You should get the Vaccine because my Mom has Cancer

It happened in May 2021, devastation in the middle of a global crisis. It was the size of a marble, hidden in the cleavage of my mom’s breasts; she thought it was a cyst. It wasn’t. What followed was endless cycles of doctors’ appointments and every scan, X-ray, and -ogram known to man. All of which she had to endure alone because of the pandemic and social distancing protocols. It was not all bad news; there was only one tumour and no spreading; it was the best-case scenario for getting breast cancer.

However, I have recently learned that cancer is not something to be taken lightly, even if caught early. An aggressive approach was taken. The lump was surgically removed, followed by two rounds of different chemotherapy drugs and concluding in radiation therapy. The tumour was successfully removed, so began the dreaded chemotherapy, the first drug known as “The Red Devil,” to be administered every three weeks for five months.

Now chemotherapy works because it basically “destroys” all fast-growing or fast replicating cells – which is the very nature of cancer. However, there are many fast-generating cells in the body, such as hair, which ceases to grow once one has begun chemotherapy. Another fast-generating cell found in the body is the white blood cells, yes, the immune system soldiers. Many chemo patients become immunocompromised during their therapy for this reason. Obviously, this is not ideal in the current global situation.

See, my mom is caught in a bit of a Catch 22; she has a severely weakened immune system putting her at risk of becoming seriously ill was she to catch the Virus or potentially any other illness. But being immunocompromised also meant that she could not get the Vaccine. Essentially my family and I had to prevent my Mom from getting the disease at all costs whilst still enduring the chemo. I wasn’t allowed to visit home for quite some time… See; having a full-time job where I interacted with many people put me at high risk for contracting the Virus, so visiting my Mom was a health and safety concern. I understood this; at this point, she was more at risk of becoming a victim of the pandemic than a victim of Cancer.

I started praying and begging for the vaccine to become available to my age group. All of my fears and doubts about the vaccine were completely obliterated at the thought of being able to visit my Mom again without wondering if I was putting her life at risk.

My mom is one of the thousands of people that find themselves in a similar situation, not only fighting cancer but trying to avoid catching a highly contagious viral infection that has brought the world to a standstill. It’s a little ironic; I want to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

But enough of this sad and soppy story; let’s get to the facts, shall we? The Cancer Society of South Africa estimates that approximately 77 000 people get diagnosed with cancer each year in South Africa. This is almost as many people have died in SA due to the pandemic thus far.

However, cancer is also not the only disease that can bring about immunodeficiency in people. As many of you would know, HIV is one of the biggest immunocompromising diseases out there- one which South Africans are very familiar with. It is estimated that currently, 13.1 % of South Africans have HIV, which is roughly 7 671 360 people.

There are also other diseases known as autoimmune diseases that weaken the immune systems of people. It is estimated that around 4 million people in South Africa have an autoimmune disease or disorder. These are not the only diseases but the most common. In total, we are looking at 11 748 360 or 20 % of people in South Africa that have compromised immune systems and thus cannot receive the vaccine.

Please do not misunderstand me. I did not write this piece to try a guilt trip you into getting the vaccine. I want to provide another point for consideration for those in doubt of whether to get the vaccine or not. I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to choose for themselves. Still, I also believe in the value of making a fully informed and socially responsible decision, and I think this is an aspect that has been widely overlooked when it comes to the vaccine debate.

I understand that there are many factors to consider when deciding to get the vaccine or not. All I ask is that you use all the information available to you because at least you are given a choice, unlike my mom.

Contributor: Lexi Burling (Pseudo name)

BSc and honours degree specialising in environmental sciences as well as soil and water chemistry.

Exclusive Interview with the BBC African Correspondent Andrew Harding – The Role of Media in Climate Change

“We need to get better at pushing big climate stories into the headlines; we are just not as good at it as we should be.” – Andrew Harding

Andrew Harding has been living in South Africa for over 10 years. He is currently the BBC African foreign correspondent. He has spent the majority of his career working and living abroad as a foreign correspondent for the past 30 years.

Climate change presents a “global challenge” as most of its impact is already being felt in countries that have least contributed to the global Green House Gases (GHG) emissions. According to the World Health Organization estimate, between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, and heat stress. So, why isn’t climate change the biggest news story in the world?

The media plays a central role in communicating to the public about what is happening all over the globe, specifically in cases where the audiences do not possess direct knowledge or experience of what is happening around them.

According to the BBC African correspondent Andrew Harding, climate change is a problem facing countries all around the globe, but media coverage on this topic is still poorly covered by newsrooms all over the world.

“The BBC has a unique ability to help accelerate climate action through advocacy and education; they have a responsibility to inform people about climate change. Therefore, they have a role to transmit information that shapes how people understand climate change as well as the actions they are willing to take to address the climate crisis,” Andrew said.

Mass media coverage has proven to be a key contributor – among several factors – that has shaped and affected science and policy discourse as well as public understanding and action. Mass media representational practices have broadly affected translations between science and policy and have shaped perceptions of various environmental issues.

A new Afrobarometer survey, conducted across 34 African countries between late 2016 and late 2019, found that most Africans have been found to have “limited knowledge” about the link between human activity and the effects of climate change. On average, the survey found only 28% of respondents to be climate change literate, with South Africa and Nigeria ranked among the worst ten nations.

According to Andrew, the BBC’s biggest audience is rural across the continent. Rural communities are already living the reality of climate change, which makes it essential for them to be kept informed about it. Communities in climate-sensitive regions face several vulnerabilities making climate change communication at grassroots level extremely necessary. Unfortunately, communication in rural areas is restricted due to the lack of infrastructure and development in rural areas.

