Does “Removing God from School” Invite Tragedy?

After the horrific mass shooting in Newtown Connecticut, in which 20 children and 6 adults the gunman and his mother were killed, I have heard numerous people make the argument that this is what happens when you take God out of schools. Apparently it’s not the shooter who is responsible for these tragic deaths but those of us who had the audacity to remove the Christian God from our public schools. I have heard this argument made numerous times concerning other events as well, including more recent ones.

There is so much wrong with this argument, I hardly no where to begin. First, off no one removed God from any school. If, we assume for the sake of conversation that the Christian God or something like him exists, it would be impossible for mere mortals to escort him out of a school, or any other building for that matter. Supposedly, his powers are infinitely greater than those of us ordinary humans, and many believe him to be omnipresent. The very idea of removing an omnipresent being from any location is absurd.

What us secularist did do was remove government imposed religious instruction from tax-payer funded schools. When religious conservatives say we took God out of schools, it is code for the fact that the heavy hand of Government is no longer using other people’s tax money to shove Christian religious beliefs down the throats of other people’s children. I cannot help but think this governmental restraint is a good thing. Freedom of religion means that government doesn’t force religious instruction on the people. People are still free to teach children about their God in their homes, in religious private schools and in their churches, free from the encroachment of government and the use of other people’s tax money.

But even though public school teachers are no longer allowed to or required to push religious instruction, it still does not mean God has been taken out of schools. Children are still allowed to pray, they just cannot be instructed to do so by a school official. Children are also free to join religious clubs, read religious texts in their free time and talk among themselves about religious topics. We live in a country where most people are religious, and most school teachers and children believe in some form of God, even if the teachers are not allowed to use their power of the students for religious purposes. I strongly suspect that as long as public schools continue to give tests, there will always be prayer in schools.

Upon pointing this out, I have been met with the reply that the increasing secularism of the school system has told God that he has not wanted and that he has withdrawn his “protective influence.” This is such a morally despicable notion. Are we expected to believe that God makes it possible for little children to be brutally murdered solely because adults no longer use the government to force feed kids religious teachings? Do the people who spew such rubbish from their mouths seriously believe that none of the murder victims at that Connecticut school house believed in God or sought his protection? It seems highly likely to me that at least one of the children believed in a God, and were otherwise innocent, and yet we are told that they had to die because God was not wanted at their school.

This of course comes from a man who rejects the notion that a God exists. I don’t blame removing God from our schools because I don’t think he was ever there in the first place. There is, of course, no evidence that any god or any protective influence exists. Such a thing has never been demonstrated. The occurrence and distribution of tragic events in time and space can be explained entirely by natural laws. Hurricanes hit god believers and sinners alike. Christians, atheists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews all die in mass shootings, bombings, acts of war and terrorism.

The apparent disinterest of God stands in stark contrast to the shameless, manipulative behavior of some of his most fervent, politically-active followers.

Does Contemporary Christian Music Suck??

Does Christian music suck??  That may depend how one defines Christian music. For example, I do not believe Johnny Cash’s music sucked. Despite being an atheist, I enjoy the vast majority of it, very much, and yet, Johnny Cash was a Christian and much of his music dealt with explicitly Christian topics. This is true of many American artists, whose music often deals with explicitly Christian matters, but is still enjoyable. Spiritual music, is an important part of our American musical heritage and many artists have been able to draw upon heritage to great effect.

Aside from Johnny Cash, I think of The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley and Tom Waits as examples of musicians, who created great music with explicitly Christian content. This may be a reflection of my personal taste, as I am sure many more diverse and more recent examples abound.  I must assure our readers here, that these selected examples, despite being decades old, do not reflect a bias towards the old over the new, as much of what I listen to is much newer than these (however my newer music of choice tends to be more subversive and less Christian).

My point here is that even as a non-believer, who prefers music that reflects his own values, I cannot, say that there is not music by Christian artist with explicitly lyrics that I would still consider quite good.  That is to say, that I cannot reject all music, that is somehow Christian as bad.  On the other hand we have Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)scene based out of Nashville Tennessee, of which nearly everything I have ever heard has left me with little enjoyment and little interest in hearing more.

