How to Not Get Along With Apocalypses in Other Countries

Image by Christine Roy.

Gaza is a US-backed apocalypse and all of the Global South has been living through various grades and shades of apocalypse for decades and centuries. Ignored starvation, colonization, massacres and coups, torture, media belittlement, and erasure of identity, culture and history. No or limited water and health care, and someone else controlling (robbing) resources and the future and the stories. The war in Sudan, oil spills in Nigeria, refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, the kidnapping and disappearances. Mexico’s 110,000 disappeared. People just gone, never found, and the world barely moved, certainly not shattered at such a loss.

Sometimes, at home in Mexico, I watch Global North shows in some sort of spread out shock. A whole local police force investigating one person disappeared for 24 hours? I know it is fairy tale fiction designed to glorify the police, but they get away with it because it’s vaguely conceivable. Here, the disappeared only get a social media post that relatives frantically share and we are so numbed to it we scroll past hurriedly. It barely ranks above annoying advertising. Impotence is what numbs us, not indifference. Murders happen daily in my city alone and nothing happens. No search, no trial. The 40 migrants burned to death by the Mexican authorities a year ago, with video evidence available from various angles and the only reason those murderers are facing judicial processes is the media attention that got. But they still have not been punished, and the cruel violation of migrant rights (torture, kidnapping, extortion, murder) continues, at the insistence of the US.

Yet the Global South is a world of determined resistance ignored by discourses that don’t consider the region intelligent or relevant. It is gaslit and patronized as part of the marginalization and super-exploitation dynamics perpetuated against it by the Global North. Layered onto the material hardships are centuries of stolen agency, dehumanization and displacement. The stats are unbearable. Nine million displaced in Sudan in this past year, at least 12.5 million people kidnapped and enslaved from Africa, eight million people died (killed, worked to death) in the silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia so Spain could decorate its churches, British colonialism killed 100 million people in 40 years in India, 9 million people die each year from starvation and hunger-related diseases in countries like Somalia, Mali, Bangladesh, and Angola, in a world that overproduces food. And it goes on and on.

How anyone can go about their lives on this planet while such heaviness reigns is beyond me. I guess, the impotency and powerlessness of good beings is so pervasive that there is no choice. We could stand in the middle of a road and scream, but that is unlikely to make the fossil fuel corporations, the arms industry, the exploitative and polluting clothing brands, and the lying politicians finally fall into line and behave in some sort of vaguely non-psychopathic way.

And yet complacency, in both the Global North and South, in this context of inequality, violence, and environmental destruction, is symptomatic of submission. It is mass produced and encouraged as a deliberate impediment to change. Complacency factories in the media and education systems deliberately neglecting to mention imperialism, neglecting to mention over half the world, normalizing inequality as some sort of natural, acceptable phenomenon. Complacency engraved as law into the strange prohibition on having a political opinion and on caring about causes anywhere except in private. Definitely never at work.

All we can do is what we can do, and sometimes all we can do is have uncomfortable conversations, including at work, and get a bit more informed and go to a meeting or a march. But we should identify our All We Can Do Right Nows and do them. A friend in the UK who has dedicated much of her life to union struggles and solidarity with Latin America, said she cried on a bus for half an hour over Gaza. A stranger asked her why she was upset, and after she told him and with her permission, he hugged her during the whole trip. On a general level—for we are all living in different places and dealing with different individual limits, which makes specifics difficult—we must understand that there is so much wisdom in sadness, rage, and empathy. That those who are upset about Gaza are in fact the strongest and wisest humans fulfilling what should really be a basic human responsibility; caring.

With Gaza, many people in many cities are shifting the threshold for glossed-over injustice. It doesn’t feel like it is enough, because it isn’t, and because the attacks and forced starvation are still happening. But, you can sense a little movement. Realizations. Urgency. Breaking points. Land tremors. The developing of new ways of being where kindness and empathy for overseas strangers is practiced a little more, where media like the Australian ABC is finely being called out for its anti-Global South bias. That is, the racism that undermines its analysis and language. There’s significant rejection of Biden and with that a reluctant realization about the US’s authoritarian and violent global behavior.

Many in the Global North (not so much in the Global South where it is more well known) are experiencing a shock that economic-political powers would do this. Such uncomfortable shocks are generously disrupting though. They can be very good at de-normalizing what should not have become acceptable. At prompting questions. At starting new things, prompting more understanding. I hope that understanding extends soon, beyond Gaza, to other invaded regions and other types of invasion. To conquer is to harm and torture, and to deny agency. Latin America and Africa and much of Asia and the Middle East, have been oppressed in this way by the Global North for too long. Working classes, women, people with disabilities or different ways of thinking or interacting or doing romance, have been denied agency for too long.

And so how do we live with our own and/or others’ apocalypse? How do we keep going, while being painfully aware of tragedies? We do hard things. We start out by doing our citizen-of-this-planet duty, and keep informed about what is happening here (one option, my Global South newsletter, free). We share that information with others. We work with others. We boycott mainstream media that spouts Eurocentrism, we redefine success as not a ladder of money and power but about being people of integrity, where actions match thoughts, and we work out what that means in our own locations and communities.

And we embrace boldness. We go beyond the couch and the memes, to marching, striking, closing roads or companies or banks or ports, demanding “third world” debt cancellation, demanding reparations for the environmental and human harm caused by the governments and corporations of the Global North, modeling new ways of being in the way we organize and relate to each other, promoting and insisting on listening to Global South activists, journalists, and experts, and enacting, with others, genuine change. How do we cope with the horror? We collectively plan global justice.

Tamara Pearson is a long time journalist based in Latin America, and author of The Butterfly Prison. Her writings can be found at her blog.