Amazon: One of the Worst Examples of Predatory Capitalism in the 21st Century

If we place the word Amazon into a search engine, rather than finding information on one of the last great wilderness environments on the planet, we are subject to pages of the other Amazon; a multi-billion dollar company which has failed to exculpate itself from claims of worker exploitation, and labor exploitation in the developing world:

“Hundreds of schoolchildren have been drafted in to make Amazon’s Alexa devices in China as part of a controversial and often illegal attempt to meet production targets, documents seen by the Guardian reveal. Interviews with workers and leaked documents from Amazon’s supplier Foxconn show that many of the children have been required to work nights and overtime to produce the smart-speaker devices, in breach of Chinese labor laws” (Chamberlain, 2019).

I cancelled my Amazon account a year ago-not happy with its exploits into the weaponisation of AI, and its poor record of worker support and protection, in addition to its bot like customer service, the lack of speed in handling queries and issuing refunds, its maze like website where all the important information like cancelling an account or seeking help from a human being are in the tiny print you have to search for through page after page of webspeak. I was also annoyed at those small dollar amounts that kept appearing on my credit card-just to have an account open with the online conglomerate. I have no regrets and can happily shop in bookstores and other stores, enjoying the variety of products and warmth of customer service with people I can interact with, and discuss simple things like the weather, and the items I am buying. My conscience is clear, I know longer support a conglomerate built on the backbone, sweat and tears of ordinary people who are and have had to work for Amazon.

Jeff Bezos is always in the news. He recently divorced and reached a multi-billion dollar settlement with his ex-wife, is a multi-billionaire philanthropist (a tax deductible one), says he is committed to climate action, and only recently sold off around $4 billion of Amazon stocks: perhaps for altruistic reason? Who knows, but if there’s a buck to be made here, it is highly unlikely.

Everyone celebrates a self-made man or woman; but when they reach the dizzying heights of success, wealth and power, they seem to forget which ladder they used to get there:

That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,

“Whereto the climber upward turns his face.

But when he once attains the upmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.

Then, lest he may, prevent. And since the quarrel

Will bear no color for the thing he is” (Shakespeare, 2002)

 Amazon’s track record in looking after its employees is poor, and it unfortunately represents the gold standard for American workers struggling for a living in the age of predatory capitalism.  A low basic minimum wage, no health cover, limited or no vacation time, no sick leave, and the list goes on. One could be forgiven for thinking the USA hasn’t moved beyond serfdom and serf labor, despite its much touted equality for all constitution (more theory than practice).

So, what happens if you stand up to corporate monoliths like Amazon, and its owner Jeff Bezos? One employee (or ex-employee because he was fired for having professional agency and a voice), Chris Smalls found out when he tried to ensure the health and safety of the colleagues he line managed. I quote his letter in full courtesy of The Guardian columnist Ross Barkan:

“Dear Jeff Bezos, when I applied to work at Amazon, the job description was simple. It said you need to have a high-school diploma or a GED (General Educational Development) and you have to be able to lift 50 pounds. That’s it. Now, because of Covid-19, we’re being told that Amazon workers are “the new Red Cross”. But we don’t want to be heroes. We are regular people. I don’t have a medical degree. I wasn’t trained to be a first responder. We shouldn’t be asked to risk our lives to come into work. But we are. And someone has to be held accountable for that, and that person is you.

I have worked at Amazon for five years. Until I was fired last week from the Staten Island warehouse in New York City, I was a manager assistant who supervised a team of about 60-100 “pickers”, who pick items off the shelves and put them on conveyor belts to get sent out for shipment.

At the beginning of March, before the first confirmed case of coronavirus at the facility, I noticed people were getting sick. People had different symptoms: fatigue, light-headedness, vomiting. I escalated it to HR. I said, hey, something is wrong here. We need to quarantine the building. I wanted us to be proactive not reactive. Management disagreed and assured me they were “following CDC guidelines”.

The lack of protections worried me. Inside the warehouse, there are gloves, but they are not the right kind. They are rubber instead of latex. There are also no masks. Hand sanitizer is scarce. There are limited cleaning supplies. People are walking around with their own personal hand sanitizer but good luck finding one in a local grocery store.

Because of those conditions, I didn’t feel safe, so I took paid time off to stay home and avoid getting sick. Eventually, though, I ran out of paid time off and I had to go back to work. Other colleagues don’t have that option, though. Many of my co-workers and friends at the Amazon facility have underlying health conditions. Some have asthma or lupus or diabetes. Others are older people, or pregnant. They haven’t gone to work in a month, so they haven’t been paid. They’re only doing that to save their lives: if they get the virus they could be dead. One of my friends, who has lupus, is living with his relatives so he doesn’t have to pay rent. Can you imagine if he couldn’t do that? He’d probably be homeless right now.

Another problem is that Amazon has imposed mandatory overtime to keep up with the demand of everyone ordering online. The result is that Amazon employees are going to work sick as dogs just so they can earn $2 per hour on top of their regular pay. Do you know what I call that? Blood money.

Workers who want to make extra money are doing up to 60 hours of work a week and risking their lives. Some are working even if they are sick. When people are coughing and sneezing they say, oh, it’s just allergies. It’s a scary time to be in the warehouse right now.

When I went back to work last Tuesday morning, I spoke to a team member who looked really ill. She told me she feared she had corona and had tried to get tested. I told her to go home and get some rest. Then, two hours later, we had a managers’ meeting. That’s when we were told we had a first confirmed sick employee. The crazy thing was, management told us not to tell the associates. They were being very secretive about it.

I thought the secrecy was wrong, so as soon as I left the meeting I told as many people as I could about the situation. Shortly after that, I started emailing the New York state health department, the governor, the CDC. I called the local police department. I did everything I could to close that warehouse down so that it could be properly sanitized but the government is too overwhelmed to act right now. That’s when I realized I would have to do something myself.  I believe they targeted me because the spotlight is on me. The thing is, it won’t work

I decided to start spreading awareness among the workers in the building. I had meetings in the common areas and dozens of workers joined us to talk about their concerns. People were afraid. We went to the general manager’s office to demand that the building be closed down so it could be sanitized. We also said we wanted to be paid during the duration of that time. Another demand of ours was that people who can’t go to work because of underlying health conditions be paid. Why do they have to risk catching the virus to put food on the table? This company makes trillions of dollars. Still, our demands and concerns are falling on deaf ears. It’s crazy. They don’t care if we fall sick. Amazon thinks we are expendable.