So how is the music of someone like Johnny Cash, different from that of the Nashville based CCM scene? Well for one, his sound was very original and very memorable.  I tend to find that most Christian rock bands that are marketed as such, tend to be rather bland musically and rather forgettable musically.  They largely sound like attempts to bank in on whatever flavor is cool at the time.  The softer stuff, has all the problems one would expect, and the hard rocking stuff still sounds like attempts to bank in on the post-grunge, pop punk, emo or nu-metal that has dominated radio for the last decade and a half.  I’m not hearing, raw chaos, technical playing outside the box lyrics or anything, that strikes me as the least bit challenging or unconventional and for modern rock these tend to be a must. If you can find an exception please let me know, I’d love to hear it.  I don’t even want to get into Christian rap, because if, I am going to listen to rap, it had better be hard edged, socially relevant, subversive or intellectual and Christianity rap, strikes me as lacking in these departments bu its very nature.

What I’m hearing from contemporary Christian music all sounds, mass produced and more focused on acting as medium for a message than as art for art’s sake.  It sounds like it was recorded with a target audience in mind, for with the purpose of being played at church camps and youth groups trying to develop a modern feel, complimented with a heavy bunch of paunchiness on the side. The music sounds safe, sanitized, and neutered with an air of suburban conformity disguised as free expressions of individualism. It sounds like the stuff an over-protective suburban mom would let their kids listen to, because Nirvana is out of the question.  It is like all the worst aspects of
modern music have been combined with all the most obnoxious elements of Christianity.  Part of the problems, seems to me to be the insularity of it all. Christians seem to have this need to exist apart from the rest of society while having their own mirror image derivative institutions (like Christian phone books, movie review sites and, of course, Conservapedia). In the case of Christian rock this ironically means imitating a music style typically associated with sex and drugs.

Everything about it comes off as excessively formulaic and excessively preachy, which says a lot considering that I tend to like music that is meant to convey a message, there is a lot of great music that is message-centered. For example, I listen to many politically oriented punk bands, that put strong statements with each song (that I did not
always agree with), and yet still manage to do it in a way that keeps the music sounding raw, compromised and thought provoking, and not excessively preachy.

It does not, help that these group sound like their target audience is young teenagers or that half way through a live set, the start preaching and it feels like a failed motivational speech.  It also does not help, that the lyrical themes have been so heavily recycled that we’ve heard them all before a million times.  Not to mention that they either sound like, love songs, with Jesus as the subject, or obsess with becoming a follower or glorify a bloody human sacrifice.
Johnny Cash at least sounded, authentic and had the decency to keep things interesting with songs about, prisons, murders and drugs (not to mention, I appreciate his willingness to cover the likes of Danzig, Soundgarden, Leonard Cohen and Nine Inch Nails).

With all that said, I also want to mention the awful praise music trend, I have seen at many church functions I’ve been dragged to.  You know the stuff, repetitive emotion-based, guilt-trip laden lyrics about Jesus’ supposed sacrifice, a few simple chords and a pattern of: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse,  chorus, verse, instrumental
section playing the chords the chorus is built around indefinitely, followed by a motivational speech on top of this, usually asking for people to approach the stage to be saved, or to repeat after the singer to affirm their dedication to the cause.  It all just seems like an ill-conceived attempt to play on emotions, and yet the people who buy into this stuff eat it all up.  I cannot help but, be reminded of the South Park episode, in which Eric Cartman rights these
types of songs, by replacing the words “darling” and “baby” in generic pop songs with Jesus, with hilarious, and slightly unsettling results.

Anyway, feel free to share your favorite CCM artists with me. I’ve tried Todd Agnew, which sounded like a soft Nickleback imitation (a bad imitation of bad music).  I’ve tried Jars of Clay, which was just bland and forgettable as could be. I tried Superchick and can’t imagine how anyone other than a teenage girl could like the stuff (or it’s abstinence themed messages), I tried skillet, which sounded like it was trying hard to sound like everything else. If you think, I paint CCM music with a broad brush, do let me know, and by all means help me find exceptions to the rules.  Otherwise, I will remain inclined to think that contemporary Christian music sucks and that
today’s best music tends to be non-religious in nature.

The Hell with Pat Buchanan and his Ronald Reagan Worship

I have written quite a few of these critiques of Pat Buchanan’s contributions to and have questioned why Rockwell would continuously share post with an author who is vehemently anti-free market as and as completely irrelevant to anything forward thinking libertarian below the age of 60 as Buchanan. I have to wonder why I even bother commenting on them at all, but they do get sent to me and they do illicit a response from me that I find more than worthy of sharing. So here goes.

