Posts Tagged ‘Slavery

18
Jan
11

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?

18
Aug
10

A Communist Look at Immigration

For people to be against illegal immigration is understandable- not necessarily commendable, but certainly understandable. Illegal immigrants may enjoy certain benefits from a nation while avoiding the responsibilities of citizenship (taxes, jury duty, the unlikely event of a draft, and so on). Being in a country illegally means that “illegals” (‘Unregistered’, as they prefer to be called) are not protected by labor laws and may be hired by companies and individuals to work long hours in dangerous conditions with little pay and no medical benefits- resulting in immigrants being hired for unskilled/manual labor and citizens being laid off. Now ignoring the fact that most immigrants leave their families and homelands behind, travel hundreds of miles in often dangerous conditions, sneak across the border, and allow themselves to be exploited and abused just to send money home- it’s easy to see why some people would be upset at illegal immigration.

But what we are currently seeing in both the US and in Europe isn’t mere, misguided anger at illegal immigration but at immigrants- legal or otherwise. The explosion of paranoia concerning ‘anchor-babies’- a derogatory term for the practice of gaining citizenship through having a child born in the US, as ensured by the 14th amendment (“All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States…”). Now this isn’t illegal immigration- this is legitimate, protected not by law by the foundation of US government- yet there’s still an outcry against it, some even advocating the repeal of the 14th amendment.

Why? A number of reasons are given. Michelle Malkin, a commentator primarily for Fox News, argues that granted citizenship to those born in the US is detrimental to the “…integrity of citizenship-not to mention national security.”

Exactly how granting citizenship to those born in the US undermines the integrity of citizenship is a little confusing- citizenship is automatically granted to the children born in the US (to American parents), why is this less [supposedly] harmful? As for the issue of national security, immigrants are flooding into this country to take advantage of the freedoms and opportunities offered here- to suppose that immigrants would, en masse, attempt to overthrow or harm the nation they’re trying to be a part of is- to be blunt- idiocy.

Others, such as Glenn Beck, have claimed that the 14th amendment was intended only to protect the rights of former slaves freed after the civil war, and the amendment should not be applied to immigrants, going so far as to state “Slavery is a long time ago.”. Now with immigrants working for well below the minimum wage in often dangerous conditions (to say nothing of the number of genuine slaves in the country) one could easily retort that the need to protect the rights of slaves (wage-slaves and actual slaves) is needed now more than ever! Just because slavery has moved to the fruit orchards of California from the cotton fields of South Carolina doesn’t mean that’s gone. Not for Sale, an abolitionist organization estimates that there are 30 million slaves around the world.

The simple fact is that what we’re witnessing isn’t anti-illegal immigrant sentiment, but anti-immigrant feelings- something with far more disturbing implications.

Anti-immigrant sentiment stems from a number of factors, the foremost (in the US, anyways) is that immigrants rob citizens of their jobs. But what is forgotten too often is that we are all immigrants, that at some point all of our ancestors struggled for a new life- competition can to rear its ugly head anywhere- if you have an issue with it, take it up with Capitalism, not immigrants stuck in the same position as your grandparents once found themselves.

The fear of change is another- changes in culture, changes in demographics, changes in language and religions and so on. This fear is perhaps best exemplified in Britain, where anti-immigrant fear is has resulted in the creation of such groups as the English Defense League (EDL) and the British Nationalist Party (BNP). According to the official website of the BNP “All these facts point inexorably to the overwhelming and extinguishing of Britain and British identity under a tsunami of immigration.”

The idea that somehow culture is meant to remain stagnant is, of course, ridiculous. Cultures are in a constant state of flux, old traditions are abolished, new customs arise, and the mix of various cultures is an integral part of that. Has immigration into the US destroyed culture? On the contrary, immigration has increased the variety of foods we eat, beverages we drink, holidays we celebrate, and the ways we look at the world around us.

But nevertheless the bias remains in spite of these truths. Why?

Racism.

It’s ugly, it’s difficult to accept, but it’s there. Whether we’re walking basing our political campaigns on the promise to “Offer generous grants to those of foreign descent resident here who wish to leave permanently.” (As the BNP does) or considering repealing the 14th amendment (as some in the US have suggested) or subconsciously conjuring up the image of a minority stereotype when we hear of a crime that’s been committed, we are basing our actions on the idea that some people are worse than others because of the color of their skin, the size of their noses, the width between their eyes and so on. It’s not all our fault- crime, drugs, illiteracy, and ignorance are highest among the poor and working class- the vast majority of whom are immigrants and/or minorities. It’s easy to fall into the habit of associating crime/drugs/etc. not with poverty but with those who are unfortunate enough to be poor, and from this stems racism.

