contemporary penal institutions are not often the penitentiaries themselves, but, are immersed within communities, manifesting in social welfare programming
by Paul Haeder / January 30th, 2019
Drawing a Picture on the Shreds of American Greenbacks
It is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained; . . . the individual who has not staked his or her life may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.
—Georg Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (New York, 1967), p. 233
What does it mean to be a wounded warrior? What does it mean to have spent time in the US military, even for a short stint? What does it mean to be on the streets and a veteran to boot? What does it mean to barely survive in a country with no single payer option, one that turns a loved one’s old age into a living hell, an economic nightmare; one with for-profit respite, or retirement homes or hospitalization and hospice services that keep the top echelon rolling in the money and the middle managers under the gun to cut more costs and raise more fees . . . where the frontline staff who do the bathing, bedpan cleaning, cooking and certified nursing assistance are under the constant cloud of precarity in the workplace and are “receiving” poor wages that necessitate sometimes two other jobs to barely not make ends meet?
This one paycheck away from the poor house or from calamity is real, and has been for decades, even though it is being recycled in the United States of Amnesia with news of the recent Trump illegal government shutdown where these “government workers” with well-paying jobs (comparatively) with benefits ended up on the thin ice of capitalism: food boxes, Go Fund Me pleas, heating bills paid for by churches, PayDay loans to stop the Repo Man, and in many cases, the loss of a home, or huge penalties for missing mortgage payments and rents.
This formula in Casino-Parasitic-Predatory Capitalism has turned Americans into a society rotting from the inside, out! This system of punishment – economic and legal – has paved the way for a class divide that many tag as the New Gilded Age. This dog-eat-dog mentality has created young people with no hope and no chance of worthy work and a sense of being with the world, with one self, with a community.
The same consumer capitalism, jiggered to work for the One Percent with a retail and service economy which is rigged and ridiculous, destroys the compassion of political leaders who end up with the executioner’s ax chopping away food stamps and unemployment benefits and all the other safety nets that were designed to give society a system of social welfare programs to encourage a giving society.
Instead, we have the spectacle of the rich running the culture, sucking the time and money away from youth in this pop culture shit storm. We watch the rich media figures interview the rich entertainment figures and watch the millionaires as our representatives in a “democracy” get softball questions from a hollowed out Press. We are like fools peeping around the corner of the king’s ball.
And this is progress.
The effects of this decade upon decade of the hollowing out of self-agency and the murdering of decent opportunities that could have been the national plan of living, working, dying in a city or town that is sane, caring, sustainable, family-friendly, youth-driven, elder-respecting and earth-conserving is — from the top down — a majority of Americans who are victims and victimizers . . . who are broken and the breakers . . . who are the haves and haves not . . . who are hardwired not to care about fellow man-woman-child.
Every day for most of us it’s a foot race with weights of cement wrapped around our ankles, in a jungle of dangers set upon the American people second by second, and upon the world in much greater rates of damage and swaths of total desecration and destruction. Today’s jobs and passions, are yesterday’s old news. We in the precarious class are like old pugilists, punching at shadows, grappling with ghosts, and wrestling with our own bloodied limbs.
If punch drunk isn’t the correct term for the reader, then he or she is trapped in a funhouse of exceptionalism and self-aggrandizement.
But our own self containment and fearsome ethical code would be the armor we all need to not only survive ourselves in this contaminated culture, but also to protect others from the hard-line of the Killer Capitalists and their Kin who daily come up with more and more ways to charge/fine/fee/toll/ fine/levy/tax us to near death and to strangle us close to oxygen-dead puffer fish.
Where Is the Line Drawn for Social Justice?
Being a proletariat in service to people, I have worked within systems tied to education, developmental disabilities, memory care, homelessness, substance abuse and for people living with PTSD, veterans without housing, the chronically ill, youth in foster care, young adults in alternative high schools and on and on. In the predatory state of America, I have had to many times pack away my knowledge of and intuition in what real structural poverty-violence-injustice means to the crumbling society we have in order to make ends meet.
