Catching Fire: Panem, social justice and sequestration

In Catching Fire we get a much more comprehensive look at the lack of social justice pervading Panem’s society.

We began to understand how out of whack the balance of power and wealth had become in The Hunger Games. It is a lack of social justice that forced orphans like Katniss to sign up for tesserae, the food program with the terrible price – another ticket with her name on it in the Reaping bowl each time she requested a years portion of grain and oil for herself, or a family member. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 are eligible for tesserae. Since they were a family of three, Katniss, Prim and their mother, she earned three tickets in addition to the ticket automatically entered each year. And all of the tickets were cumulative. By the time Katniss is selected for the Reaping at age 16 her name was in the bowl 20 times.
So much for the Biblical injunction to take care of the orphans and widows.

“Woe to you, lawmakers, judges, administrators, hypocrites! For you who live in comfort off the government condemn and deride your deeply dedicated fellow government workers in the field. You proclaim that we must guard our borders but you decrease your Border Patrol Agents’ salaries by 35% while they face the loss of their homes and face the guns of the Mexican cartels.” ~ Benjamin Pratt

But life in Panem gets even harsher. When we look closely at the society of Panem there are three distinct stratas. The Have-it-alls in the Capitol, the Have-enoughs called the merchant class, and the Have-nots. In District 12 the have-nots live in the Seam, and the only way out – the only way to becoming a Have, or at least a Have-enough – is to win the Hunger Games.

Against all odds Katniss wins, and moves her family into the Victor’s Village. She is given a beautiful home and more income than she can spend in her lifetime. For the first year after her win packages of food and goods will be distributed each month to every family in the district on Parcel Day. She is also given a curse, the happiness and health of her friends in the Seam hang on her behavior. If she displeases the Capitol in any way the Seam will suffer.

Katniss’ oldest friend from the Seam, Gale is busted by a new head peacekeeper for attempting to sell a poached turkey, he is whipped until he is unconscious and his back is hamburger. When Katniss steps in to prevent him from being killed the response is swift and brutal – and affects everyone in the Seam. The first thing to go isthe Hob, an old building that housed the District 12 black market. It was where Katniss and her childhood friend Gale sold their game and wild produce they had gathered outside the district fences. Then the mines – the only source of income for the Have-nots – are shut down for weeks. More children then ever, the Have-nots of the Seam, sign up for tesserae, but many don’t receive their grain.

Finally, in a strike at the only thing Katniss considered a positive result of her winning, Parcel Day is tainted. The food is spoiled and rodents have ruined the rest. The Capitol is doing everything it can to destroy Katniss as a hero, and if that means letting residents of the Seam starve, then so be it.

It is sequestration, Panem-style.

The problem with sequestration is that those least able to support any loss get hurt first and hardest.

The soft fiscal underbelly of any government are the social services: public safety, transportation, military staff, and safety net services like emergency mental health and food programs. These are the easy targets for those at the top of the heap, who don’t personally use or see any personal connection to the services they hold in jeopardy.

All of these and more are under threat right now here in this incredibly prosperous nation. In the Capitol, I mean our capitol, Washington, D.C., at least a dozen leading politicians dined this week with the president at a restaurant where the prix fixe menu starts at $85  and includes such frou-frou, Capitol-worthy items as an amuse bouche appetizer, a pre-dessert, petit fours and dessert. Factor in the cost of all the security necessary to bring the restaurant up to presidential standards and you’ve probably got enough to fund a small town’s police force for the better part of a year.

And, guess what, it’s making people mad.

Author, pastor and generally laid-back guy, Benjamin Pratt, met his limit with Capitol hypocrisy this week. So he wrote a poem. Really. It makes sense. Pratt explains he channeled the righteous anger of Jesus and Amos, merely changing the cultural cues made these two ancient texts startlingly relevant.

“Two factors contributed to this writing. What’s happening right now in Washington weighs on my soul, as I know it does for the millions who will be affected by this inane gridlock. The sequestration is affecting our family personally. My Border Patrol son-in-law was informed that he and every other Agent will take a 35% pay cut—that is not a mistake—35% is accurate unless something changes. So this man who faces the Mexican Cartels each day will lose that much income, putting his family and home in jeopardy. The second contributing factor is that I had just finished reading the chapter on Jesus’ anger in Peter Wallace’s new book, The Passionate Jesus. So, I imagined how Jesus and Amos might channel their anger.”

“Woe to you, lawmakers, judges, administrators, hypocrites! You joust over every jot and tittle of the law but neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting individuals and families who form the backbone of our nation. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow an elephant! You point one finger of blame in front of you while holding your hand behind you to receive money from the rich and the corporate who buy your vote. Woe to you, lawmakers and judges, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed, snobbery, self-righteousness and self-indulgence. You blind lawmakers and judges and administrators of our land. First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. Woe to you, lawmakers, judges and administrators, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness… You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? (Matthew 23:13-32, Jesus’ anger paraphrased and made current)”

I’ve only quoted sections of Ben’s whole piece. It is worth reading in its total.