Today’s piece, which can be found here, is in many ways one of the better ones and actually agree with the vast majority of it, which criticizes Republican politicians for kissing up to war hungry, billionaire donors like Sheldon Adelson, in exchange for money. Buchanan’s critique of this is excellent, well written and I’m completely in with him on everything he says until the last few three lines which are phrased as questions:

Is this what Republican presidential candidates must do now?

Kowtow to this fattest of fat cats who wants to buy himself an American war on Iran?

Is that what has become of the party of Reagan?

This is where Buchanan looses me. Simply put this not what Republican presidential candidates must do now, it what the almost certainly have always done. This is what the party of Reagan was from the get go. This is not what the Republican party has become, but what it has been at least as far back as Eisenhower, who overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran, at the behest of oil companies. Buchanan should not be acting like corruption and cronyism international intervention are anything new in Republican politics. This is what the party of Reagan was in the first place. Reagan’s regime was one of the most corrupt and interventionist we have had and Buchanan should know this because he was part of that administration. Hearing a former Reagan and Nixon staffer complain about corruption just rings a bit hollow for me.

What’s more is that this setting Reagan as the gold standard for republicans is highly problematic. When you have a party composed of people who worship a corrupt, militarist, moralist, actor who was nothing more than a puppet for the interest of big business, than of course you are you are going to find them kissing up the Sheldon Adelsons of the world. This type of thing has been a staple of both parties behavior at least since WWII if not further and Reagan only made it worse.  His regime also supported some of the most brutal dictators and death squads of that time period and essentially engaged in international mass murder, as I discuss in more detail here. The administration was  literally was conducting an illegal secret war with money made by selling weapons to Iran which was then an official enemy country.  As such I think Lew Rockwell, would do well not to have articles with not so subtle Reagan nostalgia on his site, a site by the way that claims to be anti-war, pro-market and anti-state, three things that Reagan most certainly was not.
I will also that while, I like seeing such an otherwise strong critique of the corruption of Republican politics from someone who has presumably has some credibility in Republican circles, I have to remind our readers that this is a problem with the Democratic Party as well. This includes of course the financial sector elites who donated heavily to Obama’s campaign and got nearly everything they wanted from him. Corruption is a problem not just with one party but with the system itself and we would do well not to loose site of this.

Are Atheists and Other Critics of Religion too Soft on Islam?

Often those of us who are critical of religions, specifically theistic religions often get accused of picking on Christianity while overlooking or being soft on the problems with other religions. The most frequent example of this blind spot tends to be our over abundance of material critiquing Christianity or the bible, and relative lack of material on other faiths, especially Islam. This accusation seems to be the most blatant in Ann Coulter’s allegations that liberals (which she seems to equate with atheists, despite the fact that most are not) hate all religions, except is Islam.

I can only speak for myself but, I suspect that most atheist activists and other critics of religion will agree with all if not most of my position. I find that Islam is just as irrational and unsupported by evidence as Christianity or any other religion. It also has a history of creating and supporting authoritarian theocratic governments, promoting extreme sexism and violence against women, being at the heart of many violent global conflicts and having adherents who committing violence against non-Muslims or different Muslim sects.

I am not saying, that these things are true of all Islamic people or all varieties of the religion. I know for a fact that some are quite lovely and quite people. That said, I recognize that religious moderates often do provide cover and legitimization for the actions of religious extremists. I also find that there is a tendency for extreme religionists to have their religion’s scripture on their side. Often religious moderates seem to want to pick and choose which parts of their religious teachings they wish to follow, while the fundamentalist follow theirs to ever last insane detail.

I tend to agree with Atheist Experience Host Matt Dillahunty‘s notion that Christianity is a religion that has been “dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century” and as such Christian are no longer burning witches or killing heretics. This is not necessarily true of the Islam, in much of the world, where equivalent practices are still taking place. I see fundamentalist Islam as in many ways representing a threat to word peace and personal freedom that is far bigger than any other religious doctrine I know of. Despite acknowledging this, I still will likely focus my critiques of religion on Christianity first and foremost and continue to defend the religious rights of Muslims around the world.

My writings are more likely to focus on Christianity more than other religions because it is what I know and it is what my readers know. I am a citizen of the United States raised in a Christian family with many Christian friends and relatives. The criticism worthy religious craziness that is most likely to directly touch my life and that of my English speaking readers is the from the Christian tradition. In the states there are numerous home grown authoritarian Christian theocrats in positions of power and these need to be called out and resisted just as much as their counter parts on the other side of the world. I have a much greater chance of influencing their constituents and spreading secular ideas in the predominantly Christian west than I do in the Islamic world, where I do not speak the language or have a good understanding of the issues. From my experience this is the case with many other outspoken critics of religion from the western world as well.