I’ve worked with people — i.e. the professionals, the educated, the ones running for-profit and non-profit and government agencies like Department of Human Services, Veterans Administration, Aging and Disabilities — who blame psychological fissures in the individual’s life, that is, choices. These middlemen and middlewomen (gatekeepers) might look at an adult’s formative years dealing with family circumstances like neglect — both emotional/spiritual and physical/nutritional/educational — for some measure of that person’s continual trials and tribulations and Herculean efforts to overcome a felony (the professional rarely asks why a person was even pulled into the criminal injustice system in the first place). These young and old “clients” continually have to face one bad debt after another bad eviction, or are living life with chronic pain, illness(-es) and substance(s) abuse, and end up in this vicious American PayDay Loan Mafioso system of trying to make ends meet. Sometimes three shitty jobs, just to pay the rent and put slop on the table and maintain that albatross around many of our necks – personal vehicles to get to work.
The typical social worker or social services manager will not yell at the client, but inside, these Nurse Ratched’s and Dr. Jekyl’s are burning inside with recriminations, with retributive zealotry, with ideas of who is worthy and who isn’t, even holding bizarre ideas about the size of the client’s brain and the content of his or her character. It is an AA world where the person — who is only a victim to himself or herself, these middling social services people believe — has to give himself or herself up to a higher authority: . . . the god of western medicine/ psychology/ counseling/education/ probationary/criminal/ penal systems.
There is no radical social worker bone in the American practitioner, who is just in it for the ladder climbing, or in the case of state/county/federal employees, in it for the benefits and paid time off. The amount of time, money and effort expended and blood-sweat-and-tears from clients’ perspective is out of control, misplaced and misdirected.
Here is the big lie and self-delusion in a nutshell: For homeless veterans in Portland, Oregon, it’s their fault for having thousands of dollars of unpaid fines (and the PayDay loan collection agencies cities and counties hire to do their dirty work) for such things as not having a $5 ticket for the local metro (fines go up to $200 or more for not showing up to court for a five fucking dollar missing bus/metro ticket), or their fault for sleeping in a park and getting caught by the cops, or their fault for panhandling and getting cited, or their own fault for kibitzing in their van with expired tags and plates and having to pay $2500 in court fees/fines, or their fault for having a shitty bladder and urinating in the bushes and getting put into the system as a sex offender (exposure of genitalia), or their goddamned fault for having a hunting knife in a backpack while going into a public library and having their wrists zip tied with a phalanx of cops yelling at them with guns drawn.
Social workers and pointing the finger of Fault at the clients, who now when they enter any system of social work oppression and repression have several dozen scarlet A’s on their chests. It’s their fault for growing up in Portland, getting into the Army for two years, and for not making it the grand career that General Powell or Swartzkopf made it; and then coming back here to continue with their broken lives (their fault, completely, for the “brokenness”).
Their fault for not doing well in high school, their fault for not going to college, their fault for not getting a career from the military. Their fault that the mother of their children left and their fault for not paying child support. It’s their faulty for smoking, not eating right, for drinking and for getting hooked on opioids. It’s their fault for not taking care of their teeth, and their fault for not going to the doctor enough.
Now, you can expect this shit from a Donald Pussy Grabber Trump or Bill “Monica-Cigar” Clinton or Bill “blacks are the blame for their own circumstances” Cosby or Mitt “Forty Percent Live Off the Public Trough” Romney or Hillary “Super Predator” Clinton. However, you’d think that with all the millions working in social services and the attendant side jobs tied to the social services network and then all the supervisors making decent wages in social work, with their undergraduate and graduate degrees from supposedly institutions of higher learning, this sort of crap would be verboten.
On the contrary. I can’t get into not only serious conversations about the causes of these circumstances homeless veterans find themselves in, but definitely I can’t get takers to discuss the systemic failures of social services and any social welfare “system” in a neoliberal or just plain Jane For-Profit-at-Any-Costs Capitalistic system.
Imagine, the economic draft that brings tens of thousands of new faces into the various branches of the military. Think of the ongoing denigration of education, of knowledge for knowledge sake, and the continual attacks to the force of what deep and thoughtful reading of books might do to a human. Think of the constant drum beat of this society vaunting cops, detectives, prosecutors, FBI, CIA, generals and officers, and the Navy SEAL, Army Airborne Ranger, Hotshot Air Force Jet Jockey, Massively Impressive Navy Submariner/fleet commander, the wickedly gruesome might of the Marine, and we have a society that has the entire equation inverted, dripping with nationalism, patriotism and fascism.
