Posts Tagged ‘Oppression

27
Mar
11

Libya

Over the past couple days, the Libyan rebellion forces have been moving west towards the Gaddafi controlled cities of Tripoli and Sirte. While the past weeks have been bloody, it appears that the conflict will be won by the Libyan people.

Of course, while I’d like to spend the next few paragraphs exalting the power of the people and solidarity for the struggle of all oppressed peoples across the world, there is a nagging issue that I feel has to be addressed- that of Western intervention.

With the US, Britain, France, and other countries involved in the conflict (apparently bombing the HQ of a foreign head of state doesn’t constitute an act of war), there’s been no little controversy as the exact legitimacy and justification of American and European intervention. Perhaps not without good reason- the US, Britain, and a number of other allied countries are already neck-deep in two long, expensive, unpopular wars (excuse me- operations) with no end in sight. After ten years in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq, it’s tough to take Western leaders seriously when they claim that their goal is to simply help the citizens of those countries. By now terms like “intervention”, “operation”, and “campaign” all seem like euphemisms for “invasion”, “occupation”, and “destruction”. On the whole, the left seems fairly unified in opposition to America-and-friend’s latest adventure in the Middle East, and I can’t say my position is any different.

First, let’s look at similar instances of this- Iraq and Afghanistan being the most obvious examples. In both situations, the US and coalition forces have become hopelessly entangled in both situations and have no discernible exit strategy. It’s hard to see how Libya will be different than any other conflict.

And that brings us to the second issue- other conflicts. I’ve got the same problem with the American-led/backed coalition attempting to unseat Gaddafi that I had when America and it’s allies attempted to unseat Saddam Husein. As bad as these dictators are, they’re far from the worst despots out there. Why does the US et al. feel compelled to get involved in Libya and not Burma? The oppression and genocide has been going on in Burma far longer than in Libya, and there’s been a resistance movement (both violent and non-violent) for about as long. Again- why hasn’t Than Shwe’s compound been bombed?

Which brings us to the third problem- motivation. When the West has decided to become involved in a conflict like this, despite their insistence that their goals are merely the propagation of democracy and freedom, there’s always something in it for the invaders. Be it the installation of a pro-Western puppet politician like Hammed Karzai in Afghanistan or the elimination of WMDs/securing oil supplies (depending on which you believe was the US’s real motivation), you can safely bet that if the West becomes involved in a conflict, it’s for their interests- not the interests of the people.

 

Look- I’m not saying that Gaddafi shouldn’t be unseated- he should. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support the Libyan people’s struggle- we should. I’m saying that America and the West’s professions of revolutionary fervor should be taken not so much with a grain of  salt, but with a small ocean.

02
Mar
11

A Breif Note on Liberation Theology

For a college theology class, I had to watch the 1989 film Romero– the story of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador and an advocate of Liberation Theology. In one particularly poignant section of the film, just after a brutal massacre has taken place by the Salvadoran Army on left-wing peasants and priests, a young woman asks Romero “Will I go to heaven when I die? It’s so bad here… I’ve got to have something I can look forward to…”. It reminded me of Marx’s comment “Religion is the opiate of the people”.

Now most people, even many communists, understand this comment to be Marx’s denouncement of religion as nothing but myths concocted to keep the have-nots from rising up against the haves. I don’t believe this was the point Marx was trying to make. Yes, Marx was a committed atheist, but after studying his discussions of religion, what I have found is that Marx doesn’t actually have an issue with concepts of faith and spirituality. Marx’s attacks on religion aren’t so much attacks on the ideas of the supernatural, but attacks on the use of religion by those in power to subjugate those who they were exploiting. “Religion is the opiate of the people” doesn’t speak so much on the nature of religion as it does on the predicament of the poor and oppressed. Going back to that scene in Romero, what is shown is that there are those whose lives are so utterly miserable, that an existence beyond death is the only thing that makes existence bearable. Again, Marx doesn’t decry the idea of life after death, but the conditions of life before.

