Japan’s Punishment: Can we really be this ignorant?

We have all watched in disgust as Glenn Beck has brought himself ratings by speculating on the divinity of the Japanese earthquake of March 11. Even gossip blogger Perez Hilton has come out against an Evangelical perspective on atheist Japan being “woken up” by God. However, before Mr. Beck had a chance to opine on this issue, or before atheism became involved, I had already found status updates taken from the facebook profiles of Americans following the tragedies that have happened in Japan this week. You can see the full image here, but here are a few highlights. Be warned, these statuses are not only disturbing but also use foul language.

ya know Japan, this earthquake is just gods way of getting you back for that Pearl Harbor deal… “buy American”

Eat a dick Japan! That’s what you get for pearl harbor , karma son! Hahaha!

those damn krauts deserve to be hit by a earthquake tsunami for nuking pearl harbor

who gives a shit about japan? not this guy. did they send aid when americans were dying during Katrina? hell no, remember pearl harbor? Late justice.

all yall remember pearl harbor when yall give money to japan

If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google “Pearl Harbor death toll”.

These are also being tracked and documented by ignorantandonline.

Evidently, some of these statuses are only being put up for shock value. However, the sentiments reflected in them point to larger, cultural norms of aggressive ignorance and jingoism that need to be deconstructed by the socially conscious in order to promote our agenda of making the world a fairer, better place. We have to remember that these things aren’t just confined to FoxNews – these sentiments are pervasive, and warrant our attention.

Putting aside the notion that any nation deserves a natural disaster, which has already claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, what does it say for Americans that we believe ourselves to be so linked to the divine that a natural disaster can be considered punishment – or justice – for an attack on us?

This is the outdated and false notion of deserved tragedy and turmoil that plagues the debate on issues ranging from health care and poverty to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, blown up to the global scale. It rests on the idea that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous in material ways. It’s why a CEO has earned millions of dollars in public money for his bonus, and why a single mother is stealing public money to buy her family food. It’s the logic behind arguments like those in The Bell Curve, that Black people must be naturally less intelligent than White people or else the abhorrent socioeconomic strife that impacts Blacks disproportionately would disappear.

It’s obviously so critical to argue against this kind of thinking at the level of individuals and policies that impact them, and we must have similar arguments at the international level, as well. Natural disasters and economic strife are not doled out as punishment – for anything, but especially not for attacking the United States. If it were, what do Americans owe in karmic debt for our state-sponsored terrorism all over the globe, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or our systematization of slavery and economic oppression both at home and abroad?

A lot of these statuses are also imbued with the anti-Japanese sentiment that boiled up in Americans in the 1970’s and 80’s around the success of the Japanese automotive industry in relationship to American manufacturers. Not only do the Japanese deserve devastation for Pearl Harbor, they owe a cosmic debt for the success of Toyota and the non-competitiveness of GM.

It is radically arrogant to think that the United States has a pass to commit atrocities all over the world, to destroy the economies of other nations for any advantage that it might bring to the homeland, and that any country suffering a natural disaster “deserved” calamity if it ever stood against or competed with us.

What’s equally troubling about these sentiments is that they are symptomatic of a culture that rewards ignorance and aggression over learning and compassion. These statuses proudly display what some of their posters openly acknowledge to be rude and unsympathetic. Is it really brave to stand up against basic humanity and compassion?

In our culture, it is. People like Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and so many others have created whole careers out of “standing up” to ideas like equality, sensitivity, fairness, and international community. Within the Tea Party, it seems that holding up a sign of Barack Obama made up as Hitler is a demonstration of real courage, even if the comparison is completely devoid of meaning and is willfully inappropriate. These people are rewarded with attention, money, fame, and power. How can we create a better world when the people credited as being mainstream voices of dissent are fighting not for justice and decency, but the unraveling of the basic connections of empathy that human beings should feel for other human beings.

We are creating a generation whose idea of standing up for what’s right is rudeness, cruelty, and ignorant nationalism. As people who want to create social justice change, this is not just a hurdle we must overcome. It is a factor in the subversion of progress and the apology of a world built on cruelty. We either will change that culture or we will never have a better, fairer world.

If you want to find out how you can help in disaster-struck Japan, please visit Google’s great disaster relief project site at http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html. PayPal users may also make direct donations from their accounts to several nonprofits working on the ground in Japan.

Phil Ingram is an alumnus of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he focused on political economy, capitalist modes of production, and media’s impact on politics and economic development. Phil is a very active union member and labor activist, with other organizing and volunteer experience working in voter rights (with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund), in immigrant advocacy (with organizations such as the Urban Justice Center and The Door), and in NGO support (specifically with the Rwandan women and children’s service agency, Haguruka). Phil is beginning law school next year at CUNY Law School, where he hopes to focus on labor law and immigrant rights with low-wage and underrepresented populations.

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