Reflections on capitalism: Who are the Unpeople of the world?

This piece, an update of something I wrote in January 2012, is a comment on capitalism and highly pertinent today. It’s also the editorial bridge for an episode of a new radio show/podcast I’m co-hosting, called Virtually Speaking Counterpoints, which goes live every Tuesday. (Information on all Virtually Speaking shows is here; the very first Counterpoints episode is here.)

My first show — I’m the regular week-three host — airs Tuesday, January 21. It features a fascinating discussion on the subject of money and capitalism with economist Dr. Stephanie Kelton. This is my editorial comment on the implications of that discussion. This editorial is also part of that show.

I start below with observations by Noam Chomsky about the “unpeople” of Africa and the Middle East, then extends his thought. Chomsky focuses mainly on specifics — the Unpeople of Libya, the Unpeople of Africa — but the heart of the idea is the general, the concept itself. Who are the Unpeople of the Earth?

Chomsky talks about the unilateral bombing of Libya by what he calls “their traditional imperial aggressors: France and Britain, joined by the United States” — in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 which “called for a no-fly zone, a cease-fire and measures to protect civilians.”

Some protection. Remember, this is Libya they’re bombing, in Africa.

The “triumvirate” as Chomsky calls them blew right past that set of U.N. requirements, which they had agreed to uphold, and the African Union (or A.U.) went to the U.N. to object. In part, the A.U. wrote:

Sovereignty has been a tool of emancipation of the peoples of Africa … after centuries of predation by the slave trade and colonialism … Careless assaults on the sovereignty of African countries are, therefore, tantamount to inflicting fresh wounds on the destiny of the African peoples.”

Then Chomsky adds:

The African appeal can be found in the Indian journal Frontline, but was mostly unheard in the West. That comes as no surprise: Africans are “unpeople,” to adapt George Orwell’s term for those unfit to enter history.

I hope you can see where this is headed. Here’s another example, this time involving the Arab League. Chomsky on the Arab League’s move from Unpeople, to People, and back to Unpeople, during this same period:

On March 12, the Arab League gained the status of people by supporting U.N. Resolution 1973. … And [then] on April 10, the Arab League reverted to unpeople by calling on the U.N. also to impose a no-fly zone over Gaza and to lift the Israeli siege, virtually ignored.

That too makes good sense. Palestinians are prototypical unpeople, as we see regularly.

So what has Chomsky said so far? That the people of Libya, the people of Palestine, are Unpeople. They can be treated like things, treated in ways that no European would treat another European. Their towns can be bombed at will, their sovereignty freely ignored.

Why? It’s obvious, isn’t it? They’re Africans. They’re Arabs. Brown and not like us. Imagine bombing Swedish towns to get rid of a hated ruler.

This leads to the concept of Unpeople itself.

Who are the Unpeople of the World?

Unpeople are those you can abuse and kill, decimate and dislocate, without conscience or consequence, because they aren’t fully human — or human at all — in the minds of their abusers. It’s that simple. Unpeople are things.

White phosphorus over Gaza

White phosphorus over Gaza

American Indians were Unpeople, squatting on land just waiting to be “settled” as whites spread across the “empty” American West. Arabs were Unpeople who, as writers like Agatha Christie put it at the time, “crawled like flies” through Palestine and the Middle East, until white Europeans, the only true humans, infiltrated and took over.

Oddly, in Palestine those same Europeans — ethnic Jews — were Unpeople in the lands they were fleeing from. Suffering doesn’t always lead to wisdom, does it.

It goes without saying, or should, that the drone-dead in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, also brown, are also Unpeople.

Here at home, Unpeople are all around us — the poor, the brown, the black, the homeless, the hopeless, the drugged-out, the cast-out — more recently, the unemployed — the wrecks and the unruly. The old. The “losers” in that hyper-Christian “take back America” formulation. The Occupyers, and the foreclosed upon.

All Unpeople are the modern N-word, broadened to include the UnIncluded everywhere you find them.

Are you the Unpeople?

If you find yourself homeless — or scooped up by the National Security state — you will be; even that white skin, if you have it, won’t set you free.

And in the minds of our stateless financial masters — the very very wealthy, the David Kochs, the Robert Rubins, the hedge fund kings and queens, the handful of people who control our lives — and in the United States, control our government — in their minds, all of the rest of us are Unpeople, things to be moved like pieces on a chessboard, things to be used, so that their lives can be easy and comfortable, so that their need for power — their hubris — is unchallenged and fulfilled.

