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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

European Cultural Elite - Are we Masters or Morons?

European Cultural Elite - Are we Masters or Morons?

In Europe we have traditionally seen and defined ourselves as The Cultural Elite of World – tracing back to the age known in Europe as ‘The enlightenment’, the age of apparent ‘reason’ and ‘logic’, where science (as a new religion none the less) was taking over from the ‘dark ages’, where ‘God’ ruled the Earth, bringing ‘sanity’ and ‘sanitation’ to a dirty and unsorted world. But even prior to this, in various times of colonization, religious reformations and general ‘imperialism’, the Europeans considered themselves intellectual and moral superiors,  high above the ‘savages’ of the world - as overlords and rightful conquers of land, people and resources. As far back as Plato, ancient Greece and Rome, Europe was the center of the development of the systems of the world, in philosophy as well as technology and business – At least, that is the history we learn in European and probably also American and Australian schools, as those countries along with us are the proud decedents and living proof of the prosperous evolution of the European people – Essentially and more precisely known as ‘The White Man’. This is the basic mentality that lays the ground for all people born in these parts of the world – and is what we take for granted as universal truths of the development of the world through history, as well as the current situation on Earth. In this article, we will disprove this position of ‘The white man’ as the ‘overlords’ and intellectual and cultural superiors of the world – we will even claim that we have failed grimly at the task of evolving and developing the world, to a higher state of life and suggest that a final score is settled between the white man and himself.

As those born in industrialized, developed countries having the luxuries of taking welfare for granted, we tend to view those in ‘undeveloped’ countries as unintelligent, lazy and largely that their misfortune and suffering is self-inflicted and thus can be written off as people who have yet to be ‘enlightened’ with the wonders of our cultural heritage and rise above their primitive lives. There are variables of this opinion, ranging from spiritual perspectives involving karma and the soul’s journey towards enlightenment (borrowed to pop-culture from the East), to rationalized evolution theories claiming that those who have worked hard and studied, thus have the fortune of living in functional societies that prosper and grow exponentially accordingly. For those of us who are born, especially after 1960 in Western Europe, Australia and the United states, our very existence is founded upon this immanent or inherent belief – and we are thus the proud heritage of the overlords, the conquers of the past, and can therefore rightfully take our position of wealth, knowledge and might in the world. There are several aspects of why this is taken for granted. Depending on the level of welfare and economic infrastructure in the specific country, one does not even have to be born into a household of wealth to be granted with the luxuries of welfare and money – simply being born with the nationality, having the right to a passport and a identity as such, gives you the right to study, live and to be supported financially. Thus we do not have to physically be with money, to be apart of the riches it provides. Therefore it is often not even seen in these countries, how ‘fortunate’ we actually are, and can thus easily be taken for granted or dismissed as a ‘perk’ of living in a developed society.  Another aspect of this, is that the intellectual heritage provides us with a view of the world, where we see ourselves as the cultural elite, meaning that we better than anyone else, understands the world, thus having the overview and the mental capacity to analyze other countries and cultures from above – This is apparent in the European culture as well as in the American, which both are products of the same world view, although taking different shapes, where the Americans tend to see America as the navel of the world, while the Europeans tend to claim to have the intellectual and civilized upper hand, thus the right to judge other cultures as barbaric and uncivilized, based on long traditions of philosophy, science and art. Long forgotten is that the numeric system was developed by the Arabs, that the Aborigines had mapped the stars with their eyes long before the astronomers build telescopes, or that the Chinese were far more developed than the Europeans a thousand years ago. Not taken into account is how African or Amazonian tribes view the world entirely different and often see the world as a whole –and not as segmented parts in war with each other over lines on a map. All of this is our heritage that we, knowingly or unknowingly take for granted as universal laws of the world. Obviously there is the dark side of history where we through colonization, extermination and exploitation of the rest of the world, gained access to the natural resources that placed us in the abundant position we are in now - but that is seldom taken into account, as it is seen as a natural consequence of the development of the world, where some were simply stronger and more intelligent than others and thereby rightfully claimed ownership of land, crops, minerals, oil, wood and people, along side shoving our culture down the throat of those ‘uncivilized’ and ‘barbaric’ nations. Seldom is it taken into account that those areas of the world that has been exploited the most, are also the areas of most natural resources, and how the situation of the world would look, had we not colonized and murdered our way to wealth and power.

From this history and development, we live our separate lives, taking part in the comforts,  pleasures and entertainment that is provided by our rich and civilized societies. The rest of the world, those born in misfortune and poverty are left to rot as they apparently brought it on themselves and what we seek to do, is instead assist them to develop themselves to get to the level of comfort that we are at, by implementing the capitalistic structure of free markets and trade (that which we call democracy) and providing ‘development aid’. We go to war in the name of freedom of speech and build oil rigs and factories in those countries, under the guise of aiding them to prosper. But we do not see ourselves in any way Responsible for their misfortune and seek thus not to share our wealth. Thus being born in a western country, you learn in school that you are lucky to be born where you are – in ‘The free world’. You learn that this is a result of a proud and glorious history, where your ancestors provided you with the land that you can now rightfully call your own. You do not learn that the welfare and comfort that you take for granted, is riding on the backs of those that suffer. This is not only true seen in the light of the historic development from the imperialistic era, but also down to the pair of sneakers on your feet or the chicken that you stuff your belly with. Suffering and poverty in undeveloped countries exists directly and solely because of how we live our lives in the west. It exists because of the lives that we take for granted as our rightful heritage.

