Posts Tagged ‘Justice


What’s It Going To Take?

At my college, I’ve been trying to get a number of products (made by immoral companies or through unethical means) boycotted, both by the campus and by the students. It hasn’t been going so great.

My fellow students are more than willing, when I come knocking at their doors, to sign my petitions, but overwhelmingly that’s as far as they’ll go. More often than not they sign without even asking what I’m trying to do or tell me that they need time to think it over (which has been just a euphemism for “go annoy someone else”). It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having as many signatures as I do, but the real issue here is getting my peers to make a conscious change to the way they live their lives- to make an ethical statement. In all honesty I’d rather have them not sign at all than sign without actually joining the boycotts.

But that’s a bit off topic- here’s the real problem.

I don’t think the moral lines could be more clearly drawn in such a situation. We have companies that have killed for profit, selling their products here on campus, and in the stores and markets across the world. These two companies make junk food, their products are easy to substitute or give up entirely. I and my fellow activists merely ask that our peers stop spending their money to these unethical corporations.

And yet we’ve had almost no response.

It’s not an issue of necessity, where our peers are forced to buy certain products. It’s not an issue of availability- there are plenty of perfectly good (or at least, less harmful) substitutes to the boycott products. It’s not an issue of trust- we don’t want donations. The issue is that my peers just don’t care!

And here seems to be the problem- people don’t care much either way if the beverage they’re drinking came from a sweatshop in Colombia, or if the chocolate they’re eating was harvested by ten year-old slave-laborers in Central America. Perhaps it was best said in the film Hotel Rwanda, when one of the characters comments “…When people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then they’ll go back to eating their dinners.”. Other than a shallow, fleeting expression of shock or sadness or horror, no one seems to be moved to action.

Perhaps it’s that my peers (and Westerners in general) simply don’t expect anything from the third world other than disease, poverty, starvation, war, and genocide. Just a couple days ago, I saw this advertisement for the New York Food Bank (linked here)- in it, one of the spokespersons states “hunger happens in the third world- not in New York City”. Granted, the statement was made to make a point about the very real presence of hunger in New York, but it bugged me nonetheless. I appreciate them dealing with the issue of hunger in New York, but are they saying it’s acceptable elsewhere? I want to think it was just a poor choice of words on their part, but this kind of mentality does indeed exist. It’s a kind of unconscious racism- the idea that these places always have been miserable and always will be. The idea that there’s no hope. Again, Hotel Rwanda hits the nail on the head when a UN colonel says to the protagonist “You’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”. Perhaps the reason we can’t get people to care is because they just don’t believe the oppressed peoples of the world are capable of ever living in better conditions.

Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s that people are just distracted by other things. We’re bombarded every waking moment with messages telling us to lose weight or to gain weight or to lighten our skin or to darken our skin or to get a better clothes or a house or a better car and better insurance to protect those things. Perhaps it’s easy to lose track or get our priorities confused, and we start valuing a specific brand of soda over the lives of farmers in India.

Or maybe it’s that people just won’t care unless they themselves are the ones being oppressed and exploited. Maybe we’re so selfish and self-centered that the only motivation we’ll ever have to make the world a better place is when we’re the ones bruised, bloody, and starving. Maybe that’s the only wake-up call I and peers will ever really respond to- a lashing from the sweatshop overseer for falling asleep at our station, or the jab of a soldier’s bayonet for having been born the wrong race. Is this how things are going to be? The people who can help don’t care, and the people need help aren’t able?

At this point in the post, I’d usually throw out some kind of appeal or call to action, but I just don’t know what to say. What is it going to take to wake the world up? What’s it going to take to spur people into action? The movies, the poetry, the charity, the music- it helps for a while and briefly seizes our attention, but we soon get bored and forget. The powerful stay powerful, the powerless stay powerless. The rich get richer and the poor get left further behind. Again, what do we- what do I need to do?


The Frontline

Since the beginnings of civilization (if this oppressive class-system society can be called “civilized”) the poor and working class have been pushed to the front lines of every battle and conflict. In ancient Greece, soldiers were expected to procure their own armor and weapons- resulting in the wealthy being able to procure decent armor and weapons for themselves while the poor had (at best) worn-out leather armor and homemade weapons. As you can doubtlessly imagine, casualty rates among the poorer members of the vying forces tended to be much greater than those among the wealthy.

Now obviously things today have changed since ancient times. We have the resources to maintain a trained and (equally) equipped military in times of peace and war. Does this mean inequality between social classes (with regards to war and the armed forces) has been wiped out? Of course not!

Now imagine, if you will, that you are a military recruiter. It is your job and your duty to convince members of society to join your army and kill for (or be killed for, as the case may be) their country. Now who would you target? The wealthy corporation owner? Of course not. He’s living in luxury- what motivation would he have to take up an austere and dangerous military life? How about the professional middle-class woman? No way. She’s got two kids and a steady job- even the most jingoistic patriot would be reluctant to leave that behind. Perhaps an eighteen year-old from a bourgeois background? Yeah right. You really expect this guy who’s looking at colleges to go out and potentially die? It’d have to be a seriously dire situation before that happens.

How about working class youths fresh out of high school with no way to pay for college, little or no chance at a decent job, and no future?


So you approach these disenfranchised, poorly-educated, and more than likely desperate youths and offer them a way out of crime-and-poverty. “Education, dignity, power, and the respect and gratitude of the nation- all this can be yours (oh, and there’s a pretty high chance that you’ll be killed or maimed or develop a mental condition as a result of you killing/maiming your fellow man- but we don’t like to talk about that)”.

There’s a catch to everything.

And so the ranks are swelled by the poor fighting in wars they don’t probably don’t understand or have a stake in. It’s really the ultimate con game. The poor line up to die for their country when their countries have done nothing for them. Just look at the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, not only because it was opposed to his pacifist ideals but also because he saw war as a diversion of funds that ought to be used to aid the poor (claiming “A nation that continues… to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”). It’s just the unbelievable injustice of it all. Society is built on the backs of the poor. The proletariat sweep the streets, clean the gutters, build our houses and buildings, pave our roads, manufacture our products and produce the raw materials that our nations run on and in addition to all this they die for whatever cause the government deems justified. And for the poor and working class who do not go to war- what’s their lot? Why, it’s their “patriotic duty” to tighten their belts, buckle down, and make sacrifices for the war effort. Overtime at the munitions factory. What’s that? You’re arm got caught in the belt and you desperately need surgery? Sorry- you’re just some working class zero, you can’t afford insurance. Government healthcare? If they hadn’t diverted all the funds to help our brave boys on the western/eastern/southern/northern/ front it’d be no problem. You’re out of work now and the cost of living is going up? If you were middle-class you wouldn’t be feeling the pinch as much, would you? Maybe you should’ve thought about being born into a wealthier family!

You get the point.

And this is where you’ll witness a seeming hypocrisy among us Communists. On one hand, we’re screaming for revolution, the toppling of Fascists, imperialists, and the bourgeois and corporate taskmasters. On the other hand, you’ll probably find Communists at every major anti-war rally going on. Our reply? Our reply is this: We are opposed to war as much as war is opposed to us (for there have been few wars indeed where the workers have had any benefit). For us, there is only one war worth fighting and that war has been going on unceasingly since the immemorial. Our war is against Fascism, against imperialism, and the oppression of the Capitalist system. Let there be no war but class war!


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!


The Hypocritical Hippocratic Oath

Since the time of Ancient Greece, doctors, physicians, healers, and surgeons have sworn the Hippocratic Oath- a solemn vow to “To hold him who has taught me this art as equal… if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant… I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice…”.

Or at least, this was the oath that was taken in the time of Hippocrates- to whom the authorship of the oath is attributed. Of course, the modern Hippocratic Oath has changed greatly over the past two and a half millennia. The contemporary text, adapted in 1964, focuses primarily on treating patients not as “a fever chart, [or] a cancerous growth” but as actual people, while also promising respect the privacy of patients and to not “play God”.

So what’s the issue? While the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath makes good points, it lacks certain fundamental elements found in the original oath. While the original oath made doctors obligated to teach each other’s children (if willing to learn) free of charge. Today, learning to become a doctor takes eight years (minimum) and costs a small fortune (medical university is far from cheap). The original oath also ordered doctors to protect their patients from “injustice”. Not disease, not infection, but injustice. This part of the oath is nowhere to be found in later versions.

Now the first section discussed- the section concerning the mutual instruction of the medically aspiring children of fellow doctors- is perhaps understandable. With today’s advances in the fields of medicine, surgery, and pharmaceuticals, it is understandable that this part of the original oath is no longer applicable- after all, there’s only so much any one doctor can know. Nevertheless, one can’t help but imagine what society would be like if doctors- all doctors- were obligated to teach. If anyone willing and diligent enough to learn medicine could study medicine regardless of how rich or poor he was, what would our world look like? Would we have eliminated cancer by now? Would we have the cure for the common cold?

One can really only guess. This is, after all, the great, good, and glorious Capitalist system where a person’s quality of education (or very existence thereof) is determined by the size of his wallet (though the issue of Capitalist/Communist education has been covered in previous posts).