Blame the guy or gal for joining up? Most of the men and women I have served who served in the armed forces are broken from the training, the reckless machismo of kill-kill-kill, the horrible training, the idiotic lack of kinesiology for the things they want inductees to do.
I have a 55-year-old former Airborne parachute jumper, who happens to be a female African American, now up for double hip replacement because of the 200-pound rucksack she had to strap on while jumping out of a plane, with her five-five 120-pound frame.
Yet, the average social services person looks over that, and wonders how she ended up homeless, with a 21-year-old son who has his own knee issues from football. Living in a shelter, yet, the reasons for their admittance are deep, complicated, and endemic of a broken system that wants more fodder for the pimping that goes with the social services game.
Blame, blame, blame the oppressed. Find some Puritanical angle to foist onto a client. Serve the mythological bullshit that anyone in America can make it, and anyone just has to pull himself/herself up by the bootstraps.
The elite believe this, you know, everyone from Hollydirt star, to two-bit local newscaster; from pigs like Wilbur Ross, to Betsy Devos; from Oprah to Michelle; from Norman Vincent Peale to Billy Graham; from one CEO to the next. Gates, Musk, Bezos, Bloomberg, Peyton Manning, James Beard, Martha Stewart, Trump to the Fourth Power, and on and on.
Add to this list the managers of Child Protective Services, or the foster care system, or VA mental health services, or education districts. From city council member to the local Chamber of Commerce yokel, to Scout leader, to restaurant owner.
The systems I have worked for made it clear who was under who, and the Human Resources (HR) and Development and Leadership and Creative wonks looked at the clients as marks and the direct service providers, social workers, et al, as the cannon fodder to keep the social services Fiefdom running.
No new big ideas, and gutless leadership who shrivel up in the face of a political fight or funders’ battle. The entire system is rotting from the top, down. There are no great leaders or thinkers or doers. Money talks, and so Intel or Nike or Starbucks or any number of Fortune 1000 outfits direct where funding and grants and donations go. We are not working to emancipate and derive freedom as people willing to break the chains of oppression and fulfill the role of the oppressed. Individual freedom and collective consciousness are not in the toolbox of the oppressors in the social services industry:
A free action can only be one by which a man changes his world and himself… A positive condition of freedom is the knowledge of the limits of necessity, the awareness of human creative possibilities . . . The struggle for a free society is not a struggle for a free society unless through it an ever greater degree of individual freedom is created.
— Gajo Petrovic, “Man and Freedom,” in SocialistHumanism, edited by Erich Fromm (New York, 1965), pp. 274-276.
We are not at the tables of power, that is, the frontline people doing the work and being with the people are not in the backrooms at state capitols, nor the clients-patients-students-victims drawing up the evidence necessary to transform society in those committee meetings and boardrooms. We have become the precarious in this one-paycheck-away-from-the-poor-house society, and the evil dislocation of humanity that has been taught in schools, K12, and through the psychologically chilling mass media from cradle to grave is spliced to our genes. Social workers who have little control in their own lives, many of whom are drawn and quartered by fake fealty to the LGBTQQIAAP community, get the entire thing “inverted” and promulgate the brokenness of a broken system..
Really, I have former co-workers in this homeless shelter for veterans despising men, despising these cisgender males, both white and black, and yet, countless hours are spent on the potential transgender person getting into this facility.
Female social workers making $17 an hour for the Starvation Army decrying male chauvinism, decrying the “harsh societal treatment of non-cisgender conforming people.”
So, the people I work with never-ever attack the system of oppression and control that is Social Work 101 — mind control, social hierarchical control, economic control, and the control of future generations (the children of the people we “serve”). They go on and on with LGBTQQIAAP rights and discussions, while mocking the split halves of the veteran-now-a-civilian who is at the whim of hundreds of systems of oppression, including the lowly social worker/case manager. Imagine, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, allies, asexual, pansexual — LGBTQQIAAP — as the issue of the day while we have veterans one more closed bureaucratic door closer to suicide!