Now evolving out of that criticism, or at least, out of similar views, was the concept of “Liberation Theology”, a perspective of Christianity (specifically Catholicism in South and Central America) that focused on alleviating the suffering of poor and oppressed peoples and bringing about fundamental changes in society that were the root causes of poverty and exploitation. Another scene in Romero probably gives the best example of Liberation Theology doctrine, in which the bishop leads a number of locals in prayer “Lord, you created us for freedom… Christ, you made us to live in dignity… Lord, you strengthen us in the struggle for justice…” and further commenting “The mission of the church is to identify itself with the poor and to join with them in their struggle for justice….”.

Naturally, Liberation Theology, directly attempting to improve life and the advance the rights of the powerless was embraced by the poor, and not just a few Marxists as well. Indeed, some of the goals between Liberation Theology and Communism were so similar, that governments accused local clergy of colluded with Marxist rebels (which was, in some cases true) and others to denounce Liberation Theology as Christian Marxism. Indeed, one of the most outspoken critics of Liberation Theology was a German cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict the XV. Sadly, while Liberation Theology does still exist (as well as variants of it), a its precepts were rejected by the greater Catholic Church and for many still, religion remains an opiate to many of the poor and disenfranchised.

06
Jun
09

Capitalism Defined

While Communism may summon unbidden images of dictatorships, oppression, and poverty; Capitalism brings to mind images of freedom, wealth, and luxury. Like Communism, Capitalism does not deserve the reputation it has.

Capitalism, in its simplest definition, is this- a social system in which the end purpose of politics, labor, business (and indeed, life in general) is capital, i.e. money. When a person works, he or she works for the highest wages possible. When a business sells a product, the product is sold for the highest profit possible. When a government acts, it acts in such a way as to create the highest inflow of cash possible (though admittedly, Smith states that the best way for this to happen is for the government to stay out of economy altogether).

According to Capitalism’s advocates, this system creates a healthy, strong society where everyone is rewarded according to their individual efforts and intelligence. The inventive and hard-working move to the top while the stupid and lazy are left behind.

Now in theory this sounds like a good system, but how does it work when put into practice?

In reality, this system creates a survival-of-the-fittest that not even Darwin would’ve imagined possible. Individuals engage in brutal competition with each other for high-paying jobs, businesses war with each other to sell their products and services, and so on. Even Smith himself states that “But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them… Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so… Every man is… first and principally recommended to his own care… it is fit and right that it should be so.”. In other words, “let each and every person act in his own interests”.

“Harsh but fair.” you might argue, “it is a jungle out there and it’s only natural that the fittest survive.”

That’s all good if you’ve got a steady occupation and decent health- but what if that changes? If you suddenly were fired (maybe the company can make a better profit without you) then survival-of-the-fittest system doesn’t sound so great anymore. If you come down with some disease and the treatment is expensive, what are you going to do if you can’t come up with the cash? This is Capitalism- you can’t expect the doctor to save your life out of human compassion! Or worse yet, what if you’re born to a lower class? In that case, you’re stunted from birth- cursed with a worse education than your bourgeois and elite counterparts (after all, education’s a marketable service- the best educations go only to those who can afford it). You’ll be lucky to get a job at all.

Capitalism still sound great? It gets worse.

With all of this going on, now add on the fact that you yourself don’t count as a person in grander scheme of things. For the employer, you don’t exist as a person but as a source of revenue- a money-machine. If you “break down” or if an “upgrade” comes along, you can be replaced. That means in addition to struggling to keep your head above water in a system where you’re being squeezed for every penny, you have to fight tooth-and-claw with your fellow man for each and every opportunity. If you and a co-worker are competing for sales, what’s to stop the co-worker from lying about the product to potential buyers in order to ensure that the product is sold? He’s making money for himself and for his bosses and if the buyer’s a gullible enough to fooled, then that’s just Capitalism. The smart (or at least, those who could afford an education) and hard-working (or unscrupulous) move ahead and the stupid (or those who couldn’t afford college) and lazy (or those with mental/physical disabilities or those who simply won’t lie and cheat) are left in the dust. And what about cases where a profit can be made from direct exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, sweat-shops, and pure and simple slavery? Since the end goal is money, is is justified to con a person or to bribe a public official for profit?

Does Capitalism still truly deserve its reputation? I submit that it does not.