Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Modern Abolitionist

Slavery was normal and accepted until Wilberforce and others said it wasn't.  They said it was wicked and unchristian and inhuman, and they described it as it was, actually.  They described individuals affected by it, how it tortured and degraded and robbed them of life and family and liberty.

John Brown recounts how as a young fellow, he had visited a family who had a negro slave boy about his own age.  Brown remembers being treated wonderfully while the slave boy was poorly clothed and fed and, while Brown looked on, was beaten with a shovel.  Brown commanded the raid at Harpers Ferry which led to secession and the Civil War.

It took more than a century for the common understanding of slavery to be reshaped.  More than a century to deal with basic human equality.  Today, everybody knows, it was just wrong.  Now, there's no way to talk about slavery that makes it good or just or moral.

So, what are today's issues?  What are those parts of culture that are normal and accepted, but which similarly need to be reshaped in our understanding?
Your first reaction upon seeing this - this is wrong! Of course. This isn't what we saw in school.
Countries are their correct size in relation to each other in this south-up view,
an example of a cylindrical equal-area projection.

... how about the real world?

The world we've been shown never existed.  It's a distorted map that was created when Europe was the center of the world.  In use since 1600, it exaggerates the relative size of northern countries by 2x-3x.  Bizarrely inaccurate, yet it's used in most of the world's academic curricula today.   Does size matter?  Would it be helpful to our worldview if we knew how the countries of the world are actually arranged?  (watch the short video here before moving on)

And yes, Brazil is about the size of the U.S., and four times the size of Greenland.

The impact of such misrepresentation:
The world's view of the developing world is 'below' and 'lesser', in part from our concept of relative size and position.  The common map is known to have been produced as an expression of cultural superiority, racism, and positional relevance.  Most westerners refer to Africa as a country.  It's not.

... then perhaps, class distinctions?

Prejudice and discrimination have historically been imposed along racial and ethnic lines, but even more so based on wealth.  We have created a class and economic inequality in every instance.  The upper class has access to wealth and privilege to which lower classes do not.
We've labored in the west to provide equal opportunity, and in many ways we've done well.  Social mobility has changed over the decades in America for minorities and others.  For a while (part of the 20th century), we saw the working and middle classes doing well along with the rich.  For the last five decades, however, the GAP between working folks and the wealthy has widened, and the GAP is accelerating.  It's now visible in every developed nation.  Social mobility, the opportunity to rise out of poverty, has declined through that period for a number of reasons.

Economic inequality - it plagues every nation, and in the developing world it is exploding in an exaggerated form.  Its root is ancient, and it is propagated today to a great degree by the international marketplace.  What was once trade for mutual benefit has become wealth extraction at the expense of others, a predatory form of capitalism.

How if affects people - in a developing country, I sat with the men of a large, extended family.  All had been educated in local schools and had done well enough.  All were bright, energetic fellows.  Conversation continually returned to 'a little business', things they might attempt that would generate income.  They raised crops in gardens, they bought in the country and sold in the city market, they tried roadside kiosk sales, they attempted to restore a junked taxi and put it into service.  The country has no emerging industry, no jobs market, no particular growth that offers a chance for the great majority.  Kids who stay in school at great expense and effort by the family find little opportunity for employment afterwards.  The country is corrupted, of course, by the international marketplace.  Natural resources are profitably exported, but the profit goes to just a few, mostly outside the country.  This is typical.  Wealth flows from bottom to top.  Developing countries pay more in interest to the developed world than they receive in assistance projects.  Sixty dollars monthly is a typical employment income.

In the developed world, the GAP is that uncrossable expanse between those who are working hard to get by and those who accumulate wealth just by having wealth.  In the U.S., income for the top 1% exceeds the total for the bottom 40%, and it's not from labor and productivity, it's from the effort of others.  Every day, income; extraordinary wealth is extracted from the economy at the expense of those at the bottom.
Social and economic mobility happens for some, but it's largely a myth for most.  Forty-seven million Americans live in poverty, and their children are likely to do the same.  It's not something they chose; it's done to them.  It's a less obvious but an equally virulent form of indentured servitude, of slavery.  As William Garrison would have said, there is no neutral position.

We've attacked discrimination based on race, on culture, on gender with some success.  The root of it all continues unchanged, based solely on position, wealth, and influence, the acquisition of more at the expense of others.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Or is there some appropriate equality for all mankind, some measure of grace and worth that makes a place for each one?  Can we contribute to it?  Is there any good news on the subject?

Macroeconomics is not a simple science.  There are no single-point solutions to such broad spectrum flaws of function.  As with the issue of slavery, however, the GAP exposes a national flaw, a vulnerability which, unless addressed and resolved, will continue to fracture the national identity and preclude success of the national purpose.

Welcome to the American life, the vision, and the task.