Imagine these conversations, always hushed since the Starvation Army doesn’t recognize same sex marriage, let alone the alphabet soup of LGBTQQIAAP of these Little Eichmann’s or Little Nurse Ratched’s. Imagine how many times I have had to confront Little Nurse Ratched’s going after a loud black American veteran male for voicing his concerns with his poor treatment by the systems of oppression, or some angry white male complaining about the bad food and the forced UAs and breath analyzers for people who have never ever had a substance abuse issue.
I was hit with two hostile work environment warnings from the hyper- Christian and massively triggering director who stated one of the LGBTQQIAAP adherent social workers felt my email rebutting some stupid policy she foisted, or for raising my voice at her in a hallway felt that my male white patriarchy was threatening her. Of course, the LGBTQQIAAP case manager never really stated “male white patriarchy” because her boss is one son-of-a-gun white male patriarchy Trump et al loving “little girl” (she’s pushing 58 years old and refers to herself as “my man’s little girl”) who calls her significant other “Big Daddy.”
It’s so absurd it sounds like I am making this shit up.
Yet, these colonized women, again, one or two missed paychecks away from eviction (oh, but these women I worked with have moneyed parents, so, that might not be true) have zero interest in mounting a front of righteous indignation through a concerted grievance process or to go whistleblower to stop this viscous and unconscionable treatment against veterans of color and male veterans who do not go quietly into the night. Instead, yours truly make the powers that be and their minions/sycophants uncomfortable, hence the “hostile work environment” canard.
Social welfare in any society has two major priorities or purposes: social treatment and social control. Since the inception of social work, American values have social welfare paradigms, goals and expectations of recipients of social welfare, and have directed the agent of change (e.g., individual vs structural) as well. These values and paradigms are shaped largely, by those in power, creating a standard, or norm, that is not applicable across groups, creating contradictions between values and practice. In the United States, a White, middle-class majority has shaped societal goals and expectations for its members since the beginning of its formation, with social workers functioning as brokers, advocates, and assemblers. Society, thus grants social workers permission to, “…force marginalized, deviant, and vulnerable clients to conform…” Since the beginning of the conquest and settlement of North America, Native Americans have been the target of policies and practices at the hands of the “State” (i.e., United States government) that utilize methods of social control.
Again, veterans who mostly come from the disenfranchised families or structurally economically deprived sub-communities of this “melting pot” are being “treated” by mostly cisgender women whose lives are cemented in White Middle Class mores and values, even though now, this millennial wave of workers is seeing their futures as less economically forward reaching as their parents’ lives were. White middle class privilege waning makes for a messy mess against those disenfranchised and underprivileged people these young and old women and men now hold sway over! A dangerous combination.
Radical Social Work? Oxymoron in America!
By the early seventies, while social work was under a lot of criticism from the political right about lack of efficiency and effectiveness, on the political left concern grew about the effects this approach to social work had. Social problems became individualized and the structural causes behind somebody’s problems disappeared out of view. By encapsulating social work into the direct relationship between service provider and client, the focus quickly came to lie on the client’s own responsibilities and what he or she could do to reduce the problems being faced. Features of society that caused social problems remained hidden and were not addressed in an attempt to improve social quality. In that sense, social work became a partner in crime in the culture of silence around social justice (see the work of Paolo Freire).
So that’s the rub, really – the lack of conscientious and deliberate work we the bottom 80 percent of society continue to flounder under, leading to the systemic failures working within the echo chamber and chamber of horrors that define Predatory Capitalism.
Imagine the anguish daily of most of us living in this system of oppression, but add to that the military service members who are homeless, broken, and used up and then told by so-called social services workers that its all on them, all their fault, only the result of bad personal decisions and flawed mental and psychological states.
Oppressors and the oppressed. And, the defining qualities of evil when its face is not Charles Manson or Henry Kissinger or the Green River Killer.
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this.
In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.
True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.