Because Amazon was so unresponsive, I and other employees who felt the same way decided to stage a walkout and alert the media to what’s going on. On Tuesday, about 50-60 workers joined us in our walkout. A number of them spoke to the press. It was beautiful, but unfortunately I believe it cost me my job.

On Saturday, a few days before the walkout, Amazon told me they wanted to put me on “medical quarantine” because I had interacted with someone who was sick. It made no sense because they weren’t putting other people on quarantine. I believe they targeted me because the spotlight is on me. The thing is, it won’t work. They’ve just cut the head off of a hydra. I am getting calls from Amazon workers across the country and they all want to stage walk-outs, too. We are starting a revolution and people around the country support us.

If you’re an Amazon customer, here’s how you can practice real social distancing: stop clicking the “Buy now” button. Go to the grocery store instead. You might be saving some lives.

And to Mr. Bezos my message is simple. I don’t give a damn about your power. You think you’re powerful? We’re the ones that have the power. Without us working, what are you going to do? You’ll have no money. We have the power. We make money for you. Never forget that” ( Smalls, C cited in Barkan, R 2020)

Barkan is spot on in his erudite analysis of corporate capitalism in the USA. The treatment of Chris Smalls, and the working conditions of Amazon employees across the world is an example of corporate moral decay in America, and I would add a decay which began decades ago, but now corporate America is rotten to the core.

Its two trillion dollar life line to its struggling population in this global pandemic will see another bail out for the banks, and no real long term economic benefits to the majority of the disenfranchised, the poor, the unemployed, working, and middle classes in the USA.

Smalls offers good advice, don’t hit the buy button on Amazon. I would also posit as he does that we are supporting a corporation which exploits people not only in the USA, but in the developing world too.

Predatory capitalism spins webs of lies and deceits. It has subsumed the lives of every man, woman and child on the planet. It spreads falsehoods in justifying why the world’s 22 richest men are wealthier than all the women in Africa. (Hodal, 2020) , and why the global economy needs the world’s “2,153 billionaires who have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population (Oxfam International, 2020).  According to Oxfam:

“Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry. Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health…” (Oxfam International, 2020)

Occasionally, we may be able to extract ourselves from its web. But more often than not we are unable, because through the subtle art of psychological manipulation men, women and children across all societies and cultures have been reprogrammed as consumers. They base their needs on wants and desires, rather than on what is necessary to exist as a free thinking, independent human being.

References:

Barkan, R. (2020, April 1). There is no greater illustration of corporate America’s moral decay than Amazon. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/01/amazon-coronavirus-new-york-chris-smalls-dismissed

Chamberlain, G. (2019, August 8). Schoolchildren in China work overnight to produce Amazon Alexa devices. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/aug/08/schoolchildren-in-china-work-overnight-to-produce-amazon-alexa-devices

Hodal, K. (2020). World’s 22 richest men wealthier than all the women in Africa, study fines. United Kingdom: The Guardian.

Oxfam International. (2020). World’s billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people. United Kingdom: Oxfam International.

Shakespeare, W. (2002). Julius Caesar, Act 2, Sc.1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Life and Death During A Global Pandemic-Who Gets to Live and Who Gets to Die?

A New York hospital recently told its doctors to “think critically about who you intubate”. For the lay person that means make a decision on who lives and who dies. Yes, a disturbing but important ethical question; but the greater ethical question is: Why has any doctor anywhere been put in the position to make such a choice?

Pandemics have ravaged human history, and while this fact is hardly comforting at this time, the point needs to be made on how ready we were for the current event. As early as 2005 scientist were warning of the potential for a global health pandemic given the outbreaks of SARS, H1N1 (Swine flu), MERS and the potential devastating effects of the H5N1 virus (Avian flu).

In 2005 the World Health Organisation convened a meeting with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health, and the World Bank (World Health Organization, 2005) to discuss the potential effects and impact of a mass outbreak of H5N1 and the potential for a global flu pandemic:

Participants agreed that the threat of a pandemic was of shared and significant concern for all countries, and that actions to prevent a pandemic or mitigate its consequences were likewise a shared responsibility of all countries. Scenarios of events during the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century painted a grim picture for human health the world over, the survival of existing development projects, and the health of the global economy, with losses expected to reach around US$ 800 billion during the first year of a pandemic” (World Health Organization, 2005)

They recommended 7 key strategic action:

  1. Diagnostic capacity.
  2. Vigilance for imported cases.
  3. Investigations of human-to- human transmission
  4. Vigilance at the family and community level
  5. Virus and specimen sharing
  6. Patient management
  7. Obligations and time-frames for urgent actions (WHO,2005)

The current global pandemic of the coronavirus (Covid 19) shows how ill prepared we are to manage a pandemic, despite the scenario planning for such an event by the WHO. And it is only now that the 7 key strategic actions from the WHO position paper of 2005 are being recognized and implemented with conviction.

However, the radically different responses across countries at a governmental level belie much deeper problems. Nationalistic xenophobia (US President blaming the Chinese), the stupidity and cultural arrogance of the British government’s ‘herd immunity’ approach, and the nationalistic usurpation of democracy by Hungary’s Prime Minster under the guise of ‘fighting Covid 19. These examples among many remind us that the self-aggrandizement  of the powerful takes precedence over the rest of us.

Neglected health care systems in the rich and poor countries haven’t had enough funding for decades to be ready and able to cope in a pandemic, despite the earlier warnings from the WHO. The populations of the world’s richest country (The United States of America) and the world’s poorest country (Liberia), and those in between suffer in relative equal measure, because the current global system of predatory capitalism has never prioritized health and well-being of the world’s population. We are ill-prepared in times of a global health pandemic like Covid 19.

So, a more pertinent and relevant ethical question is: Why have people in power been so neglectful of the health and well-being of their populations? The answer is our leaders have treated the rest of us as a simple means to their ends, not as a greater means to a greater end, which of course is the happiness and well-being of their respective populations. Had it been the latter, no doctor would have to make a choice today between who lives and who dies because there aren’t enough ventilators, hospital beds or trained medical personnel to aid the ill and infirm. The world suffers today because of the hubris of a significant number of people within its political and global leadership.

References

World Health Organization. (2005). WHO strategic action plan for pandemic influenza 2006–2007. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Sahar Ghumkhor sees the world through the distorted post-colonial lense of a Glass Darkly.

