Culling the Human Herd in the 21st Century
“There is a de facto redefinition of “the economy” when sharp contractions are gradually lost to standard measures. The unemployed who lose everything…easily fall off the edge of what is defined as “the economy” and counted as such. So do small shop and factory owners who lose everything and commit suicide. And so do the growing number of well-educated students and professionals who leave…all together. These trends redefine the space of the economy. They make it smaller and expel a good share of the unemployed and poor from standard measures. Such a redefinition makes “the economy” presentable, so to speak, allowing it to show a slight growth of GDP per capita.
The reality at the ground level is more akin to a kind of economic version of ethnic cleansing in which elements considered troublesome are dealt with by simply eliminating them. This shrinking and redefinition of economic space so that economies can be represented as being “back on track” holds for a growing number of economies in the European Union and elsewhere [like the United States]… One indication of a people’s economic despair is a sharp rise in suicide. This trend is evident in several countries worldwide from India to the United States…
The channels for expulsion vary greatly. They include austerity policies that have helped shrink the economies of Greece and Spain, environmental policies that overlook toxic emissions from enormous mining operations in Norilsk, Russia and the American state of Montana…if our concern is environmental destruction rather that interstate politics, the fact that both these mining operations are heavy polluters matters more than the fact that one is in Russia and the other in the United States…The diverse processes and conditions I include under the notion of expulsion all share one aspect: they are acute. While the abjectly poor worldwide are the most extreme instance, I do include such diverse conditions as the impoverishment of the middle classes in rich countries, the evictions of millions of small farmers in poor countries…Then there are the countless displaced people warehoused in formal and informal refugee camps, the minoritized groups in rich countries who are warehoused in prisons and the able bodied unemployed men and women warehoused in ghettoes and slums…Some are new types of expulsions, such as the 9 million households in the United States whose homes were foreclosed…”
Saskia Sassen’s forthcoming book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard-Belknap Press, May 2014) begins its sobering journey with an Introduction titled, “The Savage Sorting.” The Savage Sorting seems destined to become the short-form description of 21st Century to be remembered, if at all, in some distant future by a genetically reengineered humanity (and biosphere).
Most television watchers are familiar with programming on National Geographic or Animal Planet that depicts “life in the wild” for non-human animals. Typical scenes from “nature” programming include lions and hyenas hunting down young, old and infirm wildebeests or zebras. Ultimately successful, they engage in a feeding frenzy. Sometimes the prey is still alive as it is being disemboweled by the predators. Chimpanzees attack, kill and eat rivals whilst emitting screams that unsettle the viewer’s nerves. Aging grizzly bears are observed losing their prized hunting spots to the young and are left to feed on scraps, themselves destined to be prey for creatures large and small. As the “nature” show goes on, the soothing voice of the human narrator assures the audience that it is all part of the “natural order of things.”
That “natural order of things” also includes human-on-human expulsion and extermination. But before touching a bit on the 21st Century culling of the human herd, it is worth noting that human-on-non-human carnage continues into this “modern” century. One of the practices of this new age of enlightenment is “Canned Hunting” in South Africa. European, North Americans and Chinese big game hunters, according to the Guardian newspaper, sometimes sit on the back of pickup trucks and wait for lions—bred for a “guaranteed kill”–to run by or walk up to the truck. In the Guardian’s “The lions bred for slaughter: Canned hunting is a fast-growing business in South Africa, where thousands of lions are being bred on farms to be shot by wealthy foreign trophy-hunters,” the reader is confronted with a repulsive picture of a happy hunter gloating over a dead lion.
Humans Don’t Discriminate, They Eliminate Non-Humans and Humans Equally
Then there is the case of the Gray Wolf in the United States. According to The Wolf that Changed America, “Wolves have been feared, hated, and persecuted for hundreds of years in North America. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans incorporated wolves into their legends and rituals, portraying them as ferocious warriors in some traditions and thieving spirits in others. European Americans, however, simply despised wolves. Many, including celebrated painter and naturalist John James Audubon, believed wolves ought to be eradicated for the threat they posed to valuable livestock. This attitude enabled a centuries-long extermination campaign that nearly wiped out the gray wolf in the continental United States by 1950.”
Now that Grey Wolf populations are increasing—thanks to the work of some bright humans–denizens in American states like Idaho, Wyoming and Michigan want to get back to the way things were in the good old 1950s. Killing a wolf and taking a “selfie” with the fur that once adorned its body is still an acceptable practice in some quarters. Those quarters are typically dominated by weekend warriors (take another look at the canned hunter on display in the Guardian for the classic “smirk”). Then again American hunters assisted in the near elimination of the America’s mascot: the Bald Eagle.
But it is not just Americans that seek the death penalty for the Gray Wolf (or are crushing the biosphere that that supports life on Earth). It is the same story, for example, in France. According to the Telegraph, UK,
“Conservation groups are furious. To return to wolf hunts as if we were in the Middle Ages is scandalous. That the local authorities are organizing them is even worse, said Jean-François Darmstaedter, president of Ferus, who threatened to challenge their legality in the European courts.
We call them ‘political killings’ as their only aim is to allow farmers to let off steam but they will solve nothing. Blindly shooting wolves will have no effect other than to exacerbate the problem. If you kill the alpha male, you can split up a pack, which will cause far more damage. The only solution, he said, was to protect flocks properly by using fierce Pyrenean Patou mountain dogs, penning sheep inside high electrified fences at night and firing warning shots if wolves approach. These measures can reduce predation to almost nil, he insisted.”
