Monday, January 19, 2015

My Log 456 Jan 19 2015: Viewpoint from the passing decades gives a perspective on human prospects that cannot be really optimistic

English: Young Saudi Arabian woman wearing Isl...
English: Young Saudi Arabian woman wearing Islamic clothing, as required by Sharia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Looking south from Top of the Rock, N...
New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
George W Bush and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabi...
George W Bush and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia holding hands s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 As one sits and watches the decades roll by, it is sometimes hard to realize how quickly the world is changing, compared with when one was young. For me, the major change in the world is that now the wealth-owners, who were always prominent, are totally dominant, running not only all major businesses, but also virtually all governments.
A show on AlJazeera this week loaned emphasis to what I have I mind. It is about the extraordinary transformation in North Dakota, which, when I lived a few miles north of it in Winnipeg in the 1950s, was a sleepy kind of place growing wheat and other grains. Now it is a centre of oil production, the 200 wells it had a few years ago having become 8,000, all of them engaged in fracking --- the process for extracting oil out of shale, that has almost overnight made the United States once again the world’s biggest oil producer, as it used to be generations ago.
The AlJ story was, however, about the inhuman conditions suffered by the many thousands of workers in this oil field they call The Bakken. Many men, as many as 40, have died in accidents, and thousands of others have been injured, or have fallen ill from being exposed to dangerously poisonous substances. For example huge trucks laden with salt water, and containing a vital mixture of inflammable gases, have been worked upon by welders who are expected to work punishingly long hours,  and many of whom are suffering from the inevitable damage to their persons.
This is the real face of capitalism as it has always operated when left alone to do its stuff. A representative of OSHA, the federal agency of Occupational Safety and Health, admitted there was little he could do to regulate the behaviour of these companies, he just doesn’t have the resources.  With nine inspectors for the whole state his very presence there makes a mockery of the work done forty years ago of a man like Anthony Mazzocci, of the Oil and Chemical Workers Union, who took up the challenge of workers’ health, and campaigned heroically to get government legislation to take care of it. (In Canada, Stephen Lewis, as a member of the Ontario legislature, performed equivalent  work to get better regulations established in his province. Saskatchewan, which had had the benefit of a democratic socialist government for many years, had established such regulations years before,  and was the standard-bearer for North America, in the field of workers’ health. I know this, because I made a series of films on the subject for the National Film Board in the 1970s.)
This is just an example that has crossed my ken in recent days. The larger world picture is also constantly before us. Just his morning on television there is reported a statement by Oxfam than if matters continue as they are going for another year, by 2016, one per cent of the world’s people will own  more than the other 99 per cent per cent of the entire world’s wealth. In other words they will own more than 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, a figure that has risen from 44 per cent in 2009.  This was unimaginable in the days of my youth, when, an earnest young socialist,  I naively believed that no one on earth should be allowed to earn more than $5,000 a year. I notice that this idea of maximum and minimum incomes is slowly coming back into favour among some people who are concerned, as I have always been, with the equality of opportunity, that should be shared by everyone.
Governments are always involved in doing something, responding to emergencies, for example, as they have been doing since the United States, for many years free of terrorist attacks, was bombed on September 11 in the year 2001. President George W. Bush immediately, as a reflex action, said those who were not with the United States in its self-declared war on terrorism were in favor of the terrorists.
And since then, unimaginable profits have been made by the biggest American companies as they have absorbed the vast expenditures made in this vain attempt to kill off terrorism.  One hardly need say the effort has had only this one result, that of enriching the already wealthy. Because as a measure designed to kill off terrorism, it has been a colossal failure, has, in fact, simply created more terrorists, and has, along the way, provided arms and materiel for the most aggressive of the dozens of terrorist groups that have been spawned by this approach.
