Sunday, April 25, 2010

Are We All Complicit?

Is anyone in the U.S. innocent? Although those at the very pinnacle of the economic pyramid gain the most, millions of us depend – either directly or indirectly – on the exploitation of the LDCs for our livelihoods. The resources and cheap labor that feed nearly all our businesses come from places like Indonesia, and very little ever makes its way back. The loans of foreign aid ensure that today’s children and their grandchildren will be held hostage. They will have to allow our corporations to ravage their natural resources and will have to forego education, health, and other social services merely to pay us back. The fact that our own companies already received most of this money to build the power plants, airports, and industrial parks does not factor into this formula. Does the excuse that most Americans are unaware of this constitute innocence? Uninformed and intentionally misinformed, yes – but innocent?
– John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Illiterate, uneducated people in Latin America know that Rupert Murdoch and the Bush family have ties to the media organizations that led the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002. They know that before becoming Vice President, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton. They know about the School of the Americas and the CIA assassinations of democratically-elected, social-reform seeking leaders. Yet, when these facts appear in mainstream American media, they are dismissed as liberal allegations and conspiracy theories. How many of us watched Michael Moore films exposing these truths, all the while believing him to be a loony? Five years ago, former Vice President Al Gore released a movie called “The Inconvenient Truth” about the impending environmental crisis. How many of us reduced our carbon consumption or changed our energy-use habits?

We blame the government, we blame international banks, we blame corporations, but rarely do we blame ourselves. It’s not our fault; it can’t be our faults. We try justifying our behavior in a myriad of ways: “I didn’t vote for Bush,” “I’m not one of those a**holes who drives an SUV,” “I opposed the war in Iraq.” Perkins denounces that type of behavior:

That picture is just too simple. It implies that all we need to do, if we decide to right the wrongs of the system, is to throw these men out. It feeds into the conspiracy theories and thereby provides a convenient excuse to turn on the TV and forget about it all, comfortable in our third-grade view of history, which runs: ‘They will take care of it; the ship of state is seaworthy and will get nudged back on course. We may have to wait for the next election, but all with turn out for the best.
The real story of modern empire…has little to do with what was exposed in the newspapers that morning and has everything to do with us. And that, of course, explains why we have such difficulty listening to the real story…The real story is that we are living a lie…Those cancers are exposed by the X-rays of our statistics, which disclose the terrifying fact that history’s most powerful and wealthiest empire has outrageously high rates of suicide, drug abuse, divorce, child molestation, rape, and murder, and that like a malignant cancer, these afflictions spread their tentacles in an ever-widening radius every year. In our hearts, each of us feels the pain. We cry out for change. Yet, we slam our fists to our mouths, stifling those cries, and so we go unheard.
It would be great if we could just blame it all on a conspiracy, but we cannot. The empire depends on the efficacy of big banks, corporations, and governments – the corporatocracy – but it is not a conspiracy. This corporatocracy is ourselves – we make it happen – which of course, is why most of us find it difficult to stand up and oppose it. We would rather glimpse conspirators lurking in the shadows, because most of us work for one of those banks, corporations, or governments, or in some way are dependent on them for the goods and services they produce and market. We cannot bring ourselves to bite the hand of the master who feeds us.

– John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 215-217

I shamefacedly place myself amongst that crowd of people who looks for scapegoats for the world’s ills. I love railing against politicians, the IMF and the World Bank, and Exxon. The lack of access to proper healthcare, gentrification, environmental degradation, the staggering income gap, hunger, poverty, etc. they’re too complicated to solve. Besides, the world’s problems are not my fault…or are they?

We all want the American dream for ourselves, a life of comfort and few worries. We want huge homes, nice cars for every member of the house, well-paying jobs, iPods, personal laptops, well-stocked pantries courtesy of Costco. We think there is nothing wrong with the daily routine of getting up, going to work, going home, and going to bed. Maybe we’ll attend a happy hour after work (“mmmm, $2 sushi”) or go out with our friends. Maybe we’ll come home, relax with a couple of beers, and zone out in front of the TV. On weekends, we’ll do absolutely nothing other than sleep. We could read books about social justice, the environment, the forgotten children of Sudan, war, peace, love, or the beauty of the human spirit, but we don’t have time. We could cook food for homeless shelters, share our time with the ignored elderly, listen to victims of rape and domestic violence, or tutor underprivileged children, but we don’t have time. We’re too busy supporting ourselves and our families, we’re “getting-by,” what’s wrong with that?

It’s not enough to just get-by if “getting-by” implies living off of the blood and sweat of the less fortunate, those people who construct our houses, sew our clothes, mow our lawns, or cook our food. Let’s not forget the unmentioned environmental costs that come from mass-producing food through the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; transporting our food cross-country or across countries; and packaging our consumer goods with plastic and bubble wrap and disposable delivery boxes. What about the raw materials needed to produce our goods and the labor? Our foreign policy is targeted at those countries with vast quantities of natural resources and people, both of which are considered expendable. Look beyond the most obvious example of Iraq at the Congo, where our actions have instigated civil wars, genocides, and rapes for the sake of the minerals necessary to make our cell phones and laptops. Look at Nigeria and Ecuador where oil drilling by Conoco and Chevron has resulted in contaminated soil, toxic waste pits and rivers, air pollution, illegal logging, disease, crime, and prostitution. We may profess antagonism towards these companies, but their products fuel our cars. We in the U.S. may plead innocent but the exploitation of the peoples around the world, the murders, the rapes, the hunger, the destructions of natural habitats, are the result of the pressure we put on international corporations to supply the goods we demand and at ever lower prices. As Paul Hawkens explains, the U.S. “need[s] energy to support an unsustainable way of life (Blessed Unrest, 103).

This is a wake up call. The American way of life is unsustainable. It is unsustainable economically, politically, environmentally, and morally. There is enough space in the world for persons of all religions, ethnicities, and creeds, but not our greed. We must reach beyond our apathy and embrace compassion. Feel the suffering your global neighbor endures on a daily basis to survive, to provide food for his or her starving children, to make T-shirts for you. Stop being complacent! We can no longer continue living the lives we have grown accustomed to. We must change the Who, What, When, Where, Whys, and How of our behavior: who we buy from, what we eat, where we live, when we participate in community service, how we consume energy. Perkins recommends “The next time you are tempted to go shopping, read a book instead, exercise, or meditate. Downsize your home, wardrobe, car, office, and most everything else in your life.” (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 221-222)

Of course, you could finish reading this article and continue with your daily lives. After all, what difference can one person’s actions make?

we are told there is a convenient path, and a less traveled road of integrity…We face such forks a million times a day, even in the space of a breath…What distinguishes one life from another is intention, the one thing that we can control. Rosa Park’s intentions were deep and unswerving, as were King’s, Thoreau’s, and Gandhi’s…While the events of the world were out of their control, their resolve was not.
– Paul Hawkens, Blessed Unrest, 84

This is a wake up call.

No comments: