Posts Tagged ‘environment

28
Feb
11

The Common Evil

Last post I mentioned the opening scene in The Boondock Saints, in which it is declared “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”. It got me thinking.

A couple years ago, I saw a documentary called The Corporation– an excellently done critique of the issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and Capitalism in general. One particularly interesting segment was devoted to looking at heads of corporations, with commentaries added by Noam Chomsky and ‘Sir’ Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell (better known simply as “Shell”). Moody-Stuart recounts a demonstration that was held at his house, in which protesters hurled accusations at him and his involvement in the Shell corporation. Moody’s wife (the event was recorded on film) retorts “Who is the corporation?”. Moody-Stuart continues on in his narration to say “But then we sat down and talked to them… in the end what we found in that discussion was that all the things they were worried about I was worried about as well… climate, you know, oppressive regimes, human rights…”. Now Chomsky, on the other hand, had prefaced that segment with some commentary on individuals within corporations. He argues “When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave-owner, uh, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual… slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them might be the nicest guys you can imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… as individuals they might be anything- in their institutional roles they’re monsters because the institutions is monstrous.”

And there’s the issue. GAP clothing is made by sweatshop labor in South-East Asia- who should be put on trial? Who is responsible for the atrocities that are committed? We look at the people doing the actual work- the sweatshop managers and owners and they point up asserting that they were only following orders, and that they don’t have any real power. At the top the CEOs and Executives are pointing down, declaring that they only deal with the big figures- that they’re not aware of anything that goes on at the ground level and can’t be held responsible for the treatment of workers or the environment. It’s the lynch mob scenario- because no one person does the entire murder, figuring out which one person is to blame is tricky.

Personally, I say take ’em all. Just because the guilt is spread around doesn’t mean it’s at all diminished. If Person A brings the rope, and Person B grabs the victim, and Person C points out a convenient tree, it doesn’t mean that each person’s committed a third of a murder- it means that all three are responsible. Same seems to go for a corporation- at any point someone can throw up their hands and say “**** it- I’m not going to do this anymore!”. The sweatshop overseer can walk away, the middleman can walk away, the CEO can walk away. Even if no one person can put a stop the unethical practice, at the very least they can remove themselves from it. We would expect a single German officer in the 1930s to bring down Hitler but a resignation of his post and a denouncement of the Nazis would be in order.

Of course, it’s easy to bash corporations, but guilt reaches far beyond the boundaries of corporate HQ. We, as consumers and workers alike, have to stand back and with scathing objectivity look at ourselves and question our involvement. Am I being party to exploitative or unethical systems? Am I doing all that I can to remove myself? Am I part of the problem?

And it’s not easy- we think of evil as being committed by Bond style villains with maniacal laughter and white cats, or by sadistic concentration camp guards and doctors. The idea of common evil- evil weaved into the very fabric of modern society- is an idea alien to us. However, as theologian and writer C.S. Lewis once asserted “The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”. In short, there is no single person who commits the atrocities that plague us. The evil is within the system- and the system has to go.

25
Jun
10

Socialism vs Capitalism vs Communism (and a quick note about the tea-party)

According to some pundits the US is currently locked in a struggle between its so-called Capitalist, free-market heritage and the looming threat of Socialism. Keep in mind that the term ‘Socialism’, while once synonymous with ‘Communism’, is currently used to describe a country where the majority of property lies in the hands of the government. Now as you can see by simply looking at some of the policies being enacted by the current administration that the US isn’t moving towards Capitalism or Socialism. Property isn’t being privatized or nationalized to any major extent. What has happened is that the federal government has been increasing in size and power, leading some elements on the right (namely the “tea-party”) to begin making dire predictions of an oppressive Orwellian future.

Now before I start, I feel that I should comment a bit about the tea-party:

Now I don’t have a problem with people protesting big government. As a Communist, I’m as opposed to a powerful central government as much as the average member of the tea-party, perhaps even more so. The problem is that the tea-party isn’t protesting big government! Where was the tea-party when the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act? The simple reality of the tea-party is that it’s not about resisting big government, it’s about resisting Democrat big government (in the same way, many of those who protested the Patriot Act have failed to complain about the increases in Government power under Obama- yeah the rule applies to Democrats too).

Now back to the point.

