The West versus The Poor: Who is in Charge?

We need oxygen. We need food. We need shelter. We need money. We need so many things, just in order to stay alive. And for as long as we are alive, we are involved in this exchanging relationship with nature. A conversation that we always try to pull in the direction that is best for us. And we have become pretty good in this. We can use nature’s trees to build our houses, we can use nature’s oil to fuel our cars and we can use nature’s drugs to pleasure ourselves. However, there is one natural resource we have difficulty mastering: the human resource.

The human resource is just another resource we need to say alive. However, in contrast to the passive part of nature, we have to be a little cleverer in our approach of the human resource. We can’t just reap the benefits, move on to the next one, and start all over again, right? No, because – in contrast to potatoes – human resources are autonomous; or – in contrast to potatoes – humans understand that they are autonomous. So we have to be smart; we have to use our intellectual super powers nature has endowed us with in order to trick them; in order to make them do what we want. And Bam! There it is: civilization is born.

But let’s – for a moment – shed of the norms and values society has poisoned our brains with; let’s for a moment imagine that we are starting from scratch, and let’s think to ourselves: what would be the best for us? That is: what would be the best for this collection of “Mes” (plural of “me”). What if we could just cultivate people like we cultivate grain? To just have acres full of them, use them when we need them, and move on to the next round? To only extract value without giving anything in return? To use their powerlessness and dependence on us as being their only need we have to fulfill? That would be great, right?

Okay, back to reality: because, aren’t we in fact already doing this? Using the powerlessness of our fellow human beings for our own benefit? The most striking example would be of those people working their asses off in some kind of sweatshop in Vietnam, or any other “less-developed country“. Aren’t we just using their dependency on us – on our money – as being the only reason they don’t leave us? The only reason that they don’t die? Just like grain depends on our water and our fertilizer in order just to stay alive? Aren’t they just as interchangeable as resources like grain and potatoes are? After all: does it matter what piece of grain we put in our bread? And does it matter what Vietnamese made our shoes? The only difference might between grain and Vietnamese is that the Vietnamese might have more potential than the average piece of grain.

But that’s how we want them; vulnerable and fully dependent upon our money just to stay alive. Because the more dependent they are, the less they need. The less they have, the more they can provide us with. And you know what is the best part of all of this? We think that we are fighting the good fight; that we are helping those poor people to stand on their feet. After all, if we wouldn’t be there, those people would have nothing, right? They would die, they wouldn’t be able to take care of their families etc etc.

But is that true? What about those hunters and gatherers we descended from? They seemed to do pretty good without sweatshops, right? They seemed to live a rather autonomous life; not dependent upon “the West” for them to feed their families. Isn’t it that we are in fact preventing those poor people from standing on their own feet? That we are providing them with the illusion of wealth; the illusion of their dependency on us? Aren’t we just rationalizing our immoral behaviors because – in our hearts – we feel that “we are just good people”? Aren’t we changing seats; aren’t we the ones that are dependent on them? And aren’t we the ones that should prevent them from discovering their autonomy? Aren’t they the ones in charge?

Or as Rousseau once said: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. The only question is: who are the guards and who are the prisoners?

What do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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