Thomas Pogge on Global Justice and the Global Game.

In a small, crowded lecture room at the University of Wollongong, Yale lecturer Thomas Pogge took the floor to speak on global justice. This is what he said (with some creative liberties taken by Eleanor Shepherd)…

As part of a competitive market, it is self evident that competition goes on; competition between institutions, businesses, employees, countries, amounts of wealth. If you do well in this competition, you influence the competition. If you influence the competition, you come out on top. There’s no point in pretending that with this influence (and power) comes particular tendencies to sway the competition in you favour. This is no different when we think in terms of the global relations and the multi-national businesses and figureheads that roll the dice. Greed is built into the systems and institutions that keep these guys on top, regardless of the people they exploit and the environment they destroy. The wealth of resources at the disposal of a population has been stolen from under their feet and sold abroad, and these people do not see one cent of it.

We unintentionally support these systems, live by them and perpetuate them. When we support businesses that rob the underprivileged, we firstly give them reason to do so. We perpetuate the market and competition and we break down safeguards that stop people becoming poorer and hungrier. We see the brands & logos of these companies, rather than the faces of those whom they became rich off. The inequality becomes anonymised. The undernourished, the displaced; these are the victims of the global competitive institutions.

International laws support these systems by favouring the stronger participants in the global economy in total disregard for human rights. Some say however ‘it’s not all that bad, check out China!’ China is a good example, but we have to focus on the local economies and government and the leaders that buy and sell into these companies. Many developing nations are not that lucky. We must ask; How do these institutions and leaders exploit their environments? There are many examples of how a government has destroyed their environment, which has in turn, affected the poor in devastating ways.

We must ask the questions: How do these leaders come into power? How do these leaders come to stay into power? More often than not it is by force, the trading of weapons, and the selling off of the resources that are owned by the people. By buying into these resources, leaders may siphon off money to offshore bank accounts that are not checked and are left to bleed people dry.

By buying into these companies, and turning our backs on corruption (and even letting governments support and perpetuate corrupt and dangerous institutions) we are showing support for robbing the poor and keeping people hungry and ill. We need to take responsibility for our part in our consumerist culture. We could give to the poor (positive duty), which will support them to a degree, or we could not cause the harm to begin with (negative duty). By not causing harm, the frameworks that perpetuate the destruction of human rights will begin to crumble. We will give back to these people their ways of life and ensure that the cycle of inequality and the widening gap between the rich and poor is stopped and minimised.

As with many things, this is easy to write down, but harder to put into practice. We need to make distinctions between institutions and the people who run the institutions. Lobby for a competition that doesn’t screw over people but at the same time, makes this option attractive to the institutions that play the game. We have to find ways to empower the global poor in realistic and localised ways.

A Rejection Letter from the Global Literate.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Your application for admission to our Education program has been carefully reviewed by our admissions committee. I am sorry to tell you that we cannot offer you admission. You are obviously counted among the one billion people who entered into the new millennium unable to read a book or even sign your name (as observed on your admission application), and as two thirds of this billion were female, we are hazarding a guess that you are a woman (as mentioned earlier, your name was indefinable on your application and as such we could not ascertain a gender). If you are a male, we are sorry for this gross assumption and offence.

In the developing country that you reside in, our facility is just a small facility. We are proud to say that we’re spending around US$6 billion a year to help people like you access education, and we plan on spending more, we do, but currently we are busy spending US$11 billion on ice cream in Europe, US$17 billion on pet food in the United States, US$50 billion US dollars on cigarettes in Europe, and US$780 billion on defence around the world. We are placing your education very high up on our priorities list, just underneath treating the kids, feeding the dogs, and buying more guns.

The deans were obliged to select from applicants that we believe would do sound work within the world economy, and we appreciate your interest, but feel that you are not the correct fit. Again, we were unable to deduce much from your application, but assuming that you are one of the 100 million children in the world currently not attending school, we would guess that you are a girl (more likely as 55% of these 100 million children are female) and chances are your home is sub-Saharan Africa, as 30% of children living there don’t attend school.

Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, we are aware that you number among the 1 billion in poverty. Being illiterate and uneducated as you are, it is most likely that you come from a poor home with uneducated parents, and that that home is somewhere in a conflict zone (that we are spending a lot of money on, no doubt!) We struggle to see how you could possibly concentrate on any studies when, of all the 1.9 billion children in the developing countries that you originate from, 1 in 3 children have inadequate shelter, 1 in 5 have difficulty accessing safe water, and 1 in 7 have no access to health services. Where would you keep your books? Could you even afford books? What happens when you’re sick, we sure don’t want you spreading it! We have doubts that you could even afford the simple cost of the education itself, still charged in 86% of countries.

Maybe you are one of the 771 million adults who are illiterate. Our good friend, the United Nations, has assured us that literacy among adults is essential for doing great things like eradicating poverty, curbing population growth and reducing child mortality. We fully endorse this, but sadly we continue to stand by our decision to deny you access to our educational facilities.

What could you do better next time? We would suggest not being female. Disparities in education and employment are almost always larger for girls. You are less employable, less respected, and more easily impregnated, resulting in a bigger gamble for us as an educational facility. We would also suggest you apply at a younger age. An older student is more likely to encounter learning difficulties and not progress through to higher levels of education. This does not bode well for you and your 770,999,999 illiterate adult friends.

Please understand, our education model is not for everyone. We do adopt a certain ‘one-size-fits-all’ mentality, applied to both educational pursuits and our baseball hats, and we can acknowledge that this approach is not suited to everyone (mostly people in your category). But we are hoping to try and plan a tentative semi-important, low-end partially funded scheme with a bit more variety that we have great confidence in! Please, try applying again around 2015, or 2020, when things may or may not be looking better!

Alternatively, you could place pressure on your government to increase educational budgetary and aid allocations, adequate pay for educators, a diverse curriculum that is based around an understanding of your culture and language, and developed youth and adult literacy programs. Chances are you couldn’t read that last sentence though, so we won’t be holding our breath.

We appreciate your interest very much in education, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours. What will those endeavours look like, we wonder? Will you be a begging for one dollar on the streets of Cambodia to passing tourists? Perhaps you will work two jobs, seven days a week, for $50 US a month? Maybe, due to illiteracy and a lack of education, you will contract HIV/AIDS owing to a superstitious view on contraception, and then infect others, searching for a virgin to ‘cure’ you?

Either way, the future looks bright for us. For you… well, we try not to think about that too much.

All the best, 

The Global Literate.

ATTN: Survivors of the post-Carbon Tax apocalypse…

It’s just over a week since the policy was announced. I could be a total wanker and conjure up some ‘I Am Legend’ scenario, but I’ll leave my satire at the headline.

The Guardian referred to it as ‘one of the world’s most ambitious schemes to tackle climate change’, while the ever-constructive Opposition Leader slapped it down old-school as a conspiratorial plan by Julia Gillard to redistribute wealth; ‘socialism masquerading as environmentalism.’ His was a predictable, populist response. One need not elaborate on how little esteem Abbott’s position commands amongst people who actually care to make use of their grey matter. 

So, we should celebrate a little at the introduction of this radical structural reform, maybe even purchase some party hats. If The Guardian thinks it’s radical and ambitious, and The Economist labels it as ‘welcome, if imperfect’, we should be at least mildly giddy. Although there are reasons for caution, there are also reasons for celebration.

The first point of celebration is this: that finally, whether it be a gutsy policy reform on the Government’s behalf, or a gutless backs-to-the-wall ransom at the hands of the Greens and independents, we finally have economic reform that will induce behaviour change within the coal-addicted Australian economy. Every fool with a slight knowledge of the workings of economics knows the value of incentivising certain behaviours over others; this is exactly what the Government is trying to do. Instead of directly applying pressure to polluters (as the Opposition wanted to do with its much-ridiculed Direct Action Policy) the Federal Government is simply making it more expensive to pollute. Therefore, power generators and mining magnates alike will now look for ways of doing business that emit less pollution.

Secondly, we finally have a policy that gives us some level of respectability in terms of dealing with the global climate change phenomenon. Previously, we had nothing. Now we have something. This is where the argument that ‘no-one else is doing it, why should we?’ is comprehensively dismembered (as if it was a legitimate argument in the first place). Seeing we account for 1.5% of global CO2 emissions (the United Kingdom accounts for 1.7%, despite being three times more populous) and that we rank among the 20 top polluters in the world despite our tiny population, we had damn well better do something about our carbon-flavoured flatulence. And finally, we are.

There are reasons for caution, as brilliantly identified by Ben Eltham in New Matilda. But the crux of the matter is this: we finally have the beginnings of a mechanism that just might exert downward pressure on the CO2 levels of a warming atmosphere.

(Edit: click here for illuminating bouts of laughter concerning this issue)

- Cam

Book Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

I’m reading this book at the moment called ‘On the Road’. It’s a really cool book about this guy travelling around America in the 1950s. He drinks heaps, does a stack of drugs and has loads of fun hitch-hiking from one side of the country to the other.

It’s a hugely influential book because it served as the one of the first text examples of the ‘Beat Poetry’ movement. It also defined the beginning of the American youth ‘counter-cultural’ movement against societal norms.

I decided to read it because on Johnny Knoxville’s Wikipedia page, it’s listed as ‘the book that inspired him to become an actor’.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.

‘Why would anyone be reading Johnny Knoxville’s Wikipedia page, let alone taking advice from his career decisions?’

Good point.

However, I think the more serious issue we have to deal with here is, ‘who is classing Johnny Knoxville as an actor?’

The guy makes videos of himself doing stupid stuff and getting hurt. That’s not acting. Acting is like when Martin Lawrence puts on a female fat suit and gets in character for ‘Big Momma’s House’ (which, for some strange reason, they decided to make three movies of, and as far as I understand it, means the ‘Big Momma’s House’ franchise films are three times better than all the movies which haven’t had any sequels. Sorry, Citizen Kane).

Anyway, I’m enjoying the book. I like to think it’s how I’d live my life if I wasn’t such an easily impressionable, stereotypical Gen-Y youth who has no life-skills.

That’s the main difference between generations in the book. In the 1950s, everyone could do stuff with their hands. Today, the only thing Gen-Y can do with their hands is zoom in on an iPhone screen.

In the book they sleep in the back of trucks, get jobs doing anything they can, build shelter when they have no money.

The generational gap still exists today. I’ll ring up my Dad and ask him what he did today and he’ll say…

“Ahh, not much mate…Oh that’s right. I re-roofed the house, re-wired the neighbourhood’s electricity grid, and put a diesel engine on my clock radio. What’d you get up to, anything productive?”

“Umm, I won three games of Hanging with Friends, does that count?

I don’t think it does.

And it turned out my Dad didn’t think it counted either. He told me to go and do something manly and worthwhile, like clean my car or eat a meat pie.

I secretly think he’s a little disappointed in me for going to uni. I think he would have liked me to do something more masculine with my life like become a builder or a fireman; at least go hunting and punch concrete once in a while.

Instead I spend my life reading things like Johnny Knoxville’s Wikipedia page and the subsequent books that he found ‘inspirational’.

I told my Dad that he should read the book, but he told me he wasn’t a reader. He said he likes books with pictures and a small number of pages.

I told him that was a magazine.

He tried to hit me.

When did this post turn into a session about my ‘daddy’ issues?

Whatever. Don’t judge me. I don’t need you.

F**k off.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road gets 4/5 stars.

Anger, Justice and the Midnight Nation.

The following facts make me angry and/or severely frustrated:

1. That debate over the care for the lives of victims of war and persecution comes down to dollars and cents, and is put second to the lives of cattle.
2. Tomorrow morning, and especially before uni, I will have an anxiety attack over what clothes I should wear in order to look elegantly disheveled (Oh how easily I forget the widow and the orphan.)
3. That I can so easily invest time into trolling the Internet and attempting to correct the ideas typed out in forums by ignorant commentators that incite hate. I can spend an equal amount of time bitching about how ignorant these people are and how annoying, frustrating and backward their ideas are (in my opinion).
4. That my time could be instead spent finding and undertaking ways to care for the targets and victims of these ignorant ideas.
5. That afterwards, I can go to bed and rest easy in the fact that like in the film Looking for Alibrandi, I can hear my mum or my boyfriend or my housemates snoring, and be comforted in knowing that my world is functioning peacefully. That this is the only sound in my world tonight. No gunfire, no threat of a late night raid, a warm bed under a roof.
6. That while in my warm bed, thousands will be sleeping in the cold in the streets.

My list is actually way longer than this. As you can see however, the main sources of my anger and frustration come from my ability to be caught up in my own world, and my misplaced and more often than not impractical outpouring of these feelings.

Australian punk band (don’t judge) Wishful Thinking asked: “Do I have the right to smile while thousands die tonight?” 
(something I also ask myself over and over again). I can easily get so angry with how the world is, but I can just as easily forget; I get caught up in my own world of making sure I look right/have all the ‘First World’ comforts/fight ‘battles’ from my MacBook, while at the same time or soon after, forgetting or (seemingly worse) remembering that people are dying and suffering. I find myself in the same spiral of frustration that Australian hardcore band God So Loved The World screamed out of with such authority and conviction: “The weight of suffering is a result of my refusal to do something with what I know.”

Whether this is wholly or partially true is for you to decide. Whether or not I have the right to smile while thousands continue to suffer is another decision. Right now I don’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but the fact that the question has been asked is a start.

Whatever your answer, let the fact make you angry. 

J.M. Straczynski wrote in the afterword for his graphic novel Midnight Nation (please find a copy and read it), that during his late night walks through San Diego, he saw the way the world changed from the nation of the day and the midnight nation; he saw “a country bifurcated by more than just the presence and absence of light, but by lives cast aside and lost and uncared for; the walked away and the thrown-away on one side, and on the other, those who pretended not to see them, because not seeing is easier.” On one of these walks he was mugged, and left fighting for survival. It was in this time, with his life in the balance, that he found himself angry – angry for the stories he still had to tell. This is where Midnight Nation comes from; anger that the stories that were gifted to him could remain silent, that what he had seen, heard, tasted and touched would go unvoiced, and that the people of the midnight nation (the thousands that suffer while I worry if my jacket will go with my shirt) will remain silent.

Anger at the injustices of this world is a valuable feeling in spurring real change. Where anger is transformed into love is where the change begins, at whatever level you choose to do this.

I don’t know how to conclude this rant, as I feel I have asked more questions than I have given responses for. The only words that seem appropriate to leave you with is how Straczynski ends his personal story: 

“The line between the midnight nation and the place where I sit right now, writing these words, is thin and ephemeral and can be crossed in an instant… the road to the midnight nation can be erased only through compassion.”

- Elle.

Dollars & Democracy

There is a general understanding that there is a strong affiliation between democracy and mass communication. At first thought this seems very plausible, as with the growth of communicative channels there is a greater chance of political communication reaching the average Joe. But, this is dangerous thinking and not fully warranted. 

Mass media undermines democracy through the dependence on revenue. Democracy requires that there be an effective system of political communication, broadly construed, that informs and engages the citizenry, drawing people meaningfully into political discussion. However, the underlying threat begins in the economic market, where news organizations contend for the ratings and advertising revenues necessary to sustain profitability and stay in business.

A demand is subsequently placed on the media and the effectiveness of political discourse must be taken with a grain of salt. The demand is that news organisations need to produce material that is within the public’s taste. For news organisations to stray outside of public taste and produce diverse richly textured views would be worthless if they could not stay in business. 

For the public to become adequately politically informed and hold the government accountable it needs to obtain news that is comprehensive. Although, I believe that the ‘within public taste’ dilemma has caused the news to provide the masses with relatively shallow news. More importantly, by the masses continually paying attention to this form of sensationalist news the importance of itself is continually conditioned and reaffirms its place. By watching Naomi Dobson get to the bottom of important cases such as the outrageous prices of food at football stadiums and the miraculous cow that can escape its own pen only to end up back in it, we cause the sensationalist news to stay where it is, in the centre of media focus. The crux of the problem is that the news is governed by the public and the public causes news to focus on what is ‘entertaining news’. 

Many would probably argue that pure democracy is unachievable and I agree with this entirely. I just think that there is room for improvement; in terms of effective politically communicative channels and that the current system that the media is established on should be taken with some scepticism. The question comes down to whether the media system can be reformed.

