Collective Responsibility

Sarah Palin’s video response to the shooting in Arizona was all over the news Wednesday. As I drove home I listened to her words aired over the radio: "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own,” she said. “They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state..." Given that all indications point to this guy being eight shades of crazy, she may be right in this instance. But the generalizations she makes could not be more wrong, and extending this thinking is clearly destructive. 

Palin is essentially saying she has no responsibility for what happened, not even partial responsibility.(1) Making such a claim is understandable, since many people are blaming this incident on the conditions that exist in the current political climate, particularly on the heated rhetoric between ever more polarized and demonized extremes of the political spectrum, in which she has played a few hands. Specifically many are linking Palin and her cross-hair dotted house district map as contributing factors to this incident. Whether or not she, her map, or the current political climate is the cause in this particular incident, there is no doubt that there are times when we as a society are collectively guilty of attitudes and actions that have negative consequences for ourselves or others, and the effects of our collective actions can in fact lead to “acts of monstrous criminality.”

We have been reminded of at least one example of such monstrous acts by the other reaction to Palin’s speech: the discussion of the phrase “blood libel” and it’s relation to the Jewish holocaust. Many otherwise good people in the late '30's Germany gave silent assent to actions they would never, ever consider doing or directly approving. But mentally dehumanizing a different people group and allowing such things to happen was a corporate sin, of which that nation was guilty. 

This has all got me thinking of the conditions that exist in our country that foster the problems experienced by the least of us. The incarceration for black males in their twenties who did not attend college is over 20%.  36 million people in the US locked in hopeless poverty. Unfortunaley vast numbers of our children attend abysmal schools in failing districts with little hope for success. What are we doing to perpetuate the conditions that lead to these unfortunate statistics? Perhaps individual acts "of monstrous criminality stand on their own," but the small, individual decisions that make up the society in which we live add up to conditions "of monstrous criminality," that are brought about "collectively [by] all the citizens of a state." 

These discussions and the question of "what can we do differently?" reminds me of Ghandi's Seven Societal Sins. The very notion of a societal sin stands in stark contrast Palin’s idea that criminal actions “begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”

I am also reminded of Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which he writes, "I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in [my comfy suburb] and not be concerned about what happens in [the blighted inner-city slums or the prison-industrial complex]. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." Apologies to Dr. King for a few minor edits. Palin highlights our independence, while King highlights our interdependence. 

 As a teacher, I've long believed that one student failing a test is the student's fault. He should have studied harder. But the majority of the students failing a test is the teacher's fault. If most of the kids didn't learn it, then the teacher didn't do an effective job of teaching it. In the same way, one man going to jail for breaking the law is justice. 21% of men going to jail is injustice. If that many people are going to jail, we have to reexamine what conditions exist that lead to these problems, and how we are contributing to these conditions. And what needs to change.

We have to ask ourselves, "What aspects of our American culture - particularly actions by those of us in positions of power - create conditions that are a hindrance to the poor, to minorities, to children in the inner-cities, to families, not to mention those in other less developed countries?"

Dr. Cornel West said, “Being indifferent to other people’s suffering, especially the most vulnerable people’s suffering” is a behavior that contributes to the continued suffering of others. The flip side of this is that what we can do is cease being indifferent and become incensed. We can be outraged. And when the the awareness, and the outrage, and the shared suffering reaches a tipping point, our collective response will be to address the conditions that lead to such suffering. Elsewhere, Dr. West said that what we can do is “Bear witness. Speak the truth and fight for justice.”

As a Christian, I’d like to say that we need to embrace the philosopy and passion of Jesus Christ, who’s focus was often on loving and serving the poor, the widows, the orphans: on “the least of these.” Aknowleding that not everyone does or will believe in Jesus Christ as God, at least everyone can embrace the philophy of Jesus that is shared by other spiritual leaders such as Ghandi, Dr. King, and the Hard Rock Cafe. We can love all and serve all.


(1) No, I’m not accusing Palin of being directly involved or responsible for the shooting in Arizona. But I am arguing that our attitudes, actions, inaction, words, works, and beliefs have a real and far-ranging impact on others. And there are times when we can be collectively guilty while rationalizing an individual innocence. 