It’s not all our fault- but a lot of it still is. We know that brown and blue eyes squint at the same sun. We know that curly and straight hair will eventually turn gray. We know that beneath black and white and brown skin there’s the same bones and organs. In short, we know better.

So fight fear and racism and put yourself in the shoes of immigrants, legal and illegal alike. If roles were reversed, you’d have as much motivation to travel wherever you wanted in the world to make a better life for yourself. You’d have as much of a rights.

Offer generous grants to those of foreign descent resident here who wish to leave permanently
20
Jul
10

A Communist Look Back (and Forward)

It’s been over a year since I first started this blog, and a lot has happened in the world- I think it only appropriate that I write a brief post reviewing the past year and making a few predictions for the next one.

We have the economic crisis (or rather, a series of crises) of such great proportions the public’s faith in Capitalism has been badly shaken. The bailouts, the BP oil spill, the revelation of corruption within the regulatory branches of government- none of these have done much to convince the people that Capitalism has their best interests at heart. Indeed, the loss of faith in the current system has led many to look into alternatives, such as Libertarianism, Socialism, and to an extent, Communism. Despite this, neocolonialism, economic and cultural imperialism continue to spread. The poor and working class of the third world remain largely oppressed. Slavery rates continue to rise. In xenophobic reaction to ever increasing immigration rates, the US and Western Europe has become more hostile to foreigners.

The controversial creation of public healthcare in the US- indicative of widespread dissatisfaction with healthcare under Capitalism (or the lack thereof)- has garnered both enthusiastic support and vehement opposition, most on the far-left have voiced support for the change, but maintain that free, universal healthcare is the only answer.

In short, to say that the past twelve months have brought forth dramatic change would be an exaggeration- at the same time, it is undeniable that have been significant developments in economics and the public views of Capitalism.

Predictions for next year:

1. Continued disillusionment with Capitalism- independent parties will probably gain in popularity.

2. Extreme right-wing reactions in the Republican and Conservative movements will ultimately alienate moderates and undecided voters, resulting in more harm to the GOP/Conservative movement than benefit.

3. Immigration into the US and Western Europe will result in greater hostility towards immigrants, possibly resulting in blatantly anti-immigrant legislation, violence, and the oppression of minorities. Fascists, racists, and extreme right-wing groups will probably be seeing some victories unless this xenophobia is immediately combated.

4.  Austerity measures in some European countries will result (or rather continue to result) in strikes by the working class- some potential for rioting, but no absolute certainty.

Looks like it’s gonna be fun…

15
Jun
10

[In]tolerable Evil

The myth that Capitalism is a great and fair system is becoming rapidly dispelled. Such disasters as the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the BP oil spills, the Minamata bay dumpings,  the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the general level of corruption, ecological devastation, poverty, and exploitation brought on by our current economic structure have brought many to an understanding that Capitalism is in fact an inherently evil system that benefits a lucky few. Even so, the contemporary attitudes toward towards Capitalism are tolerant. In spite of the repeated evils brought on by this system, the simple fact is people don’t care!

People are angry at BP, sure, but not angry enough to illicit action. We’ll scream our heads off after an hour in traffic, but what do we do when we hear about a sweatshop in Indonesia? We’ll tear apart a stadium during a football riot but do we riot when we hear about waste being dumped in the ocean? We’ll get into fistfights when the neighbor’s playing music too loud but do we so much as lift a finger when a man dies because he’s too poor to afford insurance or pay for medical bills?

Why? Because we’re the ones benefiting from Capitalism? Because the evils of Capitalism aren’t oppressing us? What makes me different than a coltan miner in the Congo, or a child slave in Bangladesh? If it weren’t for pure and simple dumb luck– I’d be the one working fourteen hours a day for pennies. I am not where I am today because I worked hard. I am not where I am today because I was smart or because I took advantage of the opportunities offered to me. I am where I am because I was simply born. Others are simply born into poverty, slavery, and starvation and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle they never advance. Is Capitalism a tolerable evil to them?

One of the greatest ills of Capitalism that affects not merely the proletariat but the middle and upper class as well is the concept of individuality- a flimsy facade for the uglier terms selfishness and egocentricity. We are led to imagine that we are rich because of our own hard work. We’re responsible only for ourselves. It is because of this concept that shrug and walk away from tragedies, be it a mugging or a multinational corporation paying 12 cents a day for designer jeans to be made. And we continue to hold this egomaniacal point of view because we are terrified of what it would mean if we were responsible for each other. If an old woman gets mugged, it’s not just the fault of the old woman for being more careful or the fault of the mugger for choosing to rob her- it our fault for doing nothing to stop it. If a manufacturing plant in Peru has children working for little or no pay, we’re just as much to blame for doing nothing to resist!