The following story, taken from an article in the Danish newspaper Politikken (Sun Sep. 12) is an example of how much we take our position for granted and how devastating this attitude is, not only for those countries that are being exploited, but for all of us. In Malaysia a Danish company called united plantations was created in 1985. The company has been awarded and appraised as a company that provided healthcare and education for it’s Malaysian workers and that has thus supported the social and economic development of a poor and ‘savage’ country in a ‘team-spirit’ seldom seen in the corporate world. Last year they had a profit of almost 90 million dollars. The company has 5000 workers and besides growing bananas and coconuts, uses most of the land to grow palm fruits that are used to make palm oil. By pressing the fruits, oil is extracted and the oil is used in many foods and in cosmetics. (So when you bite into a mars bar or rub lotion on your skin, remember to send a thought of gratitude to the Malaysian workers, who have risked their lives working for your comfort and satisfaction.) The company has recently been exposed and criticized for providing poor and dangerous work conditions for the workers who work every day harvesting the fruits.  United plantations uses pesticides called paraquat and monocrotoophos, both extremely dangerous, causing respiratory problems, damage to the lungs, cause nausea and severe skin rashes. The workers explain that they suffer with rashes on their hands, feet, and chests and even on their genitals. The consequences of working with the palm fruits sprayed with these pesticides are, besides back pain, nails falling off and pain when peeing or having sex. The normal work day is eight hours, but often the workers are forced to work longer to ensure a stable income as the wages are extremely low. They also only get the full pay if they collect a minimum of 16 bags of fruits, of 50 kg. Each. The work starts at 6.30 where it is already getting excruciatingly hot in the Malaysian jungle. The workers bring food and water, but have to leave it where they start harvesting fruits and only after four hours are they allowed going back to where they started and thus they go without water for up to four hours in the boiling heat. One worker has explained that she is forced to sit down and pee, where she works to not have to walk too far away and that she can smell the metallic smell of pesticides dripping from the plants. She explains that this has caused the skin on her vaginal area to tear and bleed. When the workers go the health Clinique, they are told that this is normal and sometimes given pills that has no effect. Working with these pesticides requires equipment such as gumboots, gloves and masks, but the heat is too unbearable for the workers, so they take it off. They are also not able to works as fast as they have to, if they wear the equipment. This is but one example out of thousands, even millions, where the glorious heritage of colonization and intellectual superiority shows its true face. The suffering of the Malaysian workers is not caused by their country being undeveloped or the people being savage or unintelligent  - It is caused by a country and people being exploited brutally by western companies, all justified in the name of free will and market forces. ‘We are stronger, so we can do as we please’ – seems to be the mantra. The Malaysians are placed in a position where they have No choice but to obey. The worst part of it is that we can go on living as though this was not happening. We have pushed the world far enough from us, so that we are out of its reach and it is out of ours. But the food we eat, the shoes we wear, the lotion we put on our skin, is all coming from this world. One thing is that it is justified by our deliberate ignorance and unwillingness to see that we are Responsible, but what is even worse is when we justify the abuse by claiming our superiority as a natural birth-given right. This clearly shows that we are not intelligent or developed or in any other way above anyone else. With our apparent superior intellectual and technological skills, we could have solved this in a way, where these workers did not have to Suffer. But we didn’t – because it would have been bad for business and it would have send a signal to the slave workers of the world, that they are worth something, and we didn’t because we did not have to do it – because ‘the folks at home’ didn’t care – they didn’t see it either, because it was strategically placed out of their sight – serving only one purpose: to make the rich even richer. We are all caught in the same mess – and thus a Solution is required that first of all takes these people into consideration and account as Equals on this Earth. This Solution is an Equal Money System – not as an ideological utopian dream, but as a Practical, Livable Principled Solution, where we each and All take a Stand, deciding to Stop the atrocities and Change this world, so that we can Live together and Breathe together and share Everything that is Here. The European Cultural Elite is a figment of imagination, but it is also who we have tacitly accepted ourselves as, often in taking our position for granted, forgetting the process with which our riches is provided, how it is provided and who has suffered to provide it. The final proof is the condition of the Earth at large – and who each of us Accept ourselves to be.

1 comment:

  1. Ann thanks! This writing is an eye opener. It makes it clear that we do not fully understand how ignorant the westerns are and how we are not aware of the consequences of our daily actions to the people in the 'undeveloped' countries.