Posted on Friday, January 14, 2011 at 04:09PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments1 Comment

Simply Advent

Posted on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 12:12PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments3 Comments

Walking to School

Toby’s school recently sent out a survey to parents asking for info about their practices and opinions regarding students’ walking to and from school. This reminded me of a conversation that Stephanie and I had during the week or two prior to Jacob starting kindergarten. 

We asked ourselves under what circumstances we would let Jacob walk to school, because we would like Jacob to walk to school. I walked to school starting in kindergarten and continued to do so into my midde school years. And I remember the experience fondly, both in the mornings and afternoons. Of course this is a different world now than it was when I was in kindergarten. Or at least it seems different. Or at least we parent differently and with different phobias.

I explained to Stephanie that my kindergarten walk to Farine Elementary was longer than what Jacob would have to walk to his elementary school. I guessed my walk was about four miles. I don’t know what Stephanie based her objection on other than innate contrariness, but she said she didn’t think it was that long. But of course I had the power of the internet on my side.

I googled the address for Farine Elementary, where I attended K-5, and of course I remember the address of my childhood apartment from birth to twelve years. Pop those in to Mapquest, and I got a distance of 0.4 miles! Shorter than I thought by a factor of ten, but whatever. Then I googled Jacob’s school address and put that into Mapquest and got a distance of 0.72 miles: almost twice as long! Crazy.

Today was such a gorgeous Fairbanks day, and since I’m still enjoying an extended paternity leave, I walked to pick Jacob up from school this afternoon. It took me all of twelve minutes. How long must it have taken me to walk to school when I was a kid? It felt like such a trek at the time; an Odyssey overcoming myriad challenges and obstacles. It’s crazy now to think that today I could walk it in about six minutes.

All this thinking about walking to school reminded me of a TED talk I saw recently by Ze Frank in which he encouraged the audience to use Google Maps Streetview to take a stroll down memory lane. I found the street view of my apartment and then “walked” the path I took to school every morning and home every afternoon. Sure enough, there was the tree I climbed so often. There was the telephone pole in which I broke the blade off my dad’s cherished pocket knife. There was Kevin’s house where I spent my one and only childhood sleepover. There was the tree stump where I fell backwards while flirting with DeeAnna, my childhood crush, hitting the back of my head on the sidewalk. There is the crosswalk where I almost got hit by a car while riding my bike to school at breakneck speed because we had all overslept. There was the rail fence surrounding one of the many houses where I imagined living. All of this, experienced anew today while sitting in front of my laptop via the incredible power of the internet.

I want all of this for Jacob. I want him to walk to school and seredipitously discover all of the shrubs, rocks, trees, culverts and intersections along the way. But I just don’t think I can let him simply walk alone to school every day. Perhaps it is irrational to fear an abduction. What are the statistics on this kind of thing? At what age would I let him? I don’t know.

It turns out that between 100 and 300 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, most of these are sexually assaulted and/or killed. Given the roughly forty million kids in America, the odds of being kidnapped are very low. This is cold comfort. It reminds me of the statistic that in Alaska about one person is killed by a bear every year. Given all of the people hiking, floating, hunting, camping and living in the wilds of Alaska, the odds of being that one are also relatively low. But I tend to think about it the other way: a person is killed, by a bear, every year. It makes me want to carry some serious deterrent. And drive my boy to school every day.  

Posted on Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 11:09PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments6 Comments

Alces alces gigas

Before going hunting with Nathan last week, my co-worker warned me about hunting along the Chena Hot Springs Road. She said, “I’ve lived on that road a long time, and I haven’t seen a bull there in years.” It was perhaps a well-intentioned warning not to get my hopes up. But as I’ve written here, that trip ended successfully.

After seeing how it was done, I figured even if the odds weren’t in my favor, it wouldn’t hurt to drive up and down the road and look for a moose of my own. And so I borrowed Nathan’s rifle with the intention to do just that.

Thursday afternoon when leaving work, I told my co-worker that I was going out hunting on the Chena Hot Springs Road again. She understood me. She said, “If I had gone to Vegas and won a thousand dollars with the first dollar I put in the slot machine, I’d probably bet another dollar too.” Another well intended warning not to get my hopes up.

