Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of Wealth Gap

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of Wealth Gap

Article excerpt

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of Wealth Gap

Making sense of the current socio-economic-political situation in America is a daunting and sometimes dangerous task. A complex but silent network of socially-constructed assumptions, givens, and truths-what Payne (2005) referred to as "hidden rules"-abounds. Knowledge of and access to these hidden rules typically is disfavored, even forbidden, outside of specific social circles insofar as they exist in order to preserve and maintain a sense of identity, cohesion, and protection for the communities of people on either side of concomitant social, cultural, and economic continua who live by them. When cultural clashes happen-e.g., the recent police-community conflicts in Ferguson, Missouri; in New York City; in Arizona and New Jersey, and most recently in Wisconsin- these hidden rules momentarily become publicly exposed. Unfortunately, however, meaningful discourse about them often is brief and is typically based on only cursory awareness of the inherent macro-systemic issues at work. Life tends to quickly return to business as usual, and many Americans resort to either unilaterally blaming the victim or inconsequentially directing ad hominem attacks toward the police and/or other political leaders as the breaking news headlines continue to flood in.

All the while, a quagmire of statistics and sound-byte quotations and pontificating commentaries drowns out the salient underlying issue-namely, as Matt Taibbi proposes in The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, that Americans have "a profound hatred of the weak and the poor, and a corresponding groveling terror before the rich and successful, and [that] we're building a bureaucracy to match those feelings" (p. xx). This, he contends, accounts for an upsurge in both white-collar crime and in "no-sweat ten-second convictions" (p. xx) of non-violent crimes in contemporary American society-both of which generate a snowball effect of "collateral consequences" (p. 17) that fray the threads of family and community life in the United States. "This is a story that doesn't need to be argued," Taibbi says. "You just need to see it, and it speaks for itself. Only we've arranged things so that the problem is basically invisible to most people, unless you go looking for it" (p. xxiii).

The tension between the haves and the have-nots is nothing new, whether in American society or elsewhere in human history. However, Taibbi emphasizes that what makes the contemporary American situation both unique and particularly troublesome in the early 21st century is that "it turns out that we prosecute administrative/political violations like serious crimes, and serious crimes like administrative violations" (p. 242). White-collar crime has become too complex to track down in an increasingly corporatized, technologized, instant-ized, and globalized society: "Oftentimes it's not even clear where the offense took place, who had guilty knowledge and who was just following orders, who thought their activities were sanctified by legal opinion and who didn't" (p. 405). What's more, for all intents and purposes, white-collar crime practically has become permissible as long as it serves to uphold America's faltering reputation and status in the global eye: "The system is not disgusted by the organized, mechanized search for profit. It's more like it's impressed by it" (p. 384). Meantime, the image-conscious American social character-which values achievement at all costs and which unequivocally vocalizes fear and shame toward any sign of weakness-has developed a precarious package of social policies that serve to work against its own people, particularly those who have little say in determining the fate of their social standing:

This is where the drive for money and conquest is so intense that it crosses over into a kind of hatred and bloodlust, where the payoff stops being about money at all and becomes a search for something more desperate and seminal. …

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