Kalahari Capitalism

November 6, 2010

I read a news story earlier today that really illustrates my problem with this capitalism we let run our lives. In Botswana, in southern Africa, there is a community called the Kalahari Bushmen. They have lived in the area for 20,000 years, longer than any world empire, longer than we like to admit civilization has ever existed. Now, because of the discovery of the world’s richest diamond deposits on their ancestral homelands, these people are being pushed off their land by the government, which, oh, by the by – is in negotiations with Gem Diamonds, a global diamond mining company. (they call them production, but come on now – these things come out of the ground: you didn’t make them – you cut and polished them.)

The Botswana government is actively pushing the Kalahari out of their homes, capping off wells, taking away water distribution trucks, removing storage tanks and water pumps. The Kalahari Basin is mostly desert, and the people there depend largely on underground water to survive. Without access to water, people and livestock die, and so the people there are slowly migrating, abandoning their ancient culture for the benefit of their government and a giant diamond conglomerate – how much of the $3.3 billion dollar payoff will ever reach the disenfranchised Kalahari people? How many of those diamonds will come here, be sold to American young men to give to their loved ones? It staggers that anyone could do the calculus of diamonds against human and animal lives and come out in favor of this destruction. It requires a dishonest and myopic view of the exchange going on, one which does not value life, which does not value humanity, or history, or culture.

Let’s do that math right here – the government of Botswana stands to gain $3,300,000,000 dollars, or roughly 11 million $300 iPhones. The remainder of the diamond deposit, which surely is valued far about $3.3 billion – else why would Gem Diamonds bother to excavate it? – will go to a London-based Diamond group with no interests in Botswana. Aside from mining jobs, the company will not be putting money into Botswana or the hands of the Kalahari Bushmen, rightful owners of the diamonds being poached out from under them. Look at those mining job pictures; don’t you want to do that? It sure worked out well for those Congolese.

Let’s go a bit more into that math – $3.3 billion dollars is still a good bit of change. There are 2,029,307 people in Botswana, as estimated by the CIA. That means the government stands to gain approximately $1629.17 per person in this deal. Is that impressive? Would you stand by and let one of the most ancient living cultures die out for $1629.17? How many thousands of dollars will it cost the government to throw the Kalahari off their land? What will become of these people, these ranchers, once their livelihood is taken from them? Won’t they become beggars, nomads, a burden on the system they now are forced to survive within? In all likelihood, the government of Botswana will spend much of their ill-gotten gains dealing with the problems arising out of the destruction of a people. Already, they have had the most costly court case in their nation’s history – how many more will there be? Then there are the costs of mining – polluted land, destroyed water tables, demolished ecosystems – generations off damage, all outside the calculation. Thus, does it not seem the calculus of government and corporation is flawed here – they give no value to the damage they do, and thus even from an economic perspective, this is no good deal for the people of Botswana, or for the people of Earth. We are all poorer for the loss of people different than us, for the loss of good land, for the destruction of life.

Capitalism is worthless in determining true values – if the calculation does not include suffering, environmental damage, human and animal loss, culture, art, language, or history, then the value being cited is accepted only through ignorance or conscious malice. Are $3.3 billion in imaginary value and a lot of shiny stones fair compensation for valueless true wealth and beauty? Capitalism says yes, but intelligence, emotion, and honestly will say no.

Yet here it is, in naked violence – a people, the ancient caretakers of their land, are forced by the thousands out of their homes under threat of death by thirst, all so that a soulless corporation and a corrupt government can dip their beaks. A culture is destroyed, a way of life forever shattered, so that people in the richest nations in the world can buy price-inflated rocks they’ve been programmed to need through manipulative advertising. The irony? Diamonds, these supposed gifts of love, would be so common if not for the market manipulation by companies like Gem Diamond that there would no impetus to mine to mine them in Botswana at all. There you have it – naked greed, supply manipulation, open robbery, corruption of government, destruction of true value for artificial, all to fill an demand that was created by the diamond companies themselves within the past 80 years – I can think of no better epitaph for the whole corrupt crony Capitalist system.

When the supposed libertarians and capitalist sympathizers of the world talk about freeing business from government, they are romanticizing the encounter. They mistake who is in command. Capitalism is war, fought by different means. It is the pursuit of profit at the expense of every other value humanity has ever held dear. It is the religion of the libertarian that the government which does not interfere with business is the best sort, but in this world the problem is not governments fighting against or blocking corporations from their actions, but instead from massive multi-national corporations so powerful that they can buy governments and surpass them completely. A land of free capitalism is a land where life does not matter, where profit is God, where all value ceases to exist save ability to money. Money has no real value. You cannot purchase love, you cannot have a life-changing conversation in exchange for any amount of it, and once it becomes the standard of value, then all life becomes valueless.

