Monthly Archives: April 2022

Elon Musk: Controller of Memes and the Universe

The wealthiest man on the planet, who is aiding the militarization of space and, for the first time in human history, is ruining the night sky with 2100 low orbit satellites, has bought one of the biggest social media platforms on earth for $44 billion USD.

Since then, Musk has made it a point to underscore his commitment to free speech. But today, online speech is governed, almost entirely, by algorithms which are designed by corporate programmers. It is rare that one person or group is deliberately or specifically targeted for the restriction of their speech. However, these algorithms are designed to weed out speech that is deemed as oppositional to the current arrangement of economic and political power by placing them lower on the list. In other words, you can tweet or post whatever you like, because most people will never see it. It will be rendered almost invisible on newsfeeds and in internet searches. Musk probably knows this better than anyone else.

Elon Musk may have been joking about controlling the universe via control of memes. Hopefully, the joke will not end up being on the rest of us.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

As calls for unions grow, it is worth revisiting the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“You are doing many things here in this struggle. You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth. One day our society must come to see this. One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive, for the person who picks up our garbage, in the final analysis, is as significant as the physician, for if he doesn’t do his job, diseases are rampant. All labor has dignity.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Excerpt from the “All Labor Has Dignity” speech delivered on March 18, 1968 at Bishop Charles Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tennessee. The church was overflowing with sanitation workers on strike and their supporters.

On February 12, 1968, 1,300 Black sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee. It began a few days after the gruesome deaths of two sanitation workers, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed to death by a garbage truck. These men were in thankless jobs that were extraordinarily dangerous and they were paid a pittance for it. They were not allowed to form unions and were paid far less than their white co-workers.

The strikers faced enormous police state violence too. They were beaten and teargassed. One 16 year old boy, Larry Payne, was shot and killed by police during one of the demonstrations. Martin Luther King, Jr, along with other civil rights activists, traveled to Memphis in solidarity with the strikers. It was there that he delivered the speech where he said: “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” Dr. King was assassinated one day later.

Toward the end of his life, King’s rhetoric was considered too radical by many white “moderates” or liberals. This, and his stand against the imperialistic war against Vietnam and militarism, made him a pariah to polite, white, bourgeois society. In fact, at the time of his death 75% of Americans disapproved of his antiwar and pro-labour stances. King terrified the ruling class because he called for revolutionary socio-economic changes that defied the capitalist hegemony.

King was right. War and militarism never benefit the poor or working class no matter the country in which they happen to reside. In fact, it is the exact opposite. And ALL labour does have dignity. But dignity is not merely a pat on the back. It means fair wages and benefits, sick pay, holiday pay, worker safety, paid maternity leave and equal representation. It also means guaranteed healthcare and housing that is not tied to labour at all.

Just as the sanitation workers in Memphis were treated with disdain and exposed to dangerous working conditions, the pandemic revealed that little has changed when it comes to protecting and compensating workers. Whether it be store clerks, delivery people, janitors, baristas, truck drivers, hospital staff or others in so-called “frontline” positions, we witnessed firsthand how neoliberal, corporate culture devalues human beings and their worth when it matters most.

Recently, Starbucks founder and interim CEO Howard Schultz lamented that companies are being ‘assaulted’ by the ‘threat’ of unionization. Shultz net worth is estimated at 4.3 billion dollars USD. How any person who has more wealth than some small countries could feel threatened by workers who only want what is fair is staggering, but it is a safe bet that his sentiments are shared by most of his class.

After what Schultz admitted, it is worth repeating some other things King said to these Memphis sanitation workers that day in 1968:

Now let me say a word to those of you who are on strike. You have been out now for a number of days, but don’t despair. Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice. The thing for you to do is stay together, and say to everybody in this community that you are going to stick it out to the end until every demand is met, and that you are gonna say, “We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.” Let it be known everywhere that along with wages and all of the other securities that you are struggling for, you are also struggling for the right to organize and be recognized.

Now the other thing is that nothing is gained without pressure. Don’t let anybody tell you to go back on the job and paternalistically say, “Now, you are my men and I’m going to do the right thing for you. Just come on back on the job.” Don’t go back on the job until the demands are met. Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. Freedom is not some lavish dish that the power structure and the white forces in policy-making positions will voluntarily hand out on a silver platter while the Negro merely furnishes the appetite. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it.

Today, as we see people around the world organizing labour unions and fighting back against an oppressive, exclusionary and deeply unequal culture of corporate despotism, we should keep King’s words on our minds and in our hearts. Because as the backlash grows, we will need to remember them now more than ever before.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

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Earth Day is Not a Celebration

The first Earth Day was in 1970. It came about as a response to a major oil spill off of Santa Barbara, California, in 1969. This, along with Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring which documented the devastation caused by the pesticide industry on birds and other wildlife, the end of the Vietnam War, and the famous 1968 Earthrise NASA photograph of the earth from the moon, galvanized millions of people to protest the destruction of our biosphere caused by war and powerful industries. More than 20 million people took to the streets that day, making it still the largest single-day protest in US history.

