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.
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.
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