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  • Todd Pound

In Defense of Humans

In defense of humans Lay down your power trip Stop toying with emotions and relationships Cause you don't rise when people fall In defense of humans Lay down your politics They're all big money and media tricks Cause you don't rise when people fall I see you rot this world I see you ride this world I see you rape this world On, off, on, off, on, off And I don't like what I see Greed In defense of humans Lay down your human pride We're born into our bodies No chance to decide Cause you don't rise when people fall In defense of humans Lay down your sticks and stones Weapons and violence are better off left alone Cause you don't rise when people fall I see you rot this world I see you ride this world I see you rape this world On, off, on, off, on, off And I don't like what I see Greed You don't rise when people fall

I love this song. Fugazi typically pinpoints issues in its songs (gentrification in "cashout" or native annihilation in "Smallpox Champion"). But this one's bigger. It's examining an underlying essence of human misdeeds, "I don't like what I see... greed."

The song has all Fugazi's telltales: a thunderous rift, Ian's bellow, and a denouement that changes the song's trajectory. Fugazi will occasionally ramp to a closing that features a chorus and music shift that sounds downright mainstream. I call 'em Clash finishes. I like 'em (I adore the Clash), but they also make me appreciate the song's previous postpunk weirdness (the sort of incongruities that lead many of my friends to dismiss Fugazi as pretentious).

This song got me thinking about reparations. (Probably pleasing Ian MacKaye & Co.)

I listen carefully to capitalists. I hear their arguments for tax breaks for the obscenely wealthy or massive subsidies for profitable industries like oil. I can appreciate the benefits. I have felt the sugary rush of short-sighted economic gains. I can almost be persuaded that GDP is worth measuring. Almost.*

But US capitalists fail to recognize the historic advantages they've been bestowed or debts they owe. Especially, one.

The US economy wouldn't exist without slavery. Its impressive growth from a fledgling colony to a powerhouse rests on the backs of an enslaved workforce. That same misbegotten capitalism became a justification for native genocide, wars and assassinations against oversea socialists, and an engine of environmental calamity. It is still misbehaving. The United States' current bloated, unmeasured, and insecure version of capitalism has been the root of every war and recession in my lifetime.

I wouldn't abandon it. Trade is a sound system, but unless it's keenly regulated, it mutates into an infectious and deadly malady.

Capitalism owes us. But not all of us equally. Postwar white American males are the luckiest humans in history. Exhibit A: my dad’s favorite sitcoms were "Happy Days" and "Cheers". He wasn’t necessarily handed anything, but neither was anything withheld or taken away. He was born into a nation and a culture conceived and built in his favor. My dad understood this fortunate hand he was dealt.

Simply grasping this fact can put white males on the right path. They can be good guys.

Above is a US history timeline beginning with the first slave ship. Each blob is a decade. Red marks the centuries of enslavement. Yellow marks the additional century of legally-justified disenfranchisement (nefarious versions ongoing). All the blobs represent the era in which property was denied or access to ownership was restricted (Wells Fargo was accused just this year of making it difficult for potential African-American homeowners). The exclusion and confinement of most other minorities, immigrants, and women could be charted in a similar way. Except Native Americans. Their chart is far grimmer. Nearly 60 million were exterminated in North America, quite a few in what became the USA. These are wrongs that can't be righted.

No reparations are adequate. To rectify our misdeeds, white males could work for free for the next 300 or so years, while everyone else reaps the rewards. Congress could be virtually all-female and non-white for at least 200 years, with no white male elected 'til roughly 2220. We could give back stolen land.

But that's not going to happen. So, let's tax us and spread the wealth around. It's really the absolute least we could do.

After all, you don't rise when other people fall.

* ... but it seems quite apparent that any rise in GDP predicates a failure in sustainability, happiness, and general well-being. Our GDP is robust. But stewardship and life expectancy are down. The GDP is, ultimately, inhuman. Or anti-human. Gross.

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