The hashtag is out there, circulating among my #hashtag-hip progressive friends, as our culture struggles with the lingering poison of centuries of class/race conflation.
#blacklivesmatter, it goes.
Of course they do, I want to say. But, dammit, my mind insists on deconstructing it, slicing that hashtag up, analyzing it.
The one that stabs at me: "matter." What makes a life matter?
What gives it importance? What gives it meaning? What gives a life...as the word "matter" implies...substance?
And as much as I want to say, yes, of course, all lives matter...the reality is that this is not true in our society. I cannot affirm that as a real thing.
All lives have the potential to matter, of course. Every self-aware being is capable of creating and engaging with meaning. And as a Jesus-follower, I hold that meaning exists, deeper than our subjectivity and our cultural values.
As a person of faith, I understand my purpose. I know what gives my life substance and worth.
But within the value set established by a society, we can also not matter at all.
In a culture that lacks any purpose but profit, what does "mattering" mean for any of us?
It certainly can't have been easy for Eric Garner to think that his life mattered. What, from the value set of our culture, would have given him a sense of worth as a person? He'd had a job, but work is hard to come by. He's been arrested, multiple times, for the picayune, meaningless, should-offend any-card-carrying-libertarian crime of selling individual "untaxed" cigarettes.
Meaning, he purchased a pack of cigarettes, on which had been levied an intentionally punitive and hefty tax, which Garner would have paid. Then, he broke it out and sold the individual cigarettes for fifty cents. Making a little money on the side, off of a legal product, legally purchased, his own property, all taxes paid. A "loosie," as they call it. Fifty cents. A quarter here, a quarter there, nothing more than pocket change.
Is this a respected vocation? Hardly. Was he a "producer?" No. Was he thriving and prospering? No. Was he a celebrity, or wealthy, or influential? No.
Was his life, in any way, valued by our culture? No. He was unimportant. Unimportant enough that he could inform the people who were killing him that they were killing him. He could ask them to stop killing him, politely and repeatedly, with no cursing or profanity. He could say "please." He may as well have not been talking at all, an inanimate object. Eric Garner was nothing more than a broken window, useless, to be swept up and carted away.
His life did not matter. A life, worth less than fifty cents, less than a pack of gum, less than a twenty ounce store-brand soda.
Nor, quite frankly, do most of us really feel like our lives matter in this society. Ours is a culture that tramples the weak and the poor, despises them, demonizes them. If we get sick, thems the breaks. If we lose our jobs, we are lazy. If the stress breaks our minds, then we are dangerous. We matter only in so far as we have the ability to consume. Once we do not, we are...unprofitable. Meaningless. Worthless. It is that anxiety, the fear, that drives us.
My leftist friends, lost in the pointlessly divisive semiotics of academe, do not quite realize how much purchase such a death has. How much it points to how our culture commodifies all of us. How much it illuminates how we all scrabble against the cold soulless face of mammon, anxious in our poverty, anxious in our wealth, anxious because we know we are disposable.
#blacklivesmatter? No. Not against the central governing value set of our society, in which color is still a visually convenient proxy for class. #poorlivesmatter? No, of course they don't.
To the Creator of the Universe, sure. To families and friends, yes. But to this culture? No.
None of our lives matter.