We are not the first people to have discovered the terror of capitalists run wild, but ours is the first generation to have to deal with the deathless global amoebas of the modern corporations. The governments we have today exist because our ancestors created them – the regulations on business exist because unregulated business creates a feudal state, ruled not by divinity-claiming monarchs, but by the profit motive itself – in the end, everyone loses. There will always be a better competitor, a more efficient, less human method of creating that good or providing this service, and as the dollar signs pile up, so do the bodies. The impoverished classes swell – we have never had more poor on this planet than today. We have never had more wealth on this planet either. The tiny ruling classes of each society shrink, as the very highest among them crush the others to rise ever higher. The actions of all humanity have never supported fewer so well. The bonepile grows, and eventually the last Capitalist will succumb, the final victim of the system we created and which grew to consume us all.

I hope mass consciousness will turn against the cancer we have set loose upon ourselves. I hope that we will stop this suicidal run before Earth is rendered unliveable, before all human life becomes slave to profit. Today it is the Bushmen, tomorrow it will be another people who cannot defend themselves, and one day soon it will be your and my time as well. I will leave it here, with a man who knew what we are dealing with all too well. Benito Musselini -“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”

-k

“If you’d like to let Gem Diamonds know how you feel about their business dealings, here is their contact page. Here’s the Botswana US Embassy’s info also, but I’m not sure they want to be involved in this sort of thing.

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Schizophrenia

November 5, 2010

I feel obligated to write something – anything – on here to explain how this blog went so suddenly from stories and observations about the world I was so excitedly exploring, to well… nothing. No posts except infrequently, and pretty poor-quality ones at that. It isn’t so much that I’ve given up on writing, but lately it has become difficult for me to write anything that I feel is worthy of being shown to other people.

 

I discovered in traveling that there are experiences which cannot be fully conveyed to anyone who did not experience them. One of my biggest problems is that while I can tell an entertaining story, or write an essay that provokes the reader to think, there simply isn’t a way to telegraph the feelings and raw emotions of some of the experiences I have had without going and doing the same things – even then, you’re likely to run into different people and do different things, and so your adventures will be different than my own. On some level it works, because most people don’t want to have the realizations that come with watching small kids huff glue to stay warm and knowing you could fix the problem except that you’d rather keep traveling and not adopt and raise a street kid, and even if you did, that’s still only one in a million. Trust me when I say that the self-discovery that comes out of walking away from someone else’s problem when you could actually fix it is one of the more unpleasant I’ve had. I’m hard on myself for details, for accuracy, and for trying not to preach, but when I try to write stories about my adventures of the past year and half, I run into an even bigger barricade; one which has prevented me from giving any serious effort to writing about my life of late.

 

I came home in mid-March of 2010, stumbled into my familial home, took some pictures, shared a few stories, and passed out. Between then and now, my life has been divided into work, looking for work, and taking every effort to keep my family from falling apart. What I hadn’t realized in my time on the road, and what they had been too kind to tell me, was that my younger brother George (what my 2-year-old self wanted to name him) had descended into the living hell of schizophrenia, and that this horrible disease had been eating my family from the inside ever since I left. By the time I returned he was holding full conversations with people none of the rest of us could see, drawing massive amounts of graffiti and nonsensical (to me) scribblings on every surface available to him, and had convinced himself that his destiny lay in becoming a professional skateboarder and rapper. He gave up on personal hygiene, developed phobias about sunlight, trimming his nails, or cutting his hair. He’d become nocturnal; sleeping until mid-afternoon and refusing contact with the rest of the family until my parents and youngest brother had gone to bed. At this point, he would emerge from his room, make a hell of a lot of noise, cook some strange meal (an entire pound of pasta with no sauce) and then go off to skateboard around the neighborhood until dawn, after which he’d go back to bed, and the cycle would repeat.

 

