nothing to lose

I’m watching the ongoing crisis from relative safety but I’m getting more concerned as time goes by. It appears that the unemployment supplements are ending at about the same time as the moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent or mortgage. 

My concern is that this will dramatically increase the number of people living in desperation. This little piece doesn’t address the question of unemployment supplements and eviction moratoriums as to whether they are a good thing or a bad thing. I do have an opinion on that, but I’m concerned about something entirely different. The prospect of large numbers of people losing their income and their home at the same time is full of danger.

I have worked with people who lived in a state of desperation as their normal day-to-day existence, and who, when pushed, often reacted in extreme ways, including violently. A common theme (certainly not the only thing driving the reaction, but a significant one) was the perception that they had nothing to lose. Once they took one step along the path of lashing out, subsequent steps were partly fueled by “the hell with it, I’m screwed anyway” frame of mind. People with that mindset were extremely difficult to deal with; threats or demonstrations of power were often met with “bring it on!” and appeals to logic about the increasing depth of the hole they were digging themselves into often fell on deaf ears. “I know how you feel” was worse than useless because it was obvious to all involved that that was not true. I lacked any comparable life experience and so could not relate in any significant way. There was no single approach that always worked to manage the situation; reading the ever-changing signals and revising on the fly was the only thing that sometimes worked, and that had no guarantee of success. 

When I think about the past (Chicago and Watts and Philadelphia and Rodney King and Ferguson and so many others) in this context, it scares me in regard to what is happening right now. I was usually dealing with one person at a time. A dozen, or a hundred, or five hundred, is a completely different scenario, since group behavior is fueled in part by the existence of the group. There is no easy solution here, since we are dealing with both systemic problems and an immediate crisis.

The crisis is an opportunity to effect systemic change instead of just dealing with the immediate, obvious problems, but the fact that both have to be dealt with simultaneously makes the opportunity both exciting and scary as hell. We should all try to keep our wits about us as this unfolds; there will be calls for extreme actions on both sides of the equation. I know from experience that if one side is behaving in an extreme manner and the other side begins to do the same, the situation is very likely headed in a dangerous direction.

Take care, y’all.

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A career working with teenagers on the fringes of society has made me both sensitive to and appreciative of the complexities of character and the struggles, inner and outer, that we all wrestle with in one form or another. My writing emphasizes character development over action, and, as a lifelong Southerner, the rhythms and cadence of the Southeastern United States influence both my spoken and written voice.

One thought on “nothing to lose

  1. I have had the same fears for several months now, Jim. Don’t know what to do about it except hope and pray Congress recognizes the immediacy of this danger and acts to turn it around NOW. Worry about whatever perks are included in the bill; fixes can be addressed later. Take care of the people NOW; they can’t wait!


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