Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Follow the Money


For some reason we need words like murder to remind us that the wholesale slaughter of innocent people is immoral. Words like killing no longer hold meaning and words and phrases like casualties and collateral damage are cynical wordplay at best. It seems impossible from our quiet streets to comprehend the mayhem and human suffering that is now a daily occurrence on the streets of Bagdad, Beirut, the villages of Lebanon and elsewhere. And this is no mistake. Political agendas and military euphemism are not just convenient but necessary to keep a relatively comfortable population at arms length from the horror on the ground so we can debate murder as a matter of policy rather than morality. And who does this benefit?

If there is ever to be a reckoning with this slaughter the concept we must face is that our comfortable lifestyles are being sold to us as a direct product of these struggles. We are taught that to live in comfort we need two things, cheap labor and cheap energy. We marvel at the prices at Target, IKEA, Wall-Mart, etc., but would be horrified if we saw the true cost of such bargains. Look at the tags on the back of almost any inexpensive product and you'll find it was likely made in a county that doesn't support anything close to what you would find acceptable in terms of basic wages or human rights. Look at the governments behind the top oil producing nations and you'll be far more likely find a despot than a democracy. The question I have is whether this is all really necessary or whether we are being sold not an inconvenient truth, but a convenient lie.

When slavery was abolished in America many in the south claimed their economy, their lifestyles, would never recover. History claims otherwise. But isn't the relationship between our current lifestyles and the abject poverty of those who make it possible another form of slavery? And wouldn't we be just as able to recover if we altered course? We live in a world of unprecedented advances in technology and yet few of these ideas make it to the market place in any form other than consumer gadgets (which make giant corporations rich) and smart bombs (which make those same corporations even richer). It's time to look at these relationships and ask ourselves what it is that we are defending. Was slavery a net-plus for average Americans? Or was it a net plus for a handful of southern landowners. How about today? Is the middle class growing? Is the working class flourishing? Is the environment healthy?

Vegetarians often say that if most meat-eaters spent a day at the slaughterhouse they would likely never eat meat again. The Meat Industry goes to great lengths to make sure the consumer never has to consider that the main by-product of their product is the slaughter of farm animals. And isn't this the whole point? If the basic agenda of the Meat Industry is to sanitize slaughter what should we expect from the Defense Industry? I've always carried around a certain amount of guilt because I eat meat, not because I'm so moved by the animal rights movement, but because I realize that I contribute to a process that doesn't simply enable my dinner but sanitizes global suffering as its by-product.

However, as flawed as I am, I refuse to be paralyzed by guilt. Far too many well meaning souls are silenced by their inability to speak up for their well meaning values without experiencing some form of guilt. Another by-product of our comfortable existence is malaise. Guilt is an acknowledgment that one can do better (and who among us can't?), but it does not absolve us from our responsibility to speak out. One need not be a saint to express moral outrage. One also need not be a scholar to see beyond the complicated maze of economic, political and military policy and insist that all public policy reflect the most basic of our shared values. And if you believe that the men and women in the power suits will never have your best interests in mind then get to work. Apathy is not just a by-product of the status quo, it is its most powerful tool so let's take a minute to collect or thoughts ... then get going.


At 10:09 AM, Anonymous John The Bee said...

Hmmmmmmmm. "Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day." So says Mr. Camus


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