Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Garbage and Affluence (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Do rich nations and the bourgeoisie value garbage more than people, more than social justice that could make them feel good that they are part of a larger ecosystem crying out for equilibrium? A recent report by a British television station noted that food discarded in London by supermarkets, restaurants, households, etc. can feed anywhere between several hundred thousand to over a million people and that does not even include the pet food industry, where the household pets of affluent societies out-eat the world’s poor. Similar waste is evident in wearing apparel, household furnishings, durable goods, etc. Their beguiling rationalizations aside, their vacuous rhetoric about moral principles of “equality of opportunity,” and of meritocracy in theory notwithstanding, the record shows that rich nations and the bourgeoisie value garbage more than people, more so today than in the era of Charles Dickens and Emile Zola. There is something seriously wrong with the priorities of humanity when the garbage of the 20 wealthiest nations where most of the world’s waste takes place–the same countries that will be gathered in Washington on 15 November 2008 to discuss the global crisis–is sufficient to cover many of the Third World population’s essential needs. Could the Third World’s living standards improve if the First World was not as wasteful and replaced its atomistic-hedonistic-materialist-garbage-first values with the same instincts as many animals that demonstrate greater care for their own species than humans? Unquestionably garbage has greater value to people that generate it than their fellow human beings because just as devout Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Dark Ages were convinced that spiritual salvation was the ultimate goal in life that gave meaning to human existence, modern man is convinced that possessing material things makes him feel safe, secure, powerful, even immortal.
As great as it is to have a resoundingly positive symbol in the White House for America and the world, will the culture of affluence and waste change, will the homeless mother who wants a home for her children, the unemployed autoworker wants a job, the family without health care that wants insurance acquire it?
Because policy is driven by powerful interests rather than principles that contribute to society’s broader welfare, because social justice is relegated to the domain of theoretical treatises by intellectuals, artists, and the occasional clergyman, a change in values toward garbage vs. human beings can only come as a result of deep structural crises in society that invariably results in the use of force to alter the status quo. Just as the current global crisis presents opportunities for re-examining the values of the educational system rooted in the myopic business model that is a disservice to society, similarly the larger issue of bourgeois values rooted in wasteful affluent living (in shopping therapy that has infected the entire population’s garbage values regardless of class), there is an opportunity to address social justice issues. However, because power is mesmerizing to humans aspiring to feeling godlike even ephemerally, because it is rare that anyone surrenders power voluntarily for that means surrendering the godlike feeling, this means that the state must use the fiscal and legal system to engender such humanist values in society. If the state in the rich nations can dish out trillions for banking consolidation, it can easily absorb the surplus capital to foster a more just society that looks beyond garbage as power.

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