Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward





Natural laws we may never modify,
embarrass us as they may.
Walter Pater

When you take the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and divide by the world’s population, the GDP per capita comes to approximately $8,000. The world’s per capita income is roughly $10,000. So if the pot is big enough to include everyone, why and to what extent have we not been able to eliminate poverty? And if the answer to eliminating world poverty is a distributive one, what are the obstacles and why can’t we remove them?

-- 30 thousand people perish everyday from starvation
-- 890 million people are chronically undernourished
-- 660 million people live on less than $2/day
-- 17 billion dollars was spent in pet food in US and Europe in 2007
-- the GDP of the 41 most heavily indebted poor countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people
-- in 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption; the poorest fifth just 1.5%
-- the world’s billionaires -- just 497 people (.000008% of the world’s population) -- were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP)

We claim we care, our democratically elected governments make the claim for us when our best intentions falter, all the while a holocaust is taking place on our watch as 30,000 people (mostly children) die every day from hunger. Notwithstanding the brave efforts of Millennium Summits and philanthropic NGOs, why are we unable to convert best intentions into deeds? Or, allowing the facts on the ground to report back, why don’t we care?

According to the numbers, the gap between rich and poor is widening. The media tells (tolls) on an almost daily basis of government getting caught with its hands in the till, lining its pockets with exorbitant sums of tax payer money, some of which has been designated for aid. For all its grandiloquent gesturing and espousing of humanitarian principles, the sum of deeds left undone by government speaks to one irreducible fact: it doesn't care.

Communism was the first serious attempt to break down the distribution barriers that were erected and lorded over by capitalism. By legislating out of existence poverty and private ownership (and God), Communism empirically demonstrated that care could be implemented on a large scale, that no one would be left behind. The result was a rigorously uniform population of, alas, unhappy haves, because human nature was recklessly written out the Marxist-Socialist equation. It would take no less than 3/4s of a century – in 1991 when the Wall came tumbling down – to exorcise the spectre of Communism, and for disabused socialists to acknowledge that nothing satisfies the human spirit like inequality.

So if the haves are happy in their having -- that is blissfully unmoved by the misery of the have-nots -- the fault must lie not in the stars but in intractable human nature that always seems to get the upper hand when push comes to shove, when dollars designated for the dispossessed and dying end up in the purchase of jewelry or second car (care spelled without the ‘e’).

Could it be that as a species we are hard wired to care for only our immediate family, and in certain instances extended family (uncles/aunts, cousins), where care reveals itself as an unbroken continuum of physical, emotional and financial sacrifices extended unconditionally to a select few? In an earlier age, we also cared for members of the tribe because it best guaranteed the tribe’s survival. To be noted – with due irony -- that we, in the 21st century, who pride ourselves in our science, technology and medicine, personally cared for a greater number of people when we were confined to caves.

So how can we do better knowing in advance our best intentions are no match against the imperatives writ in human nature that predict 999 times out 1,000 we’re going to spend $1,500 on a flat screen TV when that same money could feed and save the lives of 300 children (at $35/year) for one year?

Short of sending ourselves into the heart and horror of the world’s great suffering, at which point it becomes impossible to self-indulge at the expense of human life, the only alternative is to engage or activate a competing genetic disposition that will impose correct behaviour. If we could collectively come to the understanding that we risk perishing as a species if we fail to equitably distribute the world’s wealth, you can bet your undonated dollar that what has to get done will get done – that the DNA driven fear and response mechanism will produce a result that has thus far eluded what reason articulates is our duty.

What distinguishes the present from all preceding ages is the disproportionate power wielded by the unelected and disenfranchised. Norbert Weiner, in the 1950s, writing about the implications of the then burgeoning globalization of the planet, understood that when you arm yourself you arm the enemy. From terrorist activity that has destabilized life and government in Iraq-Bagdad, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Israel, Mumbai, Pakistan, Kashmir, Madrid, Nigeria, that insight has become a fact of everyday life.

But despite the death counts, the message has not been granted its gravitas: that the have-nots have had enough, and all the religion and law in the world cannot guarantee their orderly conduct. Globalization has assured their enlightenment -- the better life is attainable before the afterlife – while the Internet provides for their empowerment: instant how-to access to manufacturing and detonating bombs; planning terrorist attacks; the nurturing and setting loose of suicide bombers. What we haven’t ‘yet’ read about is the detonation of the chemical or dirty bomb that will instantly and indiscriminately kill millions of people and bring about a new world (dis)order founded on the paralysis of conventional power.

To be in denial entails the deliberate exclusion of facts and information that would otherwise explode an unrealistic assessment or viewpoint. In the fairy tale As the World Binges, the wealthiest nations of the world have managed to hi-jack the term ‘globalization’ and spin it into an economic template of tidy consequences. But the concept, as originally formulated by Marshall McLuhan, means if we don’t concern ourselves with the unhappiness of the Mohammeds of this world, they will become our problem. Globalization is a quantum equation that describes the planet’s interconnectivity where the single wag of any fibre optic tail moves every dog. Which in concrete terms means the cause and effect that link endemic poverty, terrorism and Armageddon is not a far fetched gothic fantasy. The dirty bomb will soon be a mere disconcerting click away. From the Philippines, Myanmar to Thailand, there are more and more instances of the erstwhile unrevolted have-nots breaking rank, refusing worship at the altar of compliance and acquiescence.

In his Seven Deadly Spins, Geoff Olson points out that what characterizes the have-nots is envy, which can lead to anger, and then revenge if our institutions fail to defuse that anger. And when the dust settles and the have-nots are still denied a piece of the pie, headlines are made. Non-entities cum terrorists, clutching after any straw of meaning, desperate to preserve what remains of sense of self, find their preservation best safeguarded by an algorithm whose endgame is to bring the haves, their culture and institutions, to their knees, and then some -- where every means justifies the end.

So far, terrorist bangs have been relatively small because the dirty bomb hasn’t been exploded. But its day will come if the haves continue to dwell in what can only be described as a state of surreal disconnect that is tantamount to rolling dice with manifest destiny. As Exxon, government and big banks fiddle, and our watchdogs are being wined and dined by lobbyists, the age of the aggrieved has snuck up on the horizon, its eyes and ire fixed on the west.

If there’s a pre-emptive remedy before the “blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” it’s pedagogical. The wealthy nations of the world can be taught that it is in their best interest to level the playing field, that their self-preservation is best assured by a deliberate and revolutionary redistribution of the world’s wealth. Less then that, they are signing on to a paradigm that will condemn them to living in post-modern fortresses inspired by the medieval example of Carcassonne, and burying the dead on a scale that will make the plague look like a walk in the park.

Barack Hussein Obama says 'yes we can.' I say,' we (the species) damn well better.' Homo sapiens is decisively at the crossroads one big-bang removed from the abyss where starvation, poverty, HIV and malaria have become the breakfast of champions for the freshly minted radicalized fanatisized of the planet.

The choices are bleak: either Care Now or Apocalypse Now.

Related Articles:
Among the Garbage and the Flowers
Blogger Down
Food Games in India

2007 Millennium Summit Report

The Dirty Bomb

The Shock Doctrine

How Wealth Creates Poverty



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