On the manufacture of poverty at world scale
PLEASE give it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot. He was an astute treasurer and rigorous accountant of the group of 13. Remember how he complained about the precious abuse of valuable resources when a woman of sinful character poured expensive illgotten perfume on the feet of the Son of Man? Not only that the proceeds of prostitution were being used to curry the favour of the Messiah, but Judas also strongly believed that the expensive perfume could have been sold and proceeds donated to the poor or used for the upkeep of long suffering disciples of the Son of Man.
The Son of Man, he whose Kingdom was not and will never be of this world, had other views, the perfume was a preparation of his body for burial after his crucifixion and holy martyrdom on the cross. Don’t worry Judas, said the Son of Man, “the poor will always be with you but I will not always be with you,” as he would soon ascend to higher Glory (Mathew 26:11, Mark 14:7).
In his exalted Sermon on the Mount, the Son of Man gave a beatitude to the effect that “blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” This was more than 2000 years before the present craze of the prosperity gospel and the Christianity that is clearly a kingdom of this world. In apparent condemnation of earthly wealth, elsewhere (Mathew 19:24) the Son of Man warned, “again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” For centuries now, in a political, philosophical and even ideological sort of way, the words of the Son of Man have been used to justify, glorify and even beautify poverty in the world.
The poor, suffering and exploited of the world are told to enjoy their earthly poverty in preparation for their everlasting Heavenly wealth, the paradisal prosperity that they will enjoy in the house of their heavenly father that has many rooms up above the sky. The modern colonial world system as governed by the Euro-American Empire has used ideology and politico-economic discourse to naturalise and normalise poverty of the many and wealth of the few in the world.
For that reason, the able Canadian economist Michel Chossudovsky has described modernity itself as the cruel “globalisation of poverty,” where poverty has been spread into a natural accompaniment of life for the majority of peoples under the sun. As early as 1794, Jean Jacques Rousseau charged western modernity with the capital and sinful crime of originating inequality and poverty in a world that has enough natural resources to sustain all living people and other beings. For Rousseau and many others poverty and inequality in the world are a man-made disaster and calamity. Poverty makes the world a hell for the poor as much as wealth makes the world a heaven for the rich. The poor suffer disease, ignorance and pain in world of plenty. Theologeans and philosophers of liberation have for centuries condemned the distribution of wealth and resources in unequal ways in the present world.
Trouble in Paradise
Not that the rich are essentially happy, no. In his classic, Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism, Slavoj Zizek notes how the wealth and economic prosperity of South Korea is accompanied by the highest suicide rate in the planet. The world and its plentiful supplies of food and technological prowess becomes depressing, meaningless and deathly for many. In the same way in which Freud Sigmund showed that civilisation and modernity can lead to the psychological, social and physical death of man, Zizek demonstrates how the wealth of the few in a world of the poverty of many can itself be a social disease, a killer disease for that matter. Frequently, children of the rich and powerful of the world become so happy that they simply get mad and suffer just like the children of the poor and powerless, they drown to death in prosperity and happiness.
In his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, Karl Marx imagined a communist world where resources would be shared “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” This was a Marxian imagined paradise where human talents would be utilised for addressing human needs without monopoly and inequality. That paradisal world has been discredited as utopian and unreal while the dog eats dog capitalist economy has been defended and fortified worldwide. Capitalism from its birth in the West has managed to indigenise itself in every corner of the world. It has been rendered normal that the tailor who sews designer label clothes walks naked. The builder who constructs skyscraper buildings that decorate the world has himself no house to shelter his head and his family. Singers sing songs but they do not get sufficiently paid for the music. The so called working class people are “self-entrepreneurs” who sell their labour for minimum wages while the huge corporates make mega-profits. Debt keeps individuals and countries indebted, loyal and dependent on their creditors, and this way the world system keeps its victims on the tight leash.
Developing countries of the Global South are disciplined politically and controlled economically by the use of their unending indebtedness, financial carrots and sticks are used to keep poor countries in good behaviour. At this rate, one can observe, one day soon the poor of the world will have nothing to eat but the rich. What may be seen as peace in the world is actually silence; the rich countries use military and financial might to silence the poor colonised and exploited countries of the world. World peace is armed peace, violent peace that is sustained with force and the ever-present threat of it. Crime and terrorism are not divorced from the problem of poverty and growing inequality in the world where numbers of destitutes, refugees and exiles keep increasing with every war.
The financial control and economic domination that the Euro-American Empire places on the Global South operates like Sigmund Freud’s superego, a power and force that keeps making demands that are impossible to fulfil and the more its rules are obeyed the more impossible demands it makes, in the process economic and political failure for the Global South is naturalised and normalised. If modernity is fast turning the earth into a paradise, poverty is the true Zizekian trouble in that paradise which is a heaven that will know no peace as long as few continue to be powerful and happy on behalf of many. Winston Churchill, that sausage of Empire, was not far from the truth in saying that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Churchill’s ignored suggestion is that new forms of government that have not yet been tried should be invented, democracy is not the end of history, it is a work in progress. The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has suggested that at a world scale rich people and rich countries should practice “gift economics” where they give willingly and generously to the poor for their own good and the good of the world. Sloterdijk belongs to that pathetic school of philosophers who think that capitalism should be reformed, kept for its productivity and controlled in its distribution of resources, a cowardly and apologist school in the view of the former colonised that are the worst punished by capital in the world.
The French economist, Thomas Piketty believes that the states of the world should compel the rich and the big corporates to systematically, by way of taxes, donate to the poor. Piketty is also dreamy and even silly, because in reality capital flies away from where it is punished and forced to perform generosity, poor countries would suffer even more from this. The summary of the decolonial gesture is that Empire should stop coloniality, reforms and amendments to the economic and political world system may only be cosmetic. In the Global South, researchers, scholars and politicians should draw serious lessons from how African pre-colonial communalist societies engineered social life. It is a question to ask what exactly African communalism and village generosity can teach Euro-American modernity.
Instead of critiquing Empire and its punitive economic civilisation, western philosophers and thinkers such as Piketty and Sloterdijk are being Eurocentric critics of Eurocentricism who protect the system by pretending that it is a democratic system that is open to challenge, when the system is not open to change. The son of Iscariot, besides his rigorous accounting that led him into selling the Son of Man, had a point about the world concerning how resources should be mobilised and deployed, should precious wealth be poured down in worship of the gods or put where the mouths and the lives of the many poor are?
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from South Africa: decoloniality2016@gmail. com.