Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Disposable People

In a recent Truthout piece, “The Political Economy of Israeli Apartheid and the Specter of Genocide,” UCSB Professor William Robinson laid out the conditions that are enabling more and more Israelis to contemplate what should have been unthinkable before: the final expulsion of all Palestinians from the land Israel considers Eretz Israel, either by ethnic cleansing, or genocide. That means, in the words of Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked posted on Facebook recently that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy, including its elderly and its women…They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” He was seconded by an August 1 Times of Israel op-ed by Yochanan Gordon titled “When Genocide is Permissible,” and later comments by Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament, urging the Israeli army to “kill Palestinians in Gaza and use any means possible to get them to leave.” Robinson caps his data with the observation that nearly 50% of Israel’s Jewish population supports a policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with almost as many contemplating genocide. Though this has always been the unstated purpose of the Zionist project, Robinson notes that until recent years, it would not have been possible because the Israeli economy relied on Palestinians as a cheap labor force to exploit for the dirty work Israelis could not or would not do. After the 1990s, however, this classic colonial situation changed. Thanks to globalization and Israel’s shift to its role as the major arms and high-tech supplier in its region and beyond, classic Palestinian farm labor was no longer needed. In addition, Israel’s incentives to Jews worldwide, especially the Soviet Union, to immigrate, resulted in as many as 1 million Soviet Jews taking the place of the Palestinian labor force. So did globalization’s displacement of hungry laborers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere, which allowed hordes of cheap transnational labor to fill in for what the new immigrants would not do. The result has been the apartheid wall keeping Palestinians out of Israel, and their resulting marginalization and disposability as a labor force. As was noted during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, nearly three-quarters of all Gazans depend on UN and government support to even stay alive, since there are no jobs to be had.
            This leads to William Robinson’s major point: what makes genocide possible is the situation that Israel/Palestine now exemplifies—a powerful nation beset by the claims of a marginalized and helpless population that has outlived its usefulness. As Robinson puts it,
The rise of new systems of transnational labor mobility and recruitment have made it possible for dominant groups around the world to reorganize labor markets and recruit transient labor forces that are disenfranchised and easy to control.

Easier to control, that is, than those troublesome Palestinians who, now no longer needed, would be much better somewhere else—including in the grave.
            It is not hard to see how other such populations in other nations—such as the United States—can fit this same paradigm. As nations around the world become increasingly separated into haves and have-nots, high-tech and poor nations, racial minorities and sub-groups become increasingly marginalized and disposable. This is because with the rise of the indigent transnational labor force, the advanced industrial nations no longer need to rely on their minority groups for labor. In the United States, this was true early on with respect to Native Americans, and is now true even in the high-tech and information sectors such as Silicon Valley, where major corporations have lobbied hard to get work visas for cheaper and often better-educated tech workers. In the area of farm and other high-risk labor, it is the same: migrants from Mexico and other countries in Latin America both legally and illegally provide the labor force that American agriculture needs, and, further, that  cheap labor bastions like China increasingly provide for the secondary preparation and packaging once done in the U.S. The result is that African Americans, especially those in major cities like Detroit and Chicago and Newark, become more and more marginalized and disposable. Where once, especially during and shortly after WWII, they migrated to northern cities en masse where they could find good jobs in factories producing cars and other manufactured commodities, today most cannot find such work because most of the jobs have been shipped overseas. The unemployment rate for young African American men in major cities is nothing short of a national scandal, and leads directly to the equally high and equally scandalous incarceration rate of such young men, many of whom conclude that there is no future for them. They are right. Aside from work in minimum-wage fast-food restaurants, their use to the American economy as it is now developing, has evaporated. They are the new disposables.
            The only question that remains, if things are allowed to continue as they are, is what can possibly happen to whole populations of such disposable people? Clearly, automation and the globalized work force are on a path to increase. Clearly, fewer and fewer of the deprived will be able to afford to educate themselves for the few decent jobs that will remain. What is to become of them? Will they simply join the ranks of the homeless, chased off sidewalks by local police, or the incarcerated? Will they become part of the RV ‘workamper’ force of the aging indigent, migrating to places like Amazon’s warehouses where they can get temp work during the Christmas season? Will the United States, like Israel, finally decide that genocide—even the slow genocide of mass disposability and mass incarceration—is now acceptable? It is a daunting prospect, but one that conditions force into our consciousness. The world population is increasing. More and more of the haves feel more and more encroached upon by desperate have-nots, and more and more fearful of them, with the resulting increase in militarized borders to keep the hordes out, and more draconian “law and order” procedures to control those already inside. Will our accelerating disposition to dispose of mass-produced goods be succeeded by an equally accelerated disposition to dispose of our masses of disposable people as well? Ah Bartleby. Ah disposable humanity.

Lawrence DiStasi

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