In between readings and relaxing, I sat down this evening to watch a movie called Battle in Seattle. Some of you, will likely be familiar with this movie. For those who aren't, I'll attempt to explain.
The movie is a blend of fact and fiction revolving around the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle in 1999, which saw massive public rallying, as well as a massive amount of civic crackdown from police and politicians. The events in Seattle helped create things we see at conventions now a days, such as the 'protest zone' about 2 - 3 kilometres away from the meeting, and so forth...
Now, I was rather young individual in 1999, so my memory of the events that unfolded is practically non-existent, which was one reason why I was interested in watching this particular film.
And now that I have, I can't help but shake my head a little.
Granted, it's primarily a work of fiction when it comes to the interaction between characters and their stories, but the events they're set around are factual, and I think well presented. Anyways, it got me thinking as to the core values of my own beliefs, which is what this post is going to be about.
It's going to be generalized, so if you're looking for specifics, I'm afraid you won't see them in this post.
For as long as I can remember, I've always been identified on the left of the political spectrum. Growing up, I had a fixation with world history, and was particularly interested in the history of the Soviet Union. As I grew up, learning more about these issues, I found myself beginning to form the tenants of my political beliefs that have stuck with me to this day.
To be painfully truthful, in my youth I could and in sometimes did, identify myself as a communist; in that I believed in the power of the state to improve the lives of individuals. Of course, over time as I grew to better understand political philosophy, I realized I wasn't a communist but rather a socialist.
To be even more brutally honest, there was my brief flirtation as a Liberal Party volunteer; but when I stood back and examined them closely, what I saw I didn't like. I didn't see a party that I thought was a champion of human rights; I didn't see a party that encouraged democratic reform that is desperately needed in this country; all I saw was a party that calculated the most popular options and ran with them, hoping that this brand of populism would be enough to form government one more time.
After coming to that realization, I realized the Liberal tent was not broad enough for my ideals. And of course, I was happy that I hadn't wasted my money on a membership for a party I didn't want to belong to.
After that, I realized that there was only one party where someone like myself could see the social change I wanted to see; and that was the New Democrats. So, for the first time in my life, I bought a party membership, started attending executive meetings, joined a Young NDP group, and even ran for office under the banner; unsuccessfully, though...
I'm going to perhaps be more personal in this post than I originally thought, so I wouldn't blame anyone for stopping at this point; but for those who continue, perhaps you'll gain a better understanding of this young New Democrat, and why he takes the time to put up blog posts that he isn't sure anyone but himself reads...
Anyways, getting back on topic.
As I watched Battle in Seattle, I found myself thinking about my own beliefs. Would I be so bold as to join a protest of that scale? Would I continue to stand there, demanding my public right to assembly peacefully, despite knowing that I would get pepper sprayed, assaulted by police officers, and very likely arrested?
I was shocked when I thought about it and discovered that my answer was no. I would like to explain that, if I can.
I've never considered myself much of an activist; I mean, I care very deeply about many issues, and have given time to some of these issues, but social disobedience has never been my medium. I've always been an insightful letter to the editor, or direct contact with local politicians, kind of guy.
I do imagine that there are some issues that would spur on the activist within me, but even then, I find it hard to imagine that I would break out of my preferred method of spreading the word for social change. Some may call this cowardice, or lack of commitment, or even condemn with an innocuous word like 'pragmatism', said in such a way as to make it a negative thing.
Despite my lack of desire to take to the streets, I can assure you that many of the things that people protest against drives my blood its boiling point. I don't lack anger, or disappointment, over the way things are done on a national or international level, I just have a different means of expressing it.
So, to make my point slightly less convoluted; I think what I'm trying to say is that activism is what we make of it. Some of us have the ability to take to the streets and make the world hear our message; some of us don't, but that doesn't mean we don't contribute to the cause in other ways.
I feel as though I've strayed off topic a little, so I'm going to try to get back on the rails.
I think when I look at the world, I've still kept one thing from my youth that will never change: And that is my very negative view of the capitalist economy.
Now, before cries of Marxist and Communist begin, allow me to attempt to explain my problem with it before you condemn me.
The problem I've always had with the capitalist system is that it is a system of dreams, and more importantly, a system of shattered dreams. Capitalism stresses the idea that wealth is the most important thing in the universe; as long as you have wealth, why should you care about anything else?
And the most important part, is that ANYONE can be wealthy. Anyone can take an idea and make millions of dollars off of it. Anyone can start at the lowest possible spectrum of their career chain, and end up at the top of it. Capitalism is a system that suggests that you get out of it what you put into it; that if you work hard, you will be rewarded.
I want everyone to think about that last part for a moment.
Capitalism is based on a philosophical fallacy; it suggests that life is fair, but at the same time also reminds us that life is not fair.
Truly think about it. How many people have risen from the mail room to become CEO of a Fortune 500 company? How many people have become President of the United States without being a wealthy person, or a person of influence, prior? How many people have worked in the same career for 10+ years, working their damnest, only to be laid off through no fault of their own? Or to work for the same place for 10+ years, and not have access to a pension plan or other benefits?
This is what capitalism considers fair.
People don't want to denounce the system because we've all be taken in by it. We've all been lulled into a sense of security by the siren's song that promises that one day, we will be the ones with the wealth. That one day, the system will help us become insanely wealthy and because of this, we should accept the system until our day comes.
Well, I know many people who have waited, and their day never came, and I know some people now whose day will never come. Capitalism promises us everything, yet it never delivers for the majority of us.
