Monday, November 21, 2005

the dialectic of Camden

i read today that my adopted home, detroit, has once again lost the title of "most dangerous city" to camden, new jersey.

way to go, kwame. 2nd place again. boy, that stings.

what stings even more is that the "winning" city shares a name with my hometown:

behold, camden, maine:

every summer, the lion's and rotary clubs of camden, maine, sponsor a "camden to camden" program, similar to the fresh-air fund, where kids from new jersey spend the summer with host families in maine. i don't argue with this idea. kids in maine need to interact with peers who, let's be frank, aren't white. or upper-middle class. and, c'mon, who doesn't need to spend a summer in maine?

but then there is always the joke: so do they then send kids from camden, maine, to the crime ridden streets of camden, new jersey?

and i think that's a fine idea.

in the past few years, camden maine has experienced a rash of teen suicides in the community. it's been really sad, in part because it's a small town, but more because it's a town where nobody is supposed to be this unhappy. community meetings, interventions, and forced counseling sessions have ensued. lots of hand wringing about what might be going wrong.

well, imagine if you were trapped in disneyworld for 18 years screaming that you wanted to leave but nobody would listen to you because disneyworld is supposed to be the happiest place on earth.

i don't mean to minimize the grief of the families who have been affected by this strange phenomenon, or to suggest that they aren't paying attention to their kids. i'm positive that lots of people tried to help these kids.

but the fact remains: camden, maine is eating its young. it could be the stifling affluence, or the uncritical wholesale embrace of enlightenment values. a life based in absolute security, rationality, and reason clearly isn't agreeing with the children. remember your Adorno and Horkheimer, my friends. what did the enlightenment eventually lead to in western europe? can anyone hear me?

i'm not comparing the shoah to maine. but i am trying to point to the fact that a society, whether writ large or small, that is based on a systematic mastering of the world through prescribed steps of "knowing" leads nowhere good. because in the case of these kids, what if you "know" differently? or if you just can't seem to "know" quite right? things fall apart really quickly, and then all of a sudden everything you thought you believed begins dissolving into the ground. looking at the truth, that reason doesn't stand up to chance - that rationality doesn't beat difference - you start to disappear.

disappearing into the enlightenment. as Joelsin says, "bodies like cheap plastic, and little as they are." and all you do know is that you have to make it stop, but it keeps pushing you along. am i adequately conveying the terror?

these kids need places like camden, new jersey, to help them see that maybe they can make their knowing fit. ragged edges help with that. the smooth, polished ones? they hold you in, or they keep you out.


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