Television has more space if you have an appetite for stories. It is increasingly where audiences are moving towards, but the biggest audiences for the BBC are still on the radio, shortwave FM rural listeners across the continent.

“I think it is very easy to forget that those audiences are hugely important and central to the BBC’s role and are often overlooked when it comes to analysis of what the BBC is reporting. It’s not all about the internet even though most of it is,” he further added.

Radio sets can easily be operated on dry cell batteries and do not dependent on grid electricity for charging. The easily understandable simpler technologies and lower investment costs make radio one of the most accessible communication mediums to reach out to grass-root communities.

“There’s a systemic threat currently facing local journalism around the world. It is particularly problematic in the parts of rural Africa. I was talking about the radio and its importance, the role that it plays in terms of access to information to local communities. Local newspapers also play the same role as local radio stations; Climate news need to be in front lines on these local media outlets,” he said.

He further added that it is evident that support needs to be given to grassroots community, local, district, regional, and national journalism because, once you go above and beyond that, there are so many competing sources of information on the internet. There is so much noise out there. But there is still a huge struggle for people to find what they need.

“Civil society groups are doing work that needs to be highlighted by journalists because it is individual action that can snowball and shift behavior. And those behavioral changes could well prove to be crucial. There is need for civil society to play a role in holding their governments to account, holding power to account and holding them to account in climate policies,” Andrew said.

When we look at television and radio, one of the logistical struggles is the shared space. You have a 30- minute news bulletin, and the issues of the day tend to dominate, particularly in our world of COVID. There is normally a limited space for what you might call themed reporting, even though those themed reports are in many ways far more urgent and important than other stories because of the nature of them being themed and not having an even necessity to run on a particular day, not being absolutely defined by the sort of daily news agenda.

“This means they can often be pushed around or pushed off the airways; they don’t always get the prominence they deserve. Although I don’t think that’s completely fair,” he said.

“The biggest problem with climate reporting is fighting for shared space, with other important stories, some of them by-products of the climate emergency, others simply the daily news agenda. We need to get better at pushing these big stories about climate change into the headlines. We are not as good at it as we should be, but it is also about finding the balance between the daily onslaughts of other stories and picking your moments,” Andrew added.

“It is up to journalists to support all these voices calling for social justice. They need to invoke these conversations even in political spheres because politicians in South Africa never talk about climate change. There is often lip service given to climate change in political manifesto, but it’s never a priority,” he explained.

Media research has also demonstrated that a significant amount of news can be traced to the public relations activity of powerful corporate and state actors. In some cases, the news media’s over-reliance on corporate opinion has given undue prominence to organisations with a vested interest in playing down news about climate change. An article about how fossil fuels are driving increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide looks editorially problematic. Alongside, an article explaining the connection between global meat consumption and climate breakdown sits awkwardly and contradictory.

“The commercial nature of most mass media organisations means that they are reliant on advertising revenue to survive. They’re obviously being weakened by the lack of advertising by the dominant role of Google and other organizations that Hoover up advertising revenue and, help to weaken local journalism,” he added.

“The BBC needs to come up with a radical approach to keep viewers properly informed about climate change more especially in rural Africa,” Andrew said.

When it comes to African audiences’ climate reporting is often focused on good news or at least solution-based news or news that cuts against different traditional stereotypes. The most recent study into news values suggests that “bad news” and “magnitude” are two key elements in stories that become news. Researchers Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka set up an experiment run at McGill University in Canada. They were dissatisfied with previous research on how people relate to the news. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, setbacks, hypocrisy, and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news. And yet, when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focused on negative stories.

The extinction of much of the life on earth certainly meets both of these criteria. But when it comes to climate breakdown, these important news values can clash with the values of what the same study describes as the “newspaper agenda” and “the power elite.” This means that power structures within the mass media prevent climate change from being covered as a topic of great importance.

According to Andrew, the BBC is trying to focus on tapping into positive climate reporting. Audiences are more likely to engage with stories on the climate that are not doom explaining pieces but pieces that can explain how society, grassroots organisations, and governments are finding their own solutions to address the climate crisis.

The role of the media is critical in influencing public concern; climate change remains the toughest, most intractable political issue we have ever faced. The media plays a critical role in educating, heightening, and institutionalizing democracy. Citizens need to be informed as nations take on new responsibilities in a globalized world.

Media also plays an important role in building an informed and resilient society. Citizens need credible information from the media that can skillfully moderate the debate and provoke meaningful conversations that can lead to transforming Africa. The media decides what the public should know and how and when it should know it and is an essential element of the global response to climate change. Giant media houses like the BBC have a crucial responsibility to create awareness about the threatening causes and impacts of climate change. Global media houses like BBC have the responsibility to create awareness about the causes and impacts of climate change.

“Given a scale of the calamity, we’re facing. I think one of the keys things to do is to make sure that we are giving space in newspapers for climate reporting. We need to insist forcibly and urgently that our editors run climate stories. This is something every newsroom in the world is, is battling with, and is aware of,” Andrew expressed.

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist, and writer based in Soweto.

Orthalia

Her journey started as an activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing gave her strength to not shy away from the truth; it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and transparency through addressing socio-economic issues, inequalities around gender-based violence, and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left; as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers’ control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality, and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

The Catch 22 with Animal Conservation: The Poaching Problem

Over the past several years animal poaching has been a severely increasing problem particularly in South Africa in regards to Rhino poaching. This brings up one