Paulo Freire continues in his deep study of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, looking at the oppressor as the oppressed, and he talks a lot about freedom and liberation from this oppressed and oppressor relationship. In a nutshell, the veterans I worked with at the Salvation/Starvation Army are the oppressed, but they have all internalized the oppressors’ image. The oppressors are the directorship, the chaplains and officers of the salvation army, the staff and more fearsome the social services practitioners. They have adopted the oppressors’ guidelines and rules, and daily now, I get phone calls and emails from former clients who are truly fearful of freedom even though they dread daily living at a homeless center where they are always under the gun, under the microscope and under the thumb of an arbitrary and capricious director who believes in exacting a pound of flesh through Jesus and her own failure as a human who supposedly went through her own recovery.
Freire again: Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.
That completion is a tough one to sell in a society where the men and women of uniform went in believing for the most part the historical lies of patriotism, and the red, white and blue myths invented by the oppressors to keep the oppressed off kilter and willing subjects in this massive propaganda-fueled system of war as the ultimate racket.
The very existence of these borders, the US of A, defines oppression on a massive continental scale, with tentacles that reach globally. Anyone falling prey to the rot of patriotism and the systemic violence of military servitude is both the oppressor and oppressed. Most men and women I have worked with that are deemed homeless veterans know inherently they were in a screwed up system, but many still hold onto the ideals of a brotherhood-sisterhood in their service, even though they have little or no respect for the senior NCOs and officers that wielded insanely warped amounts of power that allowed them to force humans to do the most inhumane things, what can only be declared as evil.
The evil doers are the ones that maintain that a country’s massive disproportionate response to a perceived or manufactured threat, or even its first firing of the war cannons without any perceived or manufactured threat is righteous in maintaining a balance in the world they see as us versus them. So George W. Bush’s “evil-doers” refrain was that of the mirroring image of the evil doer, as America is both oppressor and oppressed, all wrapped up in a schizophrenic bow.
Imagine a superstitious and spiritually warped people, coming here from Europe to exploit and create the first corporations of oppression, not knowing what it is to be one for the masses, collectively for all peoples, especially those whose ancestral lands they ended up despoiling and stealing. Easily, the white race sees everyone else — even those in its white community — as un-people, worse than calling them “the other.” Unpeople are bug slat to use the terminology of the drone masters of the US military. Splat that is worthy of double- or triple-taps of the missiles and high caliber automatic guns from their white people’s drones.
So goes the oppressed social worker, who then learns the rules of oppression to be the oppressor no matter how small or insignificant he or she is in the scheme of things, and the result is callousness, and the power of holding someone weaker in the sites of all systems of sniping that is called social services bureaucracy. I have witnessed a certain minute-to-minute meanness and pettiness that go beyond dishonesty and insubordination of the ethics of social work. At the Starvation Army, where I worked, and where others who are living there continue to report to me about, the level of harm and triggering and goading and retaliation and downright racism and prejudice against ailing men with drug histories is at a level of systemic failure. The veterans and I have reported these levels of unethical, unprincipled intentional harm to the powers that be, but to no avail. Read here:
No local news media outlet is interested in this story, UNTIL, there is an incident there, like the one in April 2018, where a distraught and mentally stressed veteran was denied his humanity and his dignity by the same culture of starvation and thus was shot by a SWAT team, seven bullets to the arm and torso. Not one of the people working at the center is a veteran, and the all-female staff and social services folk have little understanding of the soldier’s plight, and in fact many mock the lives of former veterans now on the skids. Imagine any of the people coming out of social work programs or human resources departments or personnel and leadership classes getting down with this amazing concept.
Our cultural workers must serve the people with great enthusiasm and devotion, and they must link themselves with the masses, not divorce themselves from the masses. In order to do so, they must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. . . . There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them.
Ahh, yes, the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung now so misappropriated and maligned, but read it here, The United Front in Cultural Work.
Little do most of the veterans who are white know they are part of a permanent class of underprivileged (and that oppressed and underprivileged grouping includes minorities in urban settings and cities) coming from cities and rural settings.