But then after about three hours of driving, I spotted a moose standing just on the edge of the slough another 150 yards from the road; I got out and walked to the tree line. Through the scope I could see that it was a good sized bull with a very decent rack. And it just stood there. So I crept forward another twenty feet and looked again. He still stood there, broadside. The shot was perfect. But I doubted. I wasn’t sure if I could really take this thing down effectively and then harvest it successfully. What if I wound it and it staggers off into the woods? What if it falls but then I’m too overwhelmed by the job of harvesting the carcass? But I also felt like the conditions were too perfect for this to be anything but meant to be.

In two quick shots, he fell. It took me about twenty minutes to make my way through the woods while attempting to remain dry in what was essentially a swamp. When I got to him, I discovered that he had fallen in about four feet of water. There was no way around it; I was getting wet. So I waded into the black water far enough to loop a tow strap around his head, and then took the “as the raven flies” straight line through the bog and back to the truck.

My plan was to deal with the animal myself. But upon seeing this 1,400 lb. beast at 9:30 at night, as the switch was flipped from fading daylight to total darkness, I knew I needed some help - if only to boost my morale through the dark night.

Thanks to Nathan for doing what I could not have done alone. It took us all night, and by the time we had all of the meat and our gear out of the woods, it’s was the blazing daylight of a 9AM golden fall morning.

I still don’t know if lightning has struck twice, or if that is simply the way it’s done. Either way, I’m very grateful for the experience, and for the meat we’ll eat this winter. I’m feeling better and more comfortable with the process of handing the big Alces alces gigas. And I'm looking forward to next year. 

Posted on Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 01:49PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments1 Comment

Rocky Will Be Lonely

At 6:20 in the evening, Nathan pulled up to the place on Chena Hot Springs Road where we had agreed to meet to go moose hunting. He was running late, but I was grateful for the chance to sit quietly in my truck, listen to the news, and take a nap. It was the first still moment in an otherwise hectic day.

When he arrived, he was pulling his boat, and our plan was to drive out to the end of the road and put the boat on the river to hunt. But as he pulled up next to me, he got out of his truck with his rifle in hand, opened my passenger door, and set his rifle inside my truck. “You never know,” he said, “we could see Bullwinkle on the side of the road.” It was a joke he told several more times over the course of the evening. He got back in his truck and pulled out. I followed.

We drove up the road for maybe twenty minutes. During that time I was dutifully scanning each clearing and each slough on the left and the right of the road. At one point I thought I saw a moose standing in the middle of a slough, maybe a hundred and fifty yards off of the road, but we were going pretty fast, and I wasn’t about to stop and shoot a moose on my own. So I just drove on.

But after about a minute, Nathan pulled off the road. I pulled off with him. He walked back to my truck and said, “I think I saw something about two sloughs back. It was what I had seen as well. He jumped in with me, and we turned around and headed back. Even then I was thinking it was probably nothing, or maybe only a cow or a calf.

Sure enough, there it was. I pulled off of the narrow shoulder. He jumped out with the rifle. I grabbed my binoculars. By the time I got out and walked around the truck, he was already crouched down and looking through the rifle scope. I watched through the binoculars and waited for the bang. It was a bull alright, about 150 yards from the road. And when it saw us, it had the decency to come out of the water and walk up on to our side of the bank.

The first shot didn’t phase him; I thought Nathan had missed him altogether. But the second shot put him right down. As I watched, I couldn’t believe such a big animal went down so easily. It was four minutes after seven. We’d been driving for forty minutes, and the boat was still on the trailer. Our hunt had barely started. And just like that it was done. I simply couldn’t believe it.

Nathan gutted the animal while I marveled at its incredible size. At perhaps three or four years old, this bull was on the small side at maybe 1,200 lbs. We left it where it fell while we carried on with our plan to go out on the river. After a few hours of not seeing anything else, we returned to the carcass around 11PM and proceeded to dismantel the animal one limb at a time. We carried each leg, or “quarter,” through dense brush, high grass, fallen obstacles, and in near total darkness. At over 100 lbs. each, I felt like a murderer lugging a dead body to a shallow grave. The torso was a difficult two-man lift. Such a big thing didn’t go quickly, and it was after three AM before we were finished. 

And so Stephanie and I have spent the weekend cutting, grinding, vacuum sealing and freezing mose meat. The meat is incredibly tender and indistinguishable from the very best beef. Nathan and I are going out again tomorrow night. We’ll see if the unreal can happen again. 

Posted on Monday, September 6, 2010 at 02:43PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments1 Comment