The Strange Silence Of The Conscience

In Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Photography, The Daily Discussion on April 12, 2010 at 10:15 am

The New York Review of Books recently published an excerpt from Tony Judts new bookk Ill Fares The Land. Judt has been perhaps the most articulate voice speaking out against the poverty of imagination that has paralyzed our nation and left so many American’s in social, health, educational and economic deprivation. A state of affairs that would have been the scandal of any civilized, modern, just nation, but that in our American today barely seems to find mention in the corridors of power or the glitzy pages of our iPad-ready news publications.

In a version of the essay published on PULSE the excerpt includes some fascinating visual representation of our state of affairs. I reprint them here for your convenience.

His conclusions were heart breaking:

There has been a collapse in inter-generational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage for the overwhelming majority translates into ill health, missed educational opportunity, and—increasingly—the familiar symptoms of depression: alcoholism, obesity, gambling, and minor criminality. The unemployed or underemployed lose such skills as they have acquired and become chronically superfluous to the economy. Anxiety and stress, not to mention illness and early death, frequently follow.

Pointing out with his characteristic clarity that:

Inequality is corrosive. It rots societies from within. The impact of material differences takes a while to show up: but in due course competition for status and goods increases; people feel a growing sense of superiority (or inferiority) based on their possessions; prejudice toward those on the lower rungs of the social ladder hardens; crime spikes and the pathologies of social disadvantage become ever more marked. The legacy of unregulated wealth creation is bitter indeed.

As I scanned these statistic, and read Tony Judt’s words, moved as I was by their sense of urgency and sheer call to common humanity, I was struck by the fact that most all of this is completely absent from the works being produced by the best and the brightest of our photojournalists and photo agencies. I guess what I mean is; why isn’t this the most important photojournalism story of the last few years?

As I look across the recent photojournalism awards, and scan for works in newspaper websites, I see a dearth of serious and committed interest in the hollowing out of America. There are a few stories here and there, a large number based on news reports about the health care debate and the foreclosure crisis. Matt Black has been working away with his usual tenacity and dedication. But this is far, far more than about a news blip, or a protest march, or the foreclosure of a home or two. It is about a fundamental surrender of government and national responsibility towards the very citizens both are supposed to serve. It’s about finding ourselves in this strange, irresponsible, unconscionable and immoral place in history where we can approve billions for foreign wars – illegal, unjust and paranoid as they are, and yet fight tooth and nail to stop even pennies for the care of our own.

I see the statistics above, and I see the silence all around. And I ask why?

UPDATE: Anthony Suau. Why does that not surprise me. It turns out that Anthony Suau has been working on different aspects of this story and you can see some of that work on his archive site US Economy 2008 2009. I have written about Anthony in an earlier piece called Anthony Suau: Quiet, Serious, Profilic, Focused

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