The very last paragraph in Freire’s work should be the emblazoned quote on all hoodies these veterans wear to protect them from the wind and cold and rain of being homeless in Portlandia:
This work deals with a very obvious truth: just as the oppressor, in order to oppress, needs a theory of oppressive action, so the oppressed, in order to become free, also need a theory of action. The oppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people—as long as they are crushed and oppressed, internalizing the image of the oppressor— construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders—in their communion, in their praxis—can this theory be built.
The obvious is never stated anymore in the workplace –
- “We are the majority, the leaders and managers and supervisors are not doing the work, and their decisions are not in the best interest of us, the worker, or the people we serve/service/manage/ teach/heal/assist.”
- “We hold the key to the success of the business, agency or organization.”
- “We can work to undermine the power of the mis-managers.”
- “We can heal each other and work clandestinely to help each other at work and outside the workplace.”
- “We can and should subvert the abuse of power and the graft and corruption of the management and systems within the power structure.”
- “We are not unfree and we are not going to become oppressors as we break the chains of our own oppression.”
- “We are human in an inhumane system.”
- “We are not the sum total of our wages, our position in the workplace and our perceived worth/lack of worth in society.”
These maybe lofty or Utopian ideas, but what else do we have as social service workers tasked to put band-aids on the gaping sucking chest wound of our society, where 30 percent of American children live in poverty, and where 60 percent of Americans are literally several paychecks away from losing it all.
For the veteran, both the believer and non-believer in the patriotic mumbo-jumbo, collective action seems a no-brainer in a system that supposedly inculcates everyone to be part of a team, and in theory, where one single soldier doesn’t stick out. However, this band of brotherhood/sisterhood is a myth, as the soldiers have been indoctrinated to believe that their service in uniform was and is a crusade against the many faces of the enemy against our way of life; that American firepower around the world – with themselves as fodder for the empire — is god-given, hands down. Which means, veterans who are homeless struggle to square exactly how that happened in a country they were supposedly “defending.” They come up with many straw men and whipping posts to condemn for their downward spiral.
War, Collateral Damage, Returning Vets — An Industry for the Many
High schools and even colleges welcome recruiters often to “career day” events. The organized murder game is often their only option for employment or educational advancement. But should they return home from a deployment damaged, with PTSD or in financial straits they are generally scuttled out of the spotlight. Suicide, domestic abuse, and homelessness are skyrocketing among them, but you would hardly know that if you watch cable news or read most mainstream newspapers. True, they are occasionally trotted out onto podiums by politicians for empty patriotic accolades, but only if they are telegenic and useful for the continuation of the war machine. Should they dissent from the narrative, they are rendered invisible.
The ones rendered expendable by the American mainstream media, who are seldom if ever spoken of, are the civilian victims of the American Empire’s endless wars, occupations and covert actions. They are ghosts that roam the sphere without glorious tombs in which to repose. No imperial-sanctioned, wreath clad monuments adorn their graves. No days of remembrance. They may have met their end in the killing fields created or fostered by the Empire thanks to a brutality paid for in full by the US taxpayer, but they are not important enough to be mentioned by the American media except maybe in passing. It is as if uttering their names might summon a spirit of vengeance from a mountain of corpses, the sediment of imperialism itself.
This mythology runs through the social services too, as their concept of the hero soldier is refracted through the looking glass of Hollywood and the massive propaganda machinery of the Pentagon, our government and a usurped history of this country’s adventurism into the death knoll of so many millions of people worldwide in this empire’s short history. War is a Racket is more than 84 years old, but oh-so relevant!
So for social workers, it’s a bi-polar almost manic life, believing the shit on TV, in movies, all the pomp and circumstance around Americans in uniform, and then, the reality of the majority of those who’ve served in uniform in front of them, as broken vassals of the broken society which then social workers must self-delude themselves into believing only applies to the truly down and out. Because in this social services control game, when you are not one of the masses, you then get that little badge, uniform and gun syndrome as a pleb.
My tenure at the Salvation Army has been briefly outlined here in this piece, and, then with a follow up here, in another piece. I am — as I write this — receiving more and more complaints about the place where I no longer work. I have repeated to the ones reaching out to me that there is evil there, and then there are the harbingers of evil there working against their success, and that they are in a broken system of the wrong checks and balances so they must subvert the system anyway possible.