 “I am talking of millions of men (women and children) who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair and abasement(Cesaire, 1986)

Sahar Ghumkhor (Ghumkhor, 2019) claims that New Zealanders (the whole 4.5 million or so of us) hold a “narcissistic self-view” of the world, that we are inherently a racist country due to our colonial past, we reject shame and responsibility, are a dishonest people, we consider ‘the other” {whatever she means in invoking the late Edward’s Said’s argument on Western Conceptions of the Orient) as barbarians. In other words, we view all other races as savage, uncivilized, barbaric, primitive, heathen, wild, brutish, Neanderthal, and uncivilized.

Moreover, she attacks the country as a place “which has systematically portrayed Muslims as inherently violent and “backward”, and Islam as an ideology justifying violence and the subjugation of women” (Ghumkhor, 2019). She claims that Muslims in New Zealand have been depoliticized and that through this wilful political act the “younger generations have internalized Islamophobia stereotypes and engaged in self-surveillance…” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

Ghumkhor further claims that the killer responsible for the 15th March attacks is “not an aberration, he’s not an exception’ he is an integral part of the collective “we” in New Zealand, Australia and the West-just like the followers of Trumpism are part and parcel of modern-day America” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Not to see the world through her eyes, Ghumkhor argues is to live a life of denial and “a cowardly flight into white liberal sanctuary of the “third way” from the discomfort of reality” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Islamophobia, Ghumkhor claims is “an everyday practice and the political reality of New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

It is important to deconstruct the opinions and analysis of Ghumkhor, through the dark lenses of post-colonial and psychoanalytical literary theory, which she uses to launch her unprecedented attack on our country, and people who are reeling in shock and mourning, following the horrific events of March 15th, 2019.

Ghumkhor opinion and analysis are framed within several broad and generalised questions:

  1. How did the event of March 15th 2019 symbolize either explicitly or allegorically New Zealand’s history as a former colonial power and a post-colonial power of oppression?
  2. What did the event and its aftermath (including the way the New Zealand Prime Minister, her government and the men, women and children of New Zealand, who represent 160 different cultures and have over 200 different languages, reveal about its post-colonial identities, its personal and cultural identities, and its double consciousness in terms of individual vs. collective and country?
  3. To what extent have New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Prime Minster expressed their secret unconscious desires and anxieties on culture and religious racism, and is their mourning a manifestation of their own guilt and neuroses?

New Zealand has acknowledged and continues to acknowledge its colonial past, and how this affected both the original indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and the immigrants and refugees who’ve arrived in the country since the late 18th century. However, this acknowledgment isn’t framed within the revisionist histories of Ghumkhor as the post-colonial critic. They go much deeper, and are as Homi Bhabha describes when writing about Frantz Fanon:

Fanon is the purveyor of the transgressive and transitional truth. He may yearn for the total transformation of Man* and Society, but he speaks most effectively from the uncertain interstices of historical change: from the area of imbalance between race and sexuality; out of an unresolved contradiction between culture and class; from deep within struggle of psychic representation and social reality” (Bhabha, 1986)

Jacinda Ardern, along with all of her compatriots are struggling with the deep psychic reality of what occurred on March 15th, 2019, and how this social reality has been reflected in our society in the present and the past. Unfortunately, Ghumkhor has been too quick to jump to judgment here, and portray herself as the victim of a racist and Islamophobic society, because she grew up in New Zealand, and perceived people as patronizing because she “must be glad to be living in New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019). In understanding the deep struggle within the psychic reality of our country, she has failed to articulate in her opinion piece, the authentic and genuine grief felt across New Zealand by children in particular, and women and men from across the class, religious and cultural divide. She has indulged in what many post-colonial critics do; impose a flawed and dark theory onto events in the present in an attempt to offer an alternative historical narrative and rewrite history. It is a shameful and selfish attempt at academic self-aggrandizement.

Her claim that New Zealand as a Nation holds a “narcissistic-self view of the world” (Ghumkhor, 2019) has no substance. It is at the very worst psycho-babble. She demonstrates no understanding of the term if she is referring to our national grief and mourning in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Friday 15th March, 2019. Far from being a nation that indulged in self-centeredness arising from a failure to distinguish ourselves from others; New Zealand society was genuinely thrown into a national psychic trauma. It brought strangers together, hugging, sharing tears of grief, sharing stories, paying tribute to the families, and lost loved ones, and symbolized their unity of purpose in demonstrating to the country, and the world, such a violent act wouldn’t divide us or define our national and individual identities.

In attacking our national and individual psychological health (with no evidence), and naming the attacker, against the wishes of our Prime Minister and general population, Ghumkhor has shown contempt and disrespect to the children, women, men and the Government of New Zealand. She is guilty of fueling the same kinds of divisive rhetoric she accuses New Zealand and the West of using against Muslims and other peoples of different races and religions.

Her allegation that we are a Nation of hypocrites is a perfidious claim to make against over 4.5 million people. There have only ever been a few despots in the political annals of human history to target a whole Nation and population with such a claim. It is an untruthful and fictitious accusation to make.

Yet, it is her allegation that the Rt. Honorable, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand is basically a dishonest person which requires closer scrutiny and analysis. Ghumkhor pads this allegation around the argument that the global and local perception of New Zealand and New Zealanders is wrong. She argues that the perception of us having a welcoming nature, open to diversity and are a “provincial shire with a small tight knit community” (Ghumkhor, 2019) is false. She claims that it is only in the aftermath of the massacre that New Zealand has become inclusive of its Muslim population as “we” and that such a facile claim made only last week “only emphasized them as the “other” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

Edward Said argued that through the process of Othering, the colonizing powers treated the colonized as ‘not fully human’, and as a result, dehumanized the indigenous peoples of colonized countries (Said, 1978). Ghumkhor imposes this questionable theory onto Ardern, and argues that the Prime Minster codified herself as the true compassionate, humane person, and the New Zealand Muslim community as other than human. The assertion in itself is paradoxical, because in making the claim, Ghumkhor privileges herself above her erroneous understanding of Said’s definition of the “other”. She portrays herself both as a victim of New Zealand racism, and an academic saviour, whose mission is to ‘set the record straight and tell the truth”. The problem is her version of the truth is sullied with untruths, and she articulates the same kind of misinformation, convoluted arguments, and lies with which she accuses those who remain politically loyal to the master of misinformation and lies, The President of the United States, Donald. J. Trump.

