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? ...