One in four diamond rings are made from conflict diamonds. The stones on your wrist could have been pulled out of the dead hands of thousands of exploited and impoverished workers who are often forced to live in a state of constant warfare. In Sierra Leon, where many conflict diamonds come from, it is not unheard of to see a fourteen year-old boy with an arm lopped off; his family likely facing starvation.
Diamonds are a unique and beautiful natural occurrence, but so are sunsets and seashells. Cecil Rhodes, founder of DeBeers, convinced people that they had to buy one of these things to show their love. Diamonds just may be a girl’s best friend, but engagement rings are often harvested with blood. Clean diamonds are no sure thing; only an attempt to cleanse dirty consciences for a price, once diamonds are out in the general circulation it is difficult to trace the origins. That isn’t the only problem with the diamond industry, in India where 92% of diamonds are cut; many of the smallest diamonds are handled by children who suffer from “eye strain and repetitive motion injuries and lung infections from inhaling diamond dust.”
A large part of the diamond obsession seems to be linked to the human phenomenon of desiring to possess beauty. People want to possess things rather than to enjoy them. Consumers are no longer making purchases with pleasure or need as the motivator; many products are seen as symbols of status that fuel the ego. We live in a society where accumulation and flaunting of wealth is as important as the pleasure derived from our possessions. Consumption has become habitual; we buy things we don’t need because we have become so accustom to wanting. This conditioning has led us into poverty, a poverty of the mind for those who are trapped in the unimaginative cycle of consumption and a lack of resources for those who are exploited to build wealth for the plunderers. As Allan Watts reminds us, “The reason we have poverty is that we have no imagination. There are a great many people accumulating what they think is vast wealth, but it’s only money… they don’t know how to enjoy it, because they have no imagination.”
Generally, human beings have shown an almost insatiable desire to consume and possess. It is not enough for the desirous man to see a woman and admire her beauty—he wants to fuck her. It is the same impulse that compels the wealthy Man to build a 20,000 square foot third home on the ocean that he uses three weekends per year, when a family of five living nearby can’t afford to visit for a weekend.
It doesn’t have to be a world of big winners and billions of impoverished human beings fighting for crumbs. Change starts with how we perceive the world and the beauty in it and making a real difference is as simple as altering our values which are reflected in the goods we buy. A new era begins with a change in perception, followed by better actions.
The proliferation of technology has sped up exponentially with time. As our lives become more intertwined with machines, attention spans and personal interactions have continued to diminish. In response to a nonstop stream of information our minds are more scattered than earlier generations of people. There is no evolutionary or historical precedent for our current exposure to complex information. The 36 hour news cycle is a thing of the past; we are becoming increasingly obsessed with rapid consumption of information and resources. Our obsession with technology has created a world that now teeters on the edge of disaster.
We live under the constant threat of nuclear war and the press of a button can drastically alter the nature of existence on this planet. Now individuals wield the power to cause mass destruction. We must slow down the rapidity of our technological proliferation so we can control it and make it work for us rather than letting it spiral out of control. Without understanding and controlling our technologies we are creating consequences faster than we can fully assess the problems that these innovations cause.
In Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, a groundbreaking book about the corruption of the global financial system, John Perkins recounts a version of the ancient legend of the eagle and the condor. This is a tale that Perkins gained while spending time with traditional cultures in South America. The story represents an ancient understanding of necessary equilibrium in the world where the rational scientific side of humanity, represented by the eagle, is balanced with the primordial spiritual side represented by the condor. Either the two birds will rip each other apart or will fly together, in harmony, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity. The meaning of the metaphor is found in balancing of the ingenious creative forces that allow us to invent new technology with the wisdom of humanity that we see in prudent decisions and harmonious existence in the world.
In this video clip Martin Rees discusses the challenges that face man in the 21st century.
The first step in running a business is planning how to minimize cost while maximizing profit, both of which seem morally negligent when it concerns the care and well-being of senior citizens. By privatizing nursing homes for profitable gain sacrifices are made for a good bottom-line, and our aging population is suffering as a result. The framework for the discussion revolving around the Chautauqua County Home, Avi Rothner, and “for-profit” care has already been laid by Loren. To squeeze every nickel possible from a service that provides care to ailing senior citizens is contemptible. There are obvious reasons why nursing homes need to remain strictly non-for-profit organizations.
Aging is a natural event that every person on this planet endures, and many of us will reach a plateau where we can no longer take care of ourselves. Now that the BabyBoomer Generation has reached a critical age, our country is burdened with the responsibility of finding reliable means to care for the growing percentage of senior citizens. Nursing homes are not a profitable business, and studies show that when profit becomes the primary motive for operating a home the conditions and care decline. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released information in 2011 that uncovered some of the shortcomings of the “for-profit” privatized homes. Not only do privatized homes staff fewer nurses than not-for-profit facilities, they also have more total deficiencies as a whole. When the end goal of a privately owned nursing home is to provide the necessary care to ailing seniors in their final days, and to make a profit; corners are cut that result in below average care.
