Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Obsession with American Rights

A while back in a comment about a blog post, a good friend of mine mentioned something about the American obsession with rights and I've been thinking more and more about that. What has really got me thinking most of all, though, is the American obsession with American rights. That is, our obsession with rights that we (tacitly?) only extend to ourselves, as Americans.

It seems like we do not care about what else happens in the world and this dichotomy -of rights inalienable versus subjective- has me perplexed. I read every day about people in other countries struggling against multinational corporations that are exploiting their natural resources, native people, and more, and I wonder why we aren't doing anything. How is it that we preach the inalienable rights of all humans but are unconcerned about anyone's but our own? Do people only get rights when they agree with us? Or when we take over their countries and force our ideals on them?

I feel like my eyes are continually opened to the atrocities around the world each day--those that the US ignores or even supports- and yet there's nothing I can do to make people care or even convince them that these problems exist. I can tell horror stories, I can distribute pamphlets and protest in the streets, and what difference will it make?

I can tell people about Ken Saro-Wiwa (and the others of the Ogoni Nine) who was executed for defending his native land and his people against a multinational corporation that was ruining the land with its oil flowstations, and displacing them from their homes without the slightest bit of reimbursement, remorse, or even a second thought.

I can talk about how Coca-Cola has supported anti-union violence and even paid for the assassination of labor leaders at their plants in South America.

I could go on and on about the sweatshops in Bangkok and the maquiladoras of South America where women lose any sense of 'rights' (if they had them in the first place) when they are put to work like cattle and all to produce a cheaper product for greedy capitalists.

I could relay the ludicrous tale of the company that decided to start charging residents of favelas, shantytowns, for the rainwater they collect on their roofs.

I know I am not innocent in this. I have purchased gasoline from companies I'm against, simply because the cost is cheaper for me (never mind the cost of life for someone else). I purchase the cheap, mass-produced products (out of necessity and out of stinginess) at Wal-Mart and other superstores. I used to drink Coca-Cola, too.

What I don't get is why people do not change when they come face-to-face with these issues. Or why they don't even react. I don't know. Maybe it's a little much to ask people to care or change their ways, but some won't even acknowledge it, or worse they know, they understand and they could care less. I don't understand why my rights are more valuable than those of Tomasina, working in the fields of Mexico, or Yuk-Ling, assembling electronics in South China.

How is it that we can scoff at protestors outside the WTO or in front of the IMF? Why do we think we are so much better -so much more valuable- than someone half the world away? How can we be silent in the face of these atrocities that go by unmarked and unnoticed?

I, for one, am feeling incredibly guilty and only wish there was something more I could do.
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