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July 06
wonderer & wanderer __________________________________ navigating post-analog worlds of art & publishing __________________________________ occasionally here: www.laura-joakimson.com _____________________________________ "I have to add this. You talk about the darkest, scariest, creepiest time of night. That's when I dance. Really. I dance at that time to charge up the night. The deepest, darkest time. I just get into it." --Josephine Ortez


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SEPTEMBER 4, 2009 11:18AM

the war on empathy

Rate: 36 Flag


War is Better for a Few


you start small

chipping away at civic pride

cutting into budgets to schools, to children and teachers;

erecting gaudy monuments to fire fighters who

died September 11

(but forgetting to insure the ones who showed up that day to help

but weren’t officially on duty);

you turn your head against indignities in veterans hospitals

refusing to see caskets of soldiers

returning from two seven-year post partisan wars against enemies

whose real lives you will never allow yourself

to imagine.

you let your indifference build

into a tsunami

as the floodwaters of the lower ninth ward rise

and people die in the street and on t.v.

but you turn away the survivors in a line that day

a reverse Birmingham March

because you believe their civil rights end at this bridge

into your city limits.

you watch as the last of an American breed,

an old guard, call the first Latina American nominated for the Supreme Court

a racist; sneer at what they see as her

deepest fault:

you enunciate the word with loathing; you spit it.

and in your neighborhood people lose jobs in swift waves

but not you or yours. why should you pay so

their kids can see doctors when they run fevers?

instead you learn to deny them. 
you learn to deny their claims.

what is a jobless recovery anyway?

it means the new welfare queens (the ones who own jets

instead of cadillacs) who are too big to fail (or to be evicted)

made mistakes, but whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy should they pay?

even now, you’re just starting to see the nobodies on t.v.

except for sport or on the news or “look there!”

too small to be noticed, for it to matter when they fail

what does poor look like these days?

well, in California , in 2009, morgues overflow because families can’t afford

to bury their dead.  They can just






but don’t look at me with that expression.

your civil rights will not end

at this bridge into

                                           my city limits.




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this is 97.314 percent rant and 2.686 percent poem...i know...
This was just lovely. You make your point so swiftly and so completely. "Empathy; You enunciate the word; you spit it."

That is what amazes and disgusts me about these people--their pride in their hate and inhumanity. They have absolutely no shame. Excellent post. Thank you.
The fact that we have an entire television station dedicated to feeding these psychotic, antisocial, anti-American, selfish pricks sickens me to no end.
Beautiful and powerful
latethink: thank-you. shame seems to be in shorter supply among those who love to hate, it's true...I had originally written a more bleak ending. I wanted to end it by taking some sort of stand...

verbal: it feels like more than one station sometimes though, doesn't it? thank-you so much for your comment. do you ever worry though that if we have no empathy for them that we will become more like 'them'? though it's hard I know...

jagoneely: thanks. glad I'm not the only one who feels it.

micalpeace: much appreciated coming from you.
Regardless of the ratio of rant to poem, this is a powerful and accurate summation of what this nation has become. I remember during the Republican national convention last year, how the leaders of the right lined up in front of the microphone to sneer at Obama because he used to be a community organizer. The implication of course was that anybody who'd ever wasted their time with idealism and trying to help the disenfranchised was somehow not worthy of respect. It was a tiny incident but it summed up perfectly the values of so many in this country, or the lack of values. Our society is sick; I barely recognize it anymore.
This is excellent on so many levels. I just can't understand the racism. I thought that we were past so much of it, yet I feel like I'm back in Detroit in 1967.
Our President wants to welcome in the new school year and wish them well. It should be a thing of inspiration for the children to have a President that thinks enough of them to let them know that he cares and it is turned instead into a way to teach children to hate and fear the black man.
It shames me beyond belief.
that is a style all your own
nanate: I took that as a bad sign too that americans on different sides of the aisle were also universes apart in terms of priories. I have a hard time comprehending people with contempt for community building...if anything, we haven't seen enough of it in our era. thanks for reading.

roger: I'm also saddened by the children must be protected from obama stance...I can't think of anything comparable. I also appreciated your rant. we're in a similar place. thanks for coming by.

ben sen: thank-you I think =)
thanks, dolores, very well put
Poetic rant. You draw some interesting connections between the powerful and the powerless.
roy: thank-you...someone had to say it.

scruffus: thanks for reading. don't you think that's the big myth in our culture that the powerful have no responsibility at all for the powerless (oops...sorry I shrunk your economy and now the least powerful people are out of work, can't afford health care, are losing their homes and living in tents...not my business la la la la la....)? this kind of thinking has taken us to this dark place & we need a way out.

mg: are you from Iowa? Funny I hadn't thought of Iowa. thank-you though for reading.
oh god, honey, this is brilliant and fabulous in every way. wow, i can't cry for complicated reasons but i would be sobbing if i could. you tell 'em, girl. you tell 'em. god, i didn't know about the bodies piling up. makes so much sense. i do know about all the abandoned pets because people can't afford them. shit, who is speaking up about all of this? they say the recession is going away. can someone please explain that to all of us who are struggling and losing? love love love and huge gratitude for your powerful gift!!!
True, beautiful and chilling. Thank you.

it's true about the morgues. details like that stick with you I guess. I keep getting upset when they talk about the economy rebounding (read: wallstreet) but without real job recovery, what will it mean?

dharmabummer: thank-you. and thank-you for reading.
You may just have hit upon the keynote to this cultural battle. It is time to get back on the offensive against the real significance of the Beck-Hannity-Malkin axis of evil. Instead of defending ourselves against the lunatic charges of the paranoiacs in chief, we should be spelling out the self-serving agenda their apparent derangement advances. Thanks for this.
This is powerful. I sometimes think that conservatives don't know what their beliefs look like when realized. If they were forced to see the suffering, I think most of them would be appalled, but the skill most of us practice is turning away.
libertarius: derangement is a good word. I think this poem might work best as a performance piece read while wearing heavy boots and stomping one foot. whywhywhywhywhy should those who caused this mess pay for it? that seems to be the mentality. I think we do need to create a new framework because too often we're using nonsensical (but widespread) reference points in order to try to make sense out of the world. and it doesn't work. thank-you for reading.

sirenitalake (I love your name): "I sometimes think that conservatives don't know what their beliefs look like when realized." you hit the nail on the head. thank-you!
Outstanding... and rated.
GODDAMN what a powerful piece. I'd love to hear this voiced aloud, you alone on a stage, with all the passion and tears you must have felt while writing it. You inspire. This is worthy of all the front pages of all the newspapers in the world - I wish they would save the front page for pieces like this - poetry, the real truth. Thank you, my new favorite. Rated.
Astounding. This resonates like a powerful call to arms and that image of the dead piling up in morgues is chilling. Rated.
I love that you have found a unifying thread in the right-wing craziness: a war on empathy. Exactly. This is both perfect and depressing.
Wow. That was so succinct and powerful.
RF: thank-you.

dragonlady: thank-you for your powerful response...

psychomama: I think we do need to mobilize...but isn't it funny how our culture automatically falls back on war imagery no matter what. I think we should stand up peacefully for what is true. I feel such hate in the air right now, I think it is increased by this school protest situation. But the morgues...yes. To many needlessly dead and a lack of money can cause a lot of wierd situations that we aren't used to in this country.

denese: thank-you. I'm with you too.

lainey: depressing, yes, because wars are always by default against empathy, right? it's a redundancy in the title. but I also think the only way to win this "war" is by not losing empathy for those who we (so passionately) disagree with. But it's hard when you feel under attack (or that obama's unfairly under attack). so it's hard, but wierdly this morning I feel hopeful. Maybe because sometimes anger can be a motivator. Maybe we just aren't used to seeing how hard progress is because it's been a while since we've seen much progress in this country.

delia: thank-you.
Clear and powerful...xox
this post was intelligent and elegant. in a few words you stirred my emotions and my intellect. Those damn right wingers are so adept at throwing out these new perspectives on old words and ideas and having everyone run with them. We need writers like you that remind us of the real meaning behind these phrases. I think I wrote somewhere about these same people saying that hope is cheap and all talk and no one questioning their cheap and dirty cynicism being made of the same stuff. It is all talk and all perspective and I still prefer listening to a voice with vision and hope and YES empathy instead of hatemongers who mistake cynicism for wisdom and manipulation as civic governance. Thanks for reminding us of the true nature of the American spirit here; one of empathy and hope.
Robin: thank-you. xox.

Mary Gravitt: that describes way too many of our politicians, doesn't it?

aintthatamerica: thank-you, I'm glad you think so.

padraig coleman: It means so much to me that you're back to comment. You've provided the perfect quotation for what is missing in the national (and sometimes the international) dialogue. I love what he has to say, and "the socialist's guide to camping" is an irresistable title that I'm going to have to look into. So much appreciated.

Tijo: I'm tired of the cynicism too especially when its so false. A lot of people talk endlessly about freedom, as if its the only important value, when taking some responsibility for one another is also an important part of any good nation or community of people. Thank-you.
Apt post, and yes, when did empathy become a dirty word? For shame.
there is a lot of ugliness out there
thank-you for reading Emma and Kathy. As Joe Hill says, don't mourn, organize.
So many cruel ironies in this post - oh, if the people acting them out would only read them! Very effective, angry poem. Your words will stay with me.
This has a powerful and passionate clarity I like very much. I only wish I could argue that it weren't true.

I have written often about the loss of empathy, compassion and civility in our society, and it's just good to know I'm not alone in these thoughts.
annette, thank-you.

lorelei...thank-you for commenting and I'm really glad you read this because your post, letter to america wtf helped me as I was writing this. I do think we're tapping into the same frustration. I think anger can be a good thing, as long as we don't lose empathy even for those who seem to be acting so cynically. I wanted that to be there at the end of the poem a twist that despite the (deliberate, planned) lack of empathy on the other side, we can't lose empathy for them. It's what they think makes us weaker, but they're wrong. =)
"I wanted that to be there at the end of the poem a twist that despite the (deliberate, planned) lack of empathy on the other side, we can't lose empathy for them. It's what they think makes us weaker, but they're wrong."

Exactly right. I'm glad I found you again! Right after I put up that post my life got crazy and I had to drop off for a while, and I feel like I lost a lot of good opportunities to make friends with like-minded people, or at least move the discussion forward.
I'm not sure why I missed this. (Please email me when you post!)
This is stunning commentary and poetry, all wrapped up in your way of speaking. And thinking.
It resonates just as much today. maybe more given what's happening in Georgia. Thank you.
nikki and aim...thank-you for stopping by. I'm so glad it has resonance for you.