Posts Tagged ‘starvation

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?

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

13
Dec
09

Capitalist Pigs

Recently, I was traveling across the US. As I was waiting at one of the gates, a man sat down next to me. To say he was ‘large’ would be a gross understatement. This man was grotesquely overweight, and nearly as wide as he was tall. As we waited for the plane to be refueled, he began to eat a cheeseburger, the sheer effort of which had him panting, wheezing, and sweating. It was, in short, a nauseating experience.

Of course, there are those who would object to my diatribe. One could argue “It’s the right of a person to choose his or her own weight or amount of consumption!”. Really? If there’s a man who is sitting next to me starving, is it my “right” to devour a steak dinner in front of him? When a child dies of starvation every five seconds, is it the right of a country to be suffering from obesity?

Yet the wealthy countries of the world continue to get fatter, and the poor countries stand in lines handfuls of rice. Sickening, isn’t it? The most obese state in America (Mississippi), is only 2,300 km from the second most impoverished country in the western hemisphere (Haiti). This is obesity we’re talking about- the result of constant binging on food- it’s not an epidemic, it’s not something that people cannot control. In a world where the vast majority of humanity lives in poverty and every year, fifteen million children die of starvation and malnutrition, this kind of egomaniacal indulgence is, as I’ve pointed out, sickening.

Of course, the companies selling the food aren’t exactly helping the situations. It is, after all, in the best interests of these corporations to exacerbate humanity’s propensity to gluttony. The more willing the public is to stuff food down their throats, the higher the demand, the greater profits for the food industry. As a result, the food industry will do all it can to convince you that your happiness hinges on your consumption or that food is a central part of tradition (just look at Christmas). They will attempt to sell the greatest amount of food to the greatest number of people for the lowest cost of production possible (and of course, cheap production tends to mean the food will be low in quality and nutrition). Everywhere you look, there are advertisements telling you to eat this or to drink that. Granted, the obesity level is due largely to individual choice, but at the same time, the food industry plays a significant role.

So what’s the relation of obesity in the West and other so-called “developed countries” to the starvation in others? Well, think of it this way. Aside from the now rare family-owned farm, we get our food from corporations. Since the purpose of Capitalism is capital (money), corporations will naturally attempt to maximize their profits by selling high-quality foods for exorbitant price and low-quality foods for next to nothing. Those who have little or no money to begin with (those who are, for example, living in areas that have been devastated by disease or drought) are of course, unable to purchase any food at all. This leads to the people of these areas to become dependent on charity- a¬†solution which merely prolongs the suffering of the impoverished (exactly why charity doesn’t work is a topic for another day). Of course there are those who would claim that all these people need to do is begin farming in their own countries- conveniently forgetting that the materials and resources needed for farming are controlled by massive corporations. What possible reason would these companies have for simply donating material? Corporations usually don’t rise to the top of the economic food chain through altruism. Of course, when the majority becomes hungry enough, everything becomes a source of food- including the juicy, Capitalist pigs wallowing around at the top of the social spectrum.