There’s class war alright but it’s my class that waging it, and we’re winning!”
A cab driver taking my wife and me from the Penn Station in downtown Manhattan to our hotel in March of this year, when asked if he attends hockey games of the New York Rangers, or basketball games of the New York Knicks, responded, “I can’t go to any of those games; I don’t make enough money! Those games are now only for the rich.” Many of the professional sports teams have erected “box seats” to capture the executive class, whose pockets and whose corporations are deep and eager to ‘entertain’ clients in the most “classy” manner available....the next sports spectacle.
A new measure of the “success” of a country is the rising number of billionaires, just another way by which the large global players attempt to establish and sustain their “status” among the other nations. In the new suburbs, mega-mansions of 5000-plus square feet are attracting the same clients who frequent those “suites” at the pro football, basketball and hockey games. In some medium-sized cities, the arrival of BMW, Lexus and Acura dealerships are taken by some as signs of the city’s “growth”. And in those same cities, the erosion of library services, resulting from slashes to municipal and provincial budgets, the vacuuming of funds from the health care system, the rise in class sizes in our schools....these are all nearly overlooked, while the corporate world, including the media, trumpet the “gloss” of growth.
The labour movement has been decimated, perhaps originally due to its over-reach but more recently resulting from the “conventional” wisdom that free enterprise, entrepreneurialism, the removal of government regulations (notwithstanding the glaring abuses and the epic disaster we all faced in 2008-9 from the over-reach of the greed and manipulation of Wall Street financiers). In the United States, both political parties are metaphorically and literally dependent on those same financiers and their largesse, now that the Supreme Court has opened the flood gates to corporate money in political campaigns in their decision on Citizens United.
When the twin sacred cows of “free speech” and “individualism” (rugged or not) are married in another of the thousands of “hybrid” generations of our culture, then, of course, the public good, the common good, the centrifugal force of commonality that once held the community together, in war, in famine, in disaster and in periods of perceived threat, one of the principal gifts of those ugly patches of history, has to be sacrificed. When there is a perceived and trusted truth to the notion that we share our destiny, in our families, in our schools, in our towns and cities, and yes even in our countries, there is some likelihood that those bodies will indeed “hold”. They will be there for our children and our grandchildren, if perhaps offering some different programs with new approaches dependent on new research. When there is a level of civility, respect and trust that most people in our daily encounter are, have been and will be sharing both the high’s and the low’s of the vagaries of what were once called the “changes in the market” or the disaster of “—“ whatever year it was that the hurricane or the tornado or the fire or the robbery befell our community, then there is a sense of belonging, and sense that we all have a place and a purpose within our ‘sphere of influence’.
Now, in an age of global markets, of global prices, of global anonymity, of global information, of the onslaught of 24-7-365 news cycles, and of the mega-shifts in where and how and by whom we produce much of the stuff that appears on our store shelves, the definition of community has changed, and the vulnerability of each of us, both individually and collectively, to the bacteria (of all kinds, biological, economic, political, military, environmental, religious, cultural) that invade even a small corner of our planet, unites us in a vastly different way from the way in which we grew up.
And the attitudinal and perceptional shift that is being required, even expected, of each of us, and especially of our leaders, to adjust to this shift, amounts to something far more impacting than a marriage where two different backgrounds begin to inhabit the same quarters. It was Robert Frost who reminded us that “good fences make good neighbours”. And in neighbourhoods, those fences have become a comforting and comfortable fixture. Unfortunately however, building fences to “keep out” our most threatened neighbours, in a geopolitical and inter-dependent world, simply does not and will not work.
The fence that divides Palestinians from Jews in Israel, the fence that divides Mexicans from Americans, the oceans that divide Africa from Europe and Myanmar from Malaysia and Indonesia will not “keep out” both the persons and the overwhelming “fact” of the destitution of those persons from our conscious awareness nor from our actual towns, cities and countries. Words like starvation and dehydration characterize the condition of these thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing war, others fleeing persecution as religious minorities.
We have to learn that shooting those “migrants” over land or water is merely an exaggerated expression of our fear, especially of our fear that those hordes of people will destroy whatever social and political and economic fabric we have constructed over the centuries in some cases. Some of our shared discontent arrives from our anxiety over the potential these migrants will have on our “infrastructure” including the capacity of our hard services, employment rates and even our capacity to integrate these hordes into what we perceive as a ‘stable’ culture.
We all know that people like Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates are aligned in sharing their estates with the most impoverished. And for that we can all be grateful; however given the size and scope of the deepening pockets of poverty, hunger, disease and hopelessness, even the billions they will deploy in the attempt to rescue the millions will have a small impact. Along with the many other foundations, including the Clinton Global Foundation, these efforts while commendable, are little more than cups of water in a parched dessert.
And with the inevitable consequences of global warming and climate change, producing drought, severe weather conditions, the impairment of growing opportunities, and the rising number of mouths to feed, especially in this protracted period of conflict and apparent powerlessness of the geopolitical leaders to find accommodations to bring warring parties to a negotiating table, the numbers of dispossessed persons, fearing for their lives, and dependent on the unscrupulous and wanton greed of their accomplices in their desperate migrations, is going to grow exponentially and very quickly.
Unfortunately, we have a limited capacity to adapt to these desperate fellow human beings seeking refuge and willing to sacrifice their lives in the hope that their children will live, given our history of abundance, comfort, stability and opportunity, linked to our historic and determined ignorance,( “out of sight, out of mind” given the perceived distance, geographic and political, cultural and religious,). Not only is our capacity limited, but so is our will.
And yet, these migrants, these refugees, these dispossessed, these starving and desperate hungry, frightened and often sick are signals on the global radar that we have to acknowledge, not by refusing them refuge, but by adapting international norms and processes by which they can and will be supported in their legitimate quest for a decent life.
And we will have to adjust without adopting attitudes they these people who represent the most deprived and depraved on the planet, that they deserve their plight and we can turn a blind eye, a deaf ear and an empty larder. This could become the depression of 1929 on steroids. And people by the hundreds riding the rails in search of food and work and a place to sleep could be a harbinger of things to come, only on a much more epic scale.
Can we adopt and provide safety, security and decent lives for these people who literally have no place on the planet?