The burden of taking care of George fell to my mother, because my father was working 12-16 hour days at a location an hour away. This meant that for over a year, my father was more or less not present in his family’s life. My mother, in addition to her full-time job, had been attending support meanings, reading dozens of books on the subject of mental illness, and trying – largely in vain – to get my brother the assistance he so desperately needed. This left my youngest brother Randy to pretty much fend for himself at 15 years old. His grades crashed, his interest in school also, and he buried himself into video games as a coping mechanism for the terrible life he had been thrust into. Our extended family’s help and advice has been limited – one aunt and uncle offered George a job and a place to stay part of each week, but he couldn’t do the job and eventually cut ties with them as his paranoia led him to believe they too were trying to control him. (his biggest fear in life is that people are out to control him, and he will go to great, self-destructive lengths to avoid these perceived attacks on his sovereignty.) Yet incredibly, all these strange behaviors, screaming fights, and George’s descent into madness were kept largely from me, the exception being occasional tearful emails from my mother, casting herself as the over-reacting mother. From my end, George wasn’t doing great, but in our communications he was distant and sullen, not crazy. Like all of us, I simply didn’t want to believe that my brother the athlete, the architect, the wonder kid could possibly be mentally ill. We all deluded ourselves, internalized the problems, and the whole family sank silently. Coming home was such a shock, because having not seen the transition, George’s condition was intolerable. Here I was, my clearly not-sane brother before me, and I’d been off having the time of my life for a year.

 

The guilt that comes from this is indescribable. I should have been there. I could have helped. I would have made the difference. If not for my self-centered adventures, I could have stopped his slide. It’s all shit; in case you were wondering – my presence here would not have made the difference then any more than it has now, and I am confident that I would have done a far worse job than I have if not for the perspective and strength I gained in traveling. Had I stayed, I would have been in the same condition as my family at the time of my return – soul-bruised, vacant, and hopeless. It doesn’t matter where guilt is concerned – the knife still digs into my chest when I think of their suffering concurrent with my happiness, separated by a few thousand miles and a yearning gulf of uncaring bliss. When the pain and suffering breached my isolation, and brother, mother, and friend all asked me to return with a few days of each other, I did what any good son would, and came home to investigate for myself. By that I mean I flew to Colombia, got a paragliding license, flew to NYC, and hitched a ride cross-country with a now-great friend Matt. I took my time because even faced with the distress of those I loved, I misunderstood the urgency in their words – George was coherent in his communications with me, so how bad could it really be?

 

Life-shatteringly terrible, as it turned out.

 

My original plan in coming home had been to stay here only for a matter of weeks, a few months tops, to visit the family, say hi to old friends, aid George in whatever was ailing him, and then victoriously take off again – to overseas, to live with new friends, or to reunite the wonderful woman I met and fell in love with in Colombia. (I swear, Natalie, I will write our story soon enough!) That plan, like any, never survived first contact with the enemy. My family members did not even speak to each other in my first few days back in the country. They did not interact except at the most basic level of survival communication, and each seemed trapped in a world of isolated unhappiness. Seeing the dire straits of my family I could not help but to abandon my own interests and save the people I love.

 

I have been remarkably unsuccessful in this – good intentions cannot cure mental illness – and to this day George suffers delusions, heightened unpleasant senses, and cannot separate real from fantasy. He lives in a world all his own, surrounded and tormented by demons the rest of us cannot imagine. At times he shakes loose, and for an hour, a day, my brother is back with us – in certain situations, surrounded by lifelong friends and doing activities he has loved his entire life, he will appear almost as I remember him from all those years ago. Then something will shift; his entire body language will slump, his voice will change, and he will be another person altogether. He is gone again, and until another surprise reappearance, the person we must deal with is not the one we love. His other self, the one that we most often see, is angry at the world – we are all assholes, we are crazy, we are the enemy seeking to control and destroy him. If not for us, he would be able to live free, take charge of his own destiny, and fulfill his rap/skate dreams. We hate him, we are obsessed with him, we have nothing better to do with our lives than to destroy is, and that is our purpose in existence. All of these are things he has yelled at my mother and myself within the past 50 hours. He cannot make eye contact, he cannot face the people he is speaking with. His hair – ratty and matted to his head – hangs past his nose now, and he moves stiffly, robot-like, with everything coming from the shoulder and hip joints. When he is like this there is no point in talking to him – his denial of his own problems runs so deep that anything, the slightest comment, will drive him into fits of rage.

 

One of my greatest fears in life is that he will attack my mother or youngest brother, and I will not be there to fight him off. He has twice assaulted me – once in our home, and another time at a good friend’s wedding. I still have the scar from that second attack, my right eye does not open the same as it once did, and I suspect the injury is for life. On his bad days we all barricade our doors and let him rage, because he is an adult, and the rights of parents and family over the mentally ill in this country are non-existent. He has no control of his mind, and yet no one, not the police, our insurance, his school, nor his former doctors will grant anyone the ability to protect him from himself. In this manner, we are given the choice of throwing our own kin into the streets to survive as a crazy homeless man, or to keep him at home. There are no other options until he harms someone to the point of going to jail or a mental facility. We have no money – we have spent many thousands of dollars on medicines, doctors, mental care experts, and there is no cure forthcoming. For a while now he has been medicated, but one of the first things that comes from his medication is an overwhelming feeling that he doesn’t need the pills to control his life. Thus he hides them, refuses to take them for days, misses his dosing schedule, and the meds feed another part of roller-coaster emotions. While unmedicated he is a danger to everyone around him, but while he continues to take his medication on so erratic a schedule he risks permanent harm to himself, and amplifies the wild cycles of his mind. His manner is hostile, his behavior erratic, and his attacks on myself and others leave me little choice but to assume the worst – he will hurt someone one day if he is not stopped. As there are no authorities willing to deal with him, our choice as his family is to keep him close to home and both protect George from the uncaring world, and the world from the insane George.

