BY CARL MUMPOWER
France in the late 1800s was not a happy place. Although frivolity and immorality flourished, the country was swollen with vanity, harms and pretense. But even darker than the drunken corners of popular cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge were the halls of politics. Then and there, much like now and here, words and imagery flourished at the expense of truth.
No one event typified this internal decay more than the multiple injustices of the Dreyfus Affair.
In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was falsely accused of treason. Central to the ruse was an investigator who was eventually proven to be the real spy. Sentenced to life on Devil’s Island, Dreyfus suffered his fate — in isolation — for years.
Salvation came via a gentleman of remarkable wisdom and courage named Emile Zola. Already famous for tackling inequities in France’s social justice system, the crusading man of letters saw an opportunity in the lies and deceit of his country’s political and military leadership.
In an open letter addressed to the French president that was titled “J’Acuse” and published on the front page of the Paris newspaper L’Aurore, Zola made his case against a parade of wrongs. His bravely placing both himself and his career at risk helped force a process, arduous and painful, that ultimately led to Dreyfus’ exoneration and reinstatement.
The perpetrators, much like today’s villains, largely evaded earthly accountability. Still, truths were revealed, and France’s bureaucracy was thereby shaken and reformed.
Then and now
Zola’s time-traveling impact provides a reminder that our America is equally in need of voices offering more than recycled popular sentiments: There’s no heart in an echo.
I am certain the French author would take no offense at a less talented voice borrowing his “J’Acuse” model. What better way to challenge a home community that is similarly darkened by discounted vanities, harms and pretense?
Accordingly, here are six in your honor, Mr. Zola:
- I accuse our city leadership of a grave betrayal of their primary governing mandate: to protect the public. I offer as evidence their systematic destruction of our city police force, selective application of the rule of law and patent support for violent lawbreakers masquerading as social justice protesters. I offer as further evidence our having recently landed in the top 10% of American cities with the highest rates of violent crime.
- I accuse former Mission Hospital board members, the medical community, city and county elected officials, and hospital administrators of collaborating to sell our community’s hospital to a band of health care robber barons. Complicit in this mission were mainstream media outlets, an indifferent populace and oversight agencies that ignored HCA’s astoundingly visible track record of profiteering and deteriorating service, all of which is easily discoverable by a computer-armed middle schooler. This sacrifice of an irrecoverable pillar of community health will long haunt us in the form of crushed standards and hushed sufferings.
- I accuse our city of surrendering to the scourges of an out-of-control drug culture. This omnipresent harm is consuming individuals, families and neighborhoods; ruining the lives of children, the elderly and other vulnerable citizens in public housing; and overwhelming an abused and fragile public safety system. The evidence sleeps amid our woods, streets and emergency rooms.
- I accuse our commerce associations, businesses and community entrepreneurs of ignoring or supporting a parade of misguided public policies in exchange for economic bounty. There is earned condemnation in the consequent creation of a city where normal people can no longer afford to live and historical values have been carelessly discarded and betrayed.
- I accuse our local daily paper and television station of failing to uphold the most basic of journalistic ethics: the inclusion of diverse points of view on matters of community importance. This stoically liberal bias on the part of the indispensable Fourth Estate has aided and abetted the previously cited forces of harm. This misstep has undermined faith in media credibility and resulted in city and county governments that have abandoned the key principle of incorporating a wide range of views. Where diversity of thought is betrayed, error and corruption are ensured.
- Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I accuse those whom Christian psychiatrist M. Scott Peck warned us about in his book People of the Lie. In a society in which so many advocate for the seven vices (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) rather than the seven virtues (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness and humility), we find the nourishment for most of today’s miseries.
Were he with us today, Mr. Zola would proclaim his crystal-clear recognition that in the struggle between right and wrong, there’s no lasting immunity. He would also understand that when you lock your eyes on evil, it’s only a matter of time before evil locks its eyes on you.
Former Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower is a practicing psychologist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.