Across the globe, punishing states have emerged from the seamless union of transnational corporate power with state-based machinery of permanent warfare—and have produced devastating social and environmental consequences.
As Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco astutely observe in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, many democratic states have handed over their power to corporations, leaving governments with only the capacity to enforce damaging and punitive policies utterly bereft of social purpose. In doing so, these governments have not only abandoned the citizenry to corporate interests but also taken measures to relegate whole swaths of society to “sacrifice zones,” where poverty, disease, social isolation, exploitation, environmental degradation, and violence have become the rule.
The “sacrifice zones” identified by Hedges also include the prisons and detention centres that form part of an expanding, state-sanctioned punishment network that increasingly assumes absolute authority over non-citizens and citizens alike. Appealing to economic growth and national security to justify the extension of its grip over all facets of society, the United States and Canada have engaged in unparalleled violations of both human rights and environmental justice. Governments have stood by while large corporations and political institutions have engaged in financial corruption and a wide range of legal illegalities.
The regime of neoliberal goverance through which powerful corporations enlist political and economic elites to engage in exploitation—even of their own country—is exposed in Bozhin Traykov‘s critique of a recent media broadcast that endorsed the growth of a sweatshop-based economy in Haiti.
According to Daniel H. Garrett, U.S. foreign policy since 9/11 has charted a course of aggressive dominance over other nations also by pursuing “illegal, immoral, and hugely counterproductive semi-clandestine wars that drone on and on without mercy.” Voicing dissent to the U.S. government’s climate change policy, Garrett argues that the state’s path of unparalleled destruction will not cease until it brings to a catastrophic end to all life on the planet and the conditions that sustain it.
The state’s turn to violence in the place of diplomacy and its gross negligence regarding the harmful consequences of it actions on both people and the environment can only be supported if we believe the view that certain human beings are inferior, and therefore undeserving of life-sustaining support.
Such a belief appears to underlie the current plague of social and environmental injustice across North America, particularly if we consider the racialized ‘justice’ meted out against African American communities in the United States, as Danielle Martak does in her review of Angela Y. Davis’ Abolition Democracy.
Increasingly, it appears racism and xenophobia operate through subtle discourses of the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” working in tandem with the fear and ignorance stoked by uncritical corporate media and a lack of strong, alternative educational apparatuses that can challenge the state—including the state’s campaign to justify the use of force and detainment in the name of national security or what Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has called the “war without end.”
But we are not without hope for change—as suggested by Cheryl Duckworth‘s account of how the Occupy Wall Street movement challenged the prevailing idea that humans are driven by self-interest rather than collective interests. The Occupy movement, at least for a time, made it easier to imagine a world emerging from a common, shared principle of peace.
The critical analyses offered by each contributors to this issue underscore the responsibility of scholars and activists to engage with dominant modes of thought that inform public opinion—and to use critical theories and research to develop new ways of thinking and acting that are informed by both historical understanding and future possibilities.
They also demonstrate how voicing dissent and applying increased pressure on official power can be undertaken both from within and outside of established institutions. Most urgently, members of the public can respond to Romeo Dallaire’s petition to bring back Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay.
The articles presented here draw out many of the critical intersections among racism, injustice, exploitation, violence, and environmental destruction, inviting us to ask: How is it possible we have arrived at a moment in human history when elected governments openly wage war on the planet and the world’s most vulnerable populations—even sacrificing its own citizens to the interests of corporate power?
By Grace Pollock