As we constantly see, the very very wealthy of the world — the capitalists, to bring it back to next Tuesday’s discussion — are bringing us to ruin.

In the case of climate, that’s ruin on a truly global scale, a world-historical scale. If we don’t stop them, the world of the next generation will be nothing like the world of the twentieth century — nothing at all like that world.

Who are the Unpeople? We are the Unpeople, until we decide not to be.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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52 Responses to “Reflections on capitalism: Who are the Unpeople of the world?”

  1. Bill_Perdue says:

    There are dozens of groups that you can find on google. Check them out, do your homework, pick one or more and begin working with them.

    The left is undergoing big changes. Stalinists have repudiated stalinism since the fall of the USSR and many have dropped their sectarianism. Trotskyists were long divided because their ideas can’t be tested in real struggles but that’s changing as the radicalization here and in Europe deepens and they can test their ideas.

    The growth and depth of the radicalization is driving groups together, not apart and the growth of the union left is awesome.

  2. pappyvet says:

    To the people with hearts , sure. To the upper portion , we are all the same.

  3. cole3244 says:

    the rich are more likely to be dems than republicans, that’s a very broad statement and are they con or lib dems.

    sounds like you are trying to convince yourself more that me that your argument is accurate and not posturing.

  4. E Carpenter says:

    While there is a tremendous amount of racism in the world, racism doesn’t map well to your argument. There are large numbers of Black capitalists in the world, in the west and in Africa, and there are lots of white un-people in the west, along with the other shades of un-people. The world is sufficiently varied that race usually doesn’t map well onto most other grand patterns – it is often a too-different thing.

    If you removed race from your article, it would make more sense, since it would then just talk about the priviledged of all races vs the unprivileged of all races. Opression is opression, no matter who’s doing it.

  5. mpeasee says:

    …I agree, but I don’t think it will be a civil war, it will be a social one, a social war. The elites are pushing people into desperate measures, too many folks have reach the edges of pauperism, and the land grab by banks that caused that crash in 08 will have major ramification in the very near future. If people don’t learn how to create community, there will, IMHO, will result in some form of social war, similar to the

    Social War of 91–88 BC between the Romans and Italians.

  6. Houndentenor says:

    I’m not excusing them. I’m just trying to paint a more accurate picture, at least of what I saw. It was surreal. I doubt most are sociapaths (though some clearly are) as much as they are divorced from what most of us would consider reality. I would also like to note that overall, the rich are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. A few major donors may make it seem the opposite, and several of the wealthiest are very conservative, but I worked for a lot of very liberal people at that level.

  7. Indigo says:

    You can whisper that speech in my ear any time. :-) However, I’m not real clear on who the “revolutionary socialists” are or where to find them. They’re not in the Yellow Pages.

  8. Indigo says:

    The Unpeople, imho, are the ones under your chart who don’t have jobs, who are elderly and retired, children and all “les misérables” that we don’t see.

  9. Nathanael says:

    The classic distinction is between
    (1) the Liberal (Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey) elite who wants to make sure that the “little people” are fed and housed and therefore quiet; their strategy was proven to be effective.
    (2) and the Tory / Conservative / Royalist elites who think that they can just get their way by brutalizing the populace. They were proved to be fundamentally wrong in 1789 France and 1917 Russia.

    The Republican Party is completely dominated by type (2). The Democratic Party has, unfortunately, been infested with a lot of type (2) as well.

    Type (1) want power and money, but they’re not the *problem*, if you see what I mean. They’re not the ones who cause people to starve on the street — that’s type (2).

  10. Indigo says:

    Yeah and the aquaducts collapsed too but not entirely. You’re right, thought, that the Overlords are too stupid to know how important it is to keep people fed, but that’s a Darwinian matter, they’ll sort themselves out, fail, and bigger, smarter fish will eat them.

  11. Nathanael says:

    _Theory of the Leisure Class_ goes into more detail about this.

    Some of the 0.1% are actively sociopathic; most of them are simply trained to act like sociopaths by the sociopaths around them.

  12. Nathanael says:

    I think it’s naive to believe what you do. The current structure *will* collapse of its own weight.

    A neo-feudal social structure requires first and foremost that the feudal lords *feed everyone*, and our current would-be feudal lords are too goddamn stupid to do that.

