Thursday, July 23, 2015

...a different appropriation

Consider this thought experiment.

In front of you you is a large blue button. You have only to push it, and technologies for efficient energy production, large scale urban agriculture, and efficient recycling and recapture of metals and materials will appear on a mass, commercial scale. Fibre production will come from massive and energy efficient grow-ops. Recycling will replace mining, and the agriculture that feeds the cities will be relocated to high-rise, high efficiency urban hydroponic farms, and fossil fuel extraction will end. With little to no industrialization pressure, indigenous cultures, and indeed anyone willing to live simply off the land will have the majority of the planet's surface to themselves. The First nations of the Western Hemisphere, for the first time since Columbian contact, will have an opportunity for real freedom.

There's a but.

If you push that button, the patents for all this technology will be owned by Exxon, Haliburton, GE, GM, IBM, Microsoft, Monsanto, and Nestle. Indigenous people will be free and outside this system, but the rest of us, those who want IPads and Internet, gaming, and Facebook will end up more deeply entwined than ever in neo-liberal corporatist culture. With the new technology, this culture and its owners would be more successful and more powerful than ever before.

The blue button aims to separate our commitment to specific matters of justice from our sense of what the world we want to live in looks like. If we push my imaginary blue button, it would end the oppression and dispossession of  the people of the land here in the Western Hemisphere, and many of us are committed to doing just that. That it would also cement the prosperity and the power of people many of us hate and fear is at most a secondary matter. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: if I could free oppressed First Nations by eliminating neo-liberal culture, I would do it. If I could free oppressed First Nations by not changing the neo-liberal culture at all, I would do that. If I could fee oppressed First Nations by eliminating some aspects of neo-liberal culture and leaving others the same, I would do that.

Many of us deplore the appropriation of the cultural artifacts of oppressed peoples by mainstream culture, ranging from actual religious symbols to gestures, but observing the dialogue on the Left today I have to wonder how many of us engage in a more subtle appropriation: using the urgency of the struggle for First nations rights, the struggle for the dignity and safety of the African communities in North America to promote our own vision for the future of society. If we work and fight for a world where Black lives matter, or First nations are masters of their own fates, what happens to neo-liberal culture in the process only matters to the extent that neo-liberal principles actually affect the lives and dignity of the people we ally with. Insist on freedom and justice first, and we will see what happens to the Nestles and Monsantos of the world.

1 comment:

Stewart Vriesinga: said...

I agree John! The starting point is working for justice for those most impacted. There is that bit about upstream downstream ministries, and going upstream to see who is throwing all those bodies in the river. That 'I have discovered the enemy, and it is us! " bit. And to a large extent it IS structural injustice, not just corporations, but the global operating system in which they function. My work with Colombian campesinos and the Mi'kmaq in New Brunswick were basically two different fronts in the same battle against neo Liberal structural oppression....