LeadingAge New York represents the not-for-profit nursing facilities in New York State and aims to provide sufficient protection against less than adequate care. They recently procured information that led them to believe that “7,000 residents [in privately owned homes] with pressure sores would not have them” if they were in a nonprofit home. LeadingAge also reported that patients in a not-for-profit would receive approximately 500,000 more hours of care than in a privately run nursing homes. We have a moral responsibility as a nation to protect ALL citizens, and that responsibility seems to have taken a backseat to greed.
We cannot control the fact that our population is growing older, but we can control and dictate the levels of care necessary from nursing facilities. People like Avi Rothner, among others, should not be attempting back-alley deals with local politicians to gain a foothold in a facility that would likely provide below average care to our fellow citizens. I am a concerned tax paying citizen trying to expose the obvious faults of operating a nursing home as a business. Some things are not meant to make money, and seniors deserve appropriate care without corporate bigwigs worrying about staining the budget with red ink.
At Can the Man we do our best to point out specific people in our society who are dishonorable, and the ways they try to defraud democracy. We have covered drone strikes, unlawful presidential powers, financial criminals, and many other controversial topics. Recently there have been a few specific issues in the news concerning the legality of the War on Terror. Legal provisions like the NDAA and CISPA are the new ways the Man is using his power against you.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA) is a piece of legislation that set the budget for the Department of Defense, among other things. In addition to including standard financial structuring, the NDAA also contained many legal additions that expand the powers of our government to fight suspected terrorists (which are everywhere these days). It had several provisos that allow directly for the suspension of civil liberties and constitutional rights of any individual suspected of terrorism.  What the legislation really did was allow these powers to be used against anyone who meets the vague interpretation of a terrorist that was updated in this very act. Under this newest format, even people who store large amounts of food and water in case of disaster can be implicated in terrorism. As stated by Erik Kain of Forbes, the act “helps to preserve the status quo established a decade ago with the original provisions in the PATRIOT Act”.  Anyone with any qualities remotely associated with terrorism can now be detained indefinitely and held without trial.  This legislation gives our own government powers that even Big Brother would be envious of.
In addition to the NDAA, there have been other attempts to pass similar legislation that have not succeeded. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is a proposed law that has also received a wide range of public criticism. This act was created with the intention of doing away with our online privacy, allowing the government to search the browsing history of anyone they like.  The original proposal was far too bold to succeed, and was struck down when it went to the floor. Preceding the failure of the bill was a slew of online protesting, and a public campaign to raise awareness. While CISPA may have failed initially, it has since been amended and is once again up for a vote.  Public concern for the bill has reached a tipping point in recent days, as over 100,000 people have signed a petition against it, mandating a response from the White House.
Laws like CISPA and the NDAA are the newest ways that the Man tries to get you down. It’s right out in the open and there for everyone to see. These laws are very dangerous precedents, and the new impositions of our government are becoming more alarming. Issues like these transcend the petty lines between our party politics, and deserve more attention than the social quibbling that dominates our mainstream media. Those of us who agree that this is wrong have a duty to expose those who do not. The American people should be outraged that their leaders pursue these levels of tyranny with such obvious disregard for our political foundations.
Privatization is swiftly changing the lifestyles of many people. There is severe pressure from members of the federal and local governments to privatize everything from social security to healthcare. The litany is that we have numerous government programs, which are losing money on a daily basis and are horribly inefficient because of bureaucratic miscues. The Chautauqua County Home in Dunkirk, NY is a local example of this move toward privatization.
Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards has been eager to sell the County Home, and found a potential buyer in Avi Rother. The Chicago based Rothner operates a number of retirement homes throughout the country for Altitude Health Services. Edwards believes, as many do, that the government, which employs him, cannot run this place efficiently. His solution is to dispense it to Rothner. Yet numerous people have publicly testified, before the council, that the County Home has been a positive place to send the elders of their family.
Profits and Services
Many people contend that if these inefficient entities were privatized they would run more smoothly with profit as an incentive. The unfortunate problem with the profit driven mentality, which is central to privatization, is that it doesn’t account for the actual service that is provided. For example, if you want your mail delivered more efficiently, then spend the extra money to have a private carrier like UPS handle it. UPS is an individual company that has motivation to create profits. However, if you happen to live in a rural place without UPS service you can still receive packages via the U.S. postal service because you have paid taxes to ensure that your package is delivered. So, if the U.S. postal service is paid by tax revenue to take a loss for the undelivered package, the gap in delivery charges is bridged by tax revenue. They do not have the same motivation to operate profitably and thus they are not exclusive with their services. They operate in a way that benefits the society’s specific needs, rather than their bottom line. Certain industries should not be required to be profitable if they are important for the entire society, which is why we pay taxes.
Few would contend that public parks, libraries, and public schools are fruitless examples of tax dollars at work. Some entities are more beneficial when we pool our resources. No one wants the state to control every aspect of our lives, but in certain cases it is better to pay collectively for important projects; this is a fundamental benefit of democracy. In the case of the County Home we want our parents and grandparents to be cared for in their advanced years, and they deserve that because they have sacrificed so our lives could be better. We don’t want a corporate board to turn them away, nor have their services cut, because they may negatively affect the company’s profit margin.
