Friday, December 12, 2014


Are one in five Hawaii residents “collateral damage?”

by Larry Geller

The City and County of Honolulu has chosen to criminalize homelessness through the passage of ordinances aimed squarely at those living without shelter. Those who sit or lie on the sidewalks will be challenged by police and many could, ultimately, end up in prison.

Zygmunt Bauman, in Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age, holds that the political class has:

… an ever more evident tendency to reclassify poverty, that most extreme and troublesome sediment of social inequality, as a problem of law and order, calling therefore for measures habitually deployed in dealing with delinquency and criminal acts.

From a review of the book:

But treating poverty as a criminal problem obscures the social roots of inequality, which lie in the combination of a consumerist life philosophy propagated and instilled by a consumer–oriented economy, on the one hand, and the rapid shrinking of life chances available to the poor, on the other.

Hawaii residents, as consumers, are confronted by an outrageous cost of energy, face among the highest costs of food and housing in the country, at the same time that there are few jobs available to them that pay a living wage. It’s not just the propaganda.

The reality is that there has been little, if any, effort to ameliorate these factors, with the result that we are in the midst of a poverty crisis, even though we are willing to acknowledge only the tip of the iceberg—the visible homeless on the streets.

The Mayor and City Council, driven by lobbyists for developers and political contributions, have put criminalization first, not Housing First first. They have stifled all calls to follow evidence-based practices.

A resource that could actually help

Who better to mediate and advise but sociologists, economists and political scientists at the University of Hawaii? But they remain silent. They’ve stayed out of the fray. Bauman devotes his last chapter to the role (or potential role?) of sociology in working this societal problem. An inadequate snip:

There has been, I would argue, no other moment in history when so many people have needed so much of such vital goods for sociology to deliver.

We’re wasting the one resource that could help us dig out of this. How can we drag these professors out of their ivory tower, in order to benefit from the “vital goods” they possess? It’s hard for those standing in soup lines to press politicians to seek viable solutions, but there are ways out of this, and we’re wasting our intellectual resources.

Football isn’t the only thing that UH is good for, folks. Bauman makes a case for sociologists to engage:

In our short history, yet a history rich in crises and fateful choices, no nobler, more elevated and morally laudable mission was ever imposed on our discipline with such force, while simultaneously being made similarly realistic – not at any other of the times which, as Hegel suggested two centuries ago, it is the prime destination and perennial vocation of humanity to catch.

Speaking of football:

This is a totally new ball game, as Americans used to say. It has its promises – not the least the chance of shifting morality from conformity to ethical commands to an unconditionally individual responsibility for the well-being of others.

I wonder if that will encourage the profs to get busy.


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