 

There is no clear path left open to us now – those diagnosed schizophrenics who are caught early and take their medication consistently can oftentimes recover, but for those who persist for years in denial and rebellion against their own minds the hopeful prognoses fade to semi-invalid or death. A full quarter commit suicide – the same proportion which recovers completely. My brother’s condition was discovered when my father and I bailed him out of jail a year and 9 months ago. Talking with his roommates at the time, he had been bad off for many months before that as well. With the medical insurance games and exorbitant fees of private practice doctors, we did not have a diagnosis until some 5 months ago – likely too late. Certainly George has not responded well to the treatments or medication, and his current behavior, while less physically violent than before, is still volatile to the point of grave concern. He has driven away his friends, lost every job offered to him, is on the verge of being kicked out of the local community college, and has convinced himself that his own family is plotting to destroy his life. At this rate, I do not expect him to survive another year – indeed, my mother and I spoke just yesterday about our (previously separate and unspoken) fears that each day will be the one where we discover he has killed himself.

 

There is no way out of this without abandoning my family. My parents are close to divorce, Randy clings to me as a rock of stability in his shattered life, and everyone seems to need my love and advice on a constant basis. They all need me, and in my heart I can feel only hate. I hate San Diego. I hate living here, I hate the people here. I hate the way that this whole world has turned to ashes in my hands. I hate that I cannot help, cannot save, can do nothing more than comfort the people I love as we all spiral downward. We are trapped behind George’s lying brain’s filters – our outstretched arms are obscene gestures to him – our words are horrible to his lying ears. He is trapped in a hell of his own creation, and his powers of creation are so great that all who come in contact are sucked in as well. I find myself simultaneously dreading and hoping for his death – at least then he would not have to suffer so. At least then we could try to recover. I know there is no happiness here, that there may never be happiness again – for any of us. There is no one I can speak to about this – not without paying money I do not have for a counselor whose job is to listen. I don’t need a prostitute.

 

Just as there was once a gulf between myself out in the world and family here at home, so is there now a gulf between my former self and my present. I have never shown traveling photos to anyone, I have never told my story to a friend. I can feel myself putting all those happy times into a little mental box, locking it, and abandoning my dreams. I am being ground into powder my this life, and soon I will be nothing left.

 

Last night I dreamed the happiest thing I have felt in as long as I can remember. I was on the road, in the back of a truck, riding to I-know-not-where. Around me were friends, and we were riding off to some great adventure, laughing and singing into the wind. I took my phone from my pocket, threw it into the road, an explosion of plastic and glass and circuits. We all found his hilarious. Later, sitting around a campfire, I took my passport from my pocket, thumbed the pages, threw it into the hungry flames. Next my photos, of family, friends, a life I no longer wanted. Journals went in, my laptop too. My companions sat silently as I did this, and tears of joy flooded down my face. Afterward, I sat and faced the dimming fire with my wet face, finally free of myself.

 

Do you see what I am getting at here? Do you see where my mind goes? There can be no happiness for me when those I love are in such pain. Coming back here, I though the solution was to help them, to free the ones I love from their chains. Now I see that is impossible, and that I am chaining my body alongside theirs. My only hope lies in flight; in abandoning everyone I have ever loved and beginning anew in another life. I am not even the same man I was when I returned, and certainly that carefree, happy, traveler would hardly recognize me. The few people I still talk to honestly are unanimous in their assurances that what I am doing is noble and good, and will be worth it in the end, but I have lost any faith I once had. My brother is not my brother any more. My family is shattered, without hope, without help. Our friends have their own lives and worries, and as our problems deepen, they bow out one at a time. We are alone in a way I have never been – even being actually alone is less lonely than to be the problem family, the one who brings everyone down. I am sure that the only responses this gets will be good-natured, well-intended missives of help and support, but my own doubts are so deep that it all comes to naught.

 

So you see, writing a book about adventures, love stories, and happy times is quite impossible when the whole world is on fire, and there in no one there to help you put it out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put on a fake smile and pretend to be happy for the benefit of others – a man has to make a living somehow.

 

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