The Philadelphia subway, like almost all public transport in the United States, becomes, once the rush hour has passed, a kind of den that welcomes the most ragged beings of the place, the poorest or weakest according to the dominant ideological pattern. the least fit for survival. In the city from which I am writing, this national scourge comes with the peculiarity of a very specific presence among those forgotten, that of many opiate addicts who, up and down the rail, shoot themselves in full view of anyone and suffer the effects of a crisis created by pharmaceutical companies. Philadelphia is home to the largest open-air drug market in the entire country; their victims, if they manage to move, often group themselves in the wagons that move them from one neighborhood to another, either to dedicate themselves to theft of small merchandise that they can later sell, or simply in search of heating. The other day, my husband was in one of those wagons and witnessed a harrowing scene that, from so many repetitions, has become a custom: a man was rocking to the rhythm of the rattle until, suddenly, he lost his balance : Judging by the cries of pain, he broke his nose when he fell head-on. And what did you do? I wanted to know. Ask him if he was okay, but he couldn’t speak. The rest of the travelers remained indifferent.
There are hundreds of situations of this caliber that the American citizen observes in his daily routine, when he does not have to experience them first-hand. Most of the time, the crowd is no more than a mere spectator of the misfortunes of others. If that day my husband felt something throbbing that instigated him to utter a few words, on other occasions it has not been like that: the afternoon we saw a beggar lying on the ground, dying and bloodied, we both continued walking while we contained a rage, for the rest useless. Weeks later, a woman was raped on a train in full view of a crowd of passengers: no one did anything to stop it. Months before, I had interviewed a girl recovered from her opiate addiction who revealed to me what was wrong with a society without any kind of public attention in which the most defenseless are left to die: she had seen the greatest aberrations – robberies, murders , physical aggressions—during the time when those substances were injected. Uncontrollable, the tears slipped down her cheeks as she answered my questions: I was screwed up, you know, but a lot of people were worse off than me, and I couldn’t lift a finger for them. Never —he argued with difficulty, between spasms—, I never imagined that he could become such a bad person.
The disdain towards the pain of the other is not an intrinsic trait of the human being, but is cultivated socially. It is usually born from the fear of contagion, that the desperate situation in which someone finds themselves affects us in some way, which reinforces a system that encourages individualism and normalizes this complete absence, especially among the most vulnerable. At the sight of a sick person lying on the street, the first impulse may be to call the ambulance, but the question automatically arises of how much it will cost and who will pay the bill, if not the thought that blames them for their condition. The lack of public health thus builds a tolerance against the body afflicted with a thousand ills that will have been, we say, established by the subject himself and whose healing is worth money. In the same way, the fear of someone carrying a weapon dissuades us from acting, but also the fear of militarized law enforcement, in which there are many extreme right-wing maniacs trained to reduce the enemy and not to assist citizens. They could miss a bullet in the wrong direction, they could accuse me of the other’s circumstances and arrest me for no reason; cooperation between people who live together and should be concerned about the common welfare vanishes if you have been educated to survive in the jungle. These dynamics, which are nothing more than symptoms of the progressive disappearance of our democratic societies and their transformation into something else, of the non-existence of the Welfare State, impoverish pockets as much as morale, which ends up being the rag with which to clothe the closest family, the nuclear family, and, if anything, the small group of contacts that constitute as much as protect our small circle of privilege. When government authorities impose the every man for himself At the expense of the drowned who lie below, an evil is also institutionalized that is as administrative as it is personal and ends up making a dent in our conception of the human being, the care —and the rights— that it deserves, if it does not directly transform us into stones.
Described the Portuguese writer Valter Hugo Mãe in the novel The Spanish making machine the vicissitudes of a handful of old people, residents in a nursing home, in whom “the fascism of good men” transpired, namely, a subtle vileness, crumbled in mildly violent acts, like tiny pins, which came from having been socialized in the Salazar dictatorship. They were not diabolical beings; on the contrary, their jokes and stories made them endearing, until the monster of habit nurtured for decades suddenly sprouted, causing incalculable damage. The writer thus played with the concept of “the banality of evil” coined by Hannah Arendt: a harmful state mechanism, a pernicious bureaucracy, is enough for any human being to become a despicable creature.
If we cross borders and carefully compare countries, admit the differences but establish parallels, rhymes that allow us to open our eyes, we will lucidly discern a social atomization that is capable of rotting us inside while the collective bonds are torn apart. That autonomous communities such as Madrid or Andalusia have insisted on destroying primary care and, with it, public health, as the crowds that have recently demonstrated have grown tired of shouting, not only fattens the mass of private clients, but that separates the individual from the common objective that should be to take care of us all and not save us — whoever achieves it — in isolation. The same could be said of the dismantling of public education and, likewise, of a gag law that represses civility insofar as it criminalizes it and authorizes a heavy-handed police action without restrictions or supervision by those people who, in addition, pay their salaries. with your taxes in exchange for a service you do not receive. Faced with the arbitrary beating or the statement that you give with your bones in prison without more evidence than a testimony, many will choose not to speak, to twist their eyes in a gesture of disinterest that is also selfish, for not denouncing the abuse that it entails. impoverish ourselves more and more and deprive us of fundamental rights. Later, as I have lived here so many times, we will continue rowing alone, in the middle of septic and stormy waters, to end up crying not only for democracy and its pillars of well-being but, above all, for the lost opportunity of having been able to be, perhaps , good people.
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