Past, present…

The transatlantic slave trade resulted in an estimated 6.3 million people becoming enslaved and transported from West Africa to the Americas.[1] The slave castle in Ghana’s coastal city of Elmina stands witness to the incalculable suffering inflicted upon the people of the region by the savage enterprise. It also serves as a reminder of the multitudes of human sufferings that exist today, and insists that we work to end them.

You can’t change shit by ridin’ the fence[2]

We must… reject the view that only indifferent men are impartial men. We must repudiate the degenerate conception of individual intelligence, which confuses open minds with empty ones.

–          Bertrand Russell[3]

Whether the issue is slavery or colonialism, voting rights for women or child labour, when it comes to disputes which have been settled we find it very easy to declare where we stand. We aren’t so sure about which side to take, however, when it comes to ongoing disputes. In matters of great importance to the world a large amount of blame for failure or delay in reaching agreeable ends can be placed on the tendency of most people to remain indifferent.

Just as we look back today and wonder how it could be that apartheid officially existed in South Africa not two decades ago, those who come after us will wonder why we stood by and watched as the climate change crisis unfolded, as Israel-Palestine conflict lingered on, and as the issues which concern development in poor countries went unaddressed.

And GE is gonna flex and try to annex the truth[4]

He the Negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child, not as a lunatic or criminal. The master occupies toward him the place of parent or guardian. We shall not dwell on this view, for no one will differ with us who thinks as we do of the negro’s capacity, and we might argue till dooms-day in vain, with those who have a high opinion of the negro’s moral and intellectual capacity.

–          George Fitzhugh[5]

The masses tend to be indifferent not as a result of some sort of natural inclination. Rather they tend to be indifferent because those who benefit from the status quo work very hard to make it so. In the days of slavery the writings of people like Fitzhugh served the same purpose as the more recent propaganda championed by the tobacco industry. The same could be said about the misinformation being spread today about the supposed lack of evidence for climate change. Another example from today is the insistence of Canadian mining companies that regulation is not necessary, and that voluntary agreements will suffice, in discouraging them from doing harm to the communities in which they operate in the South.

Joseph Cullman, CEO of P hillip Morris is a big fan of small babies (1971)

Every slave story, present tense[6]

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

–          Mother Jones

The only satisfactory way to honour those who suffered in the past is to learn from their struggles and apply the lessons in the struggles of today. One easily acquired lesson from history is: If we hope to make the world a better place, we have to be willing to take sides. (Needless to say, any decision taken on where one stands on an issue should be an informed one). When we don’t take a stand we end up giving tacit support to the status quo.


[1] Rachel Naylor, Ghana, Oxford: Oxfam, 2000

[2] The Coup, Ride the Fence <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NafraPA7YeU>

[3] Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, “Speech to First Meeting of Member of the War Crimes Tribunal, November 13, 1966”

[4] Rage Against the Machine, Wind Below < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o_xi7hJ2MY>

[5] George Fitzhugh, The Universal Law of Slavery

[6] The Coup, Everythang < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p9sRPg_Qpw>

Both images are from Wikipedia

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6 responses to “Past, present…

  • Arthur

    Thanks for the insight Umair – I agree sides are important but I also believe issues like these are too multi-faceted and complex for black and white sides

  • Sylvie Spraakman

    Issues are complex, but the complexity is worked out in the details. There are still over-arching rights and wrongs. It’s right to take action on climate change – the complexityis in HOW we take action. But if people are stuck debating whether we should take action on climate change, instead of just making a decision, then we all miss out on those important conversations about how we can do something.

    Thanks Umair! Great post.

    • Arthur

      Hmm, I don’t remember what I meant 4 months ago, but I believe when I said too complex, I do mean it’s too simplistic to say “it’s right to take action on climate change” – who should take action on climate change? who should pay or sacrifice or suffer for the greater good? how much? how fast? is any action on climate change right?

      I agree that being stuck on the fence/being indifferent is not useful and can be negative. I also believe that when you take a side, there are more than 2 and that you must dig deeper to take a position that can be defended to the details. I would say taking sides can be just as dangerous as not taking any, if not done properly.

  • Adam

    I like copy/pasting:

    “We aren’t so sure about which side to take, however, when it comes to ongoing disputes.”
    “…those who benefit from the status quo work very hard to make it so.”
    “The same could be said about the misinformation being spread today about the supposed lack of evidence for climate change.”

    You sound like a fucking revolutionary, take it slow:

    “When we don’t take a stand we end up giving tacit support to the status quo.”

    • Umair

      I like quoting people:

      “Revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. By ‘Revolution’ we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must change.”
      – Bhagat Singh

  • nadeem

    thanks – nice post! info age makes things ‘appear’ convoluted, and rise of PR capitalism don’t make things easier, but yeah, who was that cool white dude that said: ‘which side are you on’!!!. paz, nadeem

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