Managers who treat veterans like children, and see people of color as ALL being druggies: That’s the complaint I have gotten from veterans at this center. And what to do? I’ve encouraged veterans to seek restitution and to be wary of an environment they know is toxic and to seek other mentors to assist them out . . . to pave their their own pathway out and find a home in this obscene renters’ market.
I’ve recommended them going to the VA and speaking with anyone overseeing the programs that get the Salvation Army paid from public tax coffers big bucks per veteran per night. I’ve recommended they see Oregon’s political reps, Merkley and Wyden, and to contact their representative, Bonamici. Some have taken their plight up with the media, whatever is left of the hallowed out Portland “alternative” media more focused on hops, pot, lifestyles and pop culture than real issues.
I am not putting the entire Starvation Army bad nightmare to rest in this final installment, but it is somewhat rewarding that I got out alive, that there were not SWAT teams coming, and that I didn’t do what any righteous revolutionary should do — get the bats out and start swinging at the evil-doers.
I’m still listening and hearing, and talking and caring, and while life is a militant process if you are cut from the social justice cloth, it also is the opening tides of the Pacific hitting air and light and atomized ancient people. Here, finally, an archetypal response from one veteran, and his answers are universal in most ways.
Basic questions to prevail, and I asked a couple of veterans the following:
Age, branch of service, years, most compelling thing in your military experience?
1. Toughest aspect of your current aspect of being “homeless veteran”?
2. What does the concept of social services/social worker mean to you in this current state of struggling?
3. How is it that when someone like yourself is “down” that the powers that be at the Salvation Army and VA seem to inflict a sort of controlling and dictatorial relationship with you as a demographic?
4. Why do veterans become homeless? This answer is for generals and politicos who have their own beliefs not so pleasant?
5. How better can you and other vets at this transitional center be served?
6. Any comments regarding my article, part one and/or two in my series?
Here’s one respondent’s answers, and again, anonymity is vital since these people living here at the Starvation Army Veterans and Family Center are afraid of retaliation and being kicked to the curb, most literally.
Currently 44 years old. Eight years in the Navy. Most compelling thing I saw was asking myself how people can kill, maim, and destroy other people in the name of religion. I cannot describe the horrors I have seen because I have spent year’s telling myself I never saw them and by God I have come to believe it.
1) I think the hardest part about being homeless is that it is a reminder of my personal failures in life. Pride is my mistress and she has created a sense of self-loathing. The truth is I have many friends that I could reach out to, but pride has prevented my use of those options. It is a dichotomy that is both prideful and opposite of my predicament of being homeless.
2) In my mind the duty of any social worker is clear. Regardless of a person’s status, that function is to help a person move in a direction that brings about positivity in their life. While I believe that a social worker should not enable a person to make additional bad choices in life as well as holding one accountable for failures, they should NEVER try and bring about change through the use of fear and threats. To do so is patently wrong and a failure on the part of a social worker. Change is a process and a social worker is there to help a person work through it. Not too attempt to force that change.
3) First, let me say I am thankful for the opportunity to be where I am at in the sense, I have a place to be. In terms of the question, I have come to believe that at times social workers come to make the choice to approach a decision that they know what’s best for someone, instead of allowing a grown human being to come to a place that allows a person’s view of their own self-worth is improved. I think at times there is a pervasive ignorance of the true background if some of the residents at the facility. It is difficult if not impossible to properly treat an individual with PTSD, or any other mental condition where they can’t at least try to understand what we have seen. For instance, while they were in bed, going to college, or living at home in a cushy environment, some of us were in the desert defending the downtrodden, seeing things that would make them puke or go insane. To utilize fear and threats to control rather than treat is a failure where treatment is concerned. It is tantamount to a soldier leaving a comrade behind. Something few civilians could ever understand.
4) There are many reasons why a veteran becomes homeless. In many instances a sense of antisocial pathology becomes present in the decision process of a person whom believes that not much matters anymore. The horrors of war are indescribable and those experiences can profoundly change a person. Some turn to drugs. Some turn to crime. Some turn to other vices. The sadness in all this is that had we not seen the things we saw while serving this country we would likely be in a different place. You ask why homelessness is so prevalent. One must consider the reality homeless veterans just might still be in a place in the desert mentally. Far from humanity. They left what once was to what has become over there.
