Ages ago, when this ancient world was not quite so ancient, a friend of mine asked a question that went something like this:
“A young girl plays piano in a fine silk dress in the sunlight of her beautiful home. She plays beautiful music. She is happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and loved and is as happy as a young girl might be. But the piano keys are poached ivory from sacred elephants, the dress was made by her parents’ slaves, and the house is paid for by the slavery of her countrymen. All these things are evil, and she is part of it. Is she herself evil, and why or why not?”
My reply was that she isn’t at fault, per se, and she isn’t evil. However, she shares in the responsibility for the evils involved, because she profits from them. She therefore in some fashion encourages them. As she gets older and wiser, her responsibility and thus her culpability will increase accordingly.
The image I saw in my mind was of the pretty little girl in the silk dress, playing on the ebony and ivory keys of her daddy’s piano, blood-soaked hands leaving hundreds of little red fingerprints wherever she pressed the keys.
A little while later, I decided to see if it was possible to keep from being in her position entirely.
Upon inspection, I found that as almost all of my clothes were cheap, they were made in places that use slave labor: China, etc. My boots were army surplus, and thus possibly USA made... not that that’s necessarily too much better (I’ve worked for minimum wage before, folks... and besides, where did the rubber come from?). I went to work, and saw that all the phone and computer equipment were made in Mexico. At lunch, I thought about the poorly treated immigrant crop pickers who supplied my fruit, and about the slaves who harvested the chocolate that went into the Suzy-Q I had for dessert. I ate my meat sandwich thought about the farmers who had lost their livelihood over the years to big business for higher profits and demands, and who continued to do so.
I was clad and fed and even employed in the blood of others. Like the red-smeared fingerprints of the little pianist, bloody footprints were tracked wherever I walked.
Today, almost all my clothes are from community centers or second-hand stores. My shades are prescription, I’m not sure from where, so I don’t know just off-hand if I fund sweat shops and child labor or not when I buy them. My boots I still buy new, I’m not sure where they’re made. I think China, but I may be wrong. But I re-sole them instead of replace them, so maybe that makes a difference.
Today, by sheer synchronicity, I eat no meat and less and less dairy products every day. I eat no chocolate. I eat a lot of rice and nuts, and I get a lot of bread that stores don’t want any more. But who grows it, and how well are they treated? I don’t know.
Just about every economy I can find, every purchase, every piece of currency, it seems that I can trace it down to slavery of some form if I look hard enough. Where I live right now there are people who seem absolutely convinced that they’re impoverished. And in some ways, they’re right. Modern culture has managed to just about master the art of going through the motions and then leaving you with a fist-full of bullshit while telling you that it’s candy. A steady supply of unhealthy food, tainted water, idiotic TV, bought-and-paid-for slanted news, and clothes on your back. What more is there to life?
“Now get out there are work smarter, not harder, and if life favors the rich, that’s just tough: don’t be a pussy, peasant. Just watch something with a laugh-track and drink something to keep you numb, and you’ll be fine. Just don’t let any silence into your little life, or you’ll be alone with yourself, and that’s much, much too scary. Forget. Forget about the blood and the tears, and the people you never need to see or think about. Forget about the bloodstains and the screams you don’t hear. We will protect you from the silence.”
I live in the United States of America, one of the richest countries in the entire world. And every generation gets diabetes, arthritis, and asthma earlier and more prevalently than before. Unless of course you have the liquid cash to stay healthy, or unless you manage to consume very carefully, which still requires knowledge and at least some resources.
I’ve lived in places where people who thought they were poor lived, and I’ve lived in middle class neighborhoods as well. The level of despair fostered in the lower economical strata is amazing. Go down far enough, and you’ll find people who think you have to have cash to borrow books at libraries. So they never go, they never read, and those of them who do may be met with suspicion or even violence. And together, they fight against the silence, treasure their ignorance, and try to forget. And any of them who try to lift themselves up are pulled down by their neighbors.
The middle classes, meanwhile, tend to live in fear of Loss and of Invasion, and spend much of their time and money keeping the dreaded silence at bay. They, too, strive to forget. How convenient that the slaves and undesirables will hold themselves in check if given the proper training. Today, they even train themselves. Perfect.
The beast has seven heads, and its name is Despair. Neighborhoods and job markets alike are full of it. They reek with the stink of it. Go to any ghetto in the world and you will see it, healthy and strong. And the weak and impotent fears and rages that spawn from it like Shub-Niggurath fall back in to be devoured, or else crawl out to hunt and grow strong, to mature into fully adult desperations and hates. No wonder cults and terrorist cells keep getting new recruits.
And then someone asked, not too terribly long ago, a question about Iran.
The question was, in brief: if it turned out that conquering Iran was the only way to keep their nuclear program from destroying the USA dollar, thus plunging the US into another Great Depression, would the USA be justified in invading? After all, many American lives would be lost if everything got shut down, just like that, not to mention the sacred American Way of Life for everyone, from sea to shining sea . . .
I said no.
Not just no, but Hell no.
“What,” I said, “Theft and murder are bad unless you get something you want from it? It’s supposed to be better to bomb innocent lives into oblivion than to take greater risks at ‘home’ than before? Or are ‘our’ elderly more valuable than ‘their’ elderly?”
And, I pointed out, if the Great American Empire does collapse entirely as a direct result of its own vaunted free enterprise . . . well, it had to end sometime.
I was quietly and politely chastised for being flippant, and not really understanding what was at stake. Interesting that not supporting invasion and wholesale slaughter is flippant. But at the same time, no, I don’t truly understand what’s at stake. I don’t pretend to. But neither should he. Face it: no-one who has not starved knows what starvation is like. But I am not willing to murder strangers to keep from risking that knowledge, much less use the Armed Forces as my hit-men to make it so. And pushing the button while pretending it isn’t happening is cowardice of the worst sort. For make no mistake, conquest is a road paved with corpses.
So, was the little girl’s father justified in enslaving all those people to keep her fed, clothed in silk, and playing her ivory-keyed piano?
Not just no, but Hell no.
And if the music comes to a crashing halt, then maybe it’s time for a little silence.
Until then, I still leave bloody footprints where I walk. I don’t like it, and I try to leave less and less, but I won’t pretend and I won’t forget. They blend with all the other tracks of slaves’ torments left by the rest of you, and finally run into the oceans to stain it the crimson of a stolen sunrise. And it will remain so until and unless we finally destroy the beast, and loot its still quaking carcass for its many-jeweled crowns.