I will also elaborate on my above mentioned defense of the rights of Muslims to nonviolently practice their faith. I am a secularist who believes in religious freedom. That means freedom to build mosque or community centers on land one that one has acquired through voluntary means, freedom to pray as one pleases and to share one’s beliefs with others. That said, I oppose any use of tax payer money, or government institutions to promote or endorse any religious beliefs anywhere in the world. I believe in a free market of ideas and think that religions should have to compete in such markets.  That said, I tend to also generally oppose US intervention in the Muslim world, not out of a soft spot for the Islamic faith, which I most certainly do not have, but because I find such military adventurism as likely to create as many if not more problems than it is claimed to solve. Once again I suspect this is the position held by most anti-interventionist secularist, and the various political liberals (of which I do not identify) that Ann Coulter is misrepresenting in the quote above.

I’ll also note that my views here do not represent the opinions of anyone else, but most American Atheist I have talked to about the subject will likely agree with much of what I say here. I will note that there are many critics of religion such as the late Christopher Hitchens who did not or do not share my non-interventionist views.


Eat Me!! The Wierdness of Communion

I’ve admittedly moved around a lot and live in many places around the country. In each of the places I have made once-in-a-lifetime friends, many of whom I have only occasionally been able to spend time with since moving. I’ve been thinking, the next time I move to some place new, I should do something special to show my friends that they will be in my thoughts and give them something to remember me by.

Maybe  a sensible thing to do would be to take them out for nice dinner somewhere, with great food and a little wine. I could then explain to them that their food simply is me. I’ll say that I am giving myself to them in the form of edible goodness, that the food is in fact my body. I am giving my body to them in the form veal parmigiana and breaded tilapia. As they eat it, it will become different parts of my body. I’ll then explain to them that these delicacies can become me anytime they like, and that they should eat my flesh in this way, from time to time, to remember what a good friend I am. Perhaps they can ritualistically turn their food into me at their restaurant of choice, or hold Jim Wilson cookouts, and see who can make my flesh the most delicious. What could be a better way to expressing your affection and solidarity with a person than to eat them?

Of course, when I take them out I’ll mention that the wine they are drinking is my blood and they can also take vampiric delight in drinking my blood anytime too. I will of course have to ensure them that I have no blood-born illnesses, but that my blood alcohol content will be high enough that someone else will have to drive me home. Of course after a few swigs I will never have tasted better.

This could be the start of a new trend. Friends all over the country could turn themselves into each other’s food in order to remember them. “Are you guys gonna talk to Bob on skype?” “Better, were gonna eat him over at Joe’s.” “Awesome, I’ll bring his blood for us to drink!!” In all this cannibalistic fun though, be careful. Friends don’t let friends eat strangers. After all, who wants to be stuck in the gut of some big oaf they don’t even know, between last night’s jello pudding and this morning’s granola? Which reminds me, I’ll have to tell my friends to eat me as much as they like, but goodness knows, don’t feed me to your kids or your pets.

Perhaps ritualistic eating of the flesh of old friends isn’t for everyone. Some might say it sounds really bizarre, or tribal or even pagan, but what do they know? All I know is that it was good enough for Jesus!! The world’s largest organization of his followers insists that they are literally eating their savior when they perform communion. Strangely for me, when I took Communion, the bread and wine certainly did not taste human. Maybe Jesus was a guy of unique taste. At the same time, I was always concerned about which of Jesus’ body parts I was getting. None of them seemed to have crucifixion wounds, so I’ll assume I got mostly elbows and stomach parts. Why not?? Hopefully, none of those crucifixion nails put me or the countless other blood drinkers at risk of tetanus.

Of course the real origins of the ritual are mysterious. Though Matthew’s gospel follows Mark’s pretty closely, Luke’s differs enough that some scholars question whether it came form the same source. Though John’s gospel’s presentation of the last supper includes a nice foot bath scene and some teachings, it neglects to mention Jesus claiming to be food or requesting that people eat him. Some scholars have noted that this ritual violates a Jewish prohibition against eating blood and have suggested it may be Pagan in origins. As such comparisons of communion and various rituals in Hellenistic mystery religions have been made. Some suggest the Cult of Dioceses influenced the development of this ritual, while other scholars argue that it is at least in part related the Jewish Seder.