She writes:

Although Islam has a century-long presence in the country, Muslims continue to be portrayed and treated as immigrant and refugees – ie inherently “foreign”. They are either “welcomed” or told to “go back” to where they came from – with both sentiments demonstrating that they are not really seen by the majority as an integral part of New Zealand’s society” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

This claim seems to have been rejected fully by the first-hand verbal accounts of members of the New Zealand Muslim community, and their experience as citizens of the country. Certainly, the Muslims I know and have met in New Zealand, have not conveyed a feeling of being foreign or of feeling caught up in a state of either “being welcomed or told to go back where they came from”. Moreover, no Muslims community leaders have supported her claim prior to and subsequent to the Friday March15th massacre.

What is considerably conceited in the Ghumkhor opinion piece is her cut and paste of various global events, and the selective inclusion of comments made by Foreign Minister Winston Peters pursuant to the London Bridge attacks in 2017. The perpetrator of the Friday March 15th attacks in Christchurch is an aberration and not the norm. It is not an act by which anyone in New Zealand should be defined. Similarly, the terrorist’s attacks across Europe, United States, Canada and Australia are aberrations and do not define the Muslin populations of these countries. And while condemnation of the perpetrators has been swift, at the same time leaders have assured their populations that those who carry out such attacks do not represent the Islamic faith or the values and ideals of the world’s Muslim population. This is an important fact left out of the article. In citing various right-wing politicians and conservative politicians for the vitriol and distorted world view on Islam as a faith and cultural practice, Ghumkhor chooses to accuse the whole western population of being guilty of the same sin, and in doing so commits her own sin of presumption.

Ghumkhor said she grew up in New Zealand. To attack the country and its executive branch of government, and the Prime Minster at this time suggests an over identification with the global narrative on right wing ideologies, and religious and cultural racism. Perhaps it also suggests there are unresolved issues surrounding her personal life, and her own understanding of Afghanistan. While it may be the case that media reports out of Afghanistan offer a grim portrayal of life in the country-it isn’t the case that 4.5 million plus New Zealanders see “Afghanistan…as the land of “burqas, intolerance and fundamentalist violence” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Most people would have an informed understanding of the geo-politics of the region, and of the cultural nuances in Afghanistan at the very least as their starting point.

The overall tone and themes in her opinion piece are of anger, and passive hostility towards New Zealand, and its people, who’ve suffered one of the greatest national and individual personal traumas in their history. A more conciliatory tone and a deeper understanding of the human psyche would have taken the scathing edge off her views and offered a more objective argument.

Grief, and the process of grieving is complex. The emotional logic of grief is only partly understood, and across cultures death is associated with customs and rituals created to help the trauma of loss. In the West guilt is often an emotional derivative of loss; whether with a close loved one or the loss of large numbers of people in a community, such as the trauma and loss experienced by a whole community and country in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019.

As a New Zealand national living and working in Pakistan, I am fully aware and cognizant of the reaction and response here to the massacre of the Muslim faithful at their mosques during Friday prayers. The whole country of Pakistan is in mourning. Yet; I have only received and heard messages of condolences and words of love and support around New Zealand’s response to this horror. Yet it concerns me that Ghumkhor has negated this response, and found a following among those who find it difficult to understand the nature of reality from the distortion of their own inherent bias across the religious and cultural divide.

In New Zealand  this tragedy will raise questions and elicit a Nation’s soul searching around cultural and social integration, and identity, and ask if more could have been done to ensure the safety of our Islamic communities.  However, our Nation as a whole, the Prime Minster, and the Islamic community cannot be blamed for the actions of a killer who took advantage of the safety and sanctuary of our overall peaceful and diverse multi-cultural Nation, even though we co-exist with him.

Fanon argues that:

Man is not a merely a possibility of recapture or negation. It is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies uprooted, pursued, baffled and doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself, one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him” (Fanon, 1986)

Ideologies, whether religious, secular, political or cultural, pit the collective against the individual. A timely awareness for publication by Al Jazeera, along with a deeper more insightful analysis and understanding of the human psyche from Ghumkhor, would have enabled everyone to better understand this point within the context of the tragic events of March 15th, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Moreover, it would have certainly helped each New Zealander, regardless of their cultural or religious identity to work through their grief process before being told they are hypocrites.

The kinds of deep divisions around culture, religion, ethnicities, migration and intellectual discourse which we haven’t seen since the 1930s leading up to World War Two, have only been further highlighted and exacerbated through Ghumkhor’s largely misinformed and inflammatory article, published through the Al Jazeera media network.

Bibliography:

Bhabha, H. [. (1986). Black Skin White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Cesaire, A. (1986). Discours sur lke Colonialsime cited in Fanon, F. Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Ghumkhor, S. (2019, March 20). Opinion: New Zealand Attack: The hypocrisy of New Zealand’s ‘this is not us’ claim. Retrieved from Al Jazeera .com:

https://web.archive.org/web/20190320081033/https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/hypocrisy-zealand-claim-190319104526942.html?fbclid=IwAR0Jb-tsZncKNLit3WDLw-hpxgw2OU-3mWm1PImMPvAODRd3M1B-oa14KR0

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Haryana: Penguin Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Political & Community Leadership for World Leaders

New Zealand PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack (Ardern, 2019)

RT Hon Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister of New Zealand

Mr. Speaker,

Al Salam Alaikum

Peace be upon you. And peace be upon all of us.

Mr. Speaker the 15th of March will now forever be a day etched in our collective memories. On a quiet Friday afternoon a man stormed into a place of peaceful worship and took away the lives of 50 people.

That quiet Friday afternoon has become our darkest of days.

But for the families, it was more than that. It was the day that the simple act of prayer – of practicing their Muslim faith and religion – led to the loss of their loved ones lives.

Those loved ones, were brothers, daughters, fathers and children.

They were New Zealanders. They are us.

And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.

We feel a huge duty of care to them. And Mr. Speaker, we have so much we feel the need to say and to do.

One of the roles I never anticipated having, and hoped never to have, is to voice the grief of a nation.

At this time, it has been second only to securing the care of those affected, and the safety of everyone.

And in this role, I wanted to speak directly to the families. We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage. We can. And we will, surround you with aroha, manaakitanga and all that makes us, us. Our hearts are heavy but our spirit is strong.

