The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. Propaganda, management, manipulation – all arms of domination – cannot be the instruments of their rehumanization. The only effective instrument is a humanizing pedagogy in which the revolutionary leadership establishes a permanent relationship of dialogue with the oppressed.
– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Last week, all eyes were on Mark Zuckerberg as congressional lawmakers grilled the Facebook CEO over how his company secures the private data of millions of Facebook users. Spurred on by reports that the data of millions of users was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytical, Congress supposedly sought to understand how this could have happened and it’s implications for data privacy. At least that’s what we were told. A week later, the point or objective of these congressional hearings with Zuckerberg remains unclear. What is clear, is that the cameras, media, and a love-to-hate-him CEO, provided Congress with a prime opportunity to display a collective ego and narcissism rivaling even the vainest Instagram selfie. And remarkably, Congress even achieved the seemingly impossible feat of making Zuckerberg a sympathetic character.
Undoubtedly, Republicans and Democrats came away from this hearing feeling good. They were able to provide us with the illusion of being proactive, engaged, and working on our behave. Sadly, a plethora of embarrassing questions demonstrated that both parties don’t know (or don’t care to know) how Facebook actually works. Consequently, congressional ignorance made it easy for us to see this hearing as the sham it actually was. Will we ever see any results from this hearings? Probably not, though the European Union (which actually cares about privacy) probably will challenge Facebook in a meaningful way. It seems very unlikely that our current Congress will do anything to harm one of America’s cherished corporations. Much of the congressional criticism will be a long-forgotten memory by the 2018 mid-terms.
And yet, who cares? For all the questioning and congressional grandstanding only further demonstrates how out of touch our government is with issues affecting a majority of Americans. Now don’t get me wrong, data privacy is most certainly an important concern. Facebook requires some oversight and regulation. But here again, the European Union is quite frankly doing much a better job than the United States when it comes to data privacy.
Take for example the Patriot Act, undoubtedly the largest invasion of American data and privacy in history. On October 24, 2001, 98 senators voted yes on installing the American surveillance state. This included Dick Durbin (D-IL), who asked Zuckerberg, “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” I also wonder if he would be comfortable sharing his phone data with NSA. Somehow, I doubt it.
All this is to say that Congress isn’t all that concerned about privacy. Worse still, it doesn’t seem that our government worries about issues that actually affect American citizens and the world community. If Congress did care, we would see no end to the hearings and meetings as our representatives and senators work around the clock to solve these issues. We would see a concerted effort at tackling some our most critical social, economic, racial, and environmental issues.
Who cares about Facebook when we are plagued by mass shooting and inner-city gun violence? Where are the hearings and questioning of AR-15 gunmaker Smith and Wesson and its parent company American Outdoor Brand Corporation concerning the use of their weapon in mass shootings? A weapon also used in the San Bernardino, California and the Aurora, Colorado shootings. Furthermore, where are the tough congressional questions as to why a military style weapon is marketed to civilians? The Violence Policy Center stated that, “The Smith & Wesson M&P15 [AR 15 variant] assault rifle demonstrates the clear and present danger of a gun designed for war and ruthlessly marketed for profit to civilians.” And yet, despite all we know about the dangers of assault style weapons, Congress did nothing. There were no hearings and no snippy questions. Apparently, Zuckerberg’s Facebook is a greater threat to American health and security.
Who cares about Facebook when the people of Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean drinking water? Where are the hearings and tough questions asking why the people of Flint still don’t have the basic right of clean water? Where are the oversight committees to ensure that American citizens can drink their water without fear of being poisoned?
Who cares about Facebook when economic disparity continues to reach new and worrying heights? Granted the Senate did have a hearing on this topic in 2014. Though little to nothing has been done about it. Current policies, such as the Tax Law of 2017, are poised to further exasperate the situation. You don’t need be an economist to see that there’s a problem when the wealthiest 1% own 40% of the country’s wealth. And what is the congressional response? The only response is silence. Again, our Facebook data seems to more important than making a living wage.
Who cares about Facebook when unarmed American citizens are killed by police? Where were the congressional hearing over the shootings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Jordan Davis (to name a few). Stephon Clark, the most recent high profile killing, provoked no congressional response. Why are deaths by police higher in the United States than any other developed nation? Why are African Americans subjected to higher rates of police brutality and unlawful searches? This should be a question to provoke our government at the highest levels. And despite the seriousness of this issue, it’s not a major policy issue. But I’m sure the victim’s families are comforted knowing that Congress will ensure that their Facebook data is protected.
Who cares about Facebook when there still isn’t a viable solution for DACA and probably never will be? Who cares about Facebook when there are Puerto Ricans (American citizens) still without power in Puerto Rico (nearly 7 months after Hurricane Maria). Who cares about Facebook there are still Americans who can’t afford the internet? Where are the congressional hearings for those Americans? The list of issues goes on and on.
What is the response of the church in the face of inaction by the state? As an empire crumbles, the church must choose its response to a worsening economic and social crisis.
For I believe that the church must make an active choice for the marginalized and disenfranchised. It’s response, in whatever capacity it is able, should be one that embraces and gives voice to the weak. Gustavo Gutierrez states,
Although the Kingdom must not be confused with the establishment of a just society, this does not mean that it is indifferent to this society. Nor does it mean that this just society constitutes a ‘necessary condition’ for the arrival of the Kingdom nor that they are closely linked, nor that they converge. More profoundly, the announcement of the Kingdom reveals to society itself the aspiration for a just society and leads it to discover unsuspected dimensions and unexplored path. The Kingdom is realized in a society of brotherhood and justice; and in turn, this realization opens up the promise and hope of complete communion of all men with God. The political is grated into the eternal.
Gustavo Gutierrez – A Theology of Liberation
This reflects what I’m calling liminal theology. It is a choice for the marginalized, the in-between people struggling against an oppressor more interested in continuing old divisions rather than solving them. It is a theology that resists the continual economic, social, and environmental subjection of the weak by the powerful. The liminal, as transitional, suggests that we still have choices for real change in social/economic justice, racial justice, and equality. We have the choice to enact true democratic freedom. That there is a choice for a better present, a better now for today and tomorrow. Liminal, progressive justice is a fight for those who do not get congressional hearings on their behalf. It is a struggle for those whose voices are ignored by the powerful and political elite. It’s a recognition of the continued and sustained work needed for a more just society.
In liminality, the Kingdom of God does not have a finish line. For there is no utopia without the tension of transition and change. And yet, it isn’t utopia that we seek. What we seek is movement and progress toward what Guiterrez describes as “a society of brotherhood and justice.” Such a society begins with the willingness to act in the present, particularly when facing of those who fail to hear, acknowledge, and respond to the problems we face. A just society isn’t the perfect society. It’s the society that is willing to listen and act.
Let Congress have its hearings. It’s time for the church to hold its own hearing. A hearing that gives the broken, the poor, and the marginalized an opportunity to speak. It’s time to give hearings for the immigrants and the dreamers. It’s time to give hearings for African Americans who live in fear of the police. It’s time to give hearings for those without clean water and power. It’s time to give hearings for those affected by gun violence.
Congress can keep Zuckerberg.