It's a frightening thing to realise that human society is not the shining paragon it claims to be, isn't it? Unfortunately, human life doesn't really matter in a system like this. A fallen, hideous chronology so far away from the tenets of human decency that mortals have to employ cognitive dissonance just to get through it. These truths are very difficult to accept. They're not easily digestible. In other words, grasping these things is deeply traumatic. The urge is to look at the problems facing our world and reduce them to simple narrative arcs or binaries. Comprehensible stories that can be rewritten with just enough education and empathy. But this is only a partial truth, isn't it? We mortals live in a world of perpetual derangement. A kind of sustained trauma. Trauma dehumanizes people. It delegitimizes our existences by creating shocking ruptures and wounds in our psyches that are very difficult to communicate. Thus they often destroy our faith in order and narrative. Murder and rape and assault, the ravages of war, every form of prejudice and phobia – these traumas render life incomprehensible to those who are violated. And so many on this Earth today live their lives as a kind of enforced violation.
For example, many third-world countries can be considered a form of sustained trauma for those who inhabit them. Those people who are exposed daily to unimaginable poverty, violence and oppression. Western powers might anxiously contest this, but we need to ask ourselves a pertinent question. Do we truly believe that third-world countries would exist in their current forms in a realm where lives actually mattered, or were considered genuinely equal? I don't believe they would, but I can’t answer that for you. As hard as it may be to hear, the creation and maintenance of ghettos has been a standard practice of colonialism in all of its forms. Ghettos don't just happen within cities, countries or continents. They are created and maintained through sleight-of-hand, a denial of resources, public obfuscation and cultural devaluation. If wealth inequality is to exist in our world, especially as vividly as it does today, then a divide between those who have more and those who have less has to be enforced. A recognition of this fact is – in my opinion – a crucial first step towards recognizing how power truly operates in our modern world. That includes political, social and economic forms of power. Cultural commentators have often been excoriated for raising such points, all throughout history. Murdered, defiled or imprisoned for speaking truth to power.
Cui bono, as they say. Who benefits?
Conversations about liberty, equality and justice can be tolerated by the ruling classes as long as the status quo isn't too deeply challenged. After all, regardless of racial or economic background the status quo only exists to truly benefit a tiny percentage of the Earth's population. And it is undeniably built upon a culture of violence, corruption and trauma. This is a frightening thing to understand, but understand we must if we want any hope of a truly just and fair society. Most of the Earth's population lives in abject poverty, dehumanized and delegitimized. I don’t think that’s a shock to most people reading this. But those abandoned souls living in poverty, under cultures of oppression – their lives are full of enforced trauma with little ability to process, assimilate and heal such traumas. Therefore they are denied agency over their own narratives. The ability to write new stories is withheld from them through a variety of economic and social strangleholds. If you deny this, or reduce these words to a simplistic anti-capitalist diatribe from which you can comfortably distance yourself, then you are ignoring the nuance and humanity I’m trying to convey here. This kind of suffering is very real, all over the world. The poorest countries and continents on this planet are usually also the most exploited, either for natural resources, slave-labour economies, or as useful outposts for geopolitical manoeuvring. None of this continues to happen simply because benevolent first-world powers just can't seem to figure out how to adequately help or heal those divides. No, this is by design. These same powers often cause or profit from those divides. This is a fact, not theory. We all know this. This is what massive centralisation of wealth and power looks like in the tangible realm.
My friends, I know how brutal, ugly and uncomfortable these truths are. But unfortunately they are the hidden drivers that allow all forms of human rights violations to occur, racism being just one form of abuse among them. No life matters in a world like this. Certainly not black lives. Racial hierarchies and privileges do exist, of course. But they exist only to perpetuate the system, and are maintained by the handful of cliques from all over the world who truly benefit from that system. We have far more in common with each other than the murderous architects and profiteers of that system – even if some of us benefit from that system far more than others. Please hear me. There are no easy answers here, but slave-labour economies and monopolies of distribution allow tiny cliques of first-world powers to centralize wealth to the detriment of the entire human society. The richest power-brokers of those exploited countries are equally complicit in this, all for the most mercenary of personal gains. After all, this modern world is quite literally built upon the spoils of war, colonialism and slavery. Our budding infrastructures were dependent on it. This is not the sanitized, largely bloodless version of progress taught in our schools.
This is the frightening truth.
