In the week I’ve been away

I’ve been away now, for nearly a week, on an intensive that precedes each semester of my Ph.D. program. And while the program has largely gone well, it has not been without difficulties. My roommate snores, which got me off to a poor start. The Internet connection here has been problematic. The hotel catering service has not even a beginner’s understanding of a vegan diet.

But I have been keeping up on the news. And what I’m noticing in this time is how obsessions mask each other.

Michael Jackson’s death has been ruled a homicide. This seems over the top to me; a grossly over-rated celebrity who marketed himself as sick was indeed sick, pandering to a very sick society. I am sure he shopped around for physicians who would do what he wanted. He probably supplemented what they did. This is not a case of homicide but of an addict, an addict who mirrors the addictions of society.

Consider, for instance, the obsessions of the “birthers,” who insist that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and the “deathers,” who carry guns outside the venue of an Obama speech because they are convinced that a pale imitation of health care reform will convene “death panels” to “pull the plug on grandma.” This diverts attention from the increasing probability that Obama will send yet more troops to Afghanistan, as if there was ever an instance in the history of humanity where additional imperial troops prevailed in an asymmetric conflict. It diverts attention from the multiple Israeli obsessions with–I’m not quite sure what order to list these–colonizing the West Bank, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Iran. It diverts attention from the ongoing abuses of Guantanamo. It diverts attention from increasing violence in Iraq. It diverts attention from an economic “recovery” that benefits investors while job losses continue. It diverts attention from a rising tension between Obama and progressives, now that the latter are finally realizing that the former has betrayed them, using their hope to propel him into the presidency (those who still sport Obama stickers on your bumpers should be deeply, deeply ashamed).

The focus on Michael Jackson and on mentally challenged evangelical Protestant gun nuts substitutes imagery for serious consideration of issues. A doctor will be put on trial but the perversion of our society will escape examination. Pundits will snicker about those disrupting town hall meetings while using these same people to cast doubt on the popularity of health care reform. The press will solemnly report on Obama’s dilemma as he decides to send troops to a war whose purpose is long forgotten. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is bellicose about expanding settlements and outposts in the West Bank while Fatah, a group that lost the last Palestinian election, dithers over negotiations and while no one questions how Hezbollah is a threat to Israel, while Gazans continue to languish under a brutal blockade, and while mere suspicion of an Iranian nuclear program obscures Israel’s own nuclear stockpile.

U.S. society may well deserve Michael Jackson, who pandered to its disease. But does the rest of the world?