In the decades since then, corporations, NGOs and the military industrial sector have managed to co-opt the very essence of this movement, turning it into a complete farce. After the Vietnam War exposed the murderous lies of imperialistic militarism, weapons manufacturers decided to rebrand their profit making scheme as “peace keeping” efforts. Today, the military is the biggest polluter on the planet.

And corporate greenwashing kicked into high gear too. It had to. After all, decades of plunder and pollution was bad for business since it tarnished their public image. Thus, the sham of recycling was created to cover up the ongoing extraction of fossil fuels in order to make single use, plastic items.

Today, 91 percent of plastic never gets recycled. Much of it winds up in landfills, as litter along roadsides or in parks, or in the ocean. In fact, it is estimated that 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic are churning in the world’s oceans, torturing and killing marine wildlife, with millions of plastic items joining them every single day. And the use of fossil fuels is rapidly altering the earth’s climate systems, leading to devastating storms, drought, fires, desertification, coral bleaching and rising sea levels.

The official theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest In Our Planet.” If we read between the lines, it is clear that this theme is a call for the wholescale financialization and privatization of nature. It is apparent that Wall Street has taken the helm and the course they have set will only lead us all to the precipice of ecological catastrophe.

It doesn’t have to remain this way. Just as the ownership of Earth is a scam, so too is the ownership of Earth Day. It begins by us refusing to swallow the corporate, government and military greenwashing lies about a day that was never meant to be a celebration, but a call to radical and revolutionary action to save the biosphere on which we all depend.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

Putin and the Church: an Unholy Alliance

Following what appear to be horrendous war crimes, Putin continues his rampage through Ukraine. It is becoming an exercise in absurdity for anyone to defend this war, yet it still has its supporters. Some may still believe that he wants to “de-Nazify” the country. While Ukraine undoubtedly has a serious problem with fascism and far right extremists, one need only to listen to Putin himself to understand that his “justifications” are pure nonsense.

Lest anyone has doubts as to Putin’s racist and imperialistic vision, he was quoted as saying:

“The United States continues to receive more and more immigrants, and, as far as I understand, the white, Christian population is already outnumbered … White Christians have become a minority, less than 50 percent now. … Russia is a vast territory, from its western to eastern borders, it is a Eurasian space. But as regards culture, even language group and history, this all is undoubtedly a European space, as it is inhabited by people of this culture. … we have to preserve all this to remain a significant centre in the world.”

In addition to this, Putin has a great ally in the Russian Orthodox Church. Kirill, patriarch of the church, has been one of the most vocal cheerleaders for Putin’s aggressive nationalism and this murderous war. In a recent sermon he declared that this was a “struggle to defend human civilization” against the “sin” of “gay-pride parades.” To odious men like Kirill, the scenes of cities reduced to rubble or bodies strewn on city streets, many with their hands bound, is somehow “holy” while human sexuality in all of its marvelous diversity is depraved. It is a testament to how extremist religious beliefs are fundamentally anti-human.

Without a doubt, Kirill cares little for the young conscripted Russian soldiers condemned to be cannon fodder in this imperialistic venture. As the death toll mounts, he has been able to spew bile from the lavish Main Cathedral of the Armed Forces, a monstrosity built two years ago as a celebration of Russian militarism. One can hardly fathom the depths of depravity required to design and construct this temple to war and then consecrate it to the Prince of Peace.

But before we wag our fingers too much, we should understand the danger in our own backyards. Most religious people hope and strive for peace and hold compassion as a supreme value. But religion has been frequently used by the powerful as a means of social control. It can be an effective bludgeon for silencing opposition and dissent. A loudspeaker for despots. An arm of state repression and militarism.

And this is most often a reciprocal arrangement. Whether it be the use of Islam to crush women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, or the use of Hinduism to subjugate Muslims and Dalits in India, or the use of Judaism to deny Palestinians their human rights, or the use of Buddhism to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya, or the use of Christianity to oppress women and persecute LGBTQ+ people in the United States, religious leaders and zealots will seize on any opportunity they are given to impose their worldview upon others, and they will utilize the state to this end.

Patriarch Kirill offers us a glimpse into state sanctioned, religious barbarism. His alliance with Putin underscores the need for the separation of church and state. And he is being lauded by racists, white supremacists and fascists the world over. But he is also a reminder that religious zealots have little use for this earth we call home. To them, it is stained with human sin. So, a “holy war” of fire and brimstone might actually be appealing to those with such nihilistic and misanthropic leanings. As the world inches ever closer to nuclear war, this should give us all good reason to be worried.

Kenn Orphan, April 2022

*Photo is of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. Getty Images.