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Est. April 5, 2002
Jan 16, 2020 - Issue 801
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What Kind of World
Do We Want To See?
Depends On Who’s
Doing the Envisioning

"On the floor of any Amazon warehouse these days,
employees watch as Bezos rises, ascends into the ether,
for all practical purposes, Bezos doesn’t live on the
ground on which they walk."

The phrase, gnothi seauton (know thyself), which later became the motto of the classical Greeks of the Golden Age of Athens, would have been virtually meaningless to Achilles, Odysseus, Paris, Hector, Agamemnon, Priam, and other Homeric heroes, who were men of action, not reflection… Despite their lack of knowledge of money, it was very near the walls of Troy that money was born.

Jack Weatherford, The History of Money

It was fall and late in the afternoon. Returning from a classroom building, I see A---- leaving the apartment building where I live. She’s on her way home.

Home, for A----, is a small corrugated abode about a half mile from the campus gate. Throw in another quarter of mile for her to walk to the gate from my apartment building, after a day’s work of gathering water, cleaning apartments, washing clothes, and cooking for five faculty members, that’s a bit of walking for someone not so young.

I reached out to stop her and, asking that she wait, I turn to the driver who drove me less than a mile from the classroom building. I asked if he could drive A---- at least to the gate.

“No!” He gets in behind the wheel and engine starts and we hear him yell, “She can walk,” as he pulls out of the parking space.

I see A---- look away and then back at me. I reach out and hug her. I think neither of us saw beyond ourselves at that moment. We are silent, and it’s as if all the other white linen-covered, veiled heads are silent too. Twenty or thirty of them, walking toward the gate. Cars and trucks seating male drives hired by the campus, pass by us. By them.

I stood watching A---- as she walked down the road, becoming absorbed into the flow of all the Ethiopian women on their way home. Tomorrow is another day.

Do I see Lucy?

How does that happen here? How does this happen in the birthplace of humanity? Unthinkable—and yet…

This is 2002, and Jeff Bezos has founded Amazon eight years before. His world is anything but silent. The arch of justice seems to be bending Bezos’ way.

The Clinton administration, in 1994, responding to the buzz of progress, puts the saxophone down and picks up his pen: We are now tough on crime! And nodding to the right-wing in the US, Clinton locked them up! Us, mainly black, Latino, Indigenous. Mostly the economically poor.

The mass incarceration of whole groups of American citizens didn’t concern Bezos.

It’s possible that most of his current 613,000 employees weren’t born in 1994.

In that year, too, Bezos, looking toward his future, deciding the road for him to take, would probably have let A---- walk too. He would be a devotee of the hierarchical system in which the poor black women anywhere is dehumanized. Bezos would see himself, on the other hand, as a deserving member of society. Entitled—unlike the older, world-worn A----.

Some 26-years later, on the floor of any Amazon warehouse these days, employees watch as Bezos rises, ascends into the ether, for all practical purposes, Bezos doesn’t live on the ground on which they walk.

As the world’s wealthiest human being, Bezos is indifferent to how his employees are forced to struggle to live in a world increasingly disadvantaging them for the sake of Bezos’s advancement. How many have resorted to applying for food stamps to eat?

On what cloud does Bezos eat?

In possession of $157 billion for the moment while the median income for his workers is between 23,000 and 28, 440. According to The Washington Post, August 23, 2018, US taxpayers are charged $153 billion a year to subsidize workers at Amazon, McDonald’s, and Walmart.

Bernie Sanders, when asked about the so thoughtful contributions of these corporations, he had this to say: Bezos and the Walton family of Walmart “enrich themselves off taxpayers assistance while paying their workers poverty-level wages.”

Amazon workers are ordered not to speak in public about working conditions, but some bravely do so despite the threat of losing their jobs. During peak times, one employee explains in New York state, workers put in 60-hour work weeks. At a fulfillment center in Staten Island, explains another employee, “a picker” must pick “400 items per hour,” that is, “pick each item every seven seconds.”

I know what this kind of labor sounds like to me, as an older black woman in the US.

We are not robots,” said a young Amazon worker. “We are human beings.”

In 2018, Amazon workers in Spain, Italy, Germany, and Poland staged strikes, some lasting as long as three days, protesting working conditions on the floors at Amazon warehouses, of course. According to a Vanity Fair report, written two years ago, ambulances were called to a UKAmazon warehouse 600 times. But as far as Amazon is concerned, these reports are nothing more than “unsubstantiated anecdotes.”

Bezos is busy. He’s still flying towards his future.

What kind of world does the super-wealthy class envision?

Do they, as we used to joke during the Bush Jr. years, want to establish a colony on Mars, leaving the rest of us behind?

