Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
It’s 4:10 AM on a Monday morning. In one week I am getting married, and life will suddenly become incredibly hectic, but right now, outside Ku's apartment, the world is calm. My breath comes out in puffs of smoke in the dark chilly air. The truck that drove me to this door now sits idling in the parking lot behind me and in the distance the snow-capped mountains are purple in the pre-dawn light. I call Ku’s cell phone. A minute later he’s smiling at the door. He’s twenty-eight years old, but like many Karenni people, he is remarkably youthful, so when I see him I can’t help but be reminded of my little brother on his first day of school. His excitement is infectious. Today is Ku’s first day on the job in the
Ku has limited transportation options; so, I’m getting up early, during the frenzied week before my wedding, to drive him to work. I’m not about to let Ku miss out on a good job opportunity, so I’m determined to find a solution to his transportation needs.
It’s 4:30 AM. Ku’s new supervisor at Easton Technical Products is a gentle, softspoken man with square glasses, perched precariously at the bottom of his nose – I assume, so that he can look over the top them of as he talks to you with his chin nestled snuggly in his neck. He tells me that the HR Director has spoken with him about Ku’s transportation situation, and he sympathizes, but he hasn’t had any luck finding someone to take Ku to work. I’m disappointed, but I thank him for his effort.
I met Ku while working as a job developer at a not-for-profit organization. Convincing employers to hire refugees – who tend to have little work experience and even less English speaking ability – has been difficult, particularly in a downturned economy. I’ve had to learn to be patient, persistent, and to consistently deliver on commitments in order to ensure our clients’ success on the job. Employers have come to appreciate the reliability of my clients and, therefore, continue to hire from my clientele.
Ku has had a difficult journey – His father was murdered by Burmese soldiers and he was forced to flee his village at five-years of age. Yet he considers himself lucky, because very few Karenni refugees are afforded the opportunity to resettle in the
Bare life is, according to Agamben, “human life… included in the juridical order solely in the form of exclusion.” Life is thus reduced to its biological function and is stripped of its socio-political significance. This reduction is a form of ontological violence. Because of the deeply social and symbolic nature of human beings, being relegated to bare life is like being turned into a social zombie – biologically alive, but excluded from the realm of the living. Therefore, I am not surprised that Ku values his Utah ID.
The ID card is part of a huge bulwark of law in the
For instance, Ku struggled to keep his job at
So, now it’s 6:00 PM, a few weeks after I started driving Ku to work. I’m in a meeting with the Secretary of the newly elected Karenni Community Organization. His name is Bel. Bel works an early morning shift at a FedEx, which is near the company where Ku is now working. After I explain Ku's predicament, Bel says, “Yes, Zach, I can take Ku to work.” Ku now has a ride to work. He can keep his job!
I really love my refugee friends and I love what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature,” which have given birth to our incredibly diverse, yet incredibly inter-connected, United States of America. I feel that law – and ID cards – can help sustain these better angels. My experience with helping refugees has been so good that I don’t mind getting up at 3:30 AM on a cold morning the week before my wedding. Hooray for the United States of the World.
 Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
In February of this year I was arrested for retail theft. I pocketed seven packs of trading cards at a Shopko in Taylorsville, Utah. Upon exiting the store I was immediately confronted by a loss-prevention employee and an off-duty police officer. I did not immediately realize that an officer was confronting me, so I attempted to walk away. The officer physically restrained me, pushed me to the floor and pressed my face into the cement.
Being arrested was humiliating. Sitting on a fold-up chair with my hands uncomfortably restrained behind my back, I felt that my life had come to an end. The loss-prevention specialist hurled invectives at me. “You f*ing idiot. You are such an f*ing idiot.” This rather pathetic man seemed to feed on my own powerlessness like a drug. Despite my silence, he became increasingly belligerent until the on-duty officer (separate to the original plain-clothes) arrived to take control of the situation.
Nietzsche warned us to be careful fighting monsters, lest we become monsters ourselves. Both parties in my shoplifting drama are guilty of the central human weakness against which Nietzsche philosophized –ressentiment. For instance, was this aggressive security guard yelling at me, or was the real source of his frustrations elsewhere? Perhaps he’s dissatisfied with his ignoble position as a powerless rent-a-cop? He only mimics and never actually participates in the authority of the state. How thrilling it must have been to act with an officer possessing actual authority. To restrain! To shout and rail against the criminal element! I possibly gave this man a great gift. Yet, his excitement at capturing such a weak criminal ultimately reveals that this man was truly weak and pitiably impotent.
Similarly, the retail theft, which I perceived as a daring act of violence against a faceless corporate conglomerate, was in fact a cowardly and immature gesture. My justification for the theft reveals the impotence of the act: “It doesn’t matter if I steal, because the corporation will have already factored the effect of this shrinkage into their bottom-line,” I told myself. Therefore, my act would have no effect on the company – and certainly no effect on the overall system of economic organization. Ghandi said, “Become the change you wish to see in others.” I was becoming cheap and undisciplined; thereby, counteracting my wish of social magnanimity and solidarity. If anything I was merely facilitating the commodification of desire, which I claimed to hate, and internalizing expectations of quick and easy satisfaction.
I now realize the extent of my mistake when I shoplifted. This episode was extremely difficult and painful. However, I greatly appreciate the officers, justices and counselors who have confronted my mistakes in a frank and direct manner. I learned a great deal because they did their job. I have arisen a wiser person with newfound perspective on personal and general human frailty. I will never steal again, not because I love Shopko, but because I hate weakness within myself.