Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hobbes, Jay-Z, Life in the American State of Nature, and the Moral Economy

It was after our discussion of the day’s sports stories that one of dearest non-Muslim brothers said to me, ‘why do the people in Newark keep killing one another’. This brother I speak of is a good, decent, trustworthy man who happens to be a Christian of European descent. If I felt there was any direct racism in his heart, he would not be a friend, let alone my brother in humanity. And yet, his question troubled me. I offered my cursory perspective to answer his question, having prefaced my answer with ‘I have been thinking about this a great deal myself’. He listened, and then spoke to support his argument, as I was trying to find crime statistics for New Jersey’s largest city, whose residents are mostly poor and working class people of color. When we got off the phone, my thoughts were with music and Thomas Hobbes.

It was Jay-Z who said in lyrical prose:

I’m from where the hammers rung, News cameras never come, You and your man hung in every verse in your rhyme, where the grams were slung, Niggas vanish every summer, Where the blue vans would come, we throw the work in the can and Run! Where the plan was to get funds and skate off the set, To achieve this goal quicker sold all my weight wet, Faced with immeasureable odds, still I gave straight bets, So I felt the most something and you nothing check. I’m from the other side where other guys don’t walk too much, And girls in the projects wouldn’t fuck us said we talk too much, So they ran up to Thompson and sought those dudes to trust, I don’t know what the fuck they doing, Them niggas is foul just like us. I’m from where the beef is inevitable, Summer times unforgettable, Boosters in abundance, buy a half-price sweater new, Your word was everything, So everything you said you'd do, You did it, Couldn't talk about it if you ain't lived it, I from where niggas pull your card, and argue all day about Who's the best MC's, Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas, Where the drugs czars evolve, and thugs always are, At each other's throats for the love of foreign cars, Where cats catch cases, hoping the judge R and R's, But most times find themselves locked up behind bars-That All-I'm from where they ball and breed rhyme stars, I'm from Marcy son, just thought I'd remind y'all…I'm from the place where the church is the flakiest,And niggas been praying to God so long that they Atheist Where you can't put your vest away and say you'll wear it tomorrow, Cause the day after we'll be saying, damn I was just with him yesterday, I'm a block away from hell, not enough shots away from straight shells, An ounce away from a triple beam still using a hand-held weight scale, You laughing, you know the place well, Where the Liquor Store's and the base well, And Government, fuck Government, niggas politic they-selves, Where we call the cops the A-Team, Cause they hop out of vans and spray things, And life expectancy so low we making out wills at eight-teen, Where how you get rid of guys who step out of line, your rep solidifies, So tell me when I rap you think I give a fuck who criticize? If the shit is lies, God strike me, And I got a question, are you forgiving guys who live just like me? We'll never know! One day I prayed to You and said if I ever blow, Let 'em know, The stakes ain't exactly what takes place in the ghetto, Promise fulfilled, but still I feel my job ain't done, Cough up a lung, where I'm from, Marcy son, ain't nothing nice

It was Thomas Hobbes who described the state of nature, stating:

Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. For war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is peace. Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighed these things that Nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience. Let him therefore consider with himself: when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be laws and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man's nature in it. The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions that proceed from those passions till they know a law that forbids them; which till laws be made they cannot know, nor can any law be made till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.

These two men, and more importantly, there words were on my mind during the conversation with my Christian brother. Then I thought Malcolm X, and his assertion that it was within the nature of capitalism to feed upon some group of individuals. I thought of my cousins who have been killed in an attempt to make as much money as possible via the illicit, immoral, and depraved narcotics trade. I thought of Newark, New Jersey. Imagine if you can, that you were born into a poor family from Newark, to a mother who had twice previously trusted men who ultimately betrayed her. Imagine if you could live through a piece of history shared by another Christian brother of mine who has lived in Newark for most of his life. His mother was unable to pay the electric bill, so his brothers, his sister, and he were playing the board game Monopoly by candlelight while the distinctive sound of mousetraps cracked in the darkness of their living room. Hunger, lack of education, high rates of unemployment, alcohol, drug abuse and addiction, violence; all are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, there is a connection, and we submit that it is due the complete lack of true poverty that compels so many political theorists to erroneously believe and teach that the Hobbessian state of nature is fictional. It exists. It is the place, ‘where the chruch is the flakiest, And niggas been praying to God so long that they Atheist’. Newark is the place where men and women pray for The Lord of the Worlds to forgive their sins, though there is no time, no space, no safety in which true repentance is a remote possibility. Men and women beseech, call, beg, wail, and seek a way out, for trouble is just around the corner and down the street. They can be robbed by anyone, at any time, by a young man just trying to prove himself to be the toughest, for it is his toughness that will allow him to gain power. In order to pay his mother’s rent, to buy clothes, a car, he has left any notion of dignity in poverty, for it is not part of the American Dream. It is the experience of the American Nightmare, as Malcolm pointed out again and again to countless millions. It is a place where death lives and claims the lives of our youngest, and possibly, are most brilliant who if given a real education could turn Newark into a place for the living, Inshallah. Al-Farabi wrote in his The Attainment of Happiness that happiness of society was depended upon man’s possessing four fundamental requirements: the ethical, intellectual, speculative virtues and practical arts. Moreover, under Dar al-Salaam, it was the state’s responsibility to instruct its people in the obtaining all of these requirements. He doesn’t argue for the cursory educational goals that so many schools within the inner-city or rural areas fail to achieve. Al-Farabi is arguing for a nationwide minimum standard of excellence, and not merely passing. The student must master these three virtues and the practical arts necessary to make his or her mark within the history of humanity. For the Islamic Nationalist living in the United States, the demand that the Federal Government literally invest some 70 billion dollars be equally distributed to the States in order to truly ensure, ‘no child is left behind’. America is immoral when lobbyist and a Chairman of the Federal Reserve can convince the United States Congress to allocate $765 billion dollars to investment banks who destroyed another path by which the average citizen can obtain the American Dream. It is the lack of foresight and true commitment to changing the conditions of poor and working-families that allows the investment banker, the corporation, and the wealthy to feed upon the people of Newark and the whites of Applachia. Coal miners are killed because they work in unsafe conditions. BP destroys the southern Louisana ecosystem, and with it, the families that depend on fishing to feed their children, pay their mortgages, and honor their contractual agreements with the same banks that ruined the American economy. Jobs are sent overseas so as to exploit those who are much more poor than the majority of Americans. Poor and working class families see their sons and daughters joining the military to fight to extend the Imperial American reach. Upton Sinclair, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Marx; they all have provided a perfect critique of the capitalist system. Like Sinclair’s Jurgis, so many Americans erroneously believe that if they just work harder, everything will be okay. Jurgis’ story will convince them of otherwise, and if not, the Republican Party’s majority control of the 112th United States Congress will with certainty.
The Economist magazine highlighted the life of Moira McKamey and Kevin Eakens in its last issue of 2010:

