Monday, November 02, 2009

The Joy of Sweatshops

A historically-challenged anarcho-capitalist (okay, that should go without saying) decided to take some of his precious time trying to educate me about the real world and why unregulated capitalism is soooo wonderful. I would like you to especially take note of this "Libertarian's" laughably insincere concern for the poor sweatshop-less people of Cambodia.
Okay--now that you've had your say, will you listen to a staunch anarcho-capitalist? If yes, I would like to start you off with a great article from (of all places) Nick Kristof at the New York Times, entitled "Where Sweatshops Are a Dream." Watch the video attached, read the article, and ask me questions if you wish.

But just remember a few maxims underpinning libertarian thought: 1) Poverty cannot be cured through force of arms or government decree--only by independent business. 2) Wealth is the foundation for all businesses except multinational conglomerates with sweet government contracts. Redistribution hurts everyone _except_ the Monsantos and Halliburtons. 3) The only power governments have military, and the only money they have is other people's money. 4) Subsidizing an enterprise with 'government' money is no different than when identity thieves buy jet-skis with your credit card--it's theft, pure and simple.

Next time you want to talk about capitalism being about "controlling and hurting other people," remember that capitalism is the only thing keeping you from living a terribly harsh subsistence-agrarian lifestyle, such as the vast majority of humans on this planet must endure. Perhaps if the mother of that article had been in a more capitalist country, her son wouldn't have been backed over by a garbage truck looking for scrap plastic. It's rather hypocritical to mock the very thing that allows you and I to maintain such an expensive and comfortable existence, isn't it?

This is my response.

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to educate me on the harsh reality (which apparently you inhabit 24/7) outside of my little utopian fairytale. I have a few humble comments about your enlightening and historically-accurate interpretation of how the world works. First, I'll start with your list:

1) Poverty cannot be cured through force of arms or business—which continue to exacerbate it—or government decree, though that can make a huge difference. Poverty can only be cured by local communities taking responsibility for their people's welfare.

2) Wealth is the foundation of all businesses. Period. Multinational conglomerates may have sweet government contracts, but that is still wealth. The problem with our system isn't whether or not businesses are founded on wealth; it is that wealth in this economy is based on wage labour and the exploitation of the poor. Redistribution doesn't "hurt" anyone. If I tell a child to share a toy with their friend, is that hurting them?

3) The only power that Objectivists want governments to have are through the military and criminal law. These are the two reasons why governments are so dangerous in the first place. Take away the military and criminal law, and all they can do is serve the people. You essentially have an anarchist society.

4) Subsidizing an already enormous enterprise through government money is completely unnecessary, but that's what gets subsidies. Subsidizing a small business gives them the leverage they need in a competitive environment. Otherwise, the most ruthless competitors (AKA the ones that exploit humans and the environment the most) would have the upper hand…as they do today. So wouldn't taking subsidies away from large corporations even the playing field? Yes, in the same way that cutting my hair would me closer to the height of an infant.

Aww yes, those poor people living in landfills. That must be because they aren't working in wonderful sweatshops! Please learn a little history. Have those people been living in landfills for hundreds of years? Are they the People of the Landfill, whose simple culture has been waiting forever for a chance to work sixteen hours a day absorbing toxins through the air and passing out from exhaustion? Or is it perhaps related to the industrial revolution, or Western countries ravaging Third-World nations' resources at the expense of the majority of the people on Earth? Such a simplistic view of labour is reserved only for the economist (who is taught from a young age to have tunnel-vision and accept economics as a "hard science"), and the Objectivist (who agrees with Rand that Native Americans deserved to be destroyed due to their primitive economic systems). That's exactly how this mess started: Westerners destroyed the land that other societies lived on, and massacred indigenous people, so now they cannot hunt and gather or develop small farms; instead they must become intentional slaves.

Perhaps if you wish to understand the real reason why Cambodians are in such a bad way they're willing to work in sweat shops, you will read this.

And now for my favourite: Capitalism is keeping us from living a "terribly harsh" subsistence-agrarian lifestyle. Let's look at that for a second, shall we? People who live subsistence lives tend to be the happiest, most fulfilled people in the world. If African nations still used subsistence agriculture, they wouldn't have any of the problems they have today (as a result of their subsistence lifestyles being forcefully transformed into cash-cropping and exports-based agriculture). No, the harsh existence that most people on this planet endure is directly caused by capitalism and imperialism, and is due to the fact that subsistence living has been all but destroyed globally. I hope that one day everyone will realize that the only way to combat poverty and environmental destruction is to grow your own food.

By the way, I live in an ecovillage community. We grow our own food here. We look after each other. And—whaddaya know!—we like it.

A betrayal of hope

My father wrote this letter to various media outlets, and I thought it was better than my previous post about Van Jones.

