Posts Tagged ‘globalization

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.

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02
Feb
11

On Egypt (and a little bit about Tunisia)

There are those who’ve asserted that, after over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East is incapable of democracy. They’ve claimed that tribal divisions run too deep, and that the ideals of Islam and democratic, representative government are diametrically opposed.

 

In the past days, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to be shining examples that those claims just aren’t true.

 

Not that it was ever true to begin with. Hamas was, despite it’s vilification by Western powers, democratically elected in Gaza. Indeed, the majority of areas where this “always-has-been-dictatorship-always-will-be” stereotype have had democratically elected leaders- just not pro-American democratically elected leaders. And if without the West’s blessing, democracy in third-world countries tends to be tragically short lived. Just look at the US sponsored coup that ended the life of Salvador Allende, or the US attacks on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

 

And here’s the rub. While it cannot be denied that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are a great victory for the peoples of those countries, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. The Tunisians and Egyptians have shown that, without the West and indeed, depsite the West, they are, and always have been, capable of autonomy. They can forge their own destiny- but what if that destiny isn’t to the approval of America, Britain, and other world powers? Let us keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was emphatically supported by the US (despite recent, less than elegant attempts to flip-flop on their position). Indeed, the issue isn’t so much “what if the people in the region begin to act in their own interests?” but “when the people in the region to act in their own interests- how will the West react?”. The entire reason US diplomats and politicians are tripping over each other to voice support for the Egyptian public is because of a desperate need to keep the country as an ally. However, with the US having invested so heavily in the 30-year Mubarak regime, it’s difficult to imagine the Egyptian people particularly fond of America, the West, and the ever expanding power of globalization.

 

So it brings us back to the original problem- it’s wonderful that the Tunisians and Egyptians have freed themselves, but how long will they be free?

22
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Culture

In film and literature, Communist (or at least, Communistic) societies are often portrayed as dark, Spartan places where variety is almost non-existent. Indeed, Communism is sometimes portrayed as espousing complete and utter uniformity- and perhaps this is understandable. After all, Communism does demand a single class where all citizens are equal without exception, and Soviet city-planning and architecture tended to be more than slightly lacking as far as aesthetics go.

However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, Soviet Russia was not a true Communist country and as far as equality goes, “equality” doesn’t mean “identical”. For the average foundry worker to live in an equal society, the rest of society doesn’t have to be average foundry workers- they must simply have the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. Within equality lies endless variety- more so than can ever be achieved in the Capitalist society.

Now this statement may seem to be based on faulty reasoning, after all, if Capitalism presents opportunity for anyone and everyone to sell their own product or service, then there will be an unending fountain of culture, technology, art, music, and so on. Now if Capitalism were only the opportunity of every individual to sell his own product or service, this might be true. In reality, Capitalism doesn’t quite work that way. You see Capitalism based heavily on competition- the struggle for dominance over others. In order to attain Capitalism’s end goal- capital (money)- the individuals selling their products and/or services forced to compete with each other for the customers. In short, if there are two tailors in one town, they are going to be at war with each other for customers. “But surely this would cause their quality to increase, their prices to drop, and the variety of products to expand!” You might retort. Now this is partly true- and only temporarily so at that. As much as the competitors will try to undercut each other’s prices, there is a point they will not drop below to ensure a profit is still made. Eventually, one of the competitors, either through poor planning or just bad luck, is going to lose and the moment that happens, the winning competitor no longer has any reason to keep prices low or variety wide. In a free, Capitalist society, this is what inevitably happens- the weak are killed off and devoured by the strong until eventually, one company reigns supreme and becomes a monopoly. We can see this battle of giants all around us- Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Xbox versus Play Station 3, and so on. Do we actually imagine this to be some sort of dualistic system- that these companies will forever be locked in a fight for dominance? No- eventually, Pepsi is going to fall to Coke or Coke will fall to Pepsi or both of them will be conquered (somehow) by Jones Soda. “But this will never happen- there’s always going to be some fresh competition to challenge the old dinosaurs. Monopolies are impossible.” Really? Just take a look at history- read about Standard Oil and the British East India Company. “Granted,” one might reply “but the consumer still has a basic level of control over the monopolies- if there’s a Pepsi monopoly and Pepsi raises its prices too high, the people can’t be forced to buy Pepsi. In fact, Pepsi is limited to selling its products at the price the public will pay for them.” Very well then, but what about a different kind of monopoly. What about a lumber monopoly, or an oil monopoly? Society is dependent on these resources to function without regressing to the stone age. Even if a single monopoly were to arise that controlled the mining of Coltan (a rare mineral used in cell phones and communication), the world could be brought its knees.