And for those who insist upon tolerating the evils of Capitalism and the suffering of others, I can only offer you these words written with greater urgency and eloquence than I could ever hope to have:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-F.G.E. Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984

09
Mar
10

The Communist Perspective: The Arab-Israeli Conflict

Despite the general support the state of Israel is given by the US and other western and 1st world nations, the far-left is almost unilaterally pro-Palestinian. Now this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, Israel is (by today’s standards) an economically left-wing country with many Communist and Socialist-like programs (take the Kibbutzim, for example). Why then do Communists and other leftist ideologies support the Palestinians over the Israelis?  As with most things in life, there’s no single reason.

Firstly, there’s the obvious affinity the far-left has with the proletariat. Despite the fact that Israel does indeed have a Communist party (Maki- which interestingly enough is considerably pro-Palestinian), the majority of the proletariat the Israeli state relies is in fact Palestinian. Indeed, some (including yours truly) have made the argument that Israel is dependent upon the Palestinian proletariat as a primary workforce. Palestinians, who themselves have very little control of natural resources (due largely to such Israeli implementations as the West Bank Barrier) become dependent on the state of Israel for water, medical care, etc. and in exchange provide cheap labor. It’s not a feudal system- it’s a modern incarnation of Sparta (a nation whose obsession with military prowess was based off a need to control its massive slave populace). In short, as for as simple affinity for the working class, Communists and the left feel obligated to support the Palestinians.

Secondly, there are the Communist and left-wing ties to the peoples of the 3rd world and to various tribal and native groups. The members of the third world currently bear the brunt of the ills of Capitalism, being exploited by (most often) Western or 1st world corporations and having their resources monopolized by foreign interests (take the examples of rubber plantations in Brazil in the early twentieth century, for example). Neocolonialism and imperialism are two issues very close to the hearts of many Communists (the fact that most 3rd worlders have systems and values similar to Communism doesn’t help either). Considering the vast, vast majority of Israelis are immigrants from Europe and North America, many Communists consider Israel to be quasi-European colony or an extension of Western culture (or rather anti-culture- but that’s another subject).

Thirdly there’s the ever present issue of human rights violations. Most Communists and leftists believe that Israel uses excessive force in dealing with Palestinians, favors militarism over diplomacy, denies and/or violates Palestinian basic human rights,  and- despite numerous UN demands- continues to aggressively expand into Palestinian territory (just recently Israel approved 112 new apartments in a West Bank settlement).

So in conclusion, while you can- if you search hard enough- find Communists or leftists who are pro-Israel, the percentage of anti-Israeli Communists is so great their perspective is almost always pro-Palestinian.

15
Nov
09

The New Racism

Racism really isn’t as complex of an issue as it is made out to be. Essentially, it’s the idea that certain groups of people are inherently less valuable than others. Now the roots of racism are complex- there’s the issues of ignorance, exposure, generalization, association, history, psychology and a myriad of other factors that go into creating this twisted idea.

 

Now we imagine that we’ve come a long way since the oppressive days of segregation, slavery, and colonization and perhaps, on some level, this is true. Bus seating is equal, there are no more separate water fountains, and a person can eat in a diner no matter what race he is. While there is still racism against minorities (especially against Arabs and Latinos these days), in general people are treated equally no matter what ethnicity they are.

 

What class they are is a different story completely.

 

Classism is the idea that certain groups have value depending on their social status- essentially this is racism (bigotry isn’t strong enough of a word) based not on the color of one’s skin but the size of one’s bank account. While this has several causes, one of the greatest is the idea that people’s social status is proportionate to their intelligence, creativity, and efforts. If this were true (and it isn’t), it would mean that the rich are wealthy because they worked their way to the top and the poor and hunger and filthy because they are lazy. This lie is only reinforced by the fact that crime is higher among lower classes than among the wealthy- one might imagine that the poor are poor because they are criminals, rather than poor are driven to crime because they are poor.

 

The ramifications of classism are many, the most apparent being the way the poor and working class are treated by the middle and upper classes. If you were walking along the street and saw a person running towards you (a person in a suit, carrying a briefcase, and wearing a Rolex watch) you’d probably stop and see what he wanted. Would you do the same thing if the person running at you was dressed in a ragged bathrobe and pushing a shopping cart? I doubt it. You see, it doesn’t matter who the man is or why he’s running at you, the simple appearance of wealth or poverty changes the way you relate to him. You assume the man in the suit is sane and decent and the man in the bathrobe isn’t (showing just how pervasive the idea is that ‘the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst’). The way one dresses (the most obvious indication of class) affects one’s thoughts of, and actions toward, him. In addition, the fact that many minorities are members of the working and poor class tend to reinforce racism already present in society.

