Life Matters | Aug 14,2021
August 28 , 2021
By Christian Tesfaye ( Christian Tesfaye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture. )
There is a long-running sub-narrative in HBO’s TV series Oz that is reminiscent of Ethiopia. The show is about the inmates of a maximum-security state correctional facility. Much drama takes place inside the prison, especially in a unit known as “Emerald City,” an ironically nice-sounding name for a place that ugly.
Much of the story arcs revolve around the inmates' attempts to reconcile themselves to spending much of their lives in prison. Robbed of their freedom and hope, they turn to gangs that provide a common sense of purpose. There are Aryans, Sicilians, Latino, and African-Americans gangs and groups organised around religion and sexual orientation. The primary fault line for the frequent violence that breaks out is an underground drug trade in the prison and the constant racial tensions that erupt. There is also the constant settling of scores.
A storyline built on the latter offers an interesting case study of the political situation in Ethiopia. It revolves around two inmates, Tobias Beecher and Vernon Schillinger, who take a Hatfield-McCoy like feud to a whole new level. It starts when Schillinger, who has been in prison for years, becomes cellmates with Beecher, who physically and psychologically abuses him. Their initial relationship becomes Beecher’s – a white Anglo-Saxon protestant from an upper-middle-class family – introduction into the harsh reality of the American penal system.
Beecher eventually manages to change cells but takes the trauma with him. On the other hand, Schillinger has a parole hearing coming, for which he must improve his behaviour. He foreswears violence and attempts to make peace with Beecher, who will have none of this and goes to great lengths to ensure that Schillinger does not get out on parole. This act does not improve Beecher’s life in any way, but it is revenge, and that is the only consolation he can find for being brutalised when they were in prison together.
Now it is Schillinger's turn to ruin Beecher’s life even further. He concocts a plan that ends in him breaking three of his enemy’s limbs. The feud escalates. Beecher responds by starting a series of events that gets one of Schillinger’s two children killed. The blood-letting, which is not benefitting any party in any way but worsening their situations further, continues. They have too much greed and pride to stop at this point.
There is a significant development mid-show. Beecher becomes religious and decides to make a major gesture for peace. He pays to have Schillinger's son, who has been missing, tracked down and arranges for a meeting between the two at the prison. Before Beecher can tell Schillinger that he has done this for him, Schillinger finds out by himself.
Does he recognise this goodwill and reciprocate in kind?
Of course not. This is a gesture coming out of nowhere. In the reality the two have constructed for themselves, goodwill does not exist. He cannot see a scenario in which the two can ever learn to tolerate one another – his imagination does not take him that far. Beecher must be planning something. This is just another trick, he assumes.
“We need to go on the offence,” he tells his gang.
Schilinger proceeds to have Beecher’s two children abducted and one of them killed. So goes the feud.
Something similar is taking place at a national level in Ethiopia. Groups on the opposite side of the political fault line are in a race to the bottom. They are even killing one another’s children. They have too much pride and greed to bring peace; I expect the bloodletting to go on for a while. By the time they are done, they will have left in their wakes nothing but corpses, widows, displaced people, poor households, malnourished children and famine.
At least Beecher and Schillinger managed to strike a détente. Let us see if our political elites can manage to do more than two fictional criminals in alleviating one another’s suffering.
PUBLISHED ON Aug 28,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1113]
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