To borrow an argument from Marx, and yes I know the cries of Marxist come across stronger now, the division of labour within capitalism ensures that those on the bottom stay there for the benefit of those at the top.
And this is true in global economics as well.
Companies do not care about the betterment of humanity; they never have and they never will. There is a litany of examples of companies putting profit before people:
The refusal of easing on patents of pharmaceuticals for poorer/developing countries; which in turn allow easily defeated diseases, like leprosy, to prosper because people cannot afford medication. And just because it's true, a lot of these diseases affect children, in some cases more, than they affect adults.
The flooding of foreign markets with cheaper goods than the ones produced in that country; which in turn, leads to debt and destitution for those industries in developing countries. After all, is a person in Ghana going to spend $3.45 on locally produced produce, or will they spend $2.50 or lower on the same produce that has been imported?
We're all savvy shoppers here in the Western World, so I think we know the answer to the above question.
Capitalism has convinced the Western World that our 'excess' is our right; that we have the right to consume disproportionate amounts of the world's resources, and in many cases produce a high rate of 'spoilage' where those goods aren't even consumed, simply because we make ridiculous amounts of money.
Consider for a moment, what someone who makes $500 million dollars a year can do with that money. Most of us run out of ideas somewhere around the $1 million dollar mark; we have the thought of "Oh, I'd buy a house, a nice car, maybe a boat...A new snowmobile, or ATV...I'd spoil my family a little, maybe give my siblings half a million each...I should donate some of it to charity...Invest some of it...And oh, I've only spent $5 million dollars..."
The fact of the matter is, no one and I literally mean NO ONE needs $500 million dollars a year. No one needs $50 million dollars a year...
Dare I say it, no one needs $10 million dollars a year.
Now put the shoe on the other foot. Think of all the good that could be done with that sort of wealth being put to use in the right places.
Being used to buy and supply prescription drugs to the Third World. Being used to help foster and promote education for children, not only in the Third World, but here as well. Being used to ensure that every senior citizen has a roof over their head, food in their stomach, and the ability to pay to heat their home. After all, senior citizens worked hard in this system, why should they get rewarded with poverty after working so hard their entire life?
The core of what I'm saying is this: Capitalism has made a deity of greed. To borrow a phrase from Gordon Gekko, 'Greed is Good.' And yet, all this greed accomplishes nothing. You can have $50 million dollars, but you if don't have anything to do with IT, why have it?
This has been the founding principle of my political beliefs all my life. I can't wrap my head around why some people should have everything, and others should have very little or nothing at all.
And yet there are people who will defend to the death their right to make as much money as they can. The only irony is a lot of those people are people who are stuck in this system near the bottom of the economic food chain; all because they still believe that this system will eventually reward them with a nice sum of money.
The sooner we're able to ditch that illusion, the ultimate exportation of the American Dream, the better off the world will be.
Why can't people work together? Why can't we see a common need and do something to fix it? Why is it when it comes to protecting even the most vulnerable among us, such as children, we fail to act?
Politicians in this country and others, love to hide behind children. Our budgets are designed with our children in mind. We have to protect our children from this kind of behaviour. We have to do it, for our children.
Yet there are children in this country and province who are starving. There are children in this province who don't live in a safe home, or even a home. And there are children in the Third World who are dying on a daily basis; yet these politicians who preach at the altar of the Church of Children, do little to back up their populism.
Perhaps I've just become jaded at an early age, 23 is still early (right?), but I am beginning to doubt our ability to come together as a species and put behind these petty squabbles and this moronic lusting for greed and wealth, and actually accomplish something good for those among us who need a helping hand.
Despite that, I still have hope.
I know that I likely won't live to see Third World debt relief; I likely won't see the end of poverty and starvation across the world; I likely won't see humanity finally putting away the things that divide us and embracing the things that unite us.
Part of me weeps for this, but again, I still have hope.
I may not live to see that, but I know I can and will live, indeed I will dedicate my life, to helping lay down the groundwork that will one day make those things possible. And that alone is something to be hopeful about.
There is an old Aboriginal saying; 'We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'
We live in a generation where greed and selfishness is rampant, as I'm sure I've stated above, and as such we've lost sight of this simple truth. Perhaps I'm being hypocritical here, as I've condemned people who pander to the idea of our children, but I actually mean this.
Everything we do today, has an impact on the next generation. Denying climate change because it's inconvenient to us and to company's bottom lines, means that the next generation will live in an ecosystem that we couldn't imagine, and we forced it upon them by doing nothing.
Studies suggest that the next generation will live shorter lives than their parents, due to bad diets and lack of exercise, and yet we are against regulations that limit advertising to children and tell them why this hamburger is the best thing for lunch, as opposed to a healthier alternative.
I'll be honest here too, I'm guilty of being a bit of a glutton. It's one of my vices, and I am attempting to work on it, though it is a struggle.
Everything we do today will affect our children; and for a society that seems to want to protect them, we're doing everything in our power to make the coming generation pay for our sins...Simply because we couldn't be bothered, because doing something would upset our corporate masters.
But, as I said, I'm hopeful about the future. While I hope against hope that I'm wrong and I will live to see the social and economic changes that guide humanity to a better future, I accept that the least I can do is my part to make that future happen.
I can only hope others join in making it happen.
And to end on a quote I've used before, because it works perfectly with this subject...
"Courage my friends! 'Tis not too late to build a better world."