Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Capturing Collateral Damage

Written by: on January 26, 2014

Three words describe my learning and capture my response to Zygmunt Bauman’s work in Collateral Damage: sobering, overwhelmed and pondering.  The dominant word, the one with the greatest weight, the one that is “sitting” on my chest is sobering.  This one word reflects both a deepening awareness and reveals my response to Bauman’s light on society and our actions.  My understanding of what collateral damage means immediately reveals our country’s military.  Collateral damage has become much too familiar in recent years.  Fallout happens.  Despite military precision bombs detonate taking out the intended target and probably more often than I want to know, innocent victims.   Buildings are destroyed impacting local economies.  What does it matter?  Does it matter?  Isolated at home, I am removed from the proximity and resulting disruptions of lives.  I see individuals on television carrying a casket above their heads through the crowd and I watch emotionless.

Bauman applies a bit of his own shock and awe when he asserts that the structure at risk is not the military but society itself.  Last summer a bridge on I-5 north of Seattle collapsed after one of the support beams was struck by a semi-truck & trailer, Bauman’s words, “it is the weakest of the spans that decides the fate of the whole bridge”[1] proved true.  How is society the one at risk?  The mirror Bauman uses is inequality.  When I look in the mirror I see myself, in describing our understanding of inequality he helped me see the contributing factors.  Ones that are present but have been clouded because we understand inequality as a financial problem associated with well-being. Just recalling the most recent Presidential elections reminds me that well-being is associated with average income or average wealth.[2]  Bauman pushes us to consider that our society is a class society.  To recognize it as such means we have to look anew at our understanding of inequality and class.  “Society is a class society in the sense of being a totality in which individuals are included through their class membership, and are expected to join in performing the function which their class has been assigned to perform in and for the ‘social system’ as a whole.”[3]

Those that are most vulnerable are those most at risk.  We have come to expect that our vulnerability and security will be mitigated and minimized. We listen to the news and hear of random killings, hit and run drivers, scams sucking in unexpected victims, and vulnerability when we learn of account compromises.  “Fate frightens us precisely for being unpredictable an unpreventable.”[4]  It leaves us without an anchor, seeking stability and assurance.  If fate dominates our existence then it makes sense that we seek security and distrust those outside.

Security and strangers present an interesting contrast.  Bauman sees that throughout history strangers are a constant feature in cities.[5]  I recall seven months living in Melbourne, Australia.  It took several weeks for the area near our apartment to become familiar. Even when it did I saw no familiar faces on my daily walks or runs.  People on their bicycles or on the trams to work came from places I did not know.  I lacked history with this place.  I felt this when I returned back home to Gig Harbor.  I still could go to the grocery store and not see anyone I knew by name, yet I was still “home.”  I felt secure in knowing this place.  But what do I do about strangers?  Are strangers only in the city?  Bauman defines a stranger as “an agent moved by intentions which can at best be guessed – but of which we can never be sure.”[6] Such a definition is an invitation to recognize that I see someone as a stranger when I am suspicious.  Is it the stranger or is it me?  Even suburban neighborhoods we can remain strangers to one another.  I have isolated myself from others, not because I viewed others as socially inferior, but because I felt socially inferior.[7]  However the perception of others may mean exactly the opposite.  When I think about moving into the city I run headlong into my desire to be part of our church’s locale, which in turn presents risk and confronts my desire for safety.  I would have to learn to live with different awareness.  I would have to be intentional to move from stranger to friend.

If we are a class society the stranger all too often becomes the underclass, the one “falling outside any meaningful, that is function and position oriented, classification.”[8]  We do not really see the stranger, nor do we really engage with them, look them in the eye or speak to them.  In the past (I hope less so now) I have determined who is the stranger based on appearance or location.  Bauman reveals that the sole attribute shared by people who are underclass is estrangement; they are the excluded ones.[9]  I realize that someone who fits in the underclass is a stranger.

This also holds hope for me. I “get” what he is saying when he remarks, “The underclass is not merely an absence of community; it is the sheer impossibility of community.[10]  We do find “our” place in association with others through networks (communities), the pain of exclusion and the subsequent barriers are formidable.  Will we find common ground by recognizing and acknowledging our own exclusion?  Is this a leveling step where we might begin to see ourselves as being in need of the other?

There seems to be no aspect of society beyond the scope of collateral damage.  I am left pondering and wondering where are the wisdom seekers, where are those that can discern the times and know what to do?  It seems, that in the Church, we must consider what collateral damage have we caused in our pursuit of fulfilling God’s mission, whether that was understood as evangelism (those accepting Christ as savior) or becoming missional.


            [1] Zygmunt Bauman, Collateral Damage (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid.

            [4] Ibid., 153.

            [5] Ibid., 60.

[6] Ibid.  

            [7] Ibid., 61.

[8] Ibid., 3.  

            [9] Ibid., 152.  

            [10] Ibid.

About the Author

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

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