Slavery for Dummies – Part 2

October 20, 2011 12:13 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Chapter Four – Could Be Something’s Coming

I’m sure politician-poet WB Yeats couldn’t predict the future, but his oft-quoted lines from The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

might easily refer to the impetus for the increasing number of anti-capitalist protestors gathering in so many world cities.

Sometimes it’s the artists who can provide illumination because their very process depends on stepping back to take in the whole. Most social analysis, including pronouncements by the news media, focus too myopically on pinhead dancing. They miss the vital connections.

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard many on-air, online comments of bafflement at the Occupy movement – “What do these people want?” “Where are their leaders?” “What are their demands?”

Such analysts and broadcasters and self-appointed pyramid dwellers just don’t get it. They want someone to blame, someone to interrogate, someone to spray with water cannons and beat with batons. They’re not used to a genuine grass-roots development, a cohesion of people who want to question and challenge the failures of those who are supposed to have answers.

Whom do you lock up among a group of people who are sitting around asking questions? Surely we haven’t actually crossed the border guarded by the Thought Police – have we?

Instant answers are impossible, and certainly not without an exchange of ideas about genuine alternatives to a system that has corrupted itself. I ain’t talking “past panaceas”, but some new possibilities for a new era. People are finding their long-silenced voices. They may not have answers, but they can recognise that platitudes and shiny things won’t cut it anymore.

If you’re very lucky, you won’t be able to remember the first time your parents let you down. The first time they betrayed your trust, the first time you caught them in a lie, a lie that hurt, a lie you’ll carry with you. If you’re very lucky you won’t have that painful touchstone to guide you past the betrayals of teachers, employers, politicians.

It’s demoralizing. And the less choice you enjoy the more you conclude that nothing you do will make any difference. The power will always remain in the hands of the self-aggrandising elite. Your only intrinsic worth is to play the game, keep the system ticking over.

You must sacrifice your dreams to fuel the status quo. You must respect your place in the hierarchy and be content with the shiny bits. Sure, you can live like the rich, but it’ll all be ersatz. They’ll have the Picasso, you’ll have the poster. But, hey – the system is what matters, innit.

You must sacrifice your children to die in wars fought, not for the predictable promoted principles, but for the enrichment of what we lefties call the military-industrial complex. Well, ask yourself – who are the arms dealers? Who are the reparation contractors? Why has the primary purpose of states become, not the welfare of their people, but the ambassadorship of commerce? An ambassadorship, let’s not forget, that allows a Defence Minister, even a son of the Queen to redefine the essence of morality.

The ghost of early betrayals fuels the fury that has brought together a different kind of Occupying force. Old, young, sliced right through society, they’re all protesting their collective impotence within this unstable system. But the fury is contained – they’ve channelled it into a coming together. Their centre, so far, is holding.

Yeats was only one of many artists questioning the system. Hieronymus Bosch’s dense and wonderful triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c 1450-1516) charts our collective corruption, clearly linking economics and exploitation. Since Bosch didn’t leave any explanatory notes, the intervening centuries have produced numerous, often contradictory interpretations of the work. Its startling, phantasmagorical, even obscene images pit the benign blandness of Eden against a complex dance of social fallibility, finally pointing the way to grotesque scenes of after-death retribution.

One of the most potent images depicts a ravenous bird-like creature, blue-bodied with spindly legs dangling from his high perch, an upturned golden kettle on his head. Accompanied by a cacophony of anti-music, he gobbles whole someone who is farting out crows, adding the body to an eternal succession of others whom he defecates out into a circular pit below the red, red ground. The pit also receives the vomit of a naked man, helped by a kind of nun, and just the posterior of another person shitting out gold coins.

The closer you examine Bosch’s metaphorical imagery, the clearer it becomes that this last judgement occupies a venue for the obscenities of commerce and the commodification of relationships.

It implies what might be a wish fulfilment that even slave-drivers will get their just desserts eventually. Dream on!