In this, also, one observes the result that the only ideology the effort has fed --- apart from reinforcing the ideology of the super-rich --- is that of the lunatic extremist Muslim fundamentalists. Admittedly, this has come about probably because the US president of the time appears to have been close to an idiot. For example, although the big 9/11 attack on the US was carried out by Saudi Arabian nationals, he chose to attack and destroy Iraq which was not harbouring those responsible for the attack. With the breakdown of society in that country, the opposed factions of Islam, Shia and Sunni, have fallen upon each other, and this has become the dominant struggle throughout the Arab world, with the people rising in mostly fruitless revolutions, and dictators reinforcing their ruthless grip on some countries (Egypt and Saudi Arabia --- two of the major allies of the United States, being the prime example.) Meantime the US continues to insist that it is advancing democracy in the world, while supporting almost without question such delinquent states as those mentioned above, plus Israel.
There can be little doubt that the problems of the Middle East can be traced back to the continuing effort of the Western powers to implant a Jewish homeland in a country that was already occupied by another, long-resident people. With the massive  support that has made Israel by far the dominant military power in the region, this relationship has become something like the tail wagging the dog. The United States, which is supposed to be governed by reason, supports Israel so unquestioningly as to accept such obviously deleterious  actions towards a solution of the problem, as the building of thousands of  houses and apartments, occupied by an estimated 500,000 Jewish people, many of them religious fanatics, in the very land that the original residents occupied. To say that this makes an acceptable solution between the two sides less and less likely as the years pass, is to put it mildly. Thus Israel, which once  earned the respect of a war-weary, guilt-ridden world, has developed into a full-blown apartheid state, in many respects, as some say, worse than that of the inventors of apartheid, the white-supremacy fanatics of South Africa.
I think the above are the only terms in which a reasonable person can describe the current global situation. I remember many years ago reviewing a book on global hunger by a geographer from the University of Manitoba, who made the prescient remark that any nation that sought to equalize the way of life even of its own citizens could expect to have to confront the opposition in one form or another of the United States. By this time the list of nations is as long as your arm in which the United States has interfered, either with direct military action, or with financial support for overthrow of an elected government, or in many other ways.
As someone who has worked in the media through many decades, I am particularly interested in how the wealth-owners have managed to use their control of newspapers, radio and television, in general the system for distributing information, in their own interest everywhere. And how, of course, they are always trying to destroy the publicly-owned media in various countries. In Canada they are well on the way to destroying the CBC, which was set up by a Conservative government of the 1930s as a defence against our powerful neighbour. But wealth-owners are always more loyal to their wealth than their country, as Dr. George Grant, another conservative but a profound thinker, observed in his 1950s book, Lament for a Nation.
Of course, in addition to the concentration of wealth there are other important factors that have influenced change. Technology is high among these. Conservative-minded people believe implicitly that our major global problems will be solved by technical solutions: we will keep inventing new instruments that will somehow magically make the emission of CO2 disappear and thus solve the looming problem of global warming, with its drastic effects, already under way, on growth patterns and styles of life both for humans and for animals, plants and other creatures. It has always seemed to me that one need only visit Toronto and travel across it by the overcrowded 401 highway (and then multiply that effect by the tens of thousands of cities of Toronto’s size around the world), to realize that the battle to save the global environment is almost inevitably lost. The only hope surely is that the Earth being a resilient old soul, it will find feedback mechanisms that stave off the worse effects of this problem, and somehow restore the natural equilibrium, although even to suggest such a thing seems to me to be more in the realm of magic than of fact.
I have mentioned before, and make no apology for mentioning it again, that the late Professor Bruce Trigger, of McGill University, one of the world’s leading archaeologists, gave a lecture in the 1980s in which he considered the future in the light of the archaeological record. He divided history into its well-known archaeological periods the latest being, he said, one in which technology has been in control, and the major human problem, he said, is now to find the way to bring technology back into human  control.  He gave good reasons for believing that our present set-up of nation states is incapable of confronting a problem on such a scale --- something that is confirmed every day of the year,  I would think --- and concluded that if we are to meet that challenge we will need the same qualities as were those of the paleolithic hunters of the distant past: forebearance, tolerance, co-operation, and so on.  .

Although there are occasional signs that humans have learned a lesson or two --- the coming together in peace of the European nations after engaging in centuries of war is one of them --- there are many more areas in which our bitter past experiences seem to have taught us not a thing.

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