But perhaps I’m getting a little off-track. The point is, after enough expansion, Capitalism can trade variety for cut production-cost profit. “So what if that is true? We don’t have monopolies at this point in time- Capitalism still offers us variety now.” For the sake of space, we’ll skip addressing the issue with concentrating only on the here-and-now and focus on how Capitalism, which, even at a pre-monopoly stage, reduces variety rather than promoting it.

As I was traveling through the US this summer, I was presented with an interesting thought. No matter how many towns and cities I drove through, there were always (to varying degrees) the same stores, restaurants, and hotels. Every hamlet in America now has a Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. Granted, it’s not dramatic, but let us keep in mind that this is only in a single country. Lets take a look at the world. Now with distances of over a thousand miles between some of these countries, one would imagine the cultures would be diverse- alas, this is no longer true. Due to the imperialistic march of McDonalds, Starbucks, and other companies, the cultures already present within are suddenly forced to compete with the Western culture these companies represent. Take the cases of Syria and Jordan, for example. Syria has, on the whole, resisted foreign interference in its affairs, and, after pretty much closing its borders to would-be investors such as McDonalds, has managed to retain much of its cultural heritage and traditions. The same cannot be said for its neighbor to the south, Jordan. Jordan has embraced the West and Western companies, such as McDonalds, Papa John’s, and various clothing outlets, have thrived there. If you were to walk down the fashionable area of Amman, it would be hard for you to tell if you were in the Middle East or Southern California. While Jordan does still have a unique culture, that culture has been drowned out by the commercialism of the West. Is this the West’s fault? No- not entirely, anyways. The companies that attempt to exploit foreign markets are spreading Western culture, but doing so only because they themselves are part of Western culture. Quite simply, if you are told it is fashionable to dress in Western clothes (and Western clothes outlets are more than happy to let you have that illusion), then chances are your traditional dress will be forgotten. If local restaurants are forced out of business by fast-food, then chances are the aspect of eating (a form of socializing in almost every culture) will change dramatically. In short, along with expansion of companies is the expansion of the cultures of those companies. As we can see by looking at the world today, rather than promoting diversity, Capitalism destroys it.

But what about Communism? Doesn’t it, like Capitalism, attempt to spread across the globe? Yes, Communism does attempt to encompass the world, but Communism has nothing to gain from a monocultural society. Quite the opposite, Communism can only flourish if variety and diversity are accepted- we can’t expect a society to exist if everyone acts the same way and holds the same values. Indeed, the very lack of corporations telling you what is and is not fashionable or desirable can lead nothing other than a diverse society. In conclusion, don’t be sold on the Capitalist illusion of culture.

07
Jul
09

Marx and History

If one were to read the works of Marx, or indeed, any major Communist writer, one would find that large portions of the publications are dedicated to criticizing (or often, lambasting) Capitalism and Capitalists. Even this blog has almost as many anti-Capitalist arguments as it does pro-Communist. This of course leads to issues with the Communist image- Marxists are often perceived as self-righteous, angry, and destructive malcontents bent on ripping apart the fabric of society. Perhaps on some level this is true, however, there is a simple and often overlooked factor that contributes to all this: Marx’s theory of history.

In his works, Marx describes his theory as “Historical Materialism”. Now the term “materialism” is often misinterpreted (particularly by members of the religious community) to mean atheistic, worldly, and Darwinist. As I’ve said, this is a misinterpretation. In this case, “materialism” merely means “pertaining to resources” including capital (money), land, and most importantly, people. While Marx’s description of his theory is more than slightly complex and long winded, it can be broken down and simplified.

According to Marx’s theory, the history of the world is shaped by economics and politics, the pair of which are- as Marx claims- inseparably linked. Humanity once lived in a state where the elite- the aristocracy, nobility, and royalty- controlled their nations and the wealth of their nations. The middle class is almost nonexistent and the remainder of society not fortunate enough to be born to the elite are slaves or feudal serfs and peasants. Eventually, as kingdoms become less warlike and more permanently established, merchants, bankers, etc. will be created, resulting in the middle-class or as Marx called it, the “Bourgeoisie”.

As time progresses, the public will become increasingly dissatisfied with the system of monarchy and aristocracy and revolt, creating a democracy. While the elite class will still exist, due to the fewness of their numbers, the political power they once wielded will be limited, and the wealthy and numerous Bourgeoisie will dominate society. In this new society it is not claims to divine heritage or noble blood that count as power but money. The Bourgeoisie will compete viciously with each other in the attempt to gain as much money as possible, and in the process the proletariat (working class) will be used and exploited by the upper-classes. The proletariat themselves living in a state of “wage-slavery”, bound to work for whatever pay is available in order to survive.