Despite the typical, melodramatic slap-fight between the Democrat and Republican parties, it can’t be denied that every once in a great while, the issues of privatization versus regulation of the markets comes up. On one hand there are the Libertarians who state that government involvement in all areas of life should be minimized. The markets should be allowed to boom and crash of their own accord and government interference only exacerbates existing issues and prevents natural growth (an argument Adam Smith first came up with). On the other hand, there are Socialists and Progressives who point out that history has shown businesses to be corrupt and dangerous if not regulated.

It seems more and more that the public is seeing this debate as an either/or dilemma- free market Capitalism or government regulation?

The sad truth of the matter is that both options are equally awful. Consider this: if there’s no government regulation of business (or as anarcho-Capitalists and objectivists would have it, no government at all), what’s to stop the meat industry from selling dangerously unclean meat? What keeps the pharmaceutical industry from selling us untested cough medicine, or even flavored sewer water labeled “cough medicine”? It is true that history has shown us, time and again, businesses have only one goal in mind- profit. Child labor, slavery, dangerous working conditions, chemical dumping, pollution- what would the state of our world be in if there were no laws against these things? If there were no regulations or watchdogs?

At the same time, regulating the free market has serious side-effects as well. Corporations will do anything to get around labor laws or environmental regulations and the like, and the government will find itself forced to constantly increase the number of regulatory departments and their power and extent of jurisdiction. The result is an inevitably gargantuan, bureaucratic government. State capitalism- as the USSR has demonstrated- is inefficient and oppressive.

But despite what the proponents of free market Capitalism and regulated Capitalism would have you believe, it’s not an either/or situation! Communism advocates the abolition of both Capitalism and the state, offering instead a system based on public property and public choice.

06
Jun
10

[Not] Free to Choose

Despite a growing dissatisfaction with Capitalism, there are many who refuse the concept of doing away with the system altogether. Such individuals tend to advocate “happy mediums” between free market Capitalism and state regulation. For example, the 2009 documentary Food, Inc. attempted to expose issues within the American food industry. While the film was highly critical of the some major food corporations in the US and the general way the industry is set up, the film advocated not the abolition of the Capitalist system that has allowed the situation to come to be, but rather the idea that through selective consumption, the food industry will be forced to alter its practices and products. For example, in this new system, one would choose to buy only “green” products, showing corporations that (1) the consumers will no longer buy ecologically harmful products and (2) there’s a profit to be made by selling eco-friendly merchandise.

It’s a painfully flawed system.

First, we must recognize the central role profits play. A product that is eco-friendly, made well, and made by laborers who are being paid decent wages is going to be substantially more expensive than a product that is made with no regard to the environment, the health/well-being of the consumer, and made by sweatshop workers. Products that have the qualities of the former are either too expensive to be profitable (enough) for the corporations producing them or too expensive to be purchasable by the majority of consumers. While there is some degree of public choice involved, overwhelmingly other factors such as the poverty of the consumers make this system impossible to realize.

Second, we must understand that Capitalism is in no way, shape, or form a democratic system. A while back, I had a conversation about Capitalism’s displacement (and to a degree, eradication) of local cultures. The person arguing with me made that claim that if the people of a country didn’t want McDonalds springing up across their nation, they would have only to stop eating there and the McDonalds, seeing no profit, would withdraw. The issue with this is that even if 95% of a population is against there being a product sold, if the remaining 5% buys enough to allow the company to make a profit, they will keep selling.

To recap the situation, product A is bad but cheap, product B is good but expensive, you will probably only be able to afford product A, and even if you manage to purchase product B, your ability to purchase other good products like B will be reduced because B is still expensive. But if you were somehow to rally the public and declare a boycott of product A, the fact that you’ve managed to get 75% of the populace to stop buying A doesn’t mean that A will cease to be a source of revenue. Short of getting a universal ban on product A, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Now don’t misunderstand this post- I’m not arguing that because you don’t have much choice, you should capitulate to unethical business practices. On the contrary, out of principal, when it is your choice, you ought to spend money on the eco-friendly, fair-trade products rather than harmful or slave-labor products. I’m merely showing that Capitalism cannot be controlled by popular choice. Capitalism cannot be moderated so long as it remains based entirely on the acquisition of capital– and any change to this- the most fundamental aspect of Capitalism- would be an abolition of the Capitalist system altogether.

If you’re not free to choose within Capitalism, maybe you ought to considering choosing something other than Capitalism.