For though Bosch may have encountered the monstrous likes of Torquemada, Pope Alexander VI and his brutal son Cesare Borgia, he never met slave-drivers and tyrants the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Pinochet, the dangerous tobacco barons, the corrupt boards of Tyco, Enron, BAE Systems, Goldman Sachs and all their cronies ad nauseam. Even when you metaphorically chop off their heads, their policies spring up like hydras, preying on us slaves.

Sniff, sniff. Whiff whiff. What IS that horrid pong?

Chapter Five – None of Your Business

Back here on terra firma there’s an ominous seepage. It’s everywhere. It’s as disgusting and invasive as black mould in the corner. It features on every news bulletin, and has even disguised itself in top hat and tails to glitter and gleam on prime time telly.

The Apprentice. Dragon’s Den. Queen of Shops. All are pledged to glamorise the business of business. The assumption is always that the only way is competition. The only way is to dominate. The only way is to trust us. We will take your passion, your creativity, your precious ideas, the heart-meat of your beliefs and turn them into big fat bucks. For us. Oh, yeah – here’s a crumb for you, too.

None, not even the business analysts on The Bottom Line or Moneybox, challenge the assumption that capitalism is the only answer, that control rests in the paws of business – the bigger the better. Success is solely measured in numbers.

Remind me – how much is a pound of happiness? A kilo of kisses? A barrel of baby smiles, orangutan games, the honey smell of buddleia? How do you measure a rhyme, a melody or the color indigo? What price a gentle breeze and the tang of the sea?

The implied message from the market is not only that you, too, can dine at the feast, but that you’d better play your part. You’d better join the race for growth.

They don’t tell you that the mechanisms of business growth depend on the only outcome of a nurturing process, namely takeover. They’ll kidnap your baby, dress it in their clothes, and, more than likely, turn it against you. And we all know how vicious rebellious teens can be!

It’s salutary to consider the recent cinema hit The Social Network. Not because it’s about the FaceBook phenomenon, but because it’s a valuable study in the modus operandi of business. And how, the rules just might be starting to change.

Chapter Six – Jam Tomorrow

Don’t you dare tell me what I think, what I believe, or what I am. I may consume some products but it doesn’t mean my essence equals consumer. I am not always a customer. That is the least interesting part of what I am.

On a recent visit to the doctor, I actually saw on a form that I am a customer. I am NOT a customer of my own health. When did that happen? Is it some sinister subtle way of inching us into annihilating one of the most valuable assets of modern British culture, namely the National Health Service?

When did we agree to commodify life’s essentials?

Why do we pay for water, for example? It should be forcibly returned to state ownership, where it bubbled happily for decades, our collective contributions perfectly capable of funding the mechanisms of supply. What has been gained by privatisation – except obscene profit to the companies.

It is totally disgusting that an element which is vital to life should be controlled by those making a profit from it. Totally disgusting! We all need water to live, otherwise we DIE. Get that, we DIE! It is criminal that any water company should profit by my right to life. We can – pardon the pun – pool our payments for water through our taxes. Tax is not a dirty word – it’s meant to protect everyone equally. Profit on my life IS a dirty word, and one that no water can wash clean.

We slaves don’t even have to pay the tyrants with money. Their policies pollute the very air we breathe. We’re paying with our lives, our lungs, our beautiful blood so that multi-national industries can get rich, richer, richest.

They don’t get it. And maybe even worse, they just don’t care.

Now then – how’s about some oil on your jam? Enbridge, for example, is a very wealthy international oil supplier which tosses out pipelines like taproots across continents, and, along the way has collected a file-full of suits due to breaks and leak-outs.

Here’s a quote from the August 31 news release issued by the Natural Resources Council of Maine website

“According to a report by the Polaris Institute, Enbridge’s pipelines experienced 713 spills between 1999 and 2009, releasing 133,856 barrels of oil into the environment. In 2010 alone, Enbridge pipelines spilled over 843,000 gallons of oil from Canada’s tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River-a spill that, at its height, involved more than 2,500 clean-up specialists working to reduce pollution along 35 miles of polluted river and shoreline.”

Of course Enbridge will tell you how green they are. They’ll tell you how you must support their efforts to exploit oil extraction from rocks and sand. They’ll tell the Canadian government to throw away the planning rulebook so they can help solve the world’s energy crisis. Dosh today, jam tomorrow.

