Slavery in the modern world

Negro portrait
Jan 18 2007

A couple of news items on the television tonight which prompted these thoughts.

The Premiership football league here in the UK has just brokered a new deal for the television rights of its matches with the rest of the world . In this deal, the club that finishes at the bottom of the league will receive thirty million pounds. For coming last.

Wow! That’s almost as good as some of the deals the CEO’s broker for themselves when they are sacked for incompetence. Their golden handshake can amount to as much as one hundred and twenty million pounds. The ironic thing is, most of these CEO’s get hired shortly afterwards – “he got himself £120 million for being incompetent!? That’s not incompetence, that’s genius! Let’s hire him.”

Then a story that involved global warming. The story crystallized an issue I had been mulling over for some time ever since the USA refused to ratify the Kyoto agreement. This is a hypothetical scenario I have been playing out in my mind although, in truth, it is not that far from reality.

The USA – still the biggest global polluter at the time of writing – refuses to do anything about global warming. The rest of the world does what it can to reverse the effects. What results can there be?
Either, the world is saved and so the USA can continue on its insatiable, mindless devouring of the worlds resources whilst the rest of the world subsidizes its materialistic excesses,
the world is not saved and everybody goes back to the stone age because one country decided to be utterly arrogant and self centred. So the world pays for one countries intransigence and greed (this is equally applicable to a nuclear scenario).

Another example. Say a river rises in an industrialized country and flows through a neighboring country that is less well developed. Now say that industrialized country pollutes the river or dams it so that the water received in the neighboring country is now deficient in some way; what can the that impoverished country do? The true answer hinges somewhere on the question ‘how powerful is its military?’

So the news story that I heard tonight was about an island tribe that lives on a remote atoll in the tropics. These people have no cars, no power beyond a camp fire and most of them have never left the island because there is no transport and even if there were, they couldn’t afford to use it. Their carbon footprint is practically zero. Yet they are losing their home because the rest of the irresponsible and dissolute world has precipitated a sea level rise that will drown their island. Where is the justice in that? What happened to their human rights?

I have heard it said that slavery was (and let’s not forget, still is in some countries) the worst crime committed this millennia. So how would you feel if you went to the mall and bought a slave to do all your dirty work? And then when you had destroyed their health because of all the pollutants you had subjected them to, you simply dumped them in an unseen landfill to fend for themselves whilst you return to the mall to pick up another serviceable slave. How would that feel?

Well, that’s what we are doing today, only we are committing an even worse crime, one so insidious it doesn’t even give off a whiff of corruption. Enslaving a group of adults from a particular tribe is not enough, today we are enslaving entire nations, disenfranchising them, making them destitute.
“How can we be so unthinkingly irresponsible?” I hear you ask.

Didn’t you buy an SUV, a long haul air ticket? Didn’t you change your mobile phone for the latest version even though the one you got rid of was perfectly useable? There is your modern slave trade, right there in the high street, conducting its despicable trade under the guise of beneficial globalization.

It is something I have long since suspected – despite all our pretensions of civilization and sovereign law – there is no justice in the world and that inevitably, might is right. Leonard Cohen wrote a song called ‘Everybody knows’ and in it he laments, “Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.”

If everybody knows, why don’t we band together and rise up into a fist of indignation and smash this injustice?

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