5) Being treated with respect is key to treatment for veterans. Again, the employment of fear and threats is counterproductive to healing one’s mind, body, and soul. Let me add, that many times the failure to a veteran begins with the military establishment. Go to war, come home fucked up, get discharged under a mental health medical board, and drummed out. It is pathetic. The very people sworn to not leave you behind do so. In most cases it is a ROTC puke that has no understanding of true service. They are doing their residency counting the days until they can make their piles of money. It should be noted that on the flip side, many military medical professionals can no longer practice medicine in the civilian world. Either they couldn’t hack it, or they messed up so badly they had no choice. Either instance is unacceptable when it comes to the treatment and care of the heroes of this country.
This is but one of many articulate and impassioned looks at how and why one becomes homeless, and then a real critique of the social services arena, where veterans are treated with large doses of disrespect and lack of understanding. The systems of traditional social work are plied to the systems of control, which unfortunately are magnified when working with veterans, and then magnified to the tenth power when the social services are distributed to warped outfits like the Starvation Army.
This Navy veteran I talk with regularly, and his sense of the world is both derived from his Navy experience and “war” tutelage, as well as his life as a successful middle class worker before a traumatic brain injury and the reverberating PTSD from his time in war theaters pulled him down into a pathway of dealing with the criminal injustice system.
In the end, we are forced to abide by the systems of oppression when our rent is due and the student loans come at us daily as robo-calls from the collectors. We are forced to eschew our own humanity and look at the bizarre machination of elites working the systems of control into every fabric of the social worker’s life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, just another newish way to control deviancy, i.e. anything that goes against the grain of this highly demarcated Consumer Society that is at the mercy of predatory capitalism and corporate thuggery at every turn, to include representative democracy — which is both contradictory and an oxymoron, but completely elegantly literal when we see who and what are the representatives’ controller.
This sub-society, which marks a large swath of Americans of all color lines, the armed services, is more than just a microcosm of American life. The vested interests of the War is a Racket profiteers and the inane insanity of flag waving and saber rattling by the masses make for a very colluded place of entropy of the human spirit, let alone the human project of civilization.
Controlling people is what the entire project of the military is about, and it’s about making mostly young, pliable minds accept the anti-human proposition of sticking a bayonet into the neck of a woman, or spraying white phosphorus on a fleeing group of people (families), or sending hundreds of civilians to kingdom come with hellfire missiles.
Some homeless veterans are ticking time bombs, and the spoils of war are addiction, homelessness, joblessness, fear, anger, loathing, confusion, chronic illness, disease, and much-much more, including delusions and just plain deep-deep anguish and regret.
Applying the overlords’ systems of control onto damaged people, and then seeking restitution for the mistakes made by these wandering veterans, and then pushing them into untenable situations where failure is guaranteed, well, the system and the cogs in the system are guaranteed a career or job for decades to come.
The solution is to give way to dreams, to allow all damaged people to repair, instead of continuing the oppression that eventually breaks the human spirit. Healing includes communal places, out of the cities, into the sun and cold of the land. But the society now is against such socialistic and collective action. And so the night train of terror continues in the hearts and minds of the clients, and the oppressors, big and small, are the shadows of the ghosts to come, the clanging empty things at the end of their lives, where they just might peer back and see that they were not the good people in their minds but the people who helped keep the systems of oppression going, just for the shekel, just to keep the deepest emancipation of fear at bay.
The Sarvation Army breaks people who are damaged, and the very process of blaming the veteran for all the things the capitalist society has festooned them with precipitates more and more veterans to believe they have no other choice than suicide or going postal, or for some, they end up believing the fable of a giving Christianity as the monster of religion draws and quarters them into puddles of fear.
I say to my friends at the facility, dream, man, dream, woman. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s better to fix that anger, and do something to thwart it for future generations.
Then dream . . . .
You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deep where the dreams lie…find your dream. It’s the pursuit of your dream that heals you. –Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota