An Ordinary View of Extra-Ordinary Times
By Wanda Fish
Aug 27, 2004
About the author: Wanda Fish is an Australian freelance journalist who dedicates her research and writing to the building of a more equitable and just world. Wanda has lived and worked in the United States, Southeast Asia, and Australia. After a 30-year career in corporate marketing and public relations, Wanda left the corporate world and began to campaign for humanitarian rights, peace, and the creation of a world where all workers are given fair reward for their labor.
Future history will probably record these times as a dark and chaotic age, characterized by brutal terrorism, wars, fear, starvation and exploitation. But the numbers of poor people and the ordinary people who want to help them is far greater than the few who wage the wars and control the purse strings. It's time to turn the pyramid upside down and reclaim our humanity.
If this is read centuries into the future, it may make more sense to the reader than it did to the writer. I am compelled to write something that will explain how many of us "ordinary" folk view the extraordinary events of our world in 2004.
Your history has probably recorded this time as a dark and chaotic age, characterized by brutal terrorism, wars, fear, starvation and exploitation. Money has become more important than human life, and we continue to systematically pollute and destroy the environment that sustains our life. We are confused after centuries of mistakes, wrong choices, and misplaced trust. We have only ourselves to blame for the leaders we allow to wage war, for the banks we allow to own us, for the corporations we allow to destroy our planet, and for the fundamental religions we allow to lead us away from God and from who we are.
Hopefully in your future, the ordinary people will have reclaimed our world, our destiny and our humanity. This story is written to encourage the will of ordinary people to prevail over the greed of a few power-hungry politicians and bankers.
Three billion people, half our world's population, live on less than $2 a day. By contrast, the five hundred wealthiest people possess greater wealth than the combined incomes of the poorest half of humanity. Poverty and homelessness is not restricted to the third world. The divide between rich and poor Americans sees the richest one percent owning more wealth than the bottom 95%.
Those of us who live in industrialized countries encourage the banks to ruin our lives with mortgages, debt and credit cards. We buy products and services from corporations that pay their top executives more in an annual bonus than their lowest paid workers earn in a lifetime. We consume more than 80% of the world's resources and grow fat while nearly two million children die in poverty every year. We would like to change that, but most of us are too busy trying to survive, to find or keep jobs, to pay mounting bills, and to educate our children.
Many who have jobs are living well below the poverty line with 550 million workers earning one dollar or less a day. At least a billion jobs need to be created globally over the next 10 years to absorb new workers and to reach the UN's objective of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Governments and media conglomerates collude to spin a story about employment and prosperity, while the lowest paid workers of their countries struggle under the burden of longer hours, less pay, and mounting debt. As the workers' wage remains stagnant or falls, the cost of medical care, housing and food rises.
Depression has become as common as the cold, and millions of people now pay a handsome price to pharmaceutical companies to deliver pretend "happiness". We use legal and illegal drugs to blank out the reality of a world without a future. Our politicians respond to the growing crisis by passing laws that further control our lives, take away our personal choice, remove our freedoms, erode our privacy, and imprison people for making mistakes or for being poor. In my world the quality of justice depends on how much you can afford to spend on a good lawyer.
There is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. We now have a very powerful tool that ordinary people can use to transform this upside-down world. The explosive birth of internet communication and journalism by the people has opened many doors and made it possible for ordinary people to connect and to reclaim our future. We need to act quickly because already the establishment is finding ways to discourage and impede that communication. Those who peddle sex and legal drugs have jammed our net with floods of unwanted emails, and now we delete mail from strangers. Angry computer geniuses infect the Internet with some new virus every day, as part of their war against computer baron, Bill Gates who runs the Microsoft Empire and is the wealthiest man in
a world of poor people. There may not be much more time to write the truth about the wars, the poverty, the inequity, the exploitation, and the slavery that destroys our humanity. It is important to share this story now while there is still a chance that enough strangers will read it and take some action.
In these extraordinary times, those of us who live in the luckier countries celebrate our wealth by consuming goods manufactured in third world countries by slaves, many of them children. Actually these children are worse off than slaves of past centuries who were at least housed and fed. Globalization and the corporate barons have created a new brand of slavery, called free trade, where workers starve and cannot afford the basic amenities.
The children today suffer the most, yet they are our only hope for a different future…for that matter any future. Despite internationally agreed convention of rights for the child, more than one billion children lack one basic human need, such as food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter and education. In Vietnam, Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, an entire generation of children has suffered their childhood in war. They have been napalmed, bombed, shot, blown up by terrorists, and run over by tanks. They have been deprived of life-saving medicines, radiated with depleted uranium, starved, worked like slaves by exploitative and wealthy corporations, orphaned by AIDS, and conscripted into bloody civil wars. The United Nations estimated that nearly 2.5 million children died as a result of armed conflict in the last decade.
While half of humanity struggles to survive every day, the wealthier half spends annually $92 billion on junk food, $66 billion on cosmetics and $40 billion every month on wars that further devastate impoverished countries with crippled economies. We are part of a civilization that materially has too much and spiritually has nothing.
Our world today is polarized by the obscene wealth of a few hundred individuals and the extreme poverty of three billion people. Yet the inequity in numbers may be part of the solution, as history has already shown us what happens when a few people brutalize a lot of people. Understandably, some of these oppressed people now react with desperate acts of violent terrorism. The wealthy and well-armed countries respond with their own brand of "legal terrorism" where the murder of civilians is sanctioned as "collateral damage". The ordinary people who live in countries without bombing raids, with clean water, and with good standards of living, allow our leaders to imprison refugees from the impoverished and war-torn countries. We have protested about the treatment of these refugees, who are homeless because our military has helped to destroy their homes and countries. Our governments ignore our protests and deny us the right to share our fortune with those who have nothing. In other words, our governments deny us our humanity. Perhaps it is time we govern ourselves.
Our leaders wage illegal wars to steal wealth and gain power. Few of us still believe their lies, while most of us harbor growing suspicions about the real motive for an un-winnable "war on terrorism". Ironically, the leaders who wage this corrupt war have made it possible for ordinary "lucky" people to view the genocide and the torture on television. We see terrible pictures of bombed out cities and abused prisoners. We watch the destruction, the killing and the depravity as we sit in the comfort of our homes and feed ourselves into obesity.
We talk a lot about peace, yet we arm "peace-keeping" troops with guns that kill more people. We fight over food, land, oil and even God. During the 20th century, various governments murdered 170 million people (this figure does not include armed combatants killed in war). This century the genocide continues with the pre-emptive invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, countries already weakened from previous wars, tyranny and trade sanctions.
It is clear now that our western governments, and their controlling banks and corporations, do not want peace. War has become an important economic tool, the vehicle to "liberate" more land and resources. War delivers wealth and power to the victors, who make more money rebuilding the cities they destroyed. The ordinary people who are citizens of these invading nations do not benefit from that extra wealth. These ordinary people do not want wealth that has cost innocent lives. We do not support the war.
As I write this, the radio is spewing more reports of death and destruction in Iraq, now occupied by largely American forces after an illegal invasion based on lies. During the decade leading up to the latest invasion of this country, more than half a million Iraqi children died as a direct result of trade sanctions pushed by the United States and Britain. These children died because essential medications were not available. Incredibly, their deaths were described as "regrettable but necessary" by American dip
lomats who promoted the myth that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction". After more than a year of occupation, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. The United States, who led the invasion, holds the lion's share of the world's "weapons of mass destruction".
The soldiers who fire the guns and die on the front lines are themselves caught in the poverty trap. By the Pentagon's own estimate, thousands of American military families live in poverty. Despite recent salary increases, many enlisted men and women say they can't afford food and other basic needs. The lower ranks in the American Armed services are basically working poor. Many of these soldiers and sailors can only feed their own families with the higher "combat" pay for fighting and dying in a war about oil.
Fifty-six years ago a writer with a vision of dark times wrote a novel titled "1984". This novel was prescribed reading in high schools for many decades in the 20th century. George Orwell portrayed a totalitarian society where history is rewritten, where the Ministry of Truth produces propaganda and lies, and where people are encouraged to hate a mythical enemy who has been long dead. "War is peace" is a slogan promoted by Big Brother in a world where food is given as reward or withheld as punishment, depending on the status of a mythical war. Individuals in their homes are watched and monitored for any subversive activity. Fear is used to control the masses and individuality is discouraged and punished.
When I read that book 40 years ago, I never believed that my world would become the frightening police state that Orwell described. Even the mainstream media (usually the propaganda machines for the establishment) has begun to comment on the similarity between Orwell's novel and our world today. More shocking is the popularity of a voyeuristic television show where people, hungry for more money and opportunity, agree to allow the nation to spy on their private lives for weeks, and to judge their worth. The show is called "Big Brother".
We ordinary folk have been the three monkeys that hear, see and speak no evil. Our mainstream media, controlled by a few factional interests, no longer reports news and world events objectively (perhaps they never did). We are fed a constant diet of lies, PR spin, mind-numbing sport, marketing trivia, and one-sided news reports. Many of us have turned to the Internet where alternative news sites have sprouted like watery weeds in a dry desert. It is easier now to find the truth, and it is possible for us to work together to change our world, and to reclaim our brain.
Accepting the truth is the first painful step. Many of us are awakening from a long sleep when Hollywood ran the dreams we believed that we lived. Those dreams had us believing we were helping people, we were doing the right thing, and we were the good guys. Now we hear the thundering bombs, we listen to the cries of mothers who cradle their dead and injured children, and we see the devastation and ruins of war. Now we realize that we have been hurting people, that war only makes the rich richer and the poor poorer, and that "good" and "evil" depend on whether you're on the side that is starving or the side that is selling the food.
On both sides there are a growing number of people who want to reform the social disorder. We know that effective change must come from within the establishment and from within each of us. Poor American soldiers, poor Iraqis, poor Israelis, poor Africans, poor Palestinians, poor Christians and poor Muslims have more in common with each other than they do with their self-obsessed and wealthy leaders. The poor and struggling people form the vast majority in this world. They form the base of a pyramid, and we can help them turn that pyramid upside down.
Each of us is a unique human being with a unique destiny. Most of us want to live peacefully with others, to enjoy life, and to feel love. Our challenge now is to learn to live in communities, to honor and work with our environment, to reject the prejudice of national pride and to welcome the birth of an international community where sharing replaces ownership.
There is hope. Many of us are campaigning to transform the new world order into a new humanity. Millions of ordinary people marched in anti-war protests in almost every major city in the world during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq last year. The crisis created by third world debt has also made us aware of the stranglehold that organizations like the IMF, the World Bank, US Treasury and the Bank of England have on the world. Some activists work for the deletion of third world debt while others expose multi-national corporations that exploit third world labor, pollute the planet and consume finite resources. Anti-war and human rights activists expose the corruption of military expenditure and advocate the re-direction of these funds to feeding and educating the world's poor. If we disarmed every nation and ceased all military operations, the money saved in the first month would shelter, feed, clothe and educate every child in this world.
We can turn consumerism upon itself, and boycott the products and services of corporations that abuse third world and developing nations. Collectively, the ordinary folk have enormous buying power, and our choice to purchase or to boycott can force mammoth change. Over time we can find an alternative to money, or at least an alternative to an interest-based banking system. The ordinary people will be able to exchange labor and goods, to recycle rather than consume, and to work in rewarding jobs that promote peace.
New and alternative approaches are available to ordinary people. We can choose to free ourselves from pharmaceutical companies by investigating healthier alternatives to western medicine. We can boycott the major corporate chains by choosing to shop locally, to support charity second hand shops, and to grow and exchange our own food. We can work within our local communities to encourage local fairs, swap meets, and bartering. We can become involved in political lobbying and vote out the corrupt leaders who continue to support war. We can reduce the power of banks by cutting up our credit cards and striving to live "debt free". We can support the Jubilee action to eradicate all third world debt. We can make our voices heard by writing letters to newspapers, by calling talk back shows, and by participating in one of the many alternative forums on the net.
When we regain control of our society, we will build our social capital so that everyone on this planet has shelter, food, water, and access to education. We will learn to create communities through common interest, to take responsibility for our lives, and to empower ourselves. As we work towards equality and as we learn to practice compassion, we will become wealthy without money, free, and human.
It's time for a ceasefire on terrorism. It's time we turn the pyramid upside down. It's time we reclaim our humanity. We can turn this ordinary world into an extraordinary community.
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