And what of the section concerning a doctor’s duty to protect his patients from injustice? One can easily see why this part would be taken out of newer versions. This is a Capitalist society where medical treatment, like almost everything else, is merely a commodity to be bought and sold. If a patient is dying but cannot afford the treatment that would save him, the doctor is left with an irresolvable quandary. On one hand the doctor has a patient who cannot afford the treatment he needs to live, on the other hand, the laws of Capitalism state that anything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it. So the doctor is presented with a single, impossible option. If he goes along with the “purchase-worth-price-paid” logic, he’d be forced to conclude that since the dying man will not (because he cannot) pay for the treatment, he would rather not live and is therefore suicidal and best committed to a mental institution. Since the man clearly isn’t suicidal, the doctor must either (1) state that the Hippocratic Oath is fundamentally flawed or (2) state that Capitalism is fundamentally flawed. Fortunately, the doctor will not decision. Since, as the advocates of Capitalism would have us believe, Capitalism is completely compatible (perhaps the only system compatible) with justice, the entire situation is a logical paradox and therefore this situation can never exist.

Yeah, right.

Despite [deeply flawed] logic, these situations exist all across the globe, not only for life-or-death situations but almost any medical issue, from cough medicine to prosthetic limbs to brain surgery. The Hippocratic oath, so long as it is practiced in a Capitalist society, will always be a sad hypocrisy. The ugly truth is that Hippocratic oath- even the contemporary Hippocratic oath- will never be able to mesh with Capitalism. There will always be a conflict between ethics and economics, and frankly, if there’s a choice between the two I think it’s pretty obvious which option I’ll take.

And for this reason I submit that we do away with the Capitalist system and replace it with something better. A system where anyone who chooses to be a doctor can be a doctor and have the best medical education available. A system where any person sick, injured, or dying has the opportunity to be treated, and by doctors who are doing so out of the love of their profession and sense of justice and humanity- not self-interest and greed. A system where doctors are never forced to choose between economic feasibility and the Hippocratic oath.

The Capitalist health system is terminally ill, and I believe that this is a physician unable to health itself. Yes, the Capitalist system is in place and has been for a long time, however, as time goes on and the line between justice and injustice becomes more distinct, more pronounced, it is only a matter of time before the people revolt against a system based on flawed-logic and hypocrisy.


Law and Disorder

We live in a world where almost anything can be bought. Paper clips, houses, pets, jets, guns, music, bottled water, sports teams, and so on. The so-called “Free Market” has made anything and everything available for those willing or capable of paying.

Justice included.

In the modern justice system, if a person is charged with a crime, he has the right to a lawyer to defend him. At first glance, this might appear to be a perfect system. Every person is entitled to a speedy trial in which he may face his accusers and employ a lawyer to convince a jury of the defendant’s peers that the defendant is innocent of the charges brought against him.

In reality, justice isn’t quite as blind as that. Equality before the law doesn’t mix well with Capitalist society.

When a person from a lower class is accused of committing a crime (armed burglary, let’s say), the defendant is at an immediate disadvantage whether or not he actually committed the crime. The prosecution may immediately link the defendant with a motive- after all, it’s easier to accuse a hungry man of stealing apples than a man who’s just eaten a meal. The poorer the accused person is, the stronger the case is against him. Equality before the law on exists if there’s equality in the bank accounts.

And the injustices of the legal system don’t end there.

According to the Miranda rights, has “…The right to an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you…”. Now this would appear to solve any issues created by the economic gap between prosecutors and defendant. Everyone gets a lawyer regardless of social standing.

If attorneys were a mere commodity, then yes, this would solve the problem. In actuality, lawyers are human beings (contrary to the ocean of jokes about them being hell-spawned demons and leeches). Some lawyers are, quite simply, better than others. A criminal defense laywer that studied at Harvard will be better educated, more skilled, and infinitely more expensive to hire than a lawyer that graduated from some local law school. If a lower-class citizen is charged with a crime, he will not only have a “motive” due to his lack of money, but also only an average or even sub-average lawyer. On the other hand, a wealthy person can afford an entire team of the best and brightest lawyers available. In short, the same jury that would convict a poor person of one crime might easily find a wealthy person innocent on the same charge. In addition to this, the wealthy person may appeal and, if re-tried, will still be able to afford his army of Ivy League lawyers. Should a poorer person appeal and be re-tried, it’s likely that he won’t be able to afford the same quality of attorney he hired for his original case. In short, if a person is too poor, he could be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. If a person is wealthy, he could be found not guilty of a crime he did. In the Capitalist world, innocence is a commodity that can be purchased for enough cash. There’s never a guarantee that the innocent will walk free and that the guilty will be punished according to their crimes.

Where’s the justice in that?