Mauritania and curly haired dudes from Harvard

17_mauritania0743  I woke this morning with Mauritania on my mind. I heard the nation mentioned yesterday and realised I had forgotten where in Africa it was located. I was shocked at this, normally priding myself on knowing more or less where every nation in the world is. I am also motivated in reaction to some neatly curly haired Harvard scholar waxing on the telly last night about how the world is way more peaceful today than it ever has been, that killings are down, down, down and the only reason we may think otherwise is that we are overly influenced by crisis-focused news bulletins. The chap cited his statistics but I remain doubtful. I am always doubtful about statistics. Data collection is a precarious research method, there are always limiting criteria, much that is left out, and many ways that data can be manipulated. I always ask how such research is funded and in whose interests in serves. I listened to this expert’s slick presentation of his findings, my attention fixed on his too-neatly curly hair. Besides, I thought, even if true, his argument leaves out other issues, tons of them, from the rise of slavery and quasi-slavery on a global scale (Mauritania was the last country in the world to abolish slavery, apparently), ethnic cleansing (with millions displaced and in border camps – I don’t know what this Harvard dude did with this information), environmental decimation of epic proportions and so on.

So, back to Mauritania. Who in Australia gives a rat’s arse about Mauritania? Who even knows where the place is? It is easy enough to find out. Search Mauritania and News and much is revealed. Today I found the All Africa website and headline news for Mauritania reads Harnessing the Country’s Natural Resources to Promote Economic Growth and Sustainable Development  by the World Bank. The article reads like Big Brother telling a wayward scamp how to live his life. The usual neoliberalism underpinning every paragraph, where concepts such as ”inclusive” and ”sustainable” must be interpreted in terms of their neoliberal hollowed-out meanings. I am still no closer to finding out what life is like in that desert land so I went to the Guardian website and found an article a year old on the enduring issue of slavery. Slavery is a living death. 

Why bother taking a short detour to ponder the lives of those living in Mauritania? Maybe to contest slick curly-haired dudes from Harvard whose claims serve the interests of obfuscation not reality.

If anyone happens to be curious about Mauritania, the CIA fact book is a good place to start. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mr.html

 

Waking up to the Third World

 

heges Back in the 1980s I enrolled in a course as part of my undergraduate degree with the Open University (UK) entitled Third World Studies. I was twenty-four and full of awe and amazement and outrage as I learnt about India’s Green Revolution, issues for the Tuareg of Niger, and of the economies of the newly-industrialised countries (NICs) of south-east Asia. I learnt about the problems created for poor economies by big business. I learnt about the IMF and the World Bank. I studied the socialism of governments in Tanzania and Mozambique. I read novels by Buchi Emecheta and the poetry of Louise Bennett. The course was multi-disciplinary (perhaps the first of its kind) and all-encompassing, or so I thought.

Now I am reading Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (Nation Books, 2012) and I realise that the course title ‘Third World Studies’ was a misnomer. The title created the illusion that there was a First World, perhaps a Second World (Russia) and a Third or Poor to Very Poor World. Other notions have come along since, such as North and South, notions that also perpetuate the illusion. For upon reading Hedge’s text, it has struck me squarely that apparent third world conditions (slavery, corruption, severe inequality) have always existed and persist in America today.

Being from Australia it is fairly easy to say that our indigenous Australians have been condemned to exist as impoverished others in their own land, conditions normally associated with the very poorest of the poor in the ”Third World.” John Pilger’s Utopia suffices as an introduction to that view. Perhaps I have for too many decades been naive, or perhaps somewhat in the dark as regards poverty in America. I have known about low wages, trailer parks, food stamps, the state of Detroit, African American and Hispanic and Mexican poverty. I have known of the ludicrously high incarceration rate in America, mostly of African American men. And I knew, vaguely, that America’s First People are horribly oppressed and marginalised. I knew all of this, but only vaguely. I knew about the voracious appetite of American corporations too, of their corruption of democracy and the judiciary, and the casino-style hustlers in the world of American finance.

What I have not known, not contemplated, not engaged with so deeply it  turns my stomach and makes me want to holler with outrage and weep for the suffering – tears I had spilled decades earlier for many an African nation – Hedges portrays with unrelenting honesty. A laying bare of America’s underbelly, from the native Americans of Pine Ridge, the enormous widespread and utterly unjust suffering of the poor of Camden, the  devastation of the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia (500 mountains so far bombed into oblivion to extract their coal), and the Mexican slave workers in tomato fields in Immokalee, Florida.

That the American Elite (corporations in cahoots with duly corrupted and compliant political and judicial systems) can so devastate its own nation in such a ruthless manner, bodes so ill for the rest of us, for this is the package it persists in exporting to the rest of the world in the guise of development.

As I have indicated above, I have long known the dreadful environmental and social consequences of Big Mining. The struggles of the working classes and the poor around the world are so often bound up with the mining giants, along with the oil and gas giants. If not, they are bound up in agribusiness. It is a case of same old same old.

