The sociology of facebook can be complicated.
Last week I deactivated my facebook account. There were so many hateful and ugly things being posted by some of my “friends” (mostly high school acquaintances) that I found myself getting agitated every time I visited. So I decided to just drop it. I suppose things like facebook can cause one to learn more about people than they’d sometimes really like to know.
I didn’t know that if I deactivated it would appear to my “friends” that I had just cancelled them as friends. When I found that out, I opened my account up again, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
So now what? I suppose I could ignore the things that bother me and just keep on facebooking. Or I could just let my account stay open but dormant. Or maybe I should dive in and swim with the fish.
As I said, it’s complicated.
It is hard to believe that in the 21st Century, just a few hundred miles from the shores of the U.S., child slavery exists. But believe it or not, in Haiti there are hundreds of thousands of “restaveks,” a Haitian euphemism for child slaves. These children are surrendered by families who cannot feed or support them to wealthier families, who customarily beat, degrade and torture them, giving them minimal food, clothing and shelter in exchange for a crushing life of labor from pre-dawn to late night.
Such slavery is an uncomfortable topic, so it is rarely mentioned by the entities and organizations that should be screaming the loudest. We often hear that Haiti is a result of a successful slave revolt, but Haiti’s bloody and bizarre history is much more complex than that simple statement suggests. Haiti still suffers from an enduring unjust caste system, typically determined by shades of skin color, and Haiti still has slavery, albeit not heriditary or permanent.
The suffering of the innocent children who are victims of this system is almost unimaginable. I recently read I Will Fly Again by Lili Dauphin and Restavec by John-Robert Cadet. Both are memoirs from former restaveks and both will rip your hearts and boil your blood. Susie Kraubacher’s book Angels of a Lower Flight also provides glimpses of this horrible practice, as well as the generally pervasive Haitian indifference to the suffering of the “least of these” in Haiti. I wish every person in the world would read these books. It would take very few of us, acting with determination, to bring child slavery in Haiti to an end.
This time last year few Americans knew anything about Haiti. As recently as a few months ago I could search “Haiti” on Google News and find almost nothing. We were generally oblivious to the suffering and injustice in that place.
Then the earthquake happened and Haiti was everywhere. Stories about Haiti filled the news. There were fundraisers, benefits and telethons. Even in our little backwater part of the world, church and store marquees everywhere urged folks to help Haiti.
And of course Haiti desperately needed the help and attention, as it was experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis of a generation. But as I discussed in a previous post, the situation in Haiti was desperate before the earthquake. And as Haiti fades from the news and back into obscurity, the desperation remains.
By sharing a little of our abundant excess, we can help give Haitians a chance to enjoy a decent life. So I’ll hop up on my soapbox and urge everyone to find a reputable organization that was working in Haiti before the quake and that will be there long after the world has forgotten about it. Do some research to make sure your gift won’t be wasted or stolen, then give generously. Danita’s Children would be a fine choice. By sponsoring one of the children being raised or educated there we can make a difference in the future of Haiti, one Haitian life at a time.
INVERTING THE ECONOMIC ORDER
My economic point of view is from ground level. It is a point of view sometimes described as “agrarian.” That means that in ordering the economy of a household or community or nation, I would put nature first, the economies of land use second, the manufacturing economy third, and the consumer economy fourth.
A properly ordered economy, putting nature first and consumption last, would start with the subsistence or household economy and proceed from that to the economy of markets. It would be the means by which people provide to themselves and to others the things necessary to support life: goods coming from nature and human work. It would distinguish between needs and mere wants, and it would grant a firm precedence to needs.
A proper economy, moreover, would designate certain things as priceless. This would not be, as now, the “pricelessness” of things that are extremely rare or expensive, but would refer to things of absolute value, beyond and above any price that could be set upon them by any market. The things of absolute value would be fertile land, clean water and air, ecological health, and the capacity of nature to renew itself in the economic landscapes. The cultural precedent for this assignment of absolute value that is nearest to us probably is biblical, as in Psalm 24 (“The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof . . .”) and Leviticus 25:23 (“The land shall not be sold forever . . .”). But there are precedents in all societies and traditions that have understood the land or the world as sacred—or, speaking practically, as possessing a suprahuman value. The rule of pricelessness clearly imposes certain limits upon the idea of landownership. Owners would enjoy certain customary privileges, necessarily, as the land would be entrusted to their intelligence and responsibility. But they would be expected to use the land as its servants and on behalf of all the living.
The present and now-failing economy is just about exactly opposite to the economy I have just described. Over a long time, and by means of a set of handy prevarications, our economy has become an anti-economy, a financial system without a sound economic basis and without economic virtues.
It has inverted the economic order that puts nature first. This economy is based upon consumption, which ultimately serves not the ordinary consumers but a tiny class of excessively wealthy people for whose further enrichment the economy is understood (by them) to exist. For the purpose of their further enrichment, these plutocrats and the great corporations that serve them have controlled the economy by the purchase of political power. The purchased governments do not act in the interest of the governed; they act instead as agents for the corporations.
That this economy is, or was, consumption-based is revealed by the remedies now being proposed for its failure: stimulate, spend, create jobs. What is to be stimulated is spending. The government injects into the failing economy money to be spent, or to be loaned to be spent. If people have money to spend and are eager to spend it, demand for products will increase, creating jobs, industry will meet the demand with more products, which will be bought, thus increasing the amount of money in circulation, which will increase demand, which will increase spending, which will increase production—and so on until the old fantastical economy of limitless economic growth will have “recovered.”
But spending is not an economic virtue. Miserliness is not an economic virtue either, but saving is. Not-wasting is. To encourage spending with no regard at all to what is being purchased may be pro-finance, but it is anti-economic. Finance, as opposed to economy, is always ready and eager to confuse wants with needs. From a financial point of view, it is good, even patriotic, to buy a new car whether you need one or not. From an economic point of view, however, it is wrong (and unpatriotic) to buy anything you do not need. Only in a financial system, an anti-economy, can it seem to make sense to talk about “what the economy needs.” In an authentic economy, we would ask what the land, what the people, need.
From an economic point of view, a society in which every school child “needs” a computer, and every sixteen-year-old “needs” an automobile, and every eighteen-year-old “needs” to go to college is already delusional and is well on its way to being broke.
Proponents of genetically engineered frankenfood assured us that these crops would result in a reduction in the amount of poisons being used by farmers. In fact, a study by Charles Benbrook of the Organic Center shows the opposite to be true.
I’ve written frequently about how the use of “roundup-ready” seeds results in the creation of glyphosate-resistant superweeds. So the result of using these seeds, which are the intellectual property of the chemical companies who manufacture them, has actually resulted in a significant increase in the amount of chemicals applied to American farmland, as more and more poison is needed to control the increasingly resistant weeds. This trend will continue and accelerate. Yet another reason to avoid GE crops.
We are afraid of religion because it interprets rather than just observes. Religion does not confirm that there are hungry people in the world; it interprets the hungry to be our brethren whom we allow to starve.
– Dorothee Sölle, Death by Bread Alone (1975).