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state of the world - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2003-11-10 11:54
state of the world
Public
thoughtfulthoughtful
I saw Bowling for Columbine again last night, with some friends who hadn't seen it before. In light of my political and economic development class, it was interesting to see the indignation and outrage many parents of Columbine kids had to the incident. (One hysterical father was shouting to the police that he had a right to see his daughter, to see that she was safe.) Their grief was real, but we are isolated enough that the grief that results from such horror is not a common occurrence. Most of us go our whole lives without seeing anybody die, and we take for granted that we will have the opportunity to get an education, have a job, own a house, have children, and see our own children grow up to do the same. When we are faced with tragedy, we thusly react with outrage that such a thing could happen to us, of all people. We don't realize that in many parts of the world, the grief that the parents of Columbine kids who were killed experienced IS a part of everyday life: in many places in the world it's common to see people killed, and parents can not and do not expect their children to be able to grow up past eighteen - in short, they can't expect stability and predictability in their life there like we the privileged can here. And what even fewer ever learn is that a shockingly large amount of that grief overseas, in third-world countries, is caused by the exploitation that gives us the opportunity to live without it.

Speaking of exploitation, I read an interesting rant a while ago (by an Ames, though probably not one related to me) on exile.ru about the cycle of exploitation (and about the difference between Russian and American intelligentsia and other stuff). I'd recommend it - and if you read it and find you disagree with any of it, by all means post, because I'd like to have some debate on it. My housemate also sent me a history of corporations that I haven't read through in its entirety yet, but since I'm posting such things, I might as well post this too. :~)

Of course after the movie we talked at length about What Is Wrong With The World Today, and What We Can Do About It. We talked about how many weapons and chemical plant employees are not only myopic, but openly delusional, thinking that they are bettering the world by building fleet ballistic missiles or whatever. (In the movie, Michael Moore asked a Lockheed Martin employee if he thinks that Columbine kids learn that violence is the answer from their parents who work at Lockheed, and he said "I don't see that connection.") This delusion came up several times in the books on the development of nuclear weapons we read in my History of Science class (many scientists at Alamo sincerely believed they were protecting the world and that their work was only in reaction to similar work in Germany), in my friend's interaction with chemical plants in Louisiana and here, and also in the tour I took of Lockheed's Fleet Ballistic Missile Facility during my ignominious summer as an intern in the space division. At the same time, the executives of the same companies are scrounging after a dollar, and seem to actively shut out voices (like Moore's) that may make them reconsider or even just feel guilty for their actions. I wonder what they really do think - if they realize how much a part of the problem they are, if they think they are actually part of the solution like their employees doggedly do, or if their thoughts are something else entirely. It is disturbing to read figures on just how many of the weapons around the world come from Lockheed and other US weapons companies - in class I learned that 40 percent of the world's weapons were made in the US. Why are we an economic superpower, now? ...

Maybe the execs just rationalize it like so many of us rationalize much of our lives. Last year I read an article in Scientific American about "why smart people believe weird things," which says intelligent people are not less likely than less-intelligent people to believe things based on hunches or flash judgments, and in fact, they're better at coming up with reasonable-sounding rationalizations that can convince other people.

We also talked about the alienation of teens, and how schools facilitate it. Paul Graham's description of the psychology in schools as similar to the psychology in prisons - how each is a more or less closed system with no power to affect on the world around it - really struck a chord with me. Kids join gangs and bring weapons to schools because they feel helpless and powerless in their lives, and want to regain some control. I think that if junior-high and high-school kids had the power to have an effect on their communities - perhaps with service learning or apprenticeships - we wouldn't have the problems of lashing-out behaviors and weapons in schools. It's the psychology of helplessness that breeds such destructive tendencies. ... It certainly fits my high-school experience, anyway.

Ultimately, it seems like the best thing we can do about it is to learn more. I am disturbed about being inadvertently a part of the problem, by living a fairly privileged life in a very privileged country. My political and economic development professor has the cynical attitude that we can't NOT be part of the problem, even if we are researching conditions in the third world, because we're only in the position to do research at all because of the disparity. This is the argument of some third-world feminists who side with their own patriarchal, exploitative government and men rather than first-world feminists: both the men and the first-world feminists are part of the problem, but the first-world exploitation is more of a problem, and more foreign as well. What to do, what to do? ...
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2003-11-10 16:30 (UTC)
incomplete thoughts on the eXile article
  • The Left isn't an elite; it comprises nearly half the US population. The thought leaders of the Left comprise an elite, as do the thought leaders of the Right.
  • The anti-elitism of the Left is indeed counterproductive. The real enemy is not the SUV, or its driver; the real enemy is the social structure that prevents all but a few from affording the SUV or its fuel.
  • It's possible, perhaps even essential, to persuade the lower classes not to share in their own oppression by e.g. buying from the Gap; Gandhi did it with great success. But it's easy for an Old Navy or Gap customer to mistake exhortations not to participate in their own doom for classist condemnation of their poverty. And buying from Wal-Mart is a prisoner's dilemma situation: not shopping there won't bring back your union job unless a lot of people do it with you.
  • I can't argue that I'm not elitist, but I'm a hell of a lot less elitist than Mark Ames.
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2003-11-10 16:47 (UTC)
further comments on Mark Ames's article

There's another reason the American intelligentsia has never been exterminated like rats, the way the Russian intelligentsia has: we live in a democratic society where the nomenklatura, such as they are, have far less power than in Russia. In particular, they have never had the power to condemn their political enemies to the death camps.