They won’t tell you how their operations will pollute waterways, destroy forests and wildlife, upset the balance of Native communities, and turn Maine into the dirty tar sands capital of North America.

And, in a recent documentary, the young men driving the massive trucks that carry the oil-packed shale, were asked how they felt about whole communities being devastated by their work. They were making tens of thousands of pound for the summer, bussed in from somewhere else. They just shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me,” said one. “Long as I get my money,” said another.

We’ve been brainwashed into a love affair with oil. We’ll believe anyone who tells us we don’t have to give up stuff that runs on the dirtiest of fuels.

But, oh yes, there is a choice. Some UK initiatives promote the recycling of used vegetable oils which are converted into bio-fuel. It’s more efficient for running vehicles and machinery, the net costs are far less. Best of all, it is pollutant free. There’s a farmer in Bude, Cornwall who’s added this fuel choice to his completely green and organic farm, offering not only wonderful food, but carbon neutral local deliveries.

If we’re privileged enough to be able to make choices about the way we live our daily lives, let’s consider how we might make some good ones, how we might swap competition for collaboration.

Of course, many slaves simply have no choice at all.

Chapter Seven – I Want, You Need

Cue the music. Sleek romantic glissandos. A billowing swathe of chiffon blowing gently into the room. Reclining on a velvet chaise a young woman opens her mouth seductively as she peers straight into the camera. She lifts something to her lips, bites delicately, and with perfectly manicured fingers, brushes crumbs of chocolate onto her tongue.

Cut to the Ivory Coast, where a million cocoa farms produce about half the world’s supply. The people of the Ivory Coast used to grow most of their own food. Now companies like Hershey’s, Cadbury, and Nestles have transformed the country’s land to supply the cocoa cash crop.

The people used to live in small communities. They knew each other, they shared their produce, they felt a responsibility for everyone else.

Now the workers are forced to live away from their families, who’ve had to occupy filthy slums. The workers, meanwhile, live in isolated parts of the country, twenty or more sharing a cramped shack, sharing one tin can as a communal lavatory.

They work about twelve hours a day, breathing in chemical crop spray, wielding ultra-sharp machetes. Then they’re taken from the cocoa plantations and locked into their quarters. They’re regularly beaten, bearing scars and bleeding flesh. Sometimes they become wounded when there’s an accident with the machetes. When wounds become infected they’re left to rot and fester, unless the wounds are on hands or feet. Then the limbs are amputated.

And who are these workers? Most are children and teenagers. The majority are trafficked from neighbouring Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world. The plantation enslaves both boys and girls. In addition to their work in the cocoa fields, the girls must spend part of their day as house-maids, or on the streets as prostitutes.

The parents are told the plantation owners will give them a good life. They’ll be able to send home money, and their children will be educated and make them proud. Jam tomorrow. Except the children are never paid, never go to school, and never see their families again.

Back in the 1990s, when I worked commissioning television drama series for the BBC, I researched a program about the work of Interpol. One of the things I was convinced would make some powerful drama was the issue of child slavery. I’d discovered there was a special unit at Interpol dedicated to discovering all aspects of this shameful measure of our society. It’s happening all over the world, and Interpol is doing some excellent work in bringing abuses to wider attention.

I’m greatly saddened to say that – despite months of research, documentation, trips to Interpol in Lyon, and the commissioning of well-known writers to prepare story treatments – the then powers that be at the BBC balked at the idea of the series because they just didn’t believe such things went on.

Let’s try telling that to a little girl having unprotected sex, or a boy nursing the gashes on his back because he’s made a brave move to escape his enslavement.

According to The International Labor Rights Forum, which monitors the situation, chocolate companies could, if they wanted to, refuse to buy beans from the plantations which have already been tagged. Especially Nestles which sources its cocoa directly and controls its supply chain.

Oh, yeah, enjoy your chocolate.

Part Three of Slavery for Dummies will encounter matters of faith, and hang out a hope that there might be another way.


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This post was written by outRageous!

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