Bars

There was this poem playing inside my head, teasing me. It was about being behind bars. But what do I know about that? I could not retrieve the words but the imagery remained: words tumbling down like water, too fast to read, down a steep mountain, thinly layered over rocks and boulders, whole chunks disappearing underneath grassy parts and then reappearing again where the mountain meets the sky. Something wanted to come out but remained stuck behind bars.

The ‘being behind bars’ part kept me wondering, what was that all about? All was revealed when my friend and ex-colleague Liz, during lunch at the enormous Wegman’s complex in Burlington, told me about the documentary 13th.

Last night Axel and I were supposed to go out to a new year’s party but Axel is sick again and so we stayed in and decided to watch the documentary.  That’s when I saw the bars, hundreds of them.

The most surprising part to me is how oblivious (if we are being generous) or how evil (if we are not) the powers that be are about how ‘the system’ (all actors together) will or might act when something  somewhere in the system changes. Wicked problems have been ‘solved’ under much fanfare as politicians tend to do, only to be a temporary illusion, generating over time even more wicked problems. Every administration deals with ever more complexity. Trump doesn’t seem to think so..”believe me, I can fix anything!”

Most notable are the contributions of all administrations (since Bush the elder), and yes, this includes the Clinton administration, to the worsening of the prison problem. It now has for generations torn apart families and emasculated young black men. So should we be surprised about violence, crime and drugs? It is not as if we don’t know about the stabilizing influence of whole (complete) families and how self confidence comes from being (and being seen as) a productive member of society.

If all this is about ignorance of system dynamics it is bad enough, but of course it is also about economics; there is money to be made, billions in fact. And then, buried way beneath all this, the fear of ‘the other’ which is as old as mankind – the fear of black men raping white women, while of course, the reverse was much more prevalent.

Our new administration from hell will be taking over in less than two weeks. Its members and adherents are making pronouncements that the documentary recognizes and cleverly matches with scenes from America’s past. This is a past that I cannot imagine anyone in his or her right mind would want to go back to. Yet, here we are. Vigilance is in order. I hope that our sane and reliable decision makers who haven’t already done so study history and get wise about system dynamics. Imagine if we had elected mostly historians and system engineers….  Sigh.

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