Ames's foolish counsel could be summarized as follows: "The Right's ideology and actions is elitist, but the Right appeals to the people by pretending to be populist; the Left's ideology is anti-elitist, but many members of the Left take elitist actions, such as not shopping at Wal-Mart. This justifiably repels the people, because they detect hypocrisy and condescension. Rather than trying to rid ourselves of hypocrisy and condescension, we should adopt a rightist, elitist ideology, like that of the American Right or the Russian intelligentsia, so that we are no longer hypocritical, and we should do it openly, unlike the Right. Then the people will love us, even though they detest the Russian intelligentsia."

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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-11 14:07 (UTC)
Re: further comments on Mark Ames's article
Good points. I wasn't sure what to think about the Left-elitist thing. It seems like an excuse to make leftist people feel guilty - a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. If you choose to shop at Wal-Mart you're a bad person because you're supporting sweatshop labor overseas, and if you don't you're a bad person because you're elitist and alienating the poor who can't afford to shop elsewhere.

I don't know much about the Russian intelligentsia, aside from the snippets I've picked up from history class and my ex-boyfriend, but I know the American so-called "intelligentsia" include people like my dad, a hippie-cowboy who now drives airport shuttles for a living (used to do landscaping) and watches sports avidly, but is very well-read and has well-developed notions of what's going on in the world. Perhaps there aren't many like him, perhaps there are, but he sure doesn't fit into Ames's stuffy definition at all.

Why would people in poverty vote Republican, when Republicans are notorious for giving tax breaks to the rich and to corporations, and cutting the programs that help them? Part of it is rhetoric, and part is not having a good concept of what's going on in the government. But another part is that for so many, politics is like religion - taken on faith. (In fact, in Utah it's fairly directly linked to faith - stake leaders and bishops will advise Mormon followers to vote for Mormon politicians, who happen to be pretty much completely Republican.) Another thing we noted on Sunday in Bowling for Columbine is that the groups involved - NRA, television, families of gun victims, and others - kept talking past one another, never really addressing what the other was saying. This seems to happen in politics much too often. I myself occasionally have to fight the tendency to think the other side must be stupid for not seeing the world the way I do, or for believing in something that seems so obviously wrong to me. Though I try so hard to be rational, even I can just "take things on faith" in this way.

The so-called "cycle of oppression" that Ames talks about is what I thought was most interesting in the article:

    Here a cruel and almost funny cycle revealed itself. Think about it. The $12 sweater in the Old Navy bin is made by grossly underpaid Indonesian sweatshop workers. Their exploitation allows me and the Latinos to stock up on nice sweaters for prices far less in real terms than these sweaters might have cost a decade ago. But the exploitation also feeds the resentment against America that draws Indonesians towards Islamic extremism. That extremism feeds terrorism, which leads to America’s military response: war. The war is fought predominantly by America’s underclass—the very people who shop at Old Navy, the very people who benefit from the sweatshop labor that produced the terrorism that drew them back onto the battlefield.

    Another nasty cycle: the multinationals move factories out of America due to its high labor costs, thereby adding to the bottom half’s increasing poverty and wage stagnation in order to further enrich the shareholders, America’s thin upper layer. Production of goods is sub-contracted out to a factory in Indonesia which pays its employees pennies and offers no benefits or protections. The Indonesian slave labor camp ships its sweaters to Old Navy stores across America at prices cheap enough for the increasingly impoverished American working class to afford. This is how the nasty effects of globalization are masked: Ralph may lose his job at the factory, but the wages he makes at his temp work are enough to keep him afloat, and the cheap Third -World-produced goods just affordable enough to keep him from being completely disenfranchised.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-11 14:11 (UTC)
Re: further comments on Mark Ames's article
BTW, what did you think of the school article, if you got a chance to read it? The experiences he related fit disturbingly well with my experiences in high school, but I'm wondering if it's really as universal as he seems to make it out to be.
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2003-11-13 12:53 (UTC)
Re: further comments on Mark Ames's article
I haven't read it yet ---
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2003-11-13 12:56 (UTC)
Re: further comments on Mark Ames's article
The Russian school reading list article?
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-13 19:03 (UTC)
Re: further comments on Mark Ames's article
Whoops, sorry - this one: http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html
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Kris
anemone
2003-11-19 20:35 (UTC)
(no subject)
(In the movie, Michael Moore asked a Lockheed Martin employee if he thinks that Columbine kids learn that violence is the answer from their parents who work at Lockheed, and he said "I don't see that connection.")

I always found the ending to "Lord of the Flies" ironic, when the navy guy from his warship comes and picks up the kids and says more or less "I can't believe good English boys did this."
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-11-21 00:26 (UTC)
(no subject)
Ooh, I had forgotten that twist. :~) I should re-read that book sometime. Banned books are fun.
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