McKamey and her husband have worked very hard to live within their means, and like their neighbors the Eakinses, who ‘in January 2010 Kevin Eakins, who lives down the road, lost his job as a fork-lift operator at an animal-pharmaceuticals firm. A few months earlier Jacki, his wife, had been sacked for her job at a trucking company. ‘It’s been a struggle’, Mrs. Eakins sighs. Both of them have searched for jobs for months, to no avail…Fifteen million Americans are now unemployed, according to the most recent jobs report. The unemployment rate for November inched up to 9.8%. The grimest numbers, however, are for the long-term unemployed. 6.3m people, 42% of those unemployed, have been jobless for more than 26 weeks. That number does not include 2.5m people who want a job but who have not looked for a month or more, or the 9m who want full-time work but can only find part-time openings[1]

One can, indeed, should comparisons between the McKameys’, the Eakenses’, Jay-Z,  and all the other citizens living in a state of social misery. America is a post-racial society, and has transmogrified into the difference between those who possess and those who do not. Individual initiative, hard and determined effort towards goals for one’s self and one’s children seemingly have no bearing on that which is correct, deserving, and simply fair. Moreover, as the GOP have gained control of the House of Representatives with the declared intention of cutting Federal spending at a time that it must and should be increased, the precipe of moving beyond the Great Decession of the 21st century looms further and further away. Things which were unimaginable are happening within the nation, as the shooting of Congresswoman Gifford alerts us as a People. Government, irrespective of the cries of the Tea Party, is necessary and when administered correctly can aid and assist the People of the United States in achieving its goals. Being unemployed in this climate is not a choice, but a symptom of that larger illness that claims and destroys the American Dream for most of the 300 million people who call this land home. In short, we are all going down slowly, and less regulation, less government, and a decrease in bold, commonsense action is not the remedy by which our dignity can be restored.

America must develop a economy based on morality, meaning that we should look to our collective duty to one another. It is the lack of said duty that causes the gunshots to echo in the night skies across the urban centers of America, or at Congressional-constituent meetings in Arizona. Could Congresswoman Gifford's shooter receive treatment under the Health Care system the GOP and the Tea Party seek to destroy? Could he under the Health Care system we have today? People could see he was deranged and simply ill mentally, but where could they turn? Who could aid and assist in ensuring his road to recovery? Most homeless people are severely mentally ill, and left on the streets to fend for themselves? And how many of those people commit crimes in order to medicate themselves with heroin, crack cocaine, alcohol, etc.? If it is not society's responsibility, than do not mourn the dead of the recent Arizona shooting! If it is not our responsibility collective to ensure that men, women, and children within our borders have the minimum necessary to sustain life, then there is no society, but mere urban sprawl with each of us waiting for our turn to be turned into the street. Every human being can retreat to a place where animalistic behavior takes over, giving the correct circumstances and social pressure. What father would do nothing as his children starve? What mother would not consider selling herself so her children can eat? In the final analysis, recognize that you, like 98% of Americans are two paychecks away from being indigent like so many in Ohio. What is your breaking point? At what point will you choose the pistol over the lines for groceries at the food bank? 

Isma'il ibn Bilal

[1] Economist magazine, December 18th-31st p. 45

1 comment:

  1. Alumdulilah Isma'il enjoyed the read and your final question...My answer would be to organize the ppl in the groceries line to all sell their pistols and use the money from our sales as seed money to collectively purchase food in bulk and to continue our collective purchasing in other areas... that's just how my brain works...

    Bilal aka Int'l