Without slave economies of every sort our glittering faux-utopias of the west would not exist in this current form. Let me repeat that for the uninitiated: without intentional socio-economic imbalances and enforced slave-labour economies, our society in its current form would not exist. I'm not exempt or somehow distant from this upsetting reality because of the colour of my skin. None of us are. I personally benefit from living in such a society in a way that a third-world refugee fleeing war does not, for example. I'm a black man of mixed-race parentage, but I'm also a Londoner, and as such I have luxuries and amenities that became available to me at the cost of someone else's suffering. I didn’t want this, or organise this. And yet, even though I live below the poverty line in this country I still get to live like a king, comparatively speaking. Like so many of us. I'm sorry if that upsets you, my friends. It upsets me too. These modern comforts make my life tolerable, but that doesn't mean the way I've obtained them doesn't break my fucking heart. Of course it does. But it doesn't have to stay like this. This is an absurd, disgusting world we find ourselves in. Nobody should be denied basic amenities, healthcare, societal infrastructure, or even the leisure of technology.
My point is that a monstrous system designed to create massive wealth disparity by perpetuating socio-economic imbalance is not the only way to comfortably live in a technological, modern society. Again, massive centralisation of wealth and power is the true reason for this enforced, perpetual trauma. It isn't because you own a smartphone, or enjoy Wi-Fi. It's because greed, mercenary business practices and outright psychosis are still shaping our economic, cultural and discursive spaces. Without interrogating the visible, semi-visible and hidden concentrations of power in our world absolutely nothing will change in the long run. All that will happen is that human rights abuses will continue in various forms because it is profitable for them to occur, and cheaper than ensuring that they don’t. Slave economies will be ignored and obfuscated, racial hatred and divisions will continue, and exploitation of third-world resources will remain the norm under a variety of increasingly benevolent guises. But as I said, it doesn't have to be like this if we are genuinely willing to interrogate all forms of power in this world, as unsettling and outright terrifying as that can be.
Interrogating the powerful is very frightening because – as we are all increasingly starting to recognise – they have the power to literally destroy us. To traumatize, kill or disappear us, often protected under the guise of so-called legality. But if we can face this fear we will find that there are indeed other, fairer ways to eventually establish a modern, mutually beneficial society where poverty and inequality does not exist. Anyone who tries to get you to believe otherwise is either genuinely ignorant of the spectrum of possibilities available to us, or they are intentionally profiting from your misperception of how wealth and power could operate in a truly free and equal society.
We need to start reading, imagining and thinking. We have to hone and employ our faculties of discernment to greater levels. We must begin questioning the array of false assumptions that have allowed some to prosper whilst others suffer terribly.
We can't claim to want a world in which lives matter if all we really want is to look away again from the lives that demonstrably don't. Here, there, or anywhere. I say this as a black person who has suffered racism, both direct and indirect, personal and institutional. Black lives matter to me, because I’m black. But that’s not my point in writing this. All lives matter to me because I love people. Members of my immediate family are from various racial backgrounds. Black, Indian, Latin and White in my case. But that isn’t my point here either. My point is that either life matters globally and systemically, or it doesn't. Life matters to most of us, despite our prejudices, privileges and imperfections. But a cursory glance at our broken, fallen world should reveal that life really doesn't matter to those who maintain the machinery that perpetually grinds so many of us up in its gears. The colour of my skin means I’m worth less than I should be. That’s been a fact of my life. There are others in different countries worth even less than me. But I didn’t write this to focus exclusively on skin colour or ethnic background, despite how they still explicitly and implicitly designate status in our world. I wrote this because I wanted to help partially illuminate the way power and abuse has colonized our external and internal geographies. This is no different to everything I’ve been trying to discuss at Amid Night Suns for almost a decade now.
I really do love you, my friends. I sincerely hope these words might help contextualize, orient or inspire you during this time. I'm not the final authority on anything, of course. Only what mankind has often called God or divinity could ever have perspective enough to grasp the sheer complexity of this world. I don't write these words claiming to have any of the answers to society's ills, obviously. This is just one guy's heart-felt opinion on a vast and complex situation. But I don't think anything I've written here is a lie or an intentional evasion of the truth. I’m praying for us, my friends, regardless of our social, racial or economic background. Regardless of our privilege or lack of privilege. Rigorous education, imagination and discussion are only the first steps in changing all of this. These words might seem abstract, idealistic or unattainable. But what they really are is full of sorrow. I don't want to live in a world of division and hatred. I don't want to pretend a mortal life like this anymore when angels weep all around me. Ruthless competition, mercenary politics and sickening greed are not the true markers of value in our world. I don't want myself or people I care about labouring under the assumption that for some of us to have something so many of us must have nothing. Because that's a lie. It's the ugliest of lies, upon which every false economy and division in this world is built. The devil's throne is built upon that very lie. A blood-soaked hierarchy from which there is ostensibly no escape.
Don't let that lie become your lens from which you perceive and organize your experiences. Because life does matter, but only if we find ways to interrogate, delegitimize and dismantle that lie.