Friday, July 12, 2013

On the Varieties of Experiencing Brutality

This morning, when I was writing about Benjamin Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia on, I chose to consider the narrative as a cautionary tale about life under brutal authority. Within that frame of reference, the decision of the Merola Opera Program to present this work in modern dress (with contemporary military uniforms) suggested, that in times when our own country has provided armies of occupation and that our own military system has had to confront its own violent acts, including sexual harassment, that brutality is, as it was in the past, simply a matter of the abuse of physical force. While this is most likely the sort of brutality Britten had in mind, I would suggest that, in terms of a broader message, we must now consider that ours has become a world subjected to (and suffering under) economic brutality.

Consider, as an example, current conditions in Greece: The week began with word that Greece's creditors were praising the country for is cost-cutting activities as a precondition for releasing the next tranche of bailout funds. Yesterday, however, the BBC reported that the suicide rate had gone up in Greece, simply because people no long have ways to earn a living and afford health care. The economic brutality of Greece's creditors may well have created a situation in which the cure has been worse than the disease. While it is probably true that Greece got in trouble through gross economic mismanagement, its creditors are now more interested in return-on-investment than in solving that systemic problem that got Greece in trouble in the first place. This is the drunk looking for his lost car keys under a lamppost because the light is better there (or the boy with a hammer who sees everything as a nail). Bean counters only know how to count beans without worrying about consequences that take place in the social world, rather than the objective world of numbers on balance sheets. They may not mean to be brutes; but the become that way through the actions they take and the reasoning behind those actions.

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