Just Like the Wolves: Humans Negated, Written off, Warehoused, Displaced
There is a statement in the comment section on PBS’ The Wolf that Changed America. It serves as a brutal reminder of the willingness of humanity to expel through genocide, war, and economic/statistical cleansing many collections of human and non-human beings. Those expulsed rarely have the honor of even being lost to recorded history. America’s Native Americans provide an example. “The context omitted by this film [The Wolf that Changed America] is the conquest and colonization of New Mexico by the United States and the subsequent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Americans to make way for cattle ranching, to which the wolves were a threat. Now we speak of the conservation of the “wilderness” and its wild inhabitants. But why are the human inhabitants denied and negated?”
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), there are nearly 30 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) around the globe who are, essentially, homeless. War is a primary cause. Making war is a conscious decision by politicians and military leaders who rarely consider the destructive consequences for the indigenous population, culture and infrastructure. As Sassen has pointed out, expulsions are “made” and war may be the ultimate form of expulsion. For example, America’s covert actions in the Syrian civil war and its two invasions of Iraq have contributed significantly to the IDP numbers. Remarkably, as a consequence of US war-making the Christian cultures of Iraq and Syria have nearly vanished.
IDMC notes that IDP’s are the result of “conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations and natural hazard-induced disasters. It should be noted that these figures do not include all IDP situations by other causes, such as development projects. Furthermore, while the figures have been presented separately here, our analysis shows that conflict, disasters and resulting displacement have multiple and often overlapping root causes and impacts. Over half of the countries affected by conflict since 1970 were also affected by disaster-induced displacement in the last five years alone. This is an important consideration for those tasked with policy-making, protection and assistance.” IDMC reports that there are another 37 million IDP’s due to “disasters”. The USA accounts for 900,000 of that number. Where do they go?
If You Want a Good Job, Commit a Crime and Go to Prison
The invisible laborers in America’s prisons reduce the costs for goods and services offered by many large US corporations. Skilled and captive prison labor is used by business and state governments on a regular basis ostensibly to cover the costs of incarceration. There is irony here: What does it say about a society that allows government and business to hire prisoners rather than employing law abiding citizens who are equal to the task? What’s the point of being a “good citizen” when there is little reward in playing by the rules of the State-Corporate designed system of life?
Sassen notes that
“Mass incarceration has long been present in extreme dictatorships. But today it is emerging as inextricably linked to advanced capitalism…Most of the people who are being incarcerated are also the people who do not have work and from whom work will not be found in our current epoch…today’s prisoners in the United States and United Kingdom are increasingly today’s version of the surplus laboring population common in the brutal beginnings of modern capitalism…many transnational corporations have set up satellite factories inside prisons…Available evidence suggests that the majority of corporations profiting [in some form] from prison labor [include] Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, Starbucks and Walmart…the profits of private prisons are represented are represented as a positive addition to a country’s GDP even as they are a government cost; in contrast, government run prisons are only represented as government debt.”
The State-Corporate Complex consciously makes decisions that “expel” one collective group and incorporates another. According to Sassen, “One familiar example in the West that is both complex and extreme is the expelling of low income workers and the unemployed from government social welfare and health programs, as well as from corporate insurance and unemployment support…These expulsion are made. The instruments for this making range from elementary policies to complex institutions, systems and techniques that require specialized knowledge and intricate organizational formats.”
Fight the Power! OK! But Where is It Located?
“People as consumers and workers play a diminished role in the profits of a range of economic sectors… This tells us that our period is not quite like earlier forms of capitalism that thrived on the on the accelerated expansion of prosperous working and middle classes…What is next? Historically the oppressed have often risen against their masters. But today the oppressed have mostly been expelled and survive at a great distance from their “oppressors”. Further, the oppressor is increasingly a complex system that combines persons, networks and machines with no obvious center” notes Sassen.
The worst elements of capitalism/globalization are everyone’s problem. Destruction of the biosphere and much of human and non-human life, and expulsion from society and the record books is a transnational matter. Someone has to care and someone has to remember. It is no coincidence that wherever on the planet one finds one of the tentacles of the globalized State-Corporate System, Expulsions of every kind take place.
Culling the human herd is, of course, best accomplished through a regional or global conflagration pitting one state, or proxy, versus another. In such a conflict everything “is game” (non-humans too).The preeminent warring power on the planet, the United States, is—in a case of acute irony– threatening military action and stiffer economic sanctions on Russia if it proceeds under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to “save” Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine. And for good measure the US recently warned China not to look to Russia’s annexing of the Crimea as a model for an invasion and occupation of the disputed Diaoyu Islands that Japan claims.
How About a Canned War with Humans?
So is the State-Corporate System. designed and led by the USA, gearing up for a shooting/economic war against both Russia and China? Can you say tactical nuclear weapons? The reality is that there are too many people in the world. A large number of them are a drag on economic performance. Many of them are “old” and blocking opportunities for the young. There simply is not enough work and the State-Corporate System does not want to pay “living wages.” Why should they when prison labor is widely available.
Odd that the centenary of World War I takes place in 2014.
Humans can only hope that the mystical deity “God” does not become a reality. Worse still would be the appearance of an extraterrestrial species that arrives and demands an accounting of humanity’s stewardship of the Earth and the life it supports.
Being expelled from the planet would be quite painful.
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at email@example.com