Mr. Speaker, 6 minutes after a 111 call was placed alerting the police to the shootings at Al-Noor mosque, police were on the scene.

The arrest itself was nothing short of an act of bravery. Two country police officers rammed the vehicle from which the offender was still shooting. They pulled open his car door, when there were explosives inside, and pulled him out.

I know we all wish to acknowledge that their acts put the safety of New Zealanders above their own, and we thank them.

But they were not the only ones who showed extraordinary courage.

Naeem Rashid, originally from Pakistan, died after rushing at the terrorist and trying to wrestle the gun from him. He lost his life trying to save those who were worshipping alongside him.

Abdul Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, confronted and faced down the armed terrorist after grabbing the nearest thing to hand – a simple eftpos machine. He risked his life and no doubt saved many with his selfless bravery.

There will be countless stories, some of which we may never know, but to each, we acknowledge you in this place, in this House.

For many of us the first sign of the scale of this terrorist attack was the images of ambulance staff transporting victims to Christchurch hospital.

To the first responders, the ambulance staff and the health professionals who have assisted – and who continue to assist those who have been injured.

Please accept the heartfelt thanks of us all. I saw first-hand your care and your professionalism in the face of extraordinary challenges. We are proud of your work, and incredibly grateful for it.

Mr. Speaker, if you’ll allow, I’d like to talk about some of the immediate measures currently in place especially to ensure the safety of our Muslim community, and more broadly the safety of everyone.

As a nation, we do remain on high alert. While there isn’t a specific threat at present, we are maintaining vigilance.

Unfortunately, we have seen in countries that know the horrors of terrorism more than us, there is a pattern of increased tension and actions over the weeks that follow that means we do need to ensure that vigilance is maintained.

There is an additional and ongoing security presence in Christchurch, and as the police have indicated, there will continue to be a police presence at mosques around the country while their doors are open. When they are closed, police will be in the vicinity.

There is a huge focus on ensuring the needs of families are met. That has to be our priority. A community welfare center has been set up near the hospital in Christchurch to make sure people know how to access support.

Visas for family members overseas are being prioritized so that they can attend funerals. Funeral costs are covered, and we have moved quickly to ensure that this includes repatriation costs for any family members who would like to move their loved ones away from New Zealand.

We are working to provide mental health and social support. The 1737 number yesterday received roughly 600 texts or phone calls. They are on average lasting around 40 minutes, and I encourage anyone in need to reach out and use these services. They are there for you.

Our language service has also provided support from more than 5000 contacts, ensuring whether you are ACC or MSD, you are able to pass on the support that is needed, in the language that is needed.  To all those working within this service, we say thank you.

Our security and intelligence services are receiving a range of additional information. As has been the case in the past, these are being taken extremely seriously, and they are being followed up.

I know though Mr. Speaker, that there have rightly been questions around how this could have happened here. In a place that prides itself on being open, peaceful, diverse.

And there is anger that it has happened here.

There are many questions that need to be answered, and the assurance that I give you is that they will be.

Yesterday Cabinet agreed that an inquiry, one that looks into the events that led up to the attack on 15 March, will occur. We will examine what we did know, could have known, or should have known. We cannot allow this to happen again.

Part of ensuring the safety of New Zealanders must include a frank examination of our gun laws.

As I have already said Mr. Speaker, our gun laws will change. Cabinet met yesterday and made in-principle decisions, 72 hours after the attack.

Before we meet again next Monday, these decisions will be announced.

Mr. Speaker, there is one person at the center of this act of terror against our Muslim community in New Zealand.

A 28-year-old man – an Australian citizen – has been charged with one count of murder. Other charges will follow. He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand. The families of the fallen will have justice.

He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety.

And that is why you will never hear me mention his name.

He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist.

But he will, when I speak, be nameless.

And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them.

He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.

Mr. Speaker, we will also look at the role social media played and what steps we can take, including on the international stage, and in unison with our partners.

There is no question that ideas and language of division and hate have existed for decades, but their form of distribution, the tools of organization, they are new.

We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit no responsibility. This of course doesn’t take away the responsibility we too must show as a nation, to confront racism, violence and extremism. I don’t have all of the answers now, but we must collectively find them.  And we must act.

Mr. Speaker, we are deeply grateful for all messages of sympathy, support and solidarity that we are receiving from our friends all around the world.  And we are grateful to the global Muslim community who have stood with us, and we stand with them.

Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that we too also stand with Christchurch, in a devastating blow that this has been to their recovery. I acknowledge every member of this House that has stood alongside their Muslim community but especially those in Canterbury as we acknowledge this double grief

As I conclude I acknowledge there are many stories that will have struck all of us since the 15th of March.

One I wish to mention, is that of Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi.

He was the 71-year-old man who opened the door at the Al-Noor mosque and uttered the words ‘Hello brother, welcome’. His final words.

Of course he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much – that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care.

I have said many times Mr. Speaker, we are a nation of 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. We open our doors to others and say welcome. And the only thing that must change after the events of Friday, is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear.

Yes the person who committed these acts was not from here. He was not raised here. He did not find his ideology here, but that is not to say that those very same views do not live here.

I know that as a nation, we wish to provide every comfort we can to our Muslim community in this darkest of times. And we are. The mountain of flowers around the country that lie at the doors of mosques, the spontaneous song outside the gates. These are ways of expressing an outpouring of love and empathy. But we wish to do more.

We wish for every member of our communities to also feel safe.

Safety means being free from the fear of violence.

But it also means being free from the fear of those sentiments of racism and hate, that create a place where violence can flourish.

And every single one of us has the power to change that.

Mr. Speaker on Friday it will be a week since the attack.

Members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day.

Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.

Let’s support them as they gather again for worship.

We are one, they are us.