  13. Nathanael says:

    Yeah. I would say that the safety valves are being eliminated and bypassed, guaranteeing a giant social explosion.

    OWS was just a warning. It’s a very late warning… a 1770s warning, to use a historical analogy. The civil war will come soon.

  14. OK So now I am logged in as Haywood Jamal Jablomie instead of Pappy. What the hell is going on !

  15. pappyvet says:

    WHAT ! I WISH I KNEW. Very strange and I don’t know how or why.

  16. The_Fixer says:

    By Corporatocracy, I mean primarily not just the people running the corporations in the MIC, but the bought and paid-for politicians.

    Yeah, I’m being excessive in saying that. It’s not so much a plot as a result. Look at who joins the military these days. In addition to those who have a genuine interest in serving the country (the “guardian” type personality), you have young folk who are driven by economic necessity. They are joining to get their school paid for, or just live in a part of the country that is so economically depressed that they can’t find any other type of job.

    Oddly, a lot of the people who live in those economically depressed areas who join the military for economic reasons support the policies of the Republican party, the very policies that put them in that position in the first place.

    Perhaps I went off the rails there for a bit, but they make it so easy to think that they’re all capable of being so evil.

  17. Ferdiad says:

    One of the biggest problems we have in combating this attitude is that most of the mass media and people believe that this is a Republican problem. There are just as money, and quite frankly probably more, trust fund babies and elites in the ranks of the Democrats. People with that kind of money don’t really care about political affiliate. They switch parties and alliances depending on who is in power. I have been around the elite in the democratic party in my City and in their clubs and they are very much so interested in one thing – money. It is just that they use government in a different way to get it. To be clear, this is no way meant to say the same thing doesn’t go on in Republican circles. It is just that you can’t defeat the oppressor if you don’t know who he is (or refuse to recognize who he is).

  18. pappyvet says:

    So, pappyvet. This is devlzadvocate. How did you get logged on to my Disqus account? I left my account open when I walked away from my iPad and when I came back, it was logged on as YOU!!! WTH? How does that happen? Or how did my iPad log on to YOUR account? I don’t get it.

  19. pappyvet says:


  20. pappyvet says:

    Who are the Unpeople of the world?

  21. Bill_Perdue says:

    Excellent post, GP.

    Chomsky is very good at describing political disorders like zionist and European colonialism and capitalism. His depiction of the horrors inflicted on Palestinians by zionist colonialists in Palestine are especially telling. Likewise his portrayal of the obscene greed of the owner-ruler classes in the United States and the EU and his contempt for their policies shines out in his comments.

    Where Chomsky fails is in his lack of a program to combat capitalism, colonialism and the political prostitutes who serve them. There are solutions but the don’t involve attempts to reform capitalism or its twin, colonialism. They’re political systems that are in their death agony created by untrammeled greed and wars of aggression and like the rise in global temperatures, we’ve passed the point of no return.

    Capitalism and colonialm will have to be ended. That process is well underway.

    As the Cubans keep repeating, the US government is ‘the main enemy of the people of the world.’

    What’s remarkable is that dozens of nations defy the US and continue to arm to protect themselves instead of ignoring US attacks.(1) They’ve taken to heart the sad and elementary lesson provided by Chamberlain and Daladier at Munich.

    Fight back or get eaten That fight back is expressed globally by the Arab Spring and the vast upsurge of working class movements around the world. Africa, particularly South Africa and Nigeria, are seething. All around the Mediterranean, from Portugal and Morocco to Tunisia, Greece, Palestine and Egypt massive movements are breaking with reformists, including islamists, and pressing for real democracy, economic and political democracy.

    In much of Europe and the Americas the left is growing by leaps and bounds and it’s call for an end to wars and wrecked economies, racism and against the subjection of women has a wider and wider audience. In Asia, particularly in the Stalinist PRC, working people are challenging the rightwing government and their cozy relationships with home grown and imported capitalists.

    Everywhere the question of who should rule – workers and small farmers who create wealth or capitalists who hoard wealth and wreck the economy – is being posed and we have our best chance since the last depression to answer it positively. Capitalists can be counted on for more wars and deepening economic chaos and the Stalinists and Maoists are discredited, as are social democrat sellouts in Europe. The prospects for revolutionary socialists are good.

    (1) Pakistani islamists are an exception. The rulers there oppress unions and nationalists while ignoring the murder of innocent civilians in US drone attacks and scandalous incursions by the US, like the attack that killed Bin Laden.