Many believers take Communion for granted or don’t give it a second look. I find it a strangely interesting idea, even if it makes my fellow non-believers question the sanity of this Jesus character or the veracity of biblical accounts. Needless to say, next time I move, my last supper will be hard to beat.

Male Genital Mutilation: Some thoughts on Circumcision

Do you understand that this elementary point only needs to be made because of wickedness enjoined by religion. The rabbi here’s a fairly humane guy. He wouldn’t – if he didn’t think God was involved – ever consider mutilating the genitals of a child, but because it’s a covenant with God, anything can be done. Now don’t you see – you laugh, but you should be crying. I said crying!  Okay, suit yourself.”
-Christopher Hitchens

If you want to saw off the end of your penis, you’re welcome.  You’re not to do it to a child who hasn’t asked for it. Same with the genitals of a little girl. If she thinks later on she’d be better off without them, let her take, or have taken to her, a sharp instrument.”-Christopher Hitchens

Years ago, a rather bold, if not tactful, college professor made it known to the class that his wife would soon be giving birth to a baby boy. He just had one concern that he wanted to share with us, and that was what to do about, what he termed “the snake-muzzle”. The class was confused until, he explained that this means circumcision and whether or not he should have a doctor remove part of his new born son’s penis. He decided that, this was an appropriate issue to put up for vote among our class (and presumable his other classes). The response form the class, was generally in favor of going through with the procedure, with one male student shouting out “Cut it!!!” It was only myself and a few others who contributed to the no votes, and yes, this was often a rather unorthodox classes.  Needless to say, I was never informed about how other classes voted, or the fate of my professor’s son’s genitals.

I would still have voted against it to this day. There seems to be something terribly unethical about removing body parts from people without their consent.  Especially, when the individual, in question, has no way of expressing approval or disapproval. In the United States, the Circumcision of newborn males was has been above sixty or even seventy percent for much of the twentieth century, the number has dropped down over last decade and to roughly 54.7 percent in 2010. The prevalence of circumcision of newborns, in this country, seems largely to be an exercise of thoughtless conformity, as well an just another thing that medical professionals can charge for. My Google search of the “cost of circumcision” revealed that the procedure tends to cost somewhere in the ball park of $150.00 to $300.00 for newborns. In other words the practice is very profitable for medical professionals, despite it being completely unnecessary, for any tangible health benefits in this country.

There are, of course, some medical conditions, for which circumcisions is helpful, and this is termed therapeutic circumcision.  These, though are not particularly common, and as such the medical associations of the developed world do not recommend infant circumcision as a preventative measure. The American Medical Association points out that:  “policy statements issued by professional societies representing Australian, Canadian, and American pediatricians do not recommend routine circumcision of male newborns.” The American Academy of pediatrics states:   “In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child.”

That is to say, that American medical organizations tend to neither recommend the practice nor argue against it.  The Dutch go further, as the Royal Dutch Medical Association states infant circumcision conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.” The Royal Australian College of Physicians, on the other hand states: “After reviewing the currently available evidence, the RACP believes that the frequency of diseases modifiable by circumcision, the level of protection offered by circumcision and the complication rates of circumcision do not warrant routine infant circumcision in Australia and New Zealand.

In other words, there is no good medical reason for parents doctors in the developed world to be routinely cutting the genitals of male newborns.  This is especially true knowing what is lost.  Namely, the child’s right to make life long decisions about his body, and some of the more sensitive tissue of his sexual organs.  There is also a good deal of evidence that sexual intercourse is more enjoyable for both sexes if the male is uncircumcised.  Though a lot of this tends to be anecdotal, I would not want to rob this of child without, a great deal of thought and good reason. Unfortunately thoughtfulness and good reason are things lacking in the decisions of many Americans who cut parts of the male genitals off.

Many do it, because it is simply part of our culture.  This is so horribly conformist it is disgusting.  Besides, is it not the challenging of cultural norms that cause societies to evolve. Furthermore, Jews, Christians and Muslims tend to have a religious component to their decisions to take part in this practice.  One  does not have to read too far into the Old testament, to see that it’s God had a bizarre foreskin obsession.  The very idea, that a benevolent creator would create all male children with a part that needs to be painfully cut off, is too absurd to comment on.  Apparently this God passed on his foreskin obsession to his followers.  In 1st Samuel we find: “Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.”

