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.

The end of education- as we know it?

Education in the 21st century is a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t always that way. Ancient cultures provided an education based on the foundations of literacy (writing, reading & numeracy) underpinning further studies in languages, culture, religions, philosophies, the sciences and the mathematics of their era. The Islamic world in particular contributed significantly to developments in mathematics and the sciences, yet this was seldom widely acknowledged in the western intellectual traditions from the late Middle Ages through to the mid-20th century. This has changed today with a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of all intellectual traditions and the contributions made to the growth of modern civilizations. The Middle East, the Indian sub-continent (inclusive of the modern state of Pakistan), China, Europe, Greece, Rome and the cultures of the Americas, Melanesia and Polynesia all made significant contributions from a cultural, religious, sociological and anthropological perspective to modern civilizations. Humanity has grown and developed through the combined wisdom of the ages.

Education as a basic human right grew out of the charter of the United Nations, and as recently as 2011 this was reaffirmed in UN resolution 66/137 on human rights, education and training. Three key components of the resolution are worth mentioning here:
1. Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights,

2. Reaffirming that States are duty-bound, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other human rights instruments, to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

3. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights (United Nations)

These are noteworthy and important because the concept of a 21st century education seems to have been navigated away from such essential ideals upon which the human condition relies for its betterment. The renowned Pakistani writer and columnist, Dr. Shahnaz Khan makes a compelling case on this point when she writes:
“Education is…a fundamental human right, however under capitalism education has been converted into a commodity-just like many other necessities of life-to be bought and sold with the sole purpose of generating profit. This has led to drastic changes in how society perceives the role of knowledge in human life and how it is
imparted and acquired” (Khan)

Today the cornerstones of a 21st century education are defined and understood within the confines of a pre-determined political-economic dialectic. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes this very clear:
The partnership for 21st century skills has emerged as the leading advocacy
organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The
organization brings together the business community, education leaders
and policy makers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education
to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century
…to triumph in the global skills race that is central to economic
competitiveness for the next decade. (21st Century Skills: Education & Competitiveness)

Williamson and Payton’s argument in their handbook on innovative curriculum is not dissimilar to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills claim that a 21st century education is simply about preparing children for work and subsuming even those as young as 3-4 years old into an advanced capitalist work principle:
“It is our aim to supply a critical but practical overview of the drivers
and factors influencing curricula innovations. We look at the most
recent policy shifts, and identify how these situate the work of schools
in larger debates about equipping…people for changing economic
circumstances and conditions. The development of ‘world class skills’
twinned with the contemporary focus on ICT and on heightening
employability for a competitive economy, are all parts of the modern
educational policy discourse…” (Williamson and Payton)

Translated into the ground reality of schooling in the 21st century this means educational outcomes are predetermined before a child gets through their primary and secondary schooling. Their career pathways have been decided and the myriad possibilities of a child’s innate potential; including their ability to expresses themselves creatively and to be innovative have been predetermined. It is education as an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater end. In essence this is called the ‘global knowledge economy’ and its aims run counter to the real purpose of education:
“to gain knowledge, to enrich human life, enhance the intellectual capabilities of people, promote curiosity, and enlighten and broaden minds in order to propel human society towards achieving the goal of creating a just, fair, and equitable world free of prejudices, conflicts, want, hunger, deprivation, oppression and exploitation”. (Khan)

Today isn’t the end of education as we know it-that was yesterday. But, our schools of tomorrow can redress the balance and work towards creating a more just, fair and equitable world for future generations to come. http://www.schooloftomorrow.beaconhouse.net/

References:
Khan, S. International: The News. 29 April 2015. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-315391-Education-as-commodity. 23 11 2015.
Partnership For 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills: Education & Competitveness. Washington: Partnership For 21st Century Skills, 2008. Print.
United Nations. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. 23 March 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Pages/UNDHREducationTraining.aspx. 23 November 2015.
Williamson, B and S Payton. Curriculum and Teaching Innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. Handbook. London: Futrelab, 2009. Print.

