This piece, in support of Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s initiative, Slavery on Wall Street: Race & Roots of Climate Injustice (100 Wall Street, 5 pm EDT, Sept 23), coincides with the Pope’s visit to the USA, his call for a fairer and more compassionate world.
The reality of an economic order built on white supremacy is the whispered subtext of our entire response to the climate crisis, and it badly needs to be dragged into the light. Naomi Klein (This Changes Everything Capitalism Versus the Climate)
A recent article by Tom Engelhardt, Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country offers a diagnosis of our post 9/11 world. He names five areas that constitute a world shaped by the “New American Order.”
- 1% Elections, the Demobilization of “We the People.”
- The Privatization of the State
- The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency.
- The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government.
- The Demobilization of the American People (taking the power and teeth out of popular dissent in the guise of protection from “terrorism.”)
In his summary, “The Birth of a New System,” he argues that we should find a name for our new political system. One shaped by five Supreme Court Justices in 2010, when Citizens United legalized a government by millionaires, billionaires, and corporations.
A report released in January 2015 by Oxfam, Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More records the current flow of wealth-predicting the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years. I would call such a system a feudalistic, corporate plutocracy.
An unethical and unregulated billionaire corporate power is now the overarching influence on the destiny of most nations, peoples, species, and the Earth itself. In the face of this, we are losing the struggle to reverse the collapse of a sustainable world, and to protect life from being a means for profit only. To unravel the inequities of our current economic system, which is based on the privilege of inherited wealth, we have to go back in history to see that the astonishing rise of capital wealth within Europe, from the late 15th to 19th centuries, was rooted in the African slave trade, alongside rapacious colonization of lands rich with spices, minerals, gold and all manner of tradable goods. Contemporary African American artist Nona Faustine comments on her art activism, From Her Body Sprang Their Greatest Wealth, Standing at the exact spot (Wall Street), where they sold Native and African men, women, and children 150 years ago… I found myself at the curtain of time between two eras, past and present. I went into a deep reflection.
To reflect on the roots of our American Eurocentric privilege is truly sobering. By the conclusion of 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Europeans and Americans had enslaved and transported more than 12 million Africans to the Americas and West Indies.
The grand stately homes, which are dotted across Europe, and the sweeping plantations, estates, and magnificent city buildings across America are, brick by brick, constructed from immense exploitation of Africa, Asia, and First Nation People. Tracing back the roots of our current economic system to the oppression and servitude of people of color, and semi-indentured working classes, helps us understand an ingrained mindset that justifies the acquisition of wealth through deeply corrupt means. This mindset employs the extreme objectification of the “other,” as so different from us that it is perfectly acceptable to deny rights, and exploit to the full extent, including subjugation through murder and extreme violence.
British novelist Barry Unsworth captures this act of distancing in his novel Sacred Hunger, which is focused around the slave trade, Picturing things is bad for business… it can choke the mind with horror if persisted in. We have graphs and tables and balance sheets and statements of corporate philosophy to help us remain busily and safely in the realm of the abstract and comfort us with a sense of lawful endeavor and lawful profit. And we have maps.
Rediker, author of “The Slave Ship: A Human History” comments, “Unsworth describes a violence of abstraction that plagued the study of the slave trade from its beginning. It is as if the use of ledgers, almanacs, balance sheets, graphs, and tables – the merchants’ comforting methods – has rendered abstract, and thereby dehumanized, a reality that must, for moral and political reasons, be understood concretely. Numbers can occlude the pervasive torture and terror, but European, African, and American societies still live with their consequences, the multiple legacies of race, class, and slavery. The slaver is a ghost ship sailing on the edges of modern consciousness.”
Fast forward to now. The use of everyday items, including computers, iPods, and smartphones, are directly linked to a global culture of colonization, servitude, and an extreme lack of environmental responsibility. Every time we use a mobile phone, we handle “conflict minerals,” states Frank Piasecki Poulsen in his report from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, “children are regularly used to work the mines, and the profits continue to fuel a silent, and rarely mentioned war that is the “bloodiest conflict since the Second World War.” The minerals are then shipped to China to be processed for our everyday use. Xu Lizhi, a 24-year-old migrant worker from Shenzhen, committed suicide on September 30th, 2014 by jumping out of a window at Apple’s mega factory Foxconn.
This is Xu’s poem:
A Screw Fell to the Ground
A screw fell to the ground
In this dark night of overtime
Plunging vertically, lightly clinking
It won’t attract anyone’s attention
Just like last time
On a night like this
When someone plunged to the ground
Apple Foxconn ‘city’, China. The netting is to prevent suicide; thus mirroring the netting on slave ships to prevent captives from leaping overboard. (Photo, Thomas Lee.)
The language of poetry and personal narrative colors in names, faces and stories of the “ghostly ships” that are the cogs within our profit-making machine. In doing so, they move us from abstraction into shared human sensibility. It is empathetic attunement to the “other,” rather than the “violence of abstraction,” that initiates a journey of reassessment regards the systems we inhabit. Empathetic resonance is vital, as it shifts us toward a more equitable world that moves beyond self-concern to an awareness of interconnection.
Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics, said, all matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of the matter. We are beginning to understand the implications of what Buddha taught 2,600 years ago, summed up by Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
There is no ultimate separation between “self” and “other.” Insight into the seamless nature of reality is an essential catalyst for evolving from a species driven by greed, fear, and violence, to one that understands harming “other” ultimately harms “self.” In reality, we are truly interwoven together within a unified field of awareness.
Quantum theory, in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, implies that there is no exact, static objective reality. Instead, all phenomena arise within our awareness. When we don’t see the co-arising seamless dynamic of subject-object; that both arise in relationship to each other, then our subjective experience becomes defined by the gain and loss of “objects,” or people, events, things, and possessions.
The primary focus of Buddhist practice is to alleviate the experience of the suffering that comes from dualistic consciousness, which distorts this deeper reality, through insight into the true nature of mind as pure, unconditioned, “conscious-awareness-knowing.” Dogen Zenji expressed this insight when he said; enlightenment is the intimacy of all things. When we feel the natural inter-connection of all things, we notice and experience the deeper love that moves through sentient life. It is awakening into this reality that supports the radical shift needed to bring about the climate, racial and economic justice that our authentic heart desires (Part two to follow)