  22. cambridgemac says:

    Very sad. Sorry you have had to deal with this.

  23. Darlene P. Monroe says:


    ♋♋♋♋♋ ♋♋♋

  24. Hue-Man says:

    Climate change is disproportionately affecting (negatively) the UnPeople in low-lying Pacific island nations, Bangladesh, and storm-ravaged Southeast Asia.

  25. AnthonyLook says:

    In time, the masses will resolve their fears and love. Corporate Vulture Capitalism, greed, and selfish justification ideology will reach a critical mass of intolerance that will one day trigger an axis reversal of tolerance.

  26. emjayay says:

    Kind of like Mitt Romney at a private fundraising cocktail party.

  27. emjayay says:

    The idea that corporations generally support antiabortion policies for long term goals involving higher population and more soldiers is absurd. They often support right wing causes who use the issue to stir up the rubes with the goal being less regulation, lower corporate taxes, tax breaks, etc.

  28. mirror says:

    I used to think a lot about the switch in rhetoric of Democrats from saying their constituents were the consumers rather than the citizens. Is that when the Chicago school of economics triumphed over the Constitution, something like that?

  29. The_Fixer says:

    Unpeople are the poor, disadvantaged and powerless, no matter their color.

    In the 1960s, Johnson had “The Great Society” ideal, which brought about the phrase “The War On Poverty. There was the idea that it was the government’s job to lift all of its citizens up, to make life better for them.

    What’s the great topic of conversation now? “The Disappearance of the Middle Class”. We don’t even talk about the poor any more. They are the Unpeople. And they’re working on the middle class to be the next Unpeople.

    Listen at the rhetoric. It’s all about the supposed “job creators”. It’s all about tax relief, “getting the government out of people’s lives” and feeding the masses pablum about morality and “the other.” To add insult to injury, they’ve promoted corporations to the status of personhood. Unpeople one group of people, create another type of people. It’s only fair to balance things out like that!

    Gone is the ideal of a government that has a goal of lifting all of its citizens up and making their lives better. The only citizens that count are the ones who dump huge money into political campaigns. The middle class doesn’t have that kind of money, so they aren’t that important.

  30. The_Fixer says:

    The corporatocracy just loves to be “pro-life” and encourage excessively high birth rates. They don’t worry about feeding them, and that’s so much the better for them. After all, they need them lean and willing to do anything that they can to survive, including joining the military. It’s a handy pool of people for use as cannon fodder.

    Overpopulation will never be a problem for them. There’s always a war to be fought, or an industrial accident that will help to ease the problems associated with overpopulation.

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  32. cole3244 says:

    that’s a poor excuse for a lack compassion or involvement.

    there are many elites born into money that don’t think like that and are involved in programs to help those less fortunate.

  33. cole3244 says:

    think it through your confusion will disappear i promise.

  34. GaiusPublius says:

    Neither Obama or Powell are the elite. They serve the elite. Some global elite are multi-racial — that has to be true — but most are white. And frankly, most are male as well.


  35. Indigo says:

    Yes, I think that’s about where we are socially on the global level. It’s naive to expect the system to collapse under its own weight, as if the collapse of the USSR were a template for further collapse. It could happen but more likely the social structure we’re fumbling our way through will continue on its course toward a fully realized panopticon and a neo-feudal social structure. The elements are already in place and very few notice. After all, when you call a Police State a set of “security” measures, you’re offering what the public have been taught to want. We’re already there, it remains only to tighten things up and put on neatly pressed uniforms.

  36. LanceThruster says:

    Greed is good?


  37. mpeasee says:

    …wow, what ever happen to “Citizen”? …from citizen to surplus…the whole system is on a giant fascist rogue wave.

  38. mpeasee says:

    …GP, thank you for this wonderful analysis. Folks like you help us to “remember”.

  39. mpeasee says:

    The OWS movement was a dangerous dance for the elites around the world, this is nothing really new, we have just forgotten about it, it has taken 2 hundred years for the world establishment ie, religion, monarchy, capitalist, to push it out of our memory that we are too strong for them when we come together in supportive community.
    This is the real fear, and this is the fundamental reason why OWS/the “unpeople” was such a threat to the establishment, the colonial west are scared poop-less when people go into the streets without their permission or permit, they always have been and always will be.