Wealth in an Age of Narcissistic Over Consumption

One of the more bizarre rituals of western capitalism is the group of people who burst into applause as a bell rings to start trading at the NYSE. They aren’t looking at anything in particular-there’s no curtain call-just a group of traders on the NYSE floor beginning their day to trade stocks, shares, commodities and lots of bad debt. Few things better symbolize narcissism than people standing around clapping and celebrating the excesses of advanced capitalism in an age when the syndicated capital of the wealthiest 1% of the world will see their portion rise up to 50% in 2016. The average human being shares in only 1/700th of the fortunes of the world’s grotesquely rich. In addition 1 in 9 people go hungry, while 1/7th of the world’s population live on less than $1.25 dollars a day. (Byanyima, 2015).
Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple, Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are among a number of US companies who collectively hold in excess of $1.95 trillion in nontaxed off shore profits; while at home, in the United States, the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour.
The disparity between the super-rich and the rest is staggering and is unlikely to swing in favor of the 99% anytime soon. The chasm which exits between the rich and poor is also evident in the developing world. India is home to 156,000 millionaires and it is estimated that by 2018 the number of extremely wealthy people will double. (Barhat, 2015). India has sent a mission to Mars and holds the elite Formulae One motor racing event annually, yet 70% of India’s population live in the rural areas of the country and are poor. There are limited health facilities (the government spends as little 1% of its GDP on health care services) and 50% of Indians don’t have proper shelter; 70% don’t have access to decent toilets; 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source; 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school and over 40% of these same villages don’t have proper roads connecting them (Poverties.Org, 2013).
Like so many accounts of glamorized wealth, Barhat’s report (2105) understates the plight of the poor and disenfranchised in India in preference for a voyeuristic account of the narcissistic over consumption of the super-rich. In doing so he unwittingly affirms Marx’s claim that:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” (Marx, 1976)
As a system advanced capitalism subordinates people to profit, and of course I realize that I’m not the first to make that claim. Big business has long asserted it owns its customers and through the practice of extending credit to consumers and keeping them in debt, they not only own them, but enslave them through all kinds of small print agreements. People are born into debt and die in debt. The concept of a mortgage translated from the French literally means debt until death.
There’s no dignity afforded to a global population co-dependent on the credit-debt cycle as a means to survival in their day-today lives. Nor is there any dignity through subordinating free thought to the advertising gurus who manipulate our minds to buy more stuff. This view is supported through Apple Inc.’s recently recorded profit of $18bn, the largest recorded profit of any company in the post-industrialist age. This was made possible for two reasons. Firstly, through outsourcing-that somewhat shady and unethical idea that labor is cheaper in the developing world. Apple’s off shore operations (esp. in China) mass produces its products in factories akin to the industrial houses and sweat shops of the 19th century. And secondly, by millions of consumers who clamored for its latest iPhone. The specifications of its new product weren’t dissimilar to its previous ones-yet through slick advertising designed to subtlety manipulate the mind, and a globalized consumerist culture which brands all of as human capital-people thought they needed it either as an essential tool for communication or as a status accessory.
It seems we are all in love with money and stuff, and the acquisition of more of it is at the expense of our human dignity. And we know that the course of true love never did run smooth. Recently the daughter of the CEO of Korean Air had one of its commercial jets return to the departure gate after a flight attendants served her nuts in a bag rather than a bowl. The accounts of her rant and how she made the flight attendant kneel in front of her to apologize have been widely reported in the media. More recently it has been reported that Conrad Hilton, the not so great grandson son of the heirs to the Hilton hotel chain caused mayhem on an international flight, assaulting flight attendants and calling passengers in economy class peasants. If we take time to think and reflect on their behaviors and the course of human history, the economic and social future for all of us, looks very bleak indeed.