After so long, the proletariat will be unable to take any more exploitation and violently revolt- toppling the class system and establishing a single-class society where all wealth and resources are shared equally: Socialism. The state- which controls the public- will wither away and be replaced with a system of government where the public controls the state. Marx defines this state of egalitarianism, public property, and democracy as “Communism”. Marx states that when Communism is achieved Historical Materialism ends (at least for those living in the Communist system).

So what’s that have to do with anything? How is any of this relevant to why Communists always rant against Capitalism? As we can see from Marx’s view of history, Communism is meant to be the correction of Capitalism. Communism isn’t meant to be a form of government more comfortable or efficient than Capitalism- it’s the replacement of Capitalism. According to Marx and his view of history, Communism is the completion of Historical materialism- as inevitable as the change of the tides or the rotation of the earth. The reason Capitalism is constantly railed against by Communists is because, according to Marxist philosophy, Capitalism is a wall that needs to be knocked down before a door can be put in. Capitalism must be removed in order to be replaced with Communism.

“But what about the flaws in Marx’s reasoning?” one might ask, “The Chinese and Cuban people revolted and yet neither of these Communist countries have had the governments wither away or the class systems disappear.” In answer to that, one must remember that neither of these countries are Communist but rather semi-Socialist dictatorships. “If they’re Socialist, then shouldn’t they be on the brink of Communism?” Not at all. One must also remember that the definition of “Socialism” has changed since Marx’s time. Marx used the word to describe the abolition of private property in favor of public property- today the word “Socialism” refers to an economic system where property is largely controlled by the state, rather than individuals or the public. One might also argue that Marx’s theory of history is flawed due to the existence of various tribal societies that have shared property and no class system. Now this is undeniable- across the globe there are people groups that live without private property or the class system however one must keep in mind that these are societies are not democracies. Granted, many are ruled by general consensus however without a voting system, consensus does not equate democracy. A neighborhood might generally agree to regularly cut their lawns, but this doesn’t make that neighborhood a democracy. “That’s all well and good,” one might state, “but Marx’s predictions still haven’t come true. Capitalism has been in the US for well over two centuries now and there hasn’t been any revolt, any collapse in society!”. This is absolutely correct, though by no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time, each country had it’s own social strata- there was the French elite class, the French Bourgeoisie, and the French Proletariat, the English elite class, the English Bourgeoisie, and so on. Marx predicted that the Proletariat would rise up and overthrow the classes above. The reason this hasn’t happened is because of a sudden shift in the class system. Due to globalization, countries and their economies are no longer independent of each other. What affects the middle-class in France will affect the middle-class in England, Germany, Russia and so on (to varying degrees, according to what the event is and how related the countries are economically, culturally, and politically). With this sudden merge of the nations of the world, classes have merged as well, creating the same three-class system only on an international level. Yes, each country has a working class, but in general the majority of actual mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing is done by workers in the third world. France no longer looks to the French Proletariat for utensils but to China. England doesn’t hire English miners to gather coltan but to Congolese workers. When an American buys a t-shirt, chances are that the cotton it’s made of was grown in Syria and manufactured in Taiwan. In short, as a result of internationalization, there is an international proletariat (primarily the third world), an international Bourgeoisie (such countries as Bulgaria, Mexico, Estonia, Ireland, etc.), and an international elite-class (Japan, Switzerland, Monaco, Kuwait, etc.). Yes, the “Proletariat” of the US aren’t likely to revolt, but that is because on a global level, the American proletariat are wealthy. Even the poorest person in America, England, or Denmark is well-off compared to the average Sudanese person. Does the class system still exist as Marx knew it? No. Does that make Marx incorrect? Not at all. Marx stated that the proletariat would, once conditions became poor enough, revolt against upper classes. This statement works whether you apply it to 1840s England or the contemporary third world. Does this mean that the third world will eventually invade the Bourgeoisie and elite countries? No, but if the publics of these countries were to seize control of their governments, declare their national debts nil, null, and void, and throw out all foreign industry (as Castro did to the US owned sugar companies in Cuba) then the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos. With the formerly indigent countries no longer willing to work in the fields, mines, or the sweatshops, the rest of the world would have to look to the Bourgeoisie countries to become the new proletariat, started the revolutionary cycle all over again until the global class system disappears and Communism encompasses the globe.

Does this mark the end of history? The beginnings of a global, one-government society where crime, hunger, and war have been eliminated? The answer is a resounding no. Marx claims that this will be the end of Historical Materialism– history as affected by wealth and the class system. History- the unbroken chain of events from the beginning of time to the end of it- marches inexorably on.