Tatau Tatau

Al Salam Alaikum

Weh Rahmat Allah

Weh Barakaatuh

References:

Ardern, J. (2019, March 19). PM House Statement on Christchurch mosques terror attack. Retrieved from Beehive.gov.nz: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/pm-house-statement-christchurch-mosques-terror-attack

The Continued Western Global Intolerance towards the Islamic Faith

It is 13 years since I first wrote this article in response to the xenophobic attack on the Islamic faith by two contributors to the conservative Australian publication Quadrant. I am publishing it again after the horrific attack on Muslim, men, women and children while they prayed during Friday prayers in the two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15th, 2019. There’s been little progress globally for tolerance and acceptance of difference whether it is to do with religious world views, immigration, race, and culture.  Hatred and fear of difference seem to have become a feature of the not so ‘enlightened’ technological age of the 21st century. The savage murder of so many people since the start of 2015 because of their religious belief is a blight on all of humanity. It’s an assault on the dignity of everyone on the planet, and sadly there seems no end in sight to this madness
I have spent the last 16 years of my career as teacher and educational administrator living and working in the Islamic countries of the Middle East and South Asia, as a Catholic Christian. I count among my friends many ordinary people who are Muslim, and share an abhorrence at the distorted perversion of their faith by the far right, white extremists from the Western nations of Europe, The United States of America,and Australia to name a few.  The attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on two mosques highlight once again, the misrepresentation of Islam through the distorted lenses of ignorant politicians, the far right and their obsession with ‘free speech’ (whatever that means anyway because in reality no speech is free, and it comes along with accountability and responsibility: two key virtues lacking in the extremist  lexicon). The terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand have shocked and numbed myself and my New Zealand compatriots of all faiths. Our small country at the bottom of the world has lost its innocence, through a deliberate terrorist attack, formulated and planned to create chaos, and sow discord in our country; but it failed. The tragedy is that it took the loss of 50 innocent lives (men, women and children; and perhaps more as there are many on the critically ill list) to show that love in the world triumphs over pure evil. To all my Muslim friends here in Pakistan, and New Zealand, I offer my sincere condolences at this time. Be assured of my support for your faith, and your right to live in peace, and harmony in any country of your choosing.

I was greatly relieved when my September 2006 issue of Quadrant arrived in Jeddah, in its clear plastic envelope. Moreover I was delighted that it had made its way passed the censors, particularly with its bold subheading The Growing Problem with Islam in at least a size 18 black type font, just below the magazine title. One could assume one of two reasons for this. Firstly, since the accession of King Abdullah (now deceased) there’s been an opening up of the Kingdom to some aspects of western media and its myriad forms of communication. It is not uncommon to finds books on Eastern meditation, westernized Yoga practices alongside American style self-help texts and periodicals like the Economist, Time and Newsweek, (but alas not Quadrant-at least not yet). Texts on Islam other than wahabbism are also available. I recently purchased the works of Rumi, the 13th Century Islamist Persian poet; renowned for his devout faith and mystical prayers to God; in a bookshop in Jeddah-one of chain of bookshops not dissimilar to Borders or Barns & Noble- in the Kingdom. It has a wide range of reading material from around the world. So the censors may often allow in magazines which provide some critic of the country; but they will censor anything which holds the Royal Family, and/or the Islamic faith up to too much criticism and/or ridicule (similar to Thailand and its laws governing the Royal family and Buddhism) The second reason could be that it slipped through without being noticed. This is highly unlikely given the strict scrutiny of anything coming into the Kingdom.
I read with keen interest both John Stone’s and Paul Stenhouse’s views on Islam and offer the following critical response. While a clearly well written piece it is my view that the writers do not distinguish clearly enough between the Islamic faith as practiced by over 1 billion people in the world, and malevolent, destructive anti-social behavior, along with a fundamentally conservative political ideology which has hijacked the Islamic faith for its own purposes. An ideology which I might add, is to be found in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and a number of other faith based belief systems.
The title of John Stone’s article is disturbing, “The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It’, given that 80 years ago we might have read in magazines of a European cultural persuasion “The Jewish Problem and What to Do About It”. It seems to me, from my perspective as a westerner living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, some 30 minutes from Mecca and Medina; the two holiest places in the Islamic world, that “the clear and present danger confronting us”[1] all is a lack of choosing to distinguish between Islam as a genuine faith emanating from Abraham, and acts of terrorism in their most malevolent form as practiced by criminals who happen (by chance?) to have been born into the Islamic faith.
Stone cites a number of incidents, which have received coverage in the international media, as well as in the Kingdom through the English language newspapers, as evidence of an ‘Islamic cancer’ [2] in the body politic of Australian culture. From the tenor and tone of his writing I assume he would apply this analogy outside of Australian society too-say to New Zealand, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States of America. For he writes “It is a problem that is similar to the Muslim problem in all Western Countries where a significant immigrant Muslim minority has been allowed to become established”[3]. The use of the medical metaphor to demonize a whole group of people has been practiced before, and once successful enabled whole sub-groups within a society to be considered less than human and eventually exterminated. Besides Nazi Germany other more recent examples exist for us to choose from; Bosnia Herzegovina, Rwanda, Darfur in the Sudan and the Palestinians imprisoned in their small pieces of land designated by some as the Palestinian Territories.

