Saturday, November 23, 2013

Save the big cats; fight for socialism

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I just watched a National Geographic documentary called, The Last Lions.  It’s a beautifully photographed saga about a lioness that is driven from her territory after her mate is killed and she has three cubs to care for.  Much of it is staged and touched up to appeal to human feelings and Jeremy Irons’ narration is dull but it’s still amazing photography.

The film is the product of Beverly and Dereck Joubert, two South Africans, him a pony tailed geologist and his wife, as People Magazine puts I, a,“Petite, golden haired business graduate.”.  They just love spending hours out in the wild of Botswana filming big cats and the surrounding wildlife. They make a case study in how to make au naturel oh-so-lovely.” Writes People, “ …Veld-swept, sun-bronzed, clad in T-shirts, they are too busy looking through the cameras to be checking out mirrors. Besides, says Dereck, ‘the existence out there is pure living, and it cleanses us.’”

I love nature movies and I love animals and this film like so many of them is about the tragedy of the animal world, a tragedy brought about by human progress, too many humans really the film implies. The Joubert’s have started a campaign, The Big Cats Initiative and this film and the accompanying book, is aimed at letting us all know how these beautiful animals are one the verge of extinction due to the encroachment of human beings in to their natural habitat.  And there is indeed a crisis as they point out. In their lifetime, lions have gone from a population of 450,000 to 20,000, Leopards from 700,000 to 50,000.  Poachers have been selling their skins and their bones just like they do Rhino horns and elephant tusks.

I normally don’t watch these films anymore though because I end up crying, as I did when one of the little cubs suffered a broken back, and then getting really angry as the film leaves us as they all do with a sense of hopeless despair. For me it’s the same anger I get when some liberal documentarian visits the Amazon forest informing us of the degradation of this crucial habitat and asks some peasant, in order to see if the poor soul understands the terrible consequences of his work, “What do you think of when you see all these trees you’re cutting down?”

“Breakfast” I always imagine them saying. I get even angrier when these shows lump us all together, If “we” don’t stop this activity we’ll have no forest left and no planet.  “We” must consider the consequences of our activity etc., as if “we” have any real say in the matter.  “We” don’t own the lumber company, run the government, or have any say in decisions like that; and the guy cutting down the tree certainly doesn’t.

At the end of this particular documentary there is a number that you can send a text to donate $10 to the Big Cat Initiative which National Geographic is promoting. I listened to an interview with the filmmakers to see what the BCI was actually doing to ensure these animals survive in the wild.  I found out that the Big Cat Initiative is an “Emergency action driven grouping”, and that it is a “global initiative”.  The campaign includes everyone, even business people and hunters and it’s really getting off the ground and “people are sending money…..and ideas” and….

“We’re coming up with some real solutions” the filmmakers said but never told us what they were other than “emergency intervention” and that the film and the book would hopefully “expose people” to the crisis and see that the lions are actually individuals too. I sat and watched these two middle class South Africans and really disliked them to be honest.  They go on about poachers and smuggling and the harm it does, but they never said a word about the horrible conditions, the poverty, the hunger and disease that lies behind such activity.  Two liberal, middle class white South Africans have not had much need to poach anything I would think. For Beverley Joubert, living out in the wild making movies is “…a passion and I love it”, filming the conditions of miners working inside a platinum mine and living in shacks just doesn’t have the same effect I guess.

I know I am being a bit harsh here, but I have little time for these people for a number of reasons.  Their actions in my opinion are more about fulfilling their own desires and pleasures than actually ending the slaughter of big cats. It’s easy for financially secure people like these to criticize some poverty stricken African for poaching and killing animals as their bellies are full; they “rough it” by choice.

Because their activity is more about pleasing themselves, they ignore the fact that historical evidence shows that what they are doing will not stop the causes of the decline in big cats, sure, they’ll feel good about it, but it won’t solve a thing. As they never gave one concrete example of what they’re doing other than making a film so we can see how bad things are, I can only assume they’re doing nothing. I’ll go further, if they were putting forward real solutions, National Geographic would have nothing to do with them.

This activity actually  demoralizes us and leaves us feeling helpless and drowning in the despair of knowing that the extinction of these beautiful creatures is inevitable because humans are by our very nature selfish, greedy bastards, (with the exception of the Jouberts and people like them of course).

This whole approach is perfect because it doesn’t raise the issue of a social system.  We live and function in a system of production, that’s what human society is, a social system, a means of collectively producing the necessities of life.  The system that dominates in this era, and it is a global system, is capitalism.  We are not supposed to think of systems except when they tell us about communism, “Communism failed”.

The same method is applied when we hear about hunger, starvation and disease.  The capitalist class in their mass media always portrays these crises as driven by corrupt individuals or simple mismanagement of resources; it’s never a crisis of the system as we don’t live in a system, were just a group of individuals and our families. Hunger is also caused by too many people they tell us, we can’t feed them. But that is not the problem, the problem is the way food production is organized under capitalism, it is the system at fault. What lies behind the poaching and killing of animals by Africans is the life and death struggle to survive.  We know in India that parents even kill their offspring if they are girls as they are too financially burdensome, survival is a powerful driver.

The diseases that millions die from every year are diseases science cured long ago. People die because of the lack of social infrastructure like water, sewage and public health.  Capital is needed for this, but the capitalists will not allocate it if it is not profitable to do so.  If people can’t pay, they die.

To the capitalist, land is viewed merely as a commodity; lions are a nuisance unless money can be made from their existence, so are people if they stand in the way of utilizing land in order to profit from it; British peasants were driven from the land in order to privatize it and in order to provide the rising capitalist class with “free labor”. Capitalism cannot solve hunger or poverty even in the belly of the beast, the USA, so it certainly can’t save a few lions in Africa from extinction.  The reality is that it will be the cause of humanity’s extinction if we do not rid ourselves of this way of organizing society and producing the necessities of life.

They don’t want us to think of our society as being a system of production and that before capitalism dominated our productive lives, other systems of production existed like slavery and feudalism; bad things happen because humans are basically bad.

If we understand that this system hasn’t always existed, that capitalists haven’t always ruled society, that they achieved political and economic supremacy by revolutionary means, then we can see that we are not at the apex of civilization here.  Capitalism socialized production, created great factories and great urban centers. It is the task of the worker class, those of us who sell our labor power, our ability to work in order to live, to take it one step further, to socialize ownership of production and to take economic and political power, in other words, the management of society out of the hands of the private clique that presently hold it. This means we have to familiarize ourselves with our history and with revolutionary history and in particular Marx, whose analysis of how capitalist society works and how a planned, rational and democratic socialist society can replace it changed the world.

This is what will save the big cats, getting rid of the fat cats, but National Geographic isn’t in business to find solutions.

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