    Currently the safety valve to keep folks in line has been getting tighter and tighter because of greedy capitalist, soon it will burst, and history tells us that in the 14th-17th century that “establishment” had great disdain for people coming together and making a mockery or being revolutionary of the “establishment”; this had to be suppressed and repressed in order to take advantage of peoples labor at the birth of the industrial movement.

  40. Starman1 says:

    It will all be OK. In the next 12 years, in 2026, is the 250 anniversary of “Wealth of Nations”. Capitalism and all its glory will collapse by then under its own weight.

  41. devlzadvocate says:

    I have mentioned here on the blog before that my brother, who is a retired VP from Citigroup, disowned me for being a disabled, openly gay progressive with an average income. I got the letter from the lawyer, etc. telling me not to have any contact with any of his family (who, btw are all adults). I once invited him and his wife to my home. They stayed five minutes and left looking embarrassed.

  42. karmanot says:

    Bam!!! Excellent…more, more. Good reporting Gaius.

  43. gratuitous says:

    True enough; and what’s devilish about this sort of thing is that the overlords have persuaded some of the unpeople or potential unpeople that they’re all on the side of something they have styled “pro-life,” but which in practice confines itself to very narrow strip of “life” about which they are “pro,” and abstract concepts such as “quality” never enter into the conversation.

    “Pro life” has come to mean more and more life, teeming in numbers and overrunning available resources with unsustainable wasteful practices. Any talk of limits is hooted down in derision until an inevitable population adjustment* occurs. After a suitable period of quiet and perhaps even mourning, the “pro life” apparatus roars back into action until the next adjustment.

    *By “adjustment” I’m referring to a catastrophic loss of life directly attributable to unsustainable and wasteful practices, such as war and other violence, environmental poisoning by large industrial concerns (cf. Fukushima, West Virginia, Alberta), and other instances of depraved indifference to human life.

  44. devlzadvocate says:

    I believe that term is a spin-off of the corporate “warehousing” for those bodies still on the payroll, but pushed aside pending unemployment – “unpeople” to be – or unlikely placement in a “good job fit” (i.e. you have a friend in a department with a vacant position).

  45. devlzadvocate says:

    I agree, which, if I am not mistaken, is part of the message of Occupy.

  46. LanceThruster says:

    A good friend married into Disney money. When he went to family gatherings, he could not believe how these trust fund babies talked about the ‘lower’ classes. He said it reminded him of the Morlocks contemplating the Eloi.

  47. Houndentenor says:

    Race is a red herring. It pits those not well off of different ethnic groups against each other fighting over the scraps from the table. Race is not the issue. I don’t think any billionaires give a crap about race. It’s about greed. Racial animosity is a tool to exploit the useful idiots.

  48. Houndentenor says:

    I had several jobs where I worked for the 1%. It’s not that they sit behind their desks scheming about how to screw over everyone else. It’s that they are oblivious, and it happens to people who grew up not that well off as much as it does those born with the proverbial silver spoon. it’s an odd phenomenon to watch. It was more surreal than anything else. They live in a cognitive dissonance where they are aware of poverty but don’t have to deal with it so they can ignore it.

  49. LanceThruster says:

    Years ago I saw an LA Times editorial that opened with the line, “Welfare is the only way we know to deal with surplus people.” The phrase ‘surplus people’ gave me the chills because it meant these were undeserving mouths to feed that were draining away our national vitality. That mindset seems to have taken root. We have so many things that need doing across the globe, and a workforce eager to take part, but until someone can crunch the right numbers as far as the cost/benefit ratio, they will forever be seen as merely ‘surplus people.’

    Is Soylent Green that far off?

  50. devlzadvocate says:

    Only the white man? I am confused. Obama. Powell. Others of color. All perps in this scenario. People or Unpeople?

  51. cole3244 says:

    to the elites (1%) everywhere the 99% are the unpeople and the 1% use societies prejudice and bigotry to turn other unpeople of the same ethnic background or color against the non whites to keep their hold on power and convince the non brown masses they have something in common with the elites.

    the white man has been doing this to others for hundreds of years and i see no reason to expect anything to change until people of all stripes wake up and realize they are being used to discriminate against others that are in the same bad situation as they are.

    the 99% everywhere regardless of color need to band together and push back against the real enemy and that is not other unpeople it is the 1% and their elite agenda to keep their feet on the necks of the 99% where only the degree of discrimination is different.

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