So when I read calls from the apparently awake  for others to wake up, I ask myself of the islanders of Bougainville – Are they awake? – Yes, I have to say yes they are. What of Papua New Guinea? – Are the people there awake to the shenanigans of corporate greed? – In large part I would say they are? What of the villagers of India whose valleys are being flooded by Big Dams? Are they awake? – I would say most definitely, judging by their protests.

What of the native Americans at Pine Ridge? Are they awake? Yes, I have to say mostly yes, for the alcoholism, the drug addiction, the suicides, the violence, surely they are a recognition of and a response to the consuming misery they are forced to endure. They are awake, to a nightmare.

So I ask of those who make the awake call, wake up who exactly? The privileged middle classes struggling to maintain expensive lifestyles and fat mortgages? Do they slumber? Or are they imprisoned by the system too, riven with fear of losing everything in an economic and social climate of uncertainty.

Sure there are those who are not so much asleep as rendered catatonic by consumerism with all its glamour, sure there are those whose hearts are riven by hatred and bigotry, those  prejudiced against the many who are not themselves. I don’t think there is much to be done about them, or at least, I don’t have a solution. All I know is that those who are catatonic and those who hate will most likely never ”wake up.”

There are enough of us around the globe who know more or less exactly what is going on. There are definitely enough of us who are awake to make a difference if and only if, we all decide to do something, to realise that what we face in the world today is a state of emergency akin to that of a world war, and we must resist at every turn.

I am a non-violent person. Which was why I was shocked when I woke this morning to the thought that someone should drop something big and heavy on Bohemia Grove at an opportune moment. Then I thought, no, that would make little difference. But I do know that we must make great personal sacrifices if we are to stave off the march of the corporations. We must preoccupy ourselves with the spirit of Occupy. And if ever there was a book to rouse the heart to action, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is it.

 

Globalism, Empire and the Rise of Nationalisms

 

 

Guernica  With war in Ukraine and the Middle East I wake up each morning thankful for happenstance that finds me where I am.

In an age of global neoliberalist empire where the free market reigns, dollar-profit-bottom-line its beating heart, little wonder that much of what passes for catastrophe caused by others is far more likely to have been either created or constructed-after-the-fact in order to further the cause of empire and diminish apparent external threats. Enemies are everywhere, shape-shifting, one moment China, another Russia, or Iraq, or Syria…  The biggest threat to globalist America may now be the counter-globalist BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) who have have gone so far as to create their own development bank, challenging the autonomy of the World Bank and IMF. Which may account for both the West’s (the US and its cronies) dogged demonisation of Putin and the military build up against China, including the recent militarisation of Japan, the American empire having stepped behind those nations (including Philippines and Japan) in territorial disputes over tiny islands in the East and South China Seas.

Empires generally stop at nothing to retain their power. Defeat an insufferable humiliation, they will fight to the last man, they will connive and contrive every means to retain or appear to retain their power. It may be the case that the emergence of BRICs will require a sharing of global power. It may be that BRICs will surpass America and become the one dominating power. Meanwhile the rest of humanity, pawns in this elite game played mostly by and on behalf of the banks, will continue to suffer in various ways.

Setting aside all advances of theory and discovery, the key difference between the empire today and the empires of old is that technology has made it possible for so many of us to be aware and informed. We know straight away the atrocities, the displacements, all the human tragedies occurring in the name of empire. We bear witness to the rising of nationalisms the world over, as groups within nations struggle for autonomy, for identity. And we see the bloodthirsty, the basest, of all humanity given freedom to enact cruelty upon cruelty. Indeed, such types are paid for their services. Yet they are no different from their employers who  unleash upon the planet wave after wave of destruction.

I often think the problem humanity faces is one of power, not awareness. That many are manipulated by propaganda, swayed by mainstream media this way and that is not the fundamental battleground. In my view humanity faces a crisis of will. The will to human and planetary betterment (with all its connotations of inclusion, empowerment, sustainability, humanitarianism and so on) versus the will-to-power itself. This latter a corruption, for the power sought is selfish, acquisitive, greedy and destructive.

We are governed by greybeards with arthritic minds. Greybeards cultivating a new wave of technophiliacs whose principal reality is virtual, empathy quotient minimal; compulsive and reckless gamblers with sharp minds for finance and a marked lack of moral fibre; and spin doctors who like nothing more than to rip the conceptual ground from beneath our feet through the hollowing out of meaningful and significant terms such as the notion of empowerment itself.

I do not believe for one moment that a BRIC empire would be any different from the American empire we now endure.

In the face of this reality, unlike those who respond to empiric globalisation through group closure (and inevitable xenophobia) and violence of nationalism (often fascist), my instinct has often been to flee to the hills, live out a life inspired by ideas expressed by Epicurus or Voltaire. Finding myself in just such a place I am thankful for my own circumstances. Yet there is no escape. I am doomed to suffer the suffering of others. And like millions of us the world over, that suffering turns my head back to face the beast.