What is the exact problem Stone cites? Is it really a problem of the “failure of multi-culturalism” as he suggest? Is it the angst he cites from one European Commissioner who spoke to an Australian journalist? Is it the failure of Australian society’s infrastructure in supporting unity through diversity? It is none of these. Rather, Stone’s address is a veiled attack on the Islamic faith itself. The core of the Muslim problem-for the world, not merely for Australia he writes, “lies in the essence of Islam itself”.[4]
Writing like a Crusader of old John Stone uses growing social unrest in Australian society to mask a full frontal attack on one of the world’s great monotheistic religions. Moreover, the ideals and principles of both Christianity and Islam are ignored to support an argument which asserts that Islam as a religion, and those States that are a single Islamic polity are incompatible with Western culture. Stone avoids defining what Western Culture is, although the irony is that within the subtext of his writing he appears to assert that it is a culture which is just as intolerant as the Islam he thinks he knows. John Stone’s vehemence towards Islam is not unlike that of Peter the Venerable, who proclaimed the “bestial cruelty of Islam”[5] at a time when Jews and Muslims were fair game for Christians, who in turn had laid claim to their own form of Gnosis through advocating the idea that killing large numbers of Jewish and Muslim men, women and children was simply exterminating a heresy. The sad irony here is that Jesus had urged his followers to love their enemies not annihilate them. It is my understanding that the Gospel message has not changed today; despite claims that render its interpretation as too literal and threatening the political and social stability of the Western polity.
Contrary to the assertion he makes “that Islamic and Western Cultures are today, within a single polity, incompatible” [6] there are a significant number of examples where people who practice their faith through the religion of Islam are happily integrated into their new cultures and countries. These can be found in all Western countries including the United States of American Canada, Great Britain, The Republic of Ireland, the European Union and New Zealand. Singapore in particular is a model of religious tolerance and an example of Islamic compatibility in a single polity. Furthermore, although continually asserting the right to do so, the state of Turkey is a model of a secular Muslim state in which a single polity is able to affect good governance.
I would further assert through experience and example that Islam is tolerant towards other faiths. While not considered democratic within a western definition Syrian Christians and Jews (before the civil war) were able to live and practice their faiths without discrimination; as are Christian and Jews to a large extent, in Iran and Egypt. Christians in Saudi Arabia are allowed to practice their faiths (On occasions I would attend Mass in a private house on my compound) although overt displays or actively promoting conversions from Islam to Christianity are prohibited.
The simple truth for the West is that since the turn of the 21st century it has had to learn about Islam, given the scant acknowledgment of Islam in both private and public education throughout the 20th century. Moreover, the West has had to come to terms with another simple truth too, that Islam is one of the fastest growing faiths in the world, while Christianity, as practiced in the West is in decline. These are specific Western problems which Western Nations must address through education; rather than using another faith virtually unknown to average Westerners, as the scapegoat.
Although Paul Stenhouse chooses a more moderate position, he also attacks the Islamic faith, and coming from a member of the Catholic Clergy who should be better versed in theologies other than his own; if not for conversion purposes rather than anything else; his condemnation is perhaps more perfidious. He cannot take the moral high ground given his own faiths transgressions of Christ’s message of peace on earth and good will to all of mankind. Moreover to argue that the perceived trade off as interpreted by western historians, between the founders of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the religious leaders of Islam on the Arabian peninsula; the Hanabali Wahhabis, “wreaks more havoc than malaria or dengue fever” [7] throughout Islam per se; is a dangerous and outrageous claim to make. Like Stones medical metaphor, Stenhouse uses the same approach to demonize Islamic orthodoxy. His Islamophobia is simply crusadic in essence and is very revealing from a Catholic doctrinal view point. Father Stenhouse’s claim could equally be made against those who converted Constantine to Christianity, and there’s much evidence to argue that Christianity as practiced through Catholicism and Anglicanism is simply an aristocratic religion, divested of its intrinsic message from Christ’s ‘ Blessed are the poor and the peace makers’.

Stenhouse also confuses those who use, to quote the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a ‘heresy’ to promote a political cause. Yes, there are radical groups in the Middle East, Northern and Western Africa and throughout the world who advocate the violent overthrow of Governments and the persecution of non-Muslims. At the same time all governments are working together to defeat these usurpers and nowhere is this more evident than in Saudi Arabia, where the efforts of the Government has seen a period of stability and calm return to the Kingdom.
There are also simply historical errors and theological problems with Father Stenhouse’s argument. His claims that the alleged tolerance enjoyed by non-Muslim minorities in Spain from AD711 until 1492 is “propagandist urban myth along the lines of alligators in the New York sewers” [8] is simply clever sophism and not true. Jews who had suffered persecution under Roman and Christian occupation on the Iberian Peninsula were the first to experience religious freedom after the Arab-Muslim conquest of Spain. Jews were given their freedom while Christians were allowed to maintain their customs in an effort to maintain local order. It is well known that educated Christians and Jews learned Arabic and contributed significantly to the multi-cultural Arab-Muslim society. The same cannot be said of the Catholic reconquest of Spain from about 1085 where options given by Ferdinand and Isabella were “exile, conversion to Catholicism or death” [9]. All religions have a history of proselytization too-not always by peaceful means either.
Islam does encourage theological debate and argument within its religious world view. And like the office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, central to protect Catholic dogma and Doctrine, Islam looks critically at any academic enquiry which focuses on its central tenet of faith-that Mohammed was the last prophet sent by God. There’s nothing to stop Muslims or non-Muslims to debate or discuss this point.
As an educator I am deeply concerned about the growing intolerance developing in the world towards people of different religions. While I found the articles by John Stone and Paul Stenhouse disturbing because of the overt anti-Islamic tone, and the writer’s confusion between a religious faith on the one hand and a destructive ant-life ideology spawned through political and social discontent on the other; the more worrying aspect for me is the inability of a Stone and Stenhouse to distinguish between these two points for their audience, along with the composite view that all the problems evident in North Africa, the Far, Near and Middle east are sourced in Islam as a religion, rather than the more apparent social, economic and environmental problems facing these people, regardless of their faith.
I have worked and traveled in the Middle East for six years (now 16years) I am taken with the integration of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in, Egypt, Jordan and Iran. I respect and understand from my own deep spiritual experiences the way the peoples of the Muslim communities live their spiritual lives through being called to prayer 5 times a day, yet being able to live a social and commercially based life which successfully cooperates and competes with the West and its neighbors.
I teach students who several generations on are part of the Palestinian Diaspora, along with those who recently fled Lebanon during the summer war of 2006. They are children of the Islamic faith and like their western counterparts, regardless of their religious beliefs, wish for a world of peace and tolerance. They struggle to understand the attacks on their faith; yet are politically aware and understand the problems they face in a world which has apparently grown indifferent to their histories and points of view. When well-educated individuals, including writers, Popes, political and religious leaders invoke images and arguments that have laid dormant in the annals of history we may well ask wherein lies the future for our children? The answer is that we must stand strong together –Kia Kaha-and demonstrate love and unity together and that in difference we celebrate our humanity.

References:
1. Stone, J The Muslim Problem and What to Do About It, Quadrant, September 2006, p. 11
2. Op.Cit
3. Ibid, p.12
4. Ibid, p.14
5. Armstrong, K, We cannot afford to maintain these ancient prejudices against Islam The Guardian, September 18th, 2006.
6. Stone, J, The Muslim Problem and What To Do About It Quadrant, September 2006, p 15.
7. Stenhouse, P, Standing Up To The Islamists Quadrant, September 2006, p 23
8. Stenhouse, P. Ibid, p.22
9. Renard, J, Responses to 101 Questions on Islam, p. 28

The United States of America cannot see the ‘Bullets for the Guns’

The attack on Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday February 14th is the 17th school shooting in the U.S. within the first 45 days of 2018. 17 victims; teachers and students, were slain and 14 hospitalized, in this massacre.  Several of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history have occurred in places of learning. Such tragedies give us pause for reflection in any community.

