Walter Mosley: the lesser evil

Posted by Barbara Osborn

Well, people haven't stopped talking about them. Below are Walter Mosley’s remarks to Liberty Hill at the Upton Sinclair Dinner, May 20th. 

He calls the piece, "the lesser evil." (his punctuation, not mine!)

My friend, I'll call him Jack, is getting older.  He has a strong mind and a powerful writer's voice but time is moving on and various parts of his body, especially his lungs, have weakened.  In the cold and damp New York winters he was suffering bout after bout of bronchitis; sometimes spending the better part of the season in bed.

Jack's well-educated, very expensive doctor, in brief half hour visits, prescribed for this recurring ailment ever stronger doses of steroids.  Jack asked about the negative effects of the drug and the doctor said, in as many words, this is the lesser of two evils.

Two hundred and twenty-five dollars per half hour plus the cost of travel, drugs, and future ailments due to this radical cure and the healer talks about two evils, becoming a metaphysician rather than a pedestrian GP.
   
We, Jack and I, have a third friend – Tina.  Tina told Jack that there is a man named Tan down in China Town who charges forty dollars a visit and who only prescribes herbs that are to be brewed into bitter tasting teas.

 "Dr. Tan will take your pulse and then prescribe the proper herbs," Tina said.

This was a third position, something outside of the Pandora’s Box containing the two evils.  Dr. Tan represented the grass roots, literally.  Five thousand years of herbal medicine that comes down to one case of 21st century bronchitis in SoHo.
 
The notion of two evils is broadly accepted in American culture.  Most working people are well aware of the rock and the hard place, damned if you do and damned if you don't.  We accept the inevitability of a losing trade off on the long, declining, slippery slope of working class American life.
 
Poverty and charity are two evils.  The former grinds our bones and souls and children into rubble while the latter weakens and ultimately eliminates our ability to live lives for ourselves – leaving us dependent upon the kindness of bureaucrats.  You know the ones – those people who have your life in a manila folder hanging from wires in a green filing cabinet that sits behind a locked door that you don't have the key for.

The arbiters of philanthropy and good will organizations never prepare us for liberation or revolution; they never question their superior position of humility and selflessness or the rightness of their charity.
 
Charity is the lesser evil but it is still evil.
 
The overpaid, over blown doctor kills your kidneys along with the bronchitis while Dr. Tan only seeks to strengthen your natural defense systems and organic immunities.  He may fail sometimes, and so might his patients, but in this case he stopped my friend's bouts with lung disease.
 
There is almost always a third and fourth and fifth approach to the solution of any predicament – and any one of these methodologies might not be evil.  When you find a leader, an activist, a member of the people who are suffering – a woman or a man that is a part of this world and who demands dignity along with relief – then you have left the realms of poverty and its only slightly less evil sibling – charity.
 
The Liberty Hill Foundation echoes these opinions of mine in its decision to support activists, organizers, and resistors of all kinds.  You are here to strengthen the immunity systems of those that are straining under the weight of rampant capitalism and its tax free big named charitable foundations; its misguided acolytes who aggrandize themselves by throwing money at people who are ultimately transformed into bondsmen under the domination of this lesser evil. 

I thank you for giving me this Upton Sinclair Award and for the opportunity to chastise the false hierarchy of most charitable organizations while being able to laud the proponents of liberation and, possibly, even revolution.
 
Thank you.

Read previous posts about the Upton Sinclair Dinner
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