By Jesse D. Palmer
When dramatic terrorist attacks occur in places deemed worthy of notice — San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, etc. — they are widely publicized to make individuals feel small and scared so people will tolerate more repressive state activities. In addition to extra surveillance, more police and special laws, there are calls for racial profiling, immigration bans against whole religions, torture of prisoners and indiscriminate bombing. The powers-that-be don’t seem to care when a market is bombed in Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria or Ivory Coast because those areas are mostly populated by non-white people.
But the worst form of terrorism isn’t the intentional use of violence to achieve political goals, but the intentional pursuit of profit without regard to life which systematically inflicts grinding poverty and environmental harm worldwide. Capitalism uses computers and corporations, not bombs and guns, and while its true that the system isn’t specifically trying to kill people, its indifferent to the tremendous cost in lives. We need to hold business-as-usual responsible for its crimes.
In 2015, about 7.5 million people died of hunger — that is about 20,000 per day. The World Health Organization estimates that 12.5 million died in 2012 as a result of air, water and soil pollution, climate change or chemical exposure. The WHO says 92 percent of the world’s population breathes unhealthy air.
The severe economic inequality in the world not only means that deaths of children and innocent people in Africa, Asia, South America and other poor places aren’t taken seriously by mainstream media — this economic inequality is actually literally killing them. The death, destruction and suffering caused by the hum-drum day-to-day functioning of capitalism so greatly outweigh the number of people killed by ISIS that it is actually astonishing that the media would bother discussing 36 people shot in San Bernardino — but oh wait a minute, discussing San Bernardino justifies the power structure, while even mentioning the 20,000 people who died of hunger today makes it hard to keep the TV on so you can be tempted by the next commercial.
The system has no problem with 38,000 deaths in traffic accidents in the US in 2015 — 1.25 million dead worldwide in 2013 according to the World Health Organization — because the auto industry is one of the leading industries. That works out to 3,400 deaths a day. The Paris attack killed130 people and I don’t want to minimize the terrible loss for those people or their families or excuse the people who killed them. But the people who died in car crashes today are no less dead, but they are considered expendable — a cost of doing business. People running car companies and government officials who organize cities around cars know their decisions will kill people at random, and they take those decisions anyway.
And this logic goes on and on. Carbon emissions are estimated to kill about 5 million people a year, but oil and coal companies are so big and powerful that they are able to block green alternatives. No one calls for air strikes against Exxon or Chevron. No one is calling for an immediate halt to immigration of businessmen in suits. You don’t have to torture the executives to get their information because it is proudly published in the Wall $treet Fucking Journal everyday. And the breathless media reports about how ISIS makes its money and runs efficient recruitment structures — can we talk about the banks and the business schools for a minute?
I’m not trying to depress you or depress myself — the last thing we need is more emotional paralysis, more numbing horror at how awful everything is which ultimately leads only to smug hipster cynicism and inaction. The system’s greatest desire is that regular people will be so overwhelmed by suffering that they’ll retreat to private life and try to look the other way.
What we need now is to come together and struggle for change. Resistance to the system can give us power, energy, hope and meaning. What can help is freeing our minds from the boxes the system builds for us so we can channel the compassion and caring at our core against the real enemies. When the media manipulates you to cry over scary terrorism pictures, the one real thing is your emotional reaction — we should all be crying. Feeling the pain proves you’re still alive and if you’re still alive, you can still fight back and focus on the real crisis.