in high school, when we covered Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, i recognized the following passage:
Shylock: I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?
equality advocates have often quoted portions of this sentiment to highlight the sameness of all humans. despite our differences in religion, colour, wealth and education, we are all the same in our need to live with security and dignity. since all humans require freedom from pain, instability, oppression to live productive and positive lives as members of society, equality advocates say society should ensure these needs are met by enshrining them in law and culture as rights.
today on the BBC, i was watching an edition of the series ‘Why Democracy?’. this edition was looking at india’s democracy, and examining the gross inequalities that exist between higher and lower castes (i.e. economic/social classes). Ghandi and his grass-roots movement was of course a key part of the discussion, as his efforts remain dear in the hearts of the lower caste members. some of the elders could even remember Ghandi coming through their villages on his Salt March.
one elder in a very poor village (which was continuously under threat of demolition for new shopping centres for the upper castes) said ‘if you cut me, do i not bleed?’. i’m not sure if this woman would ever have had contact with ‘The Merchant of Venice’ — i wonder if she even had an opportunity to go to school. but her statement certainly demonstrated the universality of the sentiment.
i wondered about the limits of that statement? jews and christians alike bleed, cry, laugh, love, learn, err, kill, birth. same for hindus, muslims, spainards, blacks, buddhists, russians, asians, aboriginals, whites, latinos. same for women and men.
same for animals. uh-oh. animals bleed. they cry. even if they don’t laugh they sure do express pleasure. they learn. they make mistakes. they kill. they birth and raise their children. and yet, we do not say that they deserve equality. some people say they deserve rights, but not to the same extent as humans. in canada, we take some steps to protect household pets from cruelty. but these steps are limited.
the security and dignity of animals ‘owned’ by farms or laboratories is completely unprotected. they are denied freedom of movement, health. they are denied family and community. and for the females on farms, the denial of security and dignity is even greater, as they are methodically raped, milked, and have their babies taken away from them.
i dream of the day when all animals, human and non-human alike, will be provided with the basic rights of personhood.
Filed under: People
Factories, surrounded by tanks and wires and troops carrying guns. Inside, people working for dirt wages. The t-shirts the people stitch, the baskets they weave and glue, the appliances they wire, are not to be enjoyed by them. The products are shipped overseas to the country the troops call home, though they haven’t seen it in a very long time, and there are sold at rock bottom prices.
The lower classes in the homeland, many of them the relatives of the troops, stand in long lines and sometimes hurt each other to acquire the products, believing that their lives are enriched by the addition of incence, softer sheets, faster appliaces and artificial flowers. And they are glad to have saved a few dollars.
Filed under: People
Scenes of Iraq are full of men patrolling the streets with the scariest guns I’ve ever seen. These images leave me asking “where are the women”?? One would almost think women have nothing to do with life in Iraq right now. And I’m afraid that is too close to the truth. Women in Iraq are hiding in their houses. Women in Iraq are not permitted to leave their houses because the streets have been commandeered by men with bazookas and AK47s.
In Afghanistan, women are more at risk of physical harm than ever (even under the official reign of the Taliban). Women are being beaten, raped and murdered by strangers and family alike. Women in Afghanistan are not permitted to leave their houses because they will shame their family or will be at incredible risk of harm.
Here at home, religious zealots use shame and control to maintain sexual control over women while popular culture openly commodifies women’s sexuality. I’m thinking of all those ‘bachelor’ shows where women compete to be the ‘lucky’ girl selected to marry some lame-o.* Looking at you Bang Bus. Pretty much every commercial in circulation. Bill O’Reiley’s perversely self-righteous judgement.
Though these phenomenons do not show patriarchy and sexism in as obvious or institutionalized ways as in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in all there is a global common theme. Women are pushed out of the mainstream; treated as side-notes to the sagas of men. The reproductive capacities of women are treated as commodities of men through which they secure their status and property. If only women would reclaim their bodies, their reproductive capacities and their families.
If only women would stand up and tell the men in their communities to hush up and put down those guns and Bibles. Then I think the world might finally start to make some sense again. Because with women fading further out of the picture, things sure are getting sketchy.
* While the audience laughs because they know the joke is one her — the adequate looking guy she pretends to fall head-over-heels for isn’t actually a millionaire, he is actually quite poor — and then scorn her for being superficial when the ‘relationship’ falls apart a month later.
Advantages to you: It tastes great! Seriously, the best coffee I’ve ever had. The brand I buy is called “Just Us”. It’s based in Nova Scotia and is sold in grocery stores. (You can learn about Just Us and order products at: www.justuscoffee.com.)
Advantages to others: ‘Fair-trade’ means the farmers who grow and harvest the coffee beans receive a fair market price when they sell the beans. Non-fair-trade coffee companies are driven to maximize their own profit, so will pay the farmers as little as they can. Since coffee beans are often grown in poorer areas, the farmers have often been forced to sell low.
Advantages to Earth: The coffee is organic, so no pesticides or other Earth-hating toxins are involved in production.
People frequently complain about the higher price of organic, fairly-traded coffee. To those people, I say that the price of other coffees are fake prices. They are prices achieved on the backs of farmers and at the expense of the Earth. Personally, I do not believe our morning jonesing for a hit of caffeine warrants these human and environmental costs. If we want our java, we should be prepared to pay the real price.
Brew on, coffee lovers. Brew on.
Filed under: People
There is a reason like 95% of our stuff has those little, gold stickers that say “Made in China”. There are probably several reasons, but this one was really hit home by this recent story:
The short and tall of it is that we strive to buy our clothing, furniture and knicknacks for the lowest price possible. But the only price we are considering is how much comes out of our bank account. There are many costs that we choose to ignore because they seem far removed from us.
Our ‘low prices’ are won by reducing production costs. Most goods we purchase directly require human labour to produce (gluing /sewing pieces together, running machines, etc). Reducing production costs for these goods means reducing expenditures on workers. And sometimes ‘staying competitive’ requires capturing and tricking people into slavery, keeping them in kilns, and starving and beating them. But I suppose some would say that is the nature of capitalism — those who can, will, in rational self-interest for one’s own success.
We as consumers are equally responsible. Seriously, equally. We provide business to those employers. Without our demand for cheap, mass-produced goods, they would have no motivation to supply. Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind. Think about the workers who have made the products you are buying. If the enjoyment you get from your purchase will counter the suffering endured by the people who made the product (and seriously, some of them are *slaves* being kept in *kilns*), please let me know what you’ve bought, because I want to get one.