- Jay

The wonderful Del Kathryn Barton is coming to the Roslyn Oxley9, with a collection of her hauntingly beautiful artworks. Barton, winner of the 2008 Archibald Prize with You Are What Is Most Beautiful About Me, a self portrait with Kell and Arella, is recognised as one of the leading figurative painters of Australia. Her artworks involve all the senses, but never overwhelms. Looking at her artworks you see the time and attention every single dot and stroke and explosion of colour as she exposes and explores her ties to her family, femininity and sexuality.
The exhibition runs from the 14th of July to the 6th August.
The Refugee Issue: Revolution or Rhetoric?

Whoever denies authority and fights against it is an anarchist, Sébastien Faure once said. Under this definition we’d all be anarchists to some degree; we all rebel in our imaginations and sometimes that translates into action, even the greying conservatives who rode the buses out to parliament house in March to protest the carbon tax would probably rather the parliament burnt down than continue under this Labor government. It wouldn’t be the first time a tax has fuelled the fires of revolution or started a conservative libertarian movement in a nation. But as we all know by now, as long as it’s just in our minds – revolution and absolute liberty from governments will stay desired but fruitless for achieving any real change. 

In Australia we talk about refugees far more than any single issue, as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen recently put it: refugee policy “ignites passions like few other subjects”. Internet comment streams are increasingly becoming congested, polarised spaces for vitriolic slanging matches every time someone speaks up or a news story breaks. 

The latest outcry from the Australian public came several weeks ago when The Daily Telegraph published a story on pending compensation claims made by refugees against the Australian government and their detention centre contractors relating to psychological damage caused by their treatment. What was interesting about this particular case is the degree to which talk of rebellion and revolution could be noticed in the comment streams; one man put it “If this becomes reality this Govt will have a revolution on its hands”. However, the majority of responses have more to do with tax and the economy rather than human rights; “This is ridiculous. I do NOT support the Government spending our hard-earned money from taxpayers on these ILLEGAL immigrants” said one man. Such an emotional response speaks volumes about what conditions we like to place on citizenship (such as questioning their legal standing) even once citizenship is granted.

In 1951 the political philosopher Hannah Arendt made a case that the statelessness of refugees, from a perspective of human freedoms, was a disposition worse than that of a criminal or a slave. A criminal is still recognised by the state and has only has certain freedoms removed, based on their legal standing and actions. A slave still belongs to a level of human community; even if only on an exploitative level their labour power has still put them into some semblance of recognition to a community such as a state. Arendt saw the rise of sovereignty and the nation state as the major basis for the imprisonment of people who had committed no crime; “only with a completely organised humanity could the loss of home and political status become identical with expulsion from humanity altogether”. The problem identified here is the very existence of sovereign states.

Her argument is made visible today by those questioning the actions of refugees to attempt to take legal action against the Australian government. As citizens we all enjoy the right to freedom from arbitrary or unjust imprisonment and the right to a fair and public hearing, but as soon as a new (but formerly foreign) citizen exercises such freedoms, their ‘right to have rights’ is doubted. This is why the question being asked is not ‘do these citizens have grounds to sue their government for an injustice visited upon them?’ but rather ‘how did they come to have a legal standing in this country to be able to do so?’ If our basic humanity is reliant on the legal recognition of a sovereign state, then the fight for the legal standing and inclusion of the stateless must be seen as nothing short of a moral battle. 

Money or morality. Which principle will take the revolution out of our minds and onto the streets or into the houses of parliament? For as long as the people stay motionless and indifferent, we cannot expect any different from our government.

Rallies for refugee rights are being held in major cities tomorrow for World Refugee Day.

Get some details.

The Poverty of Cultural Life

It doesn’t take much to see that we live in a society dominated by the mainstream. It seems that there’s a constant demand for promiscuous bubble-gum pop and celebrity fiascos that simultaneously outrage and titillate, yet people just don’t seem to get bored of it.

I ask myself why this is, constantly. Why don’t people like good things? I may sound like a wanker, but come on, what’s there to enjoy about the latest Katy Perry offering (besides her undeniably dreamy yet probably technologically enhanced blue eyes)? And honestly, Neighbours? REALLY? Is it a matter of taste, do people really like this stuff? Or is there something a tad conspiratorial about it all?

I think there’s more to it than just taste. There’s definitely something going on here. This same suspicion was present in the writings of a dude called Theodor Adorno, who formed part of what is now known as the ‘Frankfurt School’ of cultural criticism. He coined the phrase ‘culture industry’ to describe the group of professionals behind the tide of low-grade cultural produce we experience on various wavelengths - his argument was that these products are produced just for profit, they are ‘commodities through-and-through’. Later on in the 1950s, thinkers like Dwight Macdonald, John Fiske and Irving Howe brought together the concept of ‘mass culture’ to describe the products of the culture industry.

The presence of mass culture and the rise of the culture industry has significant implications for how we view, hear and read today. First, the commodification of culture means inevitably that the films we watch, the music we listen to and the books we read will tend always downward, towards standardisation and cheapness. Second, in order to sell as much cultural produce as possible, the culture industry will predigest art for us - meaning that all tricky concepts and ideas will be stripped from the product in order to make the experience less arduous for us.

And what happens as a result? A poverty of cultural life ensues. Sure, glorious and meaningful art still exists. But as for the mainstream, we should probably think more critically about whether or not we take part in it. Again, don’t want to overdo the wankery here, but I’m not particularly keen on seeing our culture degenerate into a practice monopolised by the practices of advertising and marketing. Not only does this not sound like fun, it impacts on political practice… a culture that once encouraged rigorous thinking and debate through various media has now become massified and strictly for-profit.

And ultimately, the consumers of mass culture are lulled into laziness and voyeurism, allowing complacency to permeate their lives like the smell of burnt toast. I hate burnt toast. We should all hate burnt toast. And complacency.

Boycott Neighbours.

- Cam

Power and the Peter

After watching Monday night’s episode of Q and A, I was left with many things to ponder. Why is Mike Carlton trying to be Fonzie? How is it possible for Bob Katter to yell so much in what is supposed to be a formal ‘discussion’, and furthermore, how can he be stark raving mad, then in the next sentence, completely address an issue with greater insight than anyone else in the Australian political landscape? And finally (and I know this has been talked about to death), Peter Garrett’s transformation from activist/musician to a ‘tow the party line’ politician is nothing short of incredible.

Garrett justifies his reasons for joining the Australian Labor Party as wanting to have a political impact that is only possible from being inside a major party, and when you think about it, you have to believe him and think it’s valid and noble way to approach politics. However, with the ALP leaning so far to the right that they’re almost planking Tony Abbott’s affluent electorate of Warringah, surely he must be reconsidering his decision, or at the very least, struggling to sleep with some of the things he has voted through parliament.

Garrett’s transformation was noticeably evident last night as he was seated next to a modern day progressive; activist/musician Natalie Pa‘apa’a, frontwoman for Australian roots band, Blue King Brown.

Garrett’s performance provided nothing that hinted at his former social and environmental conscience, rather a politician who only speaks generated party lines and is incapable of voicing his own opinions. Hearing Pa’apa’a speak about the Northern Territory Intervention, then juxtaposing it against Garrett’s position on the issue, makes you wonder how he ever could have been known as an environmental activist, political firebrand and international rock star that was constantly in the public eye advocating radical positions.

Didn’t Midnight Oil have a couple of songs about Aboriginal oppression?

The only explanation that I can gather is that Peter Garrett must have been dropped on his head and woken up as conservative, middle-aged bald man.

How else can you explain how he sits in a cabinet that happily digs up uranium and sends troops to war?

What happened to the Power and the Passion, Pete?

I think if he wants continue down this political path, he needs to forget about trying to retain his former image, and accept his fate, just like the Black Eyed Peas did when Fergie joined. They were almost a respectable hip-hop group before she attached herself to them; now they produce something that isn’t even close to music and is only listened to when people want to watch a YouTube video of the worst ever halftime performance at the Superbowl.

It’s the only way for Pete to save face if he wants to go down this political path: just admit you read Andrew Bolt’s blog and move on.

Either that or join Bob Katter’s Australian Party.

I hear they’re looking for new members.

- Sam Taunton