I am not going to get into the related phenomenon of female circumcision (female genital mutilation), which is truly a morally repulsive practice, other than to say, no culture cut’s on women that does not cut on men.  Also, I will acknowledge that it has been shown that circumcision, does reduce the risk of getting HIV in AIDS ridden Africa, and should probably be encouraged there, but here in the developed world, I do not see any medical benefits that are out weighed by the cost of altering a child’s body without their consent.  As such, I am inclined to dismiss the century old trend in the United States as a cynical way for medical professionals to make more money on a worthless service, and an example of shallow band wagoning and mindless conformity among thoughtless parents.

Is Sweatshop Labor Something to Celebrate?

My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops, but that there are too few.
- Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia University Economist, United Nations Advisor and Earth Institute Founder

Sweatshop, tend to the be the universal label for places with the worst possible working conditions.  The term conjures up images of third world people, working long hours under unsafe conditions. They have few if any bathroom breaks, are exposed to hazardous material and frequent abuse from bosses and over-seers.  This is not to mention, pay so low as to be comparable with slavery, and the use of child labor.  It is undeniable that such workshops, are the source of many of the consumer products that make life for us first worlders as rich as it is, and it is these conditions that keep the many of the prices we pay low.

This reality is not ones us first worlders like to think about. The mere thought of our favorite fleece or running shoes, being assembled by the hands of poorly treated workers, especially child workers is unsettling. It seems that many Americans also feel to busy with our own lives to spen much time worrying much about some kid in Shitcrapistan.  One gets the impression that, within many of us, lies the residual colonial attitude that we are improving the lives of foreign savages by giving them the opportunity to assemble Air Jordans.

Many of my libertarian and conservative friends will happily (in some cases gleefully) point out, that if these people could find a better means of supporting themselves they would not be sweatshop laborers. The more vulgar of these sort go as far to argue that we should applaud corporations that use sweatshops for improving the lives of the poor. In fact, I would only be slightly surprised if I were to hear that some of them were planning a sweatshop party to celebrate all the good things sweatshops do: We’re turning up the heat and locking the bathroom, bring your own sewing machine. As such, one has to love the irony of comfy-living westerners and tenured economics professors, who are quite safe from the market forces they wish to unleash on the rest of the world’s population.

That said, they at least have a point. I’m sure it is true that sweatshop labor is the best option available for many people.  As such, I recognize abolishing sweatshops while failing to correct the underlying circumstances that produce them would be disastrous.  I also don’t want to boycott the world’s  poorest workers out of their jobs.  But, I’m also not going to praise or celebrate the companies that exploit them.  This is especially true when the products in question are hundred dollar basketball shoes, or brand name hand bags that sell for a small fortune but only cost a few bucks to make. If rich Americans and Europeans are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for something, the kids making it should be getting most of this money, rather than the fat cats at the top of the corporate hierarchy, far removed from the actual production process. I also will not applaud or say anything positive about a company who overseers actively dehumanize members of their work force.

The same goes for companies that are in league with governments that actively suppress the working class.  I’m talking about corporations that participate in military coups, have used the military to crush strikes or in anyway use the state or paramilitaries to limit their laborers options.  I cannot help the but, be sympathetic with the school of thought that wants to blame all the poverty that makes sweatshops possible on state intervention, and I think a good case can be made. My understanding is many colonial governments used taxation and massive land theft to force people out of subsistence agriculture and used violence to create huge disparities in access to land and resources. It is my understanding that places where sweatshop labor is common are places where large scale land theft and repression of workers freedoms have produced large landless populations of would be laborers.

On The other hand, maybe all developing countries really do need to go through a sweatshop phase.  The United States and western Europe certainly did.  If so, then this strikes me as an unfortunate reality of capitalism.  After all, image how many brilliant people will never reach their full potential, because they never had any choice, but work some tedious sweatshop job. Perhaps there are countless would-be Einsteins and Motzarts laboring in the worlds factories and plantations, who will have the chance to realize their full potential.

The whole thing, rather than being something to celebrate, strikes me as a sign of a major problem.  After all, with modern technology we produce enough food to feed the worlds, population, so why should anyone work on starvation wages?  I do not have any easy answers to the questions raised here, but it seems that working for workers empowerment is an important step.  I have recently read about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has successfully made agreements for better wages and working conditions with several major food retailers, improving the lives of  some 30,000 farmworkers. The cool thing is they have done this without government assistance or recognition, which flies in the face of the stereotype that Labor Unions require state intervention or force to see victory.

Anyway, it is time that Americans spent more time pondering where their consumer goods come from and how to make the world a better place, for the people who make them.  I would love to hear any of our readers thoughts on this topic.