References
Barhat, V. (2015, January 27). BBC World: Capital. Retrieved from BBC World News: http://www.bbc/capital
Byanyima, W. (2015, January 19). Oxfam: The Power of People Against Poverty. Retrieved from Oxfam International: http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016
Marx, K. (1976). Capital, Vol. 1. London: Penguin.
Poverties.Org. (2013, June). Effects of Poverty in India:Between Injustice and Exclusion. Retrieved from Poverties.Org: Reasearch for Social & Economic Development: http://www.poverties.org/poverty-in-india.html

The Pope, Politics and the Seductive Power of the Free Market

In an opinion piece written for The Nation, a Thailand broadsheet newspaper, Bloomberg columnist Ramesh Ponnuru argued that Pope Francis misunderstands the power of the free market. He goes further and lambasts the Pope for commenting on politics, economics and other problematic social issues which are the negative side effects of free market capitalism, claiming that the Pope is misguided when it comes to offering a point of view on the social ills of the free market era and the general decline in democratic freedoms throughout the developed world. He goes so far as to say that the Pope’s thoughts and comments are “frustratingly vague, imprecise or poorly considered” (Ponnuru, December 21st 2013). Clearly he hasn’t read the full text of the Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.
Ponnuru isn’t the only ‘free marketeer’ to criticize the Pope for his forthright comments on the growing inequalities in an age of unbridled wealth and riches throughout the world. In the November 2013 issue of the right wing Australian Magazine Quadrant, Mervyn Brendle argued that “there are moments when the new Pontiff can sound very much like a spokesman for the Occupy movement, but his philosophy and goals are likely to go beyond the mere propagation of slogans” (Brendle, 2013). Brendle goes on to further discredit the man by arguing that prior to being elected Pope, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a conflicted fascist/ leftist leaning Jesuit radical; and likened him to the leader of “a secret order characterized by obedience, intellectual rigor and ascetic discipline—the Jesuit virtues—but whose intellectual influences were a mish-mash of Lenin, the mystic Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade and the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci” (Brendle, 2013).
For those who hold advanced capitalism as their overarching secular pseudo-theological view of the universe a Pope with a social conscience can be very disturbing and very threatening (China bans religion for this very fundamental reason-to avoid anyone expressing or using their social conscience to challenge or disagree with the mantra that ‘socialist greed is good’).
Yet it is the right time to have a leading world Statesman comment on the malignant cancer of greed which attacks the body politic of humanity today. Barrack Obama attempted this but has been held captive by his own country’s inert and ineffective political dialectic, and has made little progress since the massive economic depression triggered through the greed and dishonesty of the financial practices of banks, traders and investors in 2008. And other Western political leaders have long forgotten about the concept and usefulness of having a social conscience; they never utter more than a word or two about the plight of the poor, dispossessed and alienated in their countries and in other Nation States throughout the world.
The new Pope is right to condemn greed and excess. He is right to comment that the death of a homeless man is completely disregarded while a 2% downturn on the stock market makes headlines. He is right to argue in Evangelii Gaudium that “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded (Bergoglio, 2013). He says that we have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading”; and that “we have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (Ex. 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” He goes on to explain how “ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision… In effect, ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response, which is outside the categories of the marketplace.” (Bergoglio, 2013).
Pope Francis has reminded the world in Evangelii Gaudium that the old aristocratic version of Christianity inherited from the Byzantium era, and upheld in all of its corrupt splendour by his predecessors, lacks relevance in 21st century Christendom, and that living the Gospel virtues, as taught by Jesus will bring us into conflict with a rampant advanced capitalistic, free market with little regard for those with no ready cash on hand. The Pope challenges us all to think more deeply about our priorities and about what is right and wrong in the world and take a stand. I for one am glad of this timely reminder of how to live a more relevant and virtuous life.

References
Bergoglio, J. (. (2013). APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Brendle, M. (2013, November 6th). Pope Francis, Liberation and Integralism. Quadrant, pp. 12-18.
Ponnuru, R. (December 21st 2013). Pope Francis Misunderstands the Power of the Free Market. Bangkok: The Nation.