Do they see a world in which there’s no more poverty, no more poor, homeless? Even no more working class? No more talk of racism and sexism? No more anti- this or pro- that?

Like the democratic socialists, are they?

And then I’m reading Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole.

Imagine the wealthy as a collective—in pain. Suffering. Governments, particularly the ones not beholding to them one way or another, under pressure from the unfortunate “masses,” want them, the wealthy, to pay taxes. To not fatten oneself and family on profits, to contribute to the well-being of the whole society, to be one among the people…

Now imagine flight! Not just of money landing electronically at a bank in the Cayman Islands, but a flight of people, at least metaphorically, envisioning the “right to escape.”

In the UK, the people are to believe they, as in the whole of “England,” is exiting the European atmosphere. But that is not true, O’Toole argues. Not at all. Only the super-rich of the English are escaping the suffering!

O’Toole is writing about the UK—not the US; yet, in his description of the wealthy class chiseling a space out for themselves alone, I see Jeff Bezos. I see his workers, not all, but a sizable number, becoming the angry class that votes for Trump to remain president.

England isn’t the US and US isn’t England. But the US is an offspring.

And what’s to stop the capitalist class from joining hands and encircling the world with their vision is grounded in the “old” imperialist ordering of humanity? The “old” master and slave dichotomy? Hasn’t this event been happening in plain view for the last fifty years?

When a display of indifference from the wealthy class concerning the health and safety of workers (any human being) no longer matters to the general population, look around you for the brown shirts and Enabling Acts to follow!

Indifference spreads like wildfire. It’s contagious and leads to the unthinkable.

As O’Toole writes in Heroic Failure, Brexit and the Politics of Pain, the wealthy class has turned heads away from any strategy that would begin to solve the crises we are facing as a global community, instead opting to point out “a ready and visible target” for a population “looking to blame” the usual suspects for the nation’s “economic and social ills.” Who’s available for scapegoating if not blacks, immigrants. In the UK, O’Toole argues, the black and brown people fuse with the whole of the European Union. Contaminated. Where have we, in the US, heard this rhetoric before?

In the UK, the wealthy want out, claiming they’ve suffered long enough while in the US similar grievances are uttered by white working class men claiming to be oppressed. Never mind the nation’s historically oppressed racial and ethnic groups, most importantly the Indigenous population and privileging of white skin!

O’Toole elaborates on the effort to recall the heroes of the Empire and even mythical figures of long ago, in a last ditch effort to suppress the angry from the working class and poor. Failures-made-heroic because of the Empire’s series of failed attempts to never let the sun set on any land that wasn’t a part of the UK. It’s defeats turned into symbols of heroism—the stiff upper lip is a sign of bravery under the pressures (unfair, to be sure) of life.

Just when the superheroes begin to fail with the working class, the wealthy class resorts to acknowledging themselves as gods. Who will save the UK from the shackles of the EU? Who will keep the black, immigrant, poor, working class at bay? Only the wealthy class! Boris Johnson and the like who “feel your pain.” Only the wealthy class has a vision “fantasy of liberated ultra-capitalism.” writes O’Toole. In this wave of the magic wand, the capitalists become gods!

O’Toole insists that an understanding of the wealthy as gods of “international capital,” precludes any ridiculous talk of democracy. Justice, please!

Remember who sees itself as suffering and from what? Who has the vision and the capital to materialize their dream?

When the flight is at T minus 0, there will be no talk of climate change, and, therefore, no talk of democracy. “Mass democracy and the concept of citizenship,” O’Toole explains, “will be left behind.”

For “the elite will, in the early twenty-first century, free itself from all the constraints of nationality, citizenship and, of course, taxation.” The goal of controlling the wealth and military power is a model for the new elite. This new elite, O’Toole continues, excites a vision in which the lower classes are “walled out.”

But inform those blindly focusing on the “target” at your peril, particularly if it is you as a black or Latina or Indigenous or immigrant not from Norway. In the UK, O’Toole points out, some of an older generation pretend there never was an Empire; therefore, targeting the target is purely an innocent (far from historical thing!). Here in the US the “targets” of hate and anger are the source of Americans dreams. What would Americans do without them? All visions of a future America for the wealthy dance atop the bodies of America’s historical targets of hate.

One of Brexit’s wealthiest and hard-right champion, William Rees-Mogg, unabashedly shares a picture of the future.

The lower classes will be walled out. The move to gated communities is all but inevitable. Walling out troublemakers is an effective as well as traditional way of minimizing criminal violence in times of weak central authority.”

Is it the future, for the US? The right for capitalists to escape? Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.
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