“When the blind men had each felt a part of the elephant, the king went to each of them and said to each: ‘Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?’”
When a typhoon hits the Philippines, an earthquake ravages Haiti, a hurricane thrashes New Orleans, or a tsunami overwhelms Sri Lanka, all attention focuses closely and exclusively on the specific tragedy, at the neglect of all other news: especially information that connects the event to anything else that has happened before. This inability to connect the “dots,” this fragmentation of thought, impairs the capacity to give meaning to events, understand their consequences, translate thought into action and make lasting change on a global scale.
For a few days to weeks after a disaster, everybody becomes a New Yorker, Haitian, Filipino, etc. But after the checks are signed and mailed, mostly to non-governmental organizations (NGO) like the Red Cross, a numbness sets in, a habituation to the images of unfathomable loss and despair, and the capital of emotion is used up when empathy is most needed. On “invitation” from the Philippine government, former colonial powers and invaders, the United States and Japan, have brought their troops into the country, ostensibly to assist the relief efforts. The United Nations, which can hardly be commended for its performance in Haiti, is deeply involved in the coordination of this effort, and looks, for all practical purposes, as if its expects to earn a peacekeeping mission from the humanitarian imperial enterprise. If logistics, such as the C-130 aircraft, now being used to bring emergency supplies into the Philippines had instead served to evacuate Toclaban’s population days before landfall by typhoon Haiyan, whose trajectory and speed were known well in advance, many lives would have been saved.
In the shadow of neocolonialism, criminal elements within NGOs, religious and otherwise, converge like so many hyenas on the unfortunate victims of the typhoon, for purposes of human trafficking. As in Haiti, soon the women and baby snatchers will be replaced by the likes of Bill Clinton, who will promise investments and reconstruction so long as the country’s assets are liquidated in a fire sale to corporations. More than three and a half years after its earthquake, Haiti is not reconstructed, but rather more demolished than ever before, and it is firmly under the boots of disaster capitalists.
Scientific projections have made clear that during the next 25 years or so, global warming will generate increasingly more catastrophic weather events that will result in the destruction of most of the world’s port cities and disappearance of many islands. Fires, floods, droughts, erosion of top soil, reduced landmass, decreased ocean salinities, loss of glacier water, and massive animal die offs, will put tremendous pressure on human populations. It is not a matter of if, but when, a hurricane as strong or stronger than typhoon Haiyan will hit the Gulf of Mexico and all of its oil rigs. This one-two punch of climate change and human technology will make the Exxon Valdez and British Petroleum (BP) oil spills look like mere puddles. The relentless auto-cannibalism of global corporatism will seize future disasters as opportunities for repression, exploitation, destruction of national sovereignty, and the creation of safe havens for the mega-rich under the protection of their private armies. Supranational armies such as the UN peacekeepers and supranational agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are meant to serve as corporate tools to unravel national and cultural specificity for the new world order.
Unfortunately, a common response to this massive and relentless onslaught is to focus on one or two issues, or a single country, at the exclusion of everything and everywhere else, and by doing so, loose sight of the problem as being part of a bigger puzzle. While individual activists might focus on Monsanto’s genetically modified crops, copyright laws, animal rights, nuclear power, the war in Afghanistan or the fate of Palestinians in Gaza, corporations under one umbrella plot to circumvent popular resistance on all of these issues, using legal devices such as international trade agreements like the TPP and international treaties.
Global capitalism connects the dots. We must do the same. The formaldehyde-laden Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers that were used in post-Katrina New Orleans were later sold as school buildings for Haitian children. This should not have happened. United Nations peacekeepers are inured to urban warfare on Africans, Haitians and Afghans, and then returned home as militarized police. This could not happen to a population with any view of the big picture. Global citizenry calls for an awareness that a wrongdoing anywhere matters to everyone, everywhere. It calls for solidarity with all people of the world that is based, not on pity, but self recognition.
In our global fight for self preservation, we must remember, all the time, that we are all Afghans, we are all Filipinos, we are all Haitians, we are all Iraqis, and more, who struggle against the same forces and share the identical desire for self determination.
Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post, where this essay originally appeared.
Dady Chery is the co-Editor in Chief at News Junkie Post.