 

Of course when you look at the big picture, you can see how none of this makes sense- if a ship is sinks and down in the shark infested waters is a rich man, a middle-class man, and a poor man, should the rich man be saved first? Not at all. Once you strip away the cheap, material things by which we judge each other, we’re all human. The rich man is no more worth saving than the middle-class man, the middle-class man’s live is no less valuable than that of the poor man, yet despite this, we treat each other differently according to wealth. The rich have the best educations and the finest medical care, the working class has the worst.

 

The way I see it, equality isn’t the equal treatment of people in terms of race– equality is the equal treatment of people, no matter what.

22
Jul
09

Professional Amateurs

The word “amateur” is derived from the Latin word “Amo” meaning “to love”. We use “amateur” to describe someone who is doing something as a hobby or for fun, rather than being paid to do so. An amateur baseball player plays for the fun of it, a professional baseball player plays for a living.

One of the most common arguments against Communism is that by abolishing the class system, money, and private property, people will have no motivation to work hard (or work at all) since they have no chance of advancing their position in life. It is claimed that the only reason most people can put with their mindless, soul-crushing jobs is that they are being paid to work. They can then take their money, gradually move up through the ranks of society, and buy material goods that bring them comfort and happiness (though whether material goods actually make us any happier is a debate for another post). If we take all of this away, then why would anyone do anything?

The answer is quite simple: people will do almost anything for the love of doing it.

I’m a writer. I don’t get paid to write, I don’t move up through the ranks of society, I don’t buy things in an attempt to make myself more comfortable of happy. According to Capitalist logic, I shouldn’t be writing since I have no motive- no reason for doing so. Quite simply, this logic is flawed. Yes people will do almost anything for money- after all, the single purpose of Capitalism is money- but there are other motivations. People will do things because they are physically forced to do them (slavery), people will do things out of fear for their wellbeing or the wellbeing of others (extortion, blackmail), and people will do things because they love doing it. Of course, the greatest of these is love- after all, even when enslaved or extorted, people will do the least amount of work possible. When they are doing what they love doing, however, the activity doubles as the end goal. In these cases, they will do as much work as possible.

Take the example of Giotto Di Bondone. Born in the late 1260s in Tuscany, Giotto was a shepherd boy who taught himself to paint. He was not being paid and was not coerced in any way to paint, he painted simply because he enjoyed painting. One might describe him as an “amateur” and while that word today often connotes substandard, Giotto’s paintings were anything but inferior. Indeed, Giotto’s abilities were so impressive that legends spread claiming he could paint a picture of a ewe so realistic that a lamb would confuse it with its actual mother, and that Giotto could draw a perfect circle without the use of any device. In short, Giotto, an uneducated, untrained Tuscan peasant was as a child a better artist than the best-paid painter in Florence (of course, Giotto eventually was paid to paint, but the fact remains that he was a gifted and prolific painter even before he became a professional).

Now this opens up a world of possibilities.

What if we all did jobs according to our talents, rather than our need to pay the bills or desire to become “wealthy” (again, the concept of true wealth will be discussed later)? What if everyone who was skilled at painting, math, cooking, and speaking could become artists, mathematicians, chefs, and orators? If everyone could become what they are talented at (and I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t enjoy his or her talents) then we would have more work accomplished at a higher quality. It is this that Communism attempts to achieve: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”.

Of course, one might argue that Capitalism attempts to achieve this as well, but this is simply not true. Granted, there are a fortunate few who can pay the bills and do what they love, but in reality the cast majority of people aren’t so lucky. Thousands- no, millions– of would be inventors, mechanics, actors, politicians, farmers, athletes, cooks, designers, musicians, programmers, and composers never get to be anything more than day-laborers, waiters, drug dealers, prostitutes, and street-sweepers. Is it because they didn’t try hard enough? Possibly, there is a handful who are, quite simply, lazy. But to state that the millions of poor, the hungry, and homeless are the way they are out of choice is ridiculous. Most never had the money to pay for a decent education, preventing them from ever rising out of the gutter. Others are simply held back by bills and debt. Still others are simply unlucky, some unforgiving disaster reducing them to taking whatever work is available. In the Capitalist world, it takes every ounce of energy to keep your head above water, let alone find a job doing what you love to do.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from trying. Some attempt to struggle through Capitalism to achieve their dream job, others turn their talents into hobbies, instead of careers, and still others- such as myself- attempt to bring about a system based on people doing what they love. The astronomer Galileo once commented that he did not “…believe the same God that would endow us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgoe their use…”. Like Galileo, I do not believe that humans, gifted with the talents to compose a beautiful symphony or sing like angels, are meant to push aside their skills to make room for their careers. Instead, let as all be professional amateurs.