Margaret Thatcher and the Problem of Evil

The spectacle of seeing people celebrating the death of the former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher and stamping their feet on her pictures and images is in sharp contrast to say the downfall of Sadden Hussein or the death of Chairman Mao Zedong. In Chairman Mao’s case millions wept openly in the streets, despite him being responsible for the worst famine in Chinese history which resulted in unspeakable acts of horror, including cannibalism, and the deaths of tens of millions of his people. Similarly, the death of the ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong IL of North Korea invoked national grief on an unprecedented scale however staged it was-there was no dancing in  the streets or defacing or stamping on his picture-perhaps because most of the starving and politically repressed North Koreans didn’t have the energy to display such acts of disrespect and defiance?

 So, what did some of the well-fed and over-indulged citizens of the United Kingdom have to celebrate over the death of a seriously ill, senile old lady, who once rescued their country from the abyss of political, social and economic decline and obscurity?

During her premiership I was a young man, often full of youthful ideals, yet somewhat naïve about how one managed to govern a country and cater for the needs of in excess of 56 million people of varying cultural, religious, social and political backgrounds. I didn’t always agree with her policies, especially her ruthless approach to the crisis in Northern Ireland and her brutal suppression of the Union movement. However, her decisions and actions on these divisive and alienating religious, social and political issues have to be considered within the turbulent political framework of the time. A political solution in Northern Ireland was off the agenda and the violent revolution being promoted by the IRA culminated in her attempted assassination on October 12th 1984. The long stand off with the miner’s union broke the back of that movement and witnessed a decline in socialism as an alternative measure of economic and political reform in the United Kingdom, and her former colonies. It paved the way for ‘New Labor” or as some would argue an unprincipled socialist alternative to covet wealth and political power at the expense of its former ideals.

Margaret Thatcher is infamously credited with overseeing the decline of the manufacturing base in her country and some would even argue of adopting a deliberate policy for the purposeful destruction of the social and economic power base of the working class. Unemployment reached in excess of 3 million during the initial years of her premiership and economic reform program, while unprecedented rioting gripped many cities within the United Kingdom. The infamous ‘poll tax riots’ culminated in the deaths of over 100 people-the tax was later abolished by her predecessor, John Major.  Some 8 years after her election, unemployment had decreased, inflation was down and the economy was stable; the lady, who “wasn’t for turning” on any policy had proved her quintessential political and economic arguments.

Possessing a formidable intellect, Baroness Thatcher also had a delicious sense of humor which she always seemed to exercise at the right moment. One of my favorite examples of this is her encounter with the Australian broadcaster George Negus:

Negus: Why do people stop us in the street almost and tell us that Margaret Thatcher isn’t just inflexible, she’s not just single-minded, on occasions she’s plain pig-headed and won’t be told by anybody?

Thatcher: Would you tell me who has stopped you in the street and said that?

Negus: Ordinary Britons…

Thatcher: Where?

Negus: In conversation, in pubs…

Thatcher (interrupting): I thought you’d just come from Belize

Negus: Oh this is not the first time we’ve been here.

Thatcher: Will you tell me who, and where and when?

Negus: Ordinary Britons in restaurants and cabs

Thatcher: How many?

Negus: …in cabs

Thatcher: How many?

Negus: I would say at least one in two

Thatcher: Why won’t you tell me their names and who they are?

 Another one I still chuckle over is “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well”.

In contrast to other more notorious and scandal ridden 20th  and 21st  century western political and intellectual figures like Ann Rand, Newt Gingrich, George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin; Margaret Thatcher never destroyed her own country and its reputation or someone else’s country and its citizenry.  She achieved something-she rebuilt a country, economy and empire in decline. In doing so she maintained a stable marriage and family life and modeled in her private life what she promoted in her public life ““My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s works for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.” The very people captured “dancing on her grave” are the ones who should take this advice to heart. They will continue to benefit from the social, economic and political reforms she had the courage to carry out at a time when collective and civil responsibility was subordinated to individual entitlement.

Hatred is a powerful emotional driving force in producing irrational and dangerous human behavior. In the case of Margaret Thatcher perhaps “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II).

