Sadism is not just a psychological condition—it is a sociological and structural condition. How deep is this necrophilia? This hatred of life? This pessimism? This patriarchy? This victimizing?

By Rev. Matthew Fox

Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery, a day to honor the survival and resilience of Black people throughout 400 years of sheer inhumanity: from the profound sadism of slavery, through the Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and segregation, to the racism of today.

So the question arises: what is this bigotry, hatred….sadism?

Sadism is a kind of tyranny, a kind of domination. So is racism whether we see it in individual instances or whether we recognize it as baked into our institutions, the “conditions” as Dr. King put it in which so many people of color find themselves after centuries of colonialism and domination.

The photo seen round the world of one man (white and armed policeman) killing another man with his hand in his pocket, practically smiling and self-satisfied on top of his “prey,” reveals a deep sadism.  It raises questions: “How much of our society and so-called civilization is, at the core, sadistic?”  Isn’t this what “domination” means, a word used by president and AG and others in this critical moment of truth happening?  A word dear to patriarchy itself.

Armed police face off with protestors during the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, DC, 5/30/2020. Photo by Geoff Livingston on Flickr.

Taking pleasure in the pain of others.  In the death of the Earth (denial about climate change is in fact sadism extended to the future generations wanting to live healthily on this planet).  In Power for power’s sake.  In Wall Street.  In all that makes rich people richer and the poor hungry:  Wall Street versus Main Street (which bailed out Wall Street eight years ago but is again on the bottom). 

Is sadism part of what keeps haves and have nots so far apart?  Is sadism present in every win/lose proposition?  Every claim that “we’re #1” and “we’re exceptional” (and you aren’t).

Racism is another form of power-over and sadism.  Power-over vs. power-with.

A protestor at the Reclaim MLK sit-in in Silver Spring, MD. Photo by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr.

This is what people are feeling in their guts and what they are marching about day after day in city after city.  Sadism is not just a psychological condition—it is a sociological and structural condition.  It is present and baked into much of academia and so-called education which teaches us how to make it in a sadistic system.

Institutionalized sadism is Institutionalized Violence which is Fascism (according to Susan Sontag).

How deep is it, this necrophilia?  This hatred of life?  This pessimism?  This patriarchy?  This victimizing?

This misuse of our creativity put to the service of building more weapons, more killing machines, more rigid police unions, legislators, supreme courts that prefer injustice to justice and power-over to power-with and domination (sadism) to play, joy, delight and justice?

Montgomery Peace and Justice (lynchings) memorial – Shelby County, TN. Lynchings are listed in chronological order on each slab. Photo by Don Barrett on Flickr.

Part of King’s strategy was to appeal to conscience of white people by exposing the sadism of the system at work. Police dogs attacking children on television changed the day.

The spectacle tortured the conscience of the white moderate—the South’s ‘silent integrationists’—and that it got to hardened segregationists, too that even they recoiled from the sight of a police dog lunging at a child.  By exposing that kind of evil, King had indeed opened the boil of segregation to the medicine of air and light…*

Thanks to today’s social media, such sadism is again being exposed to the light and finding resonance with white people who are being exposed to deeper truths about black peoples’ experience over the centuries.  Thus, the marches and demonstrations.


* Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 238

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 258, 262f., 353f.

Banner Image: “Candlelight Vigil for George Floyd, Rahway, New Jersey” Photo by B.C. Lorio on Flickr.

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society Rev. Matthew Fox, PhD, author, theologian, and activist priest, has been calling people of spirit and conscience into the Creation Spirituality lineage for over 50 years. His 36 books (translated into 74 languages), as well as his lectures, retreats, and innovative education models, have ignited an international movement to awaken people to be mystics and prophets, contemplative activists, who honor and defend the earth and work for justice. To learn more, visit matthewfox.org

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