Curtain Raiser

The Illusion of Small Evil, Colltalers

‘Tis the season for shopping in western societies, and shop will be performed with abandon and savage zeal. Never mind supporting a retail industry that globally pays undignified wages to its workforce, or the need for restraining frivolous spending, as most of what’s being purchased over these few weeks depletes natural resources, takes precedence over food production, and will be sitting on landfills soon enough.
To another industry, though, shopping extends for more than weeks. Just in time for the holidays, a PAX report released last week found that financial institutions around the world are on a $27 billion spree since 2011. What are they buying? Stocks from companies that make cluster bombs, which are banned by international law because, like land mines, they remain active long after their purpose is fulfilled.
As big cities around the globe light up their Christmas trees, and genuinely well-intended people harbor feelings of goodwill and grace, their pension funds are busy betting their retirement money in the assumption that war is good for business, everything else be damned.
We’re not being naive here, or blaming investment managers for following the smoky trail of profits on the back of scorched villages and bodies burned to a cinder. But, as Hanna Arendt wrote about Nazi lieutenant Adolf Eichmann, the ‘banality of evil’ is that it’s done ‘by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.’ In other words, crimes committed in our name are indeed our responsibility.
What aggravates the study done by PAX, a Netherlands-based peace advocacy organization, is the already rising costs of the U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, the Iraq campaign’s daily costs, and the fighting in Afghanistan. As defense hawks have gleefully declared as inevitable, it’ll help engorging the Pentagon’s budget and boost consequent spending in homeland security.
The report names a who-is-who in the American pantheon of financial corporations, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, along with well known insurers Aflac, Fidelity Investments and MetLife, and defense contractor BlackRock, plus companies in China, South Korea and the U.K., among others, all acting as asset managers, banking-service or loan providers.
115 countries, including all of the above, signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, prohibiting multiple explosive-parts bombs. Nevertheless, their use has continued, if not increased, worldwide, and as recent as September, evidence was found that they’ve been deployed in Ukraine and Syria. To have an idea, cluster bombs dropped in Laos, 50 years ago, continue to claim lives.
But the strictly material costs of war, and consequent profit to be gained from it by people who haven’t ‘made up their minds,’ or just don’t care about it, can approachh levels so out of the majority’s reality that it’s hard to find comparisons to give some proportion to the figures.
Or how can anyone correctly access the significance of the $365,297 an hour we spend in Iraq, since 2003, to a total, by conservative estimates, of over 800 billion dollars, according to the National Priorities Project. That’s what’s behind the argument for yet another military adventure in that country, for apparently we are bombing ISIL for the bargain basement price of ‘only’ $7.5 million a day.
If this lack of proportion, and the scale of the dreams of warmongers everywhere, boggles the mind, try adding what we’re expected to have dumped this year in the Afghanistan war, whose end just got postponed again: $79.5 billion. Since 2001, from 4 to 6 trillion, according to the Washington Post. Hard to believe that these 13 years also comprised the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
It’s no wonder that, jumping on the taxpayer bandwagon to a future of permanent war, the defense community is already floating the idea that the campaign against ISIL will escalate to $1.5 billion a month, a figure that’s been called ‘inevitable’ by their enablers in the media.
The murderous Islamic army has thus become the all-encompassing excuse for defense spending, fear spreading, and above all, financial opportunity. Caught in the middle, some may play dumb, but don’t hesitate to dip their toes in the market whenever defense stocks rally.
Life goes on, and to some segments of society, Black Friday lasts a few years, increasing its feverish pitch whenever there’s a spike in any conflict around the world. You may go on a limb here and insert your own consideration about child slavery and the dark side of globalization and free trade agreements between nations with unequal power leverage. We’ll take a moment for you to come back.
Actually, adding our own two cents, behind the transmutation from the mostly religious and deserving, albeit artificial, end-of-the-year celebrations into a crass shopping frenzy, we can help but pointing to what’s fueling the irrationality: people’s willingness. Just as in the so-called war on drugs we’ve discussed the other week, repression won’t end it if demand keeps rising.
Now that everybody’s properly depressed, it’s safe to say that no matter the talk about technological marvels of today’s weaponry, of ‘surgical strikes’ and ‘smart bombing,’ the cost-savings advantages of drones, and a future of half-robot super soldiers roaming virtual battle fields but inflicting real damage, the most insidious massacres will likely come from lowly gunpowder and hidden land mines.
Cluster bombs will ensure that, even when there’s a break in the rain of bullets or evil takes a day off, civilization will continue to be blown to pieces, at most unsuspected moments. Unless, of course, we enforce the law and send to jail those who produce them.
Stretching it to an ill-advised metaphor, war wouldn’t be so profitable if we hadn’t already pawned our moral compass, so to have change for shopping. Or something to that effect; we’re not very good at sermons. One last thing before you leave the room, however.
Given all heart wrenching testimonies by Vets, wounded and disillusioned by the grandstanding belief that they were defending democracy, the restoration of human values and notions of dignity may as well start in the rank and file. Most generals and commanders are already too compromised to make a stand for peace and purpose.
Another passage of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem may sound familiar to those who’ve been around the corner a few times, and know that our everyday, trivial moments often hold and define the essence of who we are, regardless of having people around or not.
Noting that neither Hitler’s commander nor his peers were themselves sadistic or bent on performing despicable acts against humanity, even though they did it, she’s nevertheless haunted by their apparent nonchalance towards what was going on during the Nazi regime, which we should all fear the most. ‘Normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together,’ she wrote.
It’s easy to dwell on the fact that Goldman and JPMorgan and BoA are making a killing out of investing and supporting a shameful industry. It gives us the illusion of moral superiority and that we could never condone such callous approach to doing business.
But we should feel considerably less assured knowing that not just those lucky enough to have retirement money being invested in the market, but also shoppers getting into fistfights to get the lowest price of some junk, share something in common with them: greed.
It’s what makes us prioritize the most convenient way to live our lives, and choose to buy not according to how and by whom goods are made, but how cheap they cost. It makes us to ignore labels, so there are no hard decisions to make, and look the other way while knowing that most of those tending to our needs over the holidays are not being compensated for, well, working in the holidays.
It turns us into accomplishes of the factory of graves and misguided allegiances that fuels all modern wars. It’s what, ultimately, kills any sense of justice and respect for the overrated human spirit we so like to invoke to win arguments at the dinner table.
Talking about such platitudes won’t prevent us from saying, though, that we can do better. What all these stratospheric numbers above fail to reveal is the extent of anyone’s commitment at not being pawn of the rigged, black and white and gray chess game of geopolitics. If that’s as good an excuse as any to you, kick the board into pieces and take a hard look at your life. Who knows? Perhaps you’ve been doing alright all along. Have a great December. WC


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