Mass Unemployment :The Irony in Education for the Masses

The reality facing us today, regardless of the level of education we’ve attained is there’s very little cause for hope if we continue the same determinist approach in our schools, universities and colleges; that is educating to serve an increasingly redundant and collapsing economic and social order. Unemployment is at catastrophic levels throughout the world. In the West, the vast majority of jobs for the lower and middle classes have been outsourced to the developing economies of India and China. Moreover, those that remain are jobs which simply prop up an economic and educational system where any diploma or degree once earned is immediately undermined through a corrupt meritocracy that promotes anyone able pay to the front of the queue. In a desperate attempt to invent new ways to make money (and make people think they are valued) we have created the priority queue. This insidious idea is that a person pays to get through a queue quicker-they don’t have to wait. The system is used in supermarkets, medical centres, places of worship, night clubs, and movie theatres and themes parks. It even includes priority traffic lanes, priority seating in airplanes, lounges, restaurants, and priority classes in Colleges and schools, even priority restrooms! All the obverse of the morally corrupt idea that if you slip a couple of bucks to anyone you’ll get through the door and be ahead of everyone else. Money talks. Knowledge and its pursuit for the greater good of everyone is becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age of impulsive and reckless capitalism.

The values of respect for individual differences, social class, understanding, care, compassion, tolerance, patience and hard work have been usurped by a money culture which deludes everyone into thinking they may gain access to the top of the pyramid. Since the catastrophic collapse of the world economy in 2008, mainly caused through greed and usury by those at the top of the pyramid, most of the jobs in industry, manufacturing, middle management, and other semi-skilled professions in some of the key western industrial based economies have disappeared-never to return. Furthermore, rapid advancements in technology have eroded job vacancies in manufacturing, the auto-industry and traditional white collar professions. What’s more developments in technology are usurping the way we learn and undermining the teaching and learning profession. Educational theories and methodologies are being duped into promoting a kind of interactive edutainment in the belief (mainly endorsed by multi- billionaire corporation like Samsung,  Apple Inc. and Microsoft) that learners will be better educated in the present and the future. This just isn’t true. The inexorable fact is we live in an age of uncertainties and insecurities and the kinds of inventions and innovations which laid the foundations for economic growth, education and security in previous centuries and created entire industries, no longer exist for us today. It is unlikely such a golden age will ever return. Some would argue (like most of our leaders) that this is not the case, and that technology,  Ed. Tech. tools, mobile devices, computers and the Internet, which have given rise to mini-industries in their own right have created new opportunities for everyone. But, the reality is that the jobs and opportunities which have been spawned in the technology sector are highly specialized for the most part and also there just aren’t enough of them to go around the 200 million plus people unemployed in the world today. For example, retail opportunities presented through Ebay, Amazon and other online industries, are limited in number, and do not even begin to make inroads into say the USA unemployment figure of 12.5 million or the United Kingdom’s 2.59 million unemployed. What’s more the applications and services made possible by Face book, My Space and LinkedIn etc. along with the mobile cosmos opened up by the deluge of smartphone and other mobile device manufactures hasn’t alleviated unemployment in the slightest, despite claims that it has done so. The truth is the world needs to create a further 400 million jobs over the next ten years to avert a further increase in the current world-wide unemployment rate, and even if it does so –which is highly unlikely-this would still leave 900 million workers living with their families below the US$2 a day poverty line, largely in developing countries.(ILO, 2012)

High Tech companies like Apple Inc. while grabbing a billion dollar market to promote their gadgetry in a failing education sector, outsource most of their work from the USA and avoid paying decent wages and humane employment conditions to their workers (some who have been found to be underage). It seems not only do economists and educators have their heads buried in the sands of their own ideological mindsets but so do the world’s leaders. We hear what they say clearly: “we’ll create more jobs, more opportunities for economic growth…” and so on; but what we see everywhere doesn’t match this kind of utopian rhetoric prophesying recovered economies and good times ahead for everyone. Among a plethora of crises facing the world in general and the educational sector in particular is unemployment:

