Friday, July 06, 2007

divide and conquer

Why does it matter whether Al Gore was a champion of censorship in the eighties? Does it diminish his environmental position after all of the books he has written on the subject? Did he willingly cover the agenda of an illegal tax by allowing a manipulative lobby group to take the stage in a spectacularly hypocritical maneuver to investigate artists and decide for the public what is morally acceptable or not?

Who is giving an award to Walmart for going green with their suppliers? The Chief Energy Conservation Officer has presented Walmart an award for sustainable building design and upkeep. Walmart products have received design awards for sustainable products, and acting now as a benefactor, Walmart Canada is now granting funds to groups to innovatively preserve green spaces in Canada. In May of this year Human Rights Watch published a paper outlining continual abuses by Walmart of North American workers. This to say nothing of the intrinsic support of inhuman sweatshop practices and unfair employee treatment by suppliers and transport companies who deliver the goods.

To benefit Global Green USA, Starbucks is having their umbrellas painted as original works to promote green initiatives. The Sidhamo prayer campaign and the movie Black Gold are doing the talking on that one at the moment.

There is a belief that comes from marketing that division of market sectors or "target marketing" is the best way to identify customers and focus resources on sales. This belief is based on the conviction that money is finite and that not everyone is going to purchase the same thing that everyone else is and various factors in their lives can predict what those purchases might be. This type of belief also governs polling and political predictions based on the idea that a vote is a conviction that is fundamentally opposite another conviction.

As these ideas became intermixed over the development of democratic nations, the free-market and the birthright of one vote came to intermix until certain purchases are now spoken of as "voting with feet". This is meant to suggest that if customers really didn't agree with Walmart or Starbucks practices, they would shop elsewhere. It precludes the possibility that Walmart or Starbucks fails to make public such practices and that the average person has no choice because all other optional businesses have been marginalized or obliterated completely.

Certain belief systems also became entrenched in the market idea, but in the other direction. Politicians are more and more judged on their records and more and more they are willing to cross the floor or reverse their position when an advantage can be gained personally. As such, we are less willing to suspect mistakes are made by our public figures just like us, we hold them to unreasonable standards which encourage them to play cloak & dagger politics behind closed doors. Their public faces become the very opposite of their own belief systems because all that matters is winning rather than accomplishing progress.

This diminishes all of us. Ideas are not finite. Passion is not finite Human energy is, but beliefs need not be mutually exclusive. Am I a hypocrite because I don't accept that Walmart has any interest in human rights? I am thrilled they are willing to go greener and ensure their suppliers do the same and I have no way of taking away from that accomplishment. I still don't agree with their illegal union-busting tactics and their treatment of women would be medieval if not for their massive computer system.

If Starbucks wants to use its huge promotion machine to educate more people about environmentalism, I applaud the effort. I must also remind them that purchasing fair-trade coffee for an acceptable price prevents subsistence farmers from razing forests for farmland in order to scrape by. It prevents existing farmland from being depleted and abandoned. They have the power to do this now, it could be decided literally in a matter of hours. They choose not to. They choose to distract us with coloured umbrellas and not terribly eloquent press releases where the word "progress" is repeated ad nauseum.

These various companies and governments, including public figures, have convinced themselves and us that there are camps to fit into. They can get people to a green rally where t-shirts and keychains with their logos can be handed out but since the human rights people tend to be less forgiving in public debate, they choose to do that meeting on paper. It does make sense to suggest that because I like one band I might like another. It does make sense to target my demographic because people my age have recieved common input from this world over our years and we have similar reactions to stimuli. Do I like Arcade Fire because they went to my highschool? Or because they performed with David Bowie who I adore? Maybe I was just ripe for their time.

My wallet is limited in ways that my conviction is not. Destroying my home for the sake of a cheap (though not inexpensive) cup of burnt coffee is not acceptable. Taking over my cities with ugly box stores and undermining not only my local vendors, but destitute mothers and women managers for the sake of a sweat-shop produced t-shirt is not acceptable. Issuing contradictory and toothless legislation in order to win a second time, effectively prostituting a public position that abandons the citizens of this country while claiming to champion their rights and interests is not acceptable.

Women are trafficked and violated on an abominable scale world-wide for the benefit and profit of men. First Nations and other indigenous peoples are relegated to tinier parts of land and history world-wide second by second. The poor of any stripe are told to accept cyclical and degrading charity because trading fairly with the owner of a commodity is only for those who cannot otherwise avoid it. They are hoping the environmental "camp" will hold over the heads of others a victory in getting big chain companies to begin going green. In this way, it seems reproachable, inexplicably so, to bring up human rights violations. They are trying to sell us short again by saying "we gave you this much, we're saving the planet, now shut up!"

I am reminded in this instance of a story where recycling programs and direct sustainability is the norm and any violations are heavily penalized. The world is not a desirable place to live as once the priority of the earth is held up over people, the result is cannibalism. Soylent Green is made of people.

We are a part of this world. We cannot ignore deforestation when the children saved from militias and workcamps must then live, excuse me, subsist on the deforested land. The death sentence once they are freed, excuse me, if they are freed, becomes that of malnutrition and AIDS. The green lobby and the human rights lobby must join to be an inseparable pressure group to force international companies and governments to govern and regenerate responsibly for us.

I'll put it another way: our right is to live, not simply to exist.

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