compassion of others. They imagine its horrors. They recognize their own 'crying out for love and community,' and realize in their need to 'belong' a dependency on others. They know that only love and compassion can ease pain of aloneness, and recognize moral indifference and emptiness of contrary. A simple truth has been discovered: community can be forged out of crucible of alienation only through mercy of others.