The aftermath has brought with it the usual recriminations and justifications from US authorities and politicians, including the NRA and the President of the United States. The latter have suggested that teachers should carry guns, and the NRA has promised free training and support for teachers who do so. This is the suppressed madness of sane men. It seems that some of the wealthiest individuals and lobby groups in the United States cannot see the “bullets for the guns”.

However, their voices are being drowned out by the righteous anger and intelligent indignation of the friends of the slain; the young people who survived, and the parents of the deceased. They are calling for legislation which will reform and limit gun ownership, and bring the 2nd amendment of the United States Constitution into the 21st century, rather than leave it in the quagmire of 18th century militia rivalry and lawlessness.

Here is what they have had to say:

We all offer our condolences to the families of the young people and adults, who lost their lives so tragically on the 14th February, 2018.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis Dómine; et lux perpétua lúceat eis. Requiéscant in pace.

 

 

The 21st Century Digitized Panoptican

Humanyze is a data analytic company. Its mission is to monitor employee’s work day through the use of digital technology. Designed at MIT, The Humanyze Badge Platform allows employers to monitor their employees every second of every minute of every hour whilst employed in their company, collecting all kinds of data related to their work and personal and professional communications. Humanyze’s ideas are nothing new. The digitization of Taylor’s flawed theory of ‘scientific management” is already used by corporate technology companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.) to gather personal data, bother them with annoying, irrelevant advertising as well as to monitor their employees. But now it has gone mainstream in the workplace.

Taylor (1856-1916) was a determinist who believed that everything a human is and does can be measured or quantified. Taylorism attempted to analyze and measure workflows in the early days of manufacturing and corporate industrialism. I recall it in the 1970’s while working in a company who instituted a “Time and Motion Department”.  It wasn’t to monitor the washrooms. Its main focus was on measuring product output and meeting targets-if the target was met employees were doing their job-if it wasn’t the people from the ‘Time and Motion’ Department marched in with their clipboards, observed the means of production, took copious amounts of notes, then departed. A week or so later a new machine or a few more employees appeared or disappeared.

While Taylorism diminished as a theory in the quarter half of the 20th century, other theories grew around it-these incorporated the deterministic ideas of scientism along with behaviorism, logical positivism and a crude form of rationality theory.

Humanyze has taken these de-humanizing theories and turned them into a kind of digitized quasi- moral argument for protecting both employers and employees through “a commitment by a company to continuous improvement” (Humanyze, 2016) while in reality it is the intrusive monitoring of employees in the workplace.

Humanyze’s Badge platform, by its own admission “is at its most powerful when adopted company wide” (Humanyze, 2016) It is a somewhat naïve and cynical argument to claim that the badge “empowers employees to benchmark themselves against career path goals and take actions to achieve those goals” It is misleading. In actuality all kinds of data may be collected about employees without their full knowledge and informed consent. They may not know the nature of the data collected and how it will be used.

Humanyze is the digitization of the Panoptican (Bentham 1748-1832). The concept of Humanyze’s design is to allow all employees of a company to be observed and monitored by a single person or piece of technology without them being able to tell whether or not they are being observed or monitored.

In Bentham’s time it was physically impossible for a single person to observe and monitor everyone at once, the fact that those in the Panoptican could not know when they were being observed or monitored meant that everyone had to act as though they were being observed and monitored all the time. Humanyze’s product allows for the continuous monitoring of employees and the mass accumulation of data on every single employee of a company. The sinister ‘buy in’ sought from employees according to big data analytics, is that they have access to their data. However, they’ve no control over how their data is to be used.

Humanyze’s products are marketed “to leverage internal digital communication and to identify risks within their organization” (Humanyze, 2016). This is simply the obfuscation of the real goal which is to gather employee data and use that data to bring to realization the Orwellian concept of compliant citizen workers. The risks to an employee’s privacy are subjugated to the crude theories of managerialism whereby “Managers can proactively understand disruptions to their teams or can be warned of potential project failures based on communication gaps and  senior leadership can understand the behavior profiles of high performing teams and target training to raise the performance of all teams” (Humanyze, 2016). The potential misuse of data and the ethical consideration which should underpin the mass gathering of employee data (or anyone’s for that matter) are missing.

Humanyze declares unashamedly the extent to which an employee’s privacy will be invaded: “As part of the Digital Platform, Humanyze offers fully automated extraction services to enable ease of deployment. Our extraction tool, DGGT (pronounced “dig it”), will allow your technical staff to configure and automate extractions for most major email, calendar, and chat platforms (Humanyze, 2016).

Humanyze hasn’t considered all  the legal and ethical implications of its products. For example there’s the potential for discrimination. The use of data analytics by the public and private sector may be used by governments and companies to make determinations about our lives and our own right to self-determination. The use of predictive analytics makes decisions and judgments about people and will have a negative impact on individuals because it is devoid of any value based social communicative process. Humanyze potentially and in all likelihood legitimizes covert discrimination of employees through its data analytics. It will be very difficult for any employee to detect and prove they are being subject to any kind of discrimination based upon their age, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status or socioeconomic status.

In addition there is the potential for massive breaches of personal data. Already we’ve seen the exposure of millions of employees and private citizen’s personal details through hacking.  (Armerding, 2014).

There is also the risk of big data being used by second and third parties for research purposes without legal and ethical consent from those whose data has been collected. It isn’t possible to securely anonymise all data. Individuals and groups can always be identified.

If Humanyze’s products are to have integrity then individual employees should have control over what data companies collect on them and how it is used.

Unlike Europe and the UK, data protection in the United States is complex when it isn’t used randomly by Government agencies and their surrogates. Sotto and Simpson describe US data protection laws like a ‘patchwork quilt” (Sotto & Simpson, 2014) and reading through the complex laws at a federal and state level it seems that “…in regulated contexts…individuals are provided with limited choices regarding the use of their information”. This is perhaps something everyone knows-but a digitized Panoptican isn’t going to reverse this or for that matter change anything in favor of the individual in the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

 

References

Armerding, T. (2014, December 8). The 5 worst Big Data privacy risks (and how to guard against them). Retrieved from CSO: http://www.csoonline.com/article/2855641/big-data-security/the-5-worst-big-data-privacy-risks-and-how-to-guard-against-them.html

Humanyze. (2016, September 14). Humanyze: How It Works. Retrieved from Humanyze: http://www.humanyze.com/products.html

Sotto, L., & Simpson, A. (2014). Data and Privacy Protection. London: Law Business Research.