Country

% General   Unemployment

% Youth   Unemployment

Angola

26

17

Australia

6.5

11.9

Austria

4.2

8.8

Argentina

7.2

21.5

Belgium

7.2

22.4

Bosnia  & Herzegovina           27.6                 47
Brazil

5.3

17.8

Chile

6.6

22.6

China

4.1

7.6

Denmark

7.6

15.1

Egypt

12.4

25

France

9.6

21.8

Greece

18

51.2

Germany

6.8

7.9

India

3.8

10.5

Italy

8.4

30

Kenya

40

64

Mexico

4.9

9.1

New Zealand

6.8

16.9

Nigeria

23.9

56

Peru

6.2

14

Poland

12.4

22.3

Russia

6.6

17.2

South Africa

23

74

Spain

25.1

51.1

Thailand

0.9

4.3

Turkey

8

15.4

United Kingdom

8.0

21.9

United States

8.9

23.4

Venezuela

7.4

13.6

Zimbabwe

95

24

Source: multiple sources were used to compile this graph-please contact the blog for details

There just aren’t the jobs which were once guaranteed at the end of one’s high school diploma or University/College degree.  This begs the question of why we continue to educate for a world which no longer exists. Why not educate for a world which could exist, a world in which hope grows out of struggle and caring for one another, and cooperation and support are valued over aggressive competition. A world where human beings are not debased because of how much they earn or have accrued throughout their lives, but are valued for who they are as persons.

An alternative archetype of education to challenge today’s deterministic model needs to be liberating. We seem to have come full cycle because such a model was argued for by John Dewey and the social Reconstructionists nearly a century ago. The model proposed below for the post-modern age is similar, and one predicated on the principle that education should not simply be a matter of reproducing the values, knowledge and skills of a dominant culture that sets up one social class against another; rather it must advance a just and fair society while promoting an emancipatory approach to understanding ourselves in relation to the times we live in:

Group

Topic Area

Description

A

Languages & Cultures A study of Narratives  and Lifestyles from throughout the world

B

Linear   Theories and Models of Thinking and Being Mathematics and the Natural Sciences

C

Knowledge and Human Societies A cross cultural study of the teaching and learning people have created throughout history to add   meaning to their lives

D

Gender   Studies Understanding Social Constructions of self and the ‘other’

E

Learning to Understand Cultures, Religion and   Spirituality A study of the  paradigms of thought which add meaning to people’s lives

F

Awareness   and Understanding of Self Design your own program of study based   on the themes within  the table’s influence

G

Sports Science & the Creative and Performing Arts A Collaborative approach to kinesthetic learning and knowing

H

Environmental   Awareness and Understanding Learning to live a sustainable lifestyle

This model has a compelling epistemological foundation, along with sufficient time set aside to promote, cultivate and encourage critical thinking, reflection and rumination on what is taught, learned and achieved throughout the years of formal education.  It is based on the ‘uncertainty of being’, which is a significant characteristic of living in our late post-modern societies. It places the learner at the centre of the teaching and learning process. It does not subordinate the procedure of teaching and learning to any specific ideology or methodological processes, neither does it shackle teaching nor learning to the hype and technophoria of multi-media and edutainment; rather it places such gadgetry in its proper servitudinal position, as instructional tools which may or may not be helpful at any given point in the formal educational process. In the model above learners are required to undertake a course of study from Groups A,E,F,G and H plus one elective from B, C, D or E. Or they may negotiate a course which best suits their circumstances and aspirations. Self assessment against criterion referenced descriptors would form the basis of formal learning appraisal. Students would be learning at their own pace and not be fiercely competing against one another to achieve the highest grades. Moreover, they’ll gain an understanding that the future grows out of their own creation and doesn’t need to be dependent on the deeds or misdeed of others. An essential part of this alternative model to education today is the personal growth and development of the individual. If education is to be liberating for communities, societies and nations, then it must begin with liberating the self.

ILO. (2012, October 4th). Exceutive Summary. Retrieved October 4th, 2012, from International Labor Organisation: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/@publ/documents/publication/wcms_171679.pdf