The Attack on Van Jones—a Betrayal of Hope

The first time I met Van Jones he gave a talk to my group of high school students. His talk, accompanied by a video about the way black youth are systematically treated, was addressed to a group of young white kids at an environmental action weekend in Marin County, California. The kids found him exciting and inspiring. You may be wondering what the question of black youth has to do with environmental action. To Van, the connection was complex but clear: In order to effectively address one critical issue we could not simply ignore another, equally critical one. The Environmental and Civil Rights movements are two of the most vital, powerful forces in the US. Imagine what could be accomplished if they worked together. True, not all black kids see the point of environmentalism—they are often more concerned with police harassment and their chances of having a meaningful career. And not all white kids understand racial profiling and injustice, what might be called the Skip Gates factor. White people just don’t have to deal with that, at least not directly.

Van saw, continues to see, the urgency of connecting the two. That is exactly what the “Green Economy” is: an attempt to solve both the economic crisis, which was already severe in the inner city before the current recession, and the environmental crisis, which threatens to drown us all in climate disaster. Train young people, including a fair proportion of those traditionally left out of these opportunities, as green collar workers. Produce and set up wind turbines, solar panels, composting systems, comprehensive recycling, local food production. Train and hire urban youths to carry out the jobs that will save both their communities and the planet.

Van’s vision is clear and compelling enough that it got the ear of Senator Obama, and once the Senator was elected President it got Van a job as White House Green Jobs advisor. His vision is clear and compelling enough that the Green Party co-leader of New Zealand—halfway around the world—raised it as an inspiration in his address last summer (US winter), mentioning Van by name.

Now Van Jones has resigned, in order to avoid becoming a distraction from the pressing national issues of climate change and health care reform. Van is a very smart man. He knows what he’s doing here. He also knows that he was the victim of a “vicious smear campaign” (his words) by the extreme right. The extreme right in this case takes the form of a national “news” program on Fox TV. Glenn Beck, the prime mover behind the campaign, fires a daily barrage of lies and hate at the Obama administration. Beck sees Obama as someone with “a deep seated hatred for white people”—this from a “news” caster who recently told a 7-year old girl to go back to Africa and offered to buy her a ticket there.

It doesn’t take a lot of insight to figure out who it is that has “a deep seated hatred”, and for whom. But it is very important that we understand: this is not just an attack on Obama. This is an attack on us. The extreme right has taken out a lead voice for both civil rights and the environment in one blow. And the purpose of this attack is to make all of us fear to lift our voices for social justice and the environment. It is wrong, very wrong, for Obama not to have stood up from the beginning and said to Fox News, over and over, as often as it takes: “You are wrong. You are a bully, and we stand against bullies. Your program is not news at all, but systematic personal attacks. Van stands for civil rights and the environment. The American people and I support him in that.” Bullies and abusers should not be ignored, because it only encourages them to more bullying and abuse. They must be exposed for what they are.

President Obama has communicated to us through his inaction that he will not provide effective leadership on these issues. But we do not require his leadership to act. The Color of Change, a civil justice group co-founded by Van Jones, has organized a very effective boycott of Fox News. Even conservative retail giant Walmart has withdrawn their advertising support for Beck’s program.

Van Jones has not resigned in disgrace. He has returned to the same civil society where he started such effective groups as Green for All and Color of Change. Van is one of us again. Let us stand with him for justice and against abuse.

A Visionary is Beaten—Temporarily

Van Jones, one of my role models and strong promoter of environmental justice, has just resigned from his position of Green Jobs Advisor to President Barack Obama, due to incessant bullying by Glenn Beck and his ilk. I have heard time and again that these right-wing lunatics are only fringe, and they do not represent the majority of Republicans. If that is the case, I'm fucking terrified. That is one powerful fringe. To give you an idea on how beyond conservative these wackos are, here is an actual conservative blog post defending Jones.

That fringe has already penetrated Congress, since GOP Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) called a congressional hearing on Jones; he wanted to discuss the fact that Jones was liberal and how to prosecute him for it.

I have so far showed my support by signing a petition to call Beck out on his bullshit, posting several tweets about Van Jones, and becoming a fan on Facebook. Please go here for more information.

I also wrote him a note on his fan page on Facebook to show my support (below). I hope enough people can mobilise to do something productive about this blatant censorship.
Hi Van.

I have been a huge supporter for years, saw you talk a couple times, and supported the Ella Baker Center. You are one of my role models. I know if I had been bullied the way you were, I would have resigned a thousand times over. I was so excited to see you appointed as an advisor to Obama, and it hurts me deeply to see a visionary like you being attacked in this day and age. My disillusionment with the USA is one of the reasons I moved to New Zealand, I'm afraid.

But I hope to come back soon, because the US is my home and I am one of the more privileged (middle-class) people. We must use the power we have to stop injustices in this world. I will use my power to support you.

All the best,


A pricelessly arrogant picture

From chimp-like animism to human monotheism and atheism

I found this picture at

As you might imagine, I have found a couple problems with this picture:

  • It shows a visual manifestation of humans getting better and more upright, connecting changes in our physiology with “advances” in our belief systems.