Edwards tried, twice, unsuccessfully, to sell the County Home to Rothner’s Altitude Health Services. The County Home needed a super majority (17 of 25) votes to sell. When the sale was voted down for the second time, he was so inclined to make a deal with Rothner that he tried to change the law so that only a simple majority of 13 votes would be needed to sell all county property. His political chicanery ultimately failed because the majority of local residents made it clear that they do not want to sell. In listening to the testimony of many people touched by the County Home it is obvious that powerful memories, tied to important moments in the lives of their parents and grandparents, have been created at the County Home. It is a place where many deserving people have received vital care. Although Altitude Health Services seems to be out of the hunt, Edwards has continues to shop for a new buyer. But political ambitions have yet to trump the resolve of a local community which believes in the current public administration of the Chautauqua County Home.
The Man wants you lookin’ good. Maybe not perfect, not like stepping off the pages of a magazine at the salon or the dentist’s waiting room, but lookin’ pretty good. Showing that you know what the fashion is just now. The same way you’re careful to use slang that has come into your ear just often enough to convince you that it’s new and cool. Of course, you’re careful to put your own thumbprint on it, the fashion, the slang. Wear it and say it your way and no one else’s. You want people to think that you’re not a slave to fashion. The Man smiles when he sees you.
He smiles because it’s your awareness of fashion, your vigilant spotting of changes and your concern for the impression you are making on others that serves his purposes. You may think you are your own person, independent of the fanboys and -girls. But, so long as your compass points toward advertised fashion, he is in control. You may carefully set your course 45° to the left of the hot trend, but the hot trend is the determining factor.
And this isn’t only about what we wear and what we say. New electronic gadgets, music, movies, activities, and ideas almost always mean profits for large corporations. Politicians and their wealthy supporters work hard to see that their ideas shape public attitudes. Advertisers and political operatives employ trend spotters and image manipulators to multiply their influence. Much of this influence manipulation takes place out of sight. They do their best to wipe their fingerprints from the trends you spot.
Yet how can we not follow fashion? We are, after all, social creatures. Our reputation in our community of friends is a valuable resource. If people think we’re out of it then out of it we will be. Information and assistance from members of the in-crowd will become out of reach. Ostracism is a powerful motivator.
However, establishing an image as a fashionable someone may be less useful than making a reputation as a person who can be trusted to be authentic. Your friends will care a lot more that you are speaking and acting from the heart than that they can learn cool slang from you. Couple a bass line of social honesty with treble notes of realistic knowledge and reasoned insight and your music will be listened to. Dance to that and not to the Man’s latest hits.
Note: Tony Stavely is a retired Professor of Psychology with specialties in personality theory and social psychology. This is his first article for Can the Man.
The zombie, by modern interpretations, is a creature hell-bent on the consumption of their living counterparts. This semi-fictitious mongrel has become a significant cog of the entertainment industry. Everywhere I look there is a novel turned big-budget film vying for a piece of the consumer pie. What many of us do not know is that the story of the zombie has significant roots in a history that extend much further than any movie could ever dream of. The origins of the zombie can be traced to the Vodoun culture of Haiti and beyond into the deepest secrets of ancient Africa where curious new beliefs arose from the tragic consequences of slavery and abuse. While the fat-cats of Hollywood expect consumers to be entranced by their siren song, we must examine the place of the zombie in history and explore the dark mysteries of Haiti to learn about our own mindless consumption.
It only takes a quick glance to find an example of the zombie phenomenon in mainstream society. For instance, there is the wildly popular Walking Dead series on AMC, which follows a group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. Each episode is a gritty, realistic, and gore-ridden roller-coaster ride that allows the viewer to envision a world unlike any other. At the end of our weekend watching people fight against a mindless horde has become something we find happiness in doing. American society is well acclimated to this type of zombie entertainment and we relish any opportunity to see an unrealistically lucky band of miscreants dish out salvation with bullets and blunt objects. However in Haiti the zombie is more than a fictitious entity, it is a real phenomenon. Through fear, manipulation, coercion, and slavery human beings became real-life zombies. This is where the cultural schism takes place, because for the people of Haiti the zombie is a tangible reality outside of the realm of couches and big screens.
When Wade Davis decided to investigate rumors of zombies in Haiti I doubt that he expected to find the results that he did. Stories of the rising dead originally sprouted behind the wave of foreign occupation throughout the early twentieth century. It was under the horrific shroud of forced labor that global industrial giants abused and allegedly drugged their workforce into a state of hypnotized compliance. Through the cultural aspects of Haiti and the prevalence of Voodoo beliefs these mindless workers helped create the foundation of the zombie. After doing extensive research on the folklore behind the zombie Davis came upon the intriguing neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which can purportedly mimic the signs of death. He heard tales of people being buried alive and resurrected, only to suffer a fate far worse than death: working in slave-like conditions for sugar plantations across the region. Fact meets fiction in the rural villages of Haiti, culminating in a horror far greater than those dreamt up by the entertainment industry.