Archive for December, 2009

13
Dec
09

Capitalist Pigs

Recently, I was traveling across the US. As I was waiting at one of the gates, a man sat down next to me. To say he was ‘large’ would be a gross understatement. This man was grotesquely overweight, and nearly as wide as he was tall. As we waited for the plane to be refueled, he began to eat a cheeseburger, the sheer effort of which had him panting, wheezing, and sweating. It was, in short, a nauseating experience.

Of course, there are those who would object to my diatribe. One could argue “It’s the right of a person to choose his or her own weight or amount of consumption!”. Really? If there’s a man who is sitting next to me starving, is it my “right” to devour a steak dinner in front of him? When a child dies of starvation every five seconds, is it the right of a country to be suffering from obesity?

Yet the wealthy countries of the world continue to get fatter, and the poor countries stand in lines handfuls of rice. Sickening, isn’t it? The most obese state in America (Mississippi), is only 2,300 km from the second most impoverished country in the western hemisphere (Haiti). This is obesity we’re talking about- the result of constant binging on food- it’s not an epidemic, it’s not something that people cannot control. In a world where the vast majority of humanity lives in poverty and every year, fifteen million children die of starvation and malnutrition, this kind of egomaniacal indulgence is, as I’ve pointed out, sickening.

Of course, the companies selling the food aren’t exactly helping the situations. It is, after all, in the best interests of these corporations to exacerbate humanity’s propensity to gluttony. The more willing the public is to stuff food down their throats, the higher the demand, the greater profits for the food industry. As a result, the food industry will do all it can to convince you that your happiness hinges on your consumption or that food is a central part of tradition (just look at Christmas). They will attempt to sell the greatest amount of food to the greatest number of people for the lowest cost of production possible (and of course, cheap production tends to mean the food will be low in quality and nutrition). Everywhere you look, there are advertisements telling you to eat this or to drink that. Granted, the obesity level is due largely to individual choice, but at the same time, the food industry plays a significant role.

So what’s the relation of obesity in the West and other so-called “developed countries” to the starvation in others? Well, think of it this way. Aside from the now rare family-owned farm, we get our food from corporations. Since the purpose of Capitalism is capital (money), corporations will naturally attempt to maximize their profits by selling high-quality foods for exorbitant price and low-quality foods for next to nothing. Those who have little or no money to begin with (those who are, for example, living in areas that have been devastated by disease or drought) are of course, unable to purchase any food at all. This leads to the people of these areas to become dependent on charity- a┬ásolution which merely prolongs the suffering of the impoverished (exactly why charity doesn’t work is a topic for another day). Of course there are those who would claim that all these people need to do is begin farming in their own countries- conveniently forgetting that the materials and resources needed for farming are controlled by massive corporations. What possible reason would these companies have for simply donating material? Corporations usually don’t rise to the top of the economic food chain through altruism. Of course, when the majority becomes hungry enough, everything becomes a source of food- including the juicy, Capitalist pigs wallowing around at the top of the social spectrum.

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12
Dec
09

Classism, Poverty, and Racism

In recent posts, I have been describing how “classism” (the stratification of society according to wealth) has become a new kind of racism. However, I feel obligated to describe how classism, in turn, creates and perpetuates racism.

It all starts with immigration. Immigration is, most often, a result of people attempting to seek a better life economically. Having come from a country usually ravaged by poverty or war or disease, immigrants tend to be poor themselves, and therefore are filtered into the working class/poor class of the country they’ve moved to. This situation, while comparatively better than the lives the immigrant’s have left behind, is still less than ideal. Crime rates and drug and alcohol abuse are still highest among the poor, no matter what the nation.

The issue with this (besides the rates of crime, drugs, and alcoholism) is that upper classes confuse the issues of crime and race. If the majority of crimes are committed by immigrants and minorities, then some will doubtlessly assume that immigrants and minorities are naturally indolent and/or criminally minded. Of course the reality of the situation is that crime rates are high among immigrants because immigrants generally live in abject poverty. With the evils of racial profiling and generalization, it becomes assumed that all immigrants and minorities are thieves and drug dealers, and therefore should be treated with suspicion or even open hostility. Inversely, this ill-treatment creates among immigrants and minorities feelings of animosity to the native majority. Racism, after all, works both ways.

So begins a cycle of abuse and distrust that only perpetuates racism. An innocent person (from a minority) locks himself out of his own car and is forced to break into it, only to be shot by the police who assume he’s a thief. In retaliation, a police officer (who had nothing to do with the shooting) is stabbed by an angry minority group. In response to this, a pair of children from a minority are beat up in school by their classmates- and so on and so forth in a long, tragic, and utterly pointless spiral.

In short, anywhere that there’s Capitalism, there’s classism, anywhere there’s classism, there’s poverty, anywhere there’s poverty, there’s crime which in turn leads inevitably to racism and bigotry. The only way to abolish racism is to abolish both poverty and the class system. Granted, some might argue that all that is needed is understanding and respect, but the fact remains that no matter how many murals are painted of people of all races holding hands around a globe, the poor are poor, the wealthy are wealthy, and the social divide spawns fear, crime, and racism.

06
Dec
09

[Segre]Gated Community

In a previous post, I commented how classism (the categorization of the public based on wealth) has become a new form of racism. To drive the point home, I thought I’d write a short post on the subject of gated communities.

For any of you who don’t know what a gated community is, it’s a middle or upper class (usually upper class) residential area surrounded by a fence/gate/barrier (and occasionally a guard post). There may also be various rules within the community governing such things as speed limits and the like.

At first glance this might seem harmless or perhaps even slightly Marxist in nature. What could be wrong with a group of people living together, protecting themselves with a wall, and regulating their neighborhood? Absolutely nothing- if this was the Stone Age and there were dire wolves and smilodons wandering around outside. In reality these gated communities exist solely as a form of segregation.

It may sound harsh, but let’s look at the facts. A gated community isn’t any more secure than a regular neighborhood. The few walls too tall to simply clamber over can be conquered with the aid of a footstool, and if there’s a guard at the gate, he’ll probably be little more than ornamental- if a burglar wants to get into the community, chances are he’s not going to try to stroll in through the gate. In short, the walls are pointless- serving only to act as a symbolic separation between those within and those without.

And of course, that’s not the only issue. As mentioned, there are often various rules within the community, especially in regards to speed limits. Now one might wonder why this is an issue. Well, when it comes down to it, there isn’t any good reason for the community creating separate rules. The laws of physics are the same both inside and outside the community, rain falls on both the gated and ungated roads alike, and the sidewalk isn’t going to stop icing over once it enters Whitewood or Sun Mountain or whatever pretentious name the community has. The sole purpose of these rules is separation from those outside.

So what’s the big deal? The problem with these gated communities isn’t the walls or the rules, but the psychological and ideological effects they have. The walls and barriers that serve merely to separate rather than protect make a pretty elitist statement- that those inside wish to be separated from the rest of society. The purposeless rules do the same, creating the illusion that things are different inside the community. Considering that those inside the communities are almost always more wealthy than those outside, gated communities only perpetuate classism. Let the facts be faced, segregation is wrong no matter what the rationale behind it. No matter where the line is drawn that seperates “us” and “them”, that line is wrong.

01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!