  • Monotheism is depicted as a necessary step towards atheism

  • Tribal animism is depicted as the least “evolved”

  • All four creatures in the picture have penises (unless those are supposed to be our vestigial tails?) *I know that's the "M" but seriously, I'm sure this artist is capable of better.

What this tells me:

  • The person who drew the picture was a man

  • He connects his sex with the generic depiction of a human being

  • He also connects the creation of Western civilisation with “evolution”

  • He considers a category of religion that is responsible for millions of deaths, oppression, imperialism, and violence, to be more evolved than a category of spirituality that is grounded in respect for human and all other life

Let me be more specific. He quotes Dawkins, whom I respect a great deal, along with a man named Ibn Warraq, a secularist and active critic of Islam. Though I assume Dawkins would acknowledge that "evolution" does not by any means equal progress, Dawkins specifically refers to a progression from animism, to polytheism, to monotheism, and then onto atheism.

This is an obnoxiously presumptuous attitude that I have to say I'm a bit surprised by. Our global culture may have moved in that specific direction, but I would argue that our evolution towards monotheism was quite a regression. We started with a universal spirituality that respected all living beings, and saw symbolic spirits in observable natural phenomena (e.g. wind, water, trees...). We then "progressed" to a category of cults and superstitions completely devoid of any reason and separated from the physical world. Monotheistic deities even made a point to no longer be on this earth, but rather to be in some intangible place in the sky; in other words, we dissociated ourselves from our world and went off into la-la land. And at the same time, we—surprise!—separated ourselves from each other. We began dominating the earth, and each other. We oppressed other humans from other cultures that we regarded as weak or inferior and we treated women and children differently from men.

Now for Warraq. He has the unimpressive and simplistic idea that “monotheism is in its turn doomed to subtract one more God and become atheism.” It is just as difficult to subtract one god from a monotheistic religion as it is to subtract millions from a polytheistic one. Actually, I would argue it's more difficult. And it is a million times simpler to move from animism to atheism. I would consider myself an animist, a pantheist, and an atheist. Animism is the belief that everything living (or even everything in existence) has a "spirit." This does not have to be superstitious, unlike with polytheism and monotheism. It is rather like pantheism, the belief in god or gods as nature itself. We do not attribute supernatural abilities to nature; we simply revere it as it is; an amazing thing with awesome power. The relationship between both biotic and abiotic elements of an ecosystem is fluid, lifelike, changing, and worthy of reverence; yet none of it goes beyond the scope of the scientific method.

As for polytheism: gods in polytheistic religions and spiritualities are much more down-to-earth than the Judeo-Christian God could ever hope to be. In most polytheistic religions, gods represent certain aspects of nature itself, though usually with a supernatural slant. In Hinduism, Brahma is the god of creation, Shiva the god of destruction, and Vishnu the god of preservation; together they balance each other out. They each come to earth regularly and interact with the physical world. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the goddess of the earth itself. You do not need to look up into the sky and speak to a God whose whereabouts are never actually known; if you wish to speak to Gaia, she is right there beneath your feet.

Then came the monotheists. A group of people wandered the desert and became weary from their lack of resources. Everything seemed cruel to them; life seemed cruel. So they changed their gods to fit the cruelty they saw. They developed a philosophy of cruelty that involved more self-involvement and survival instinct and less interest in the good of all creation. They pushed their gods away from the earth and their minds left as well. They became disoriented and dissociated from reality, soon their gods formed a mass of one omniscient, omnipotent, abstract God beyond human comprehension. That is the culture that created our highly-evolved monotheistic culture today; a random group of unlucky people who succumbed to the cruelties of an arid climate. Now we must all pass on the abuse of this culture: their feelings of futility—that things are the way things are because God wants it that way; their fear—that God is judgmental and cruel and you must walk on eggshells around Him; and their self-hatred—that God loves and forgives you despite the fact that you were born into sin beyond your control. And don't forget their hatred of others—that God does not forgive those who do not believe the same things, or act the same way that his followers do.

Yes, I can see why that God—the one that has always been at odds with science, reason, and empiricism—that God was a necessary step towards atheism: a lack of superstition, lack of futility, lack of fear, and lack of hatred.

Just because a culture is powerful does not mean it is best. Just because a culture dominates and destroys all others does not mean it is part of progress in any sense.

Powerful Political Pictures

It's amazing what kinds of pictures you can find on the Internet. These either moved me, infuriated me, or both.

America the Beautiful

Yes, I can see why they call it the "land of opportunity."


Finally, an honest conservative.

A Diamond is Forever

Frankly, I see this image in my head whenever I see a diamond.

The times have changed
So powerful. God I wish Martin Luther King, Jr. was here now. He would be so disappointed.

Keep your laws off my body

omg srsly? You know, you could recycle that sign for a pro-choice rally. You know, if you want to not look like a hypocrite.

Child abuse

This is what happens when unwanted children are born. We seriously need to get our priorities straight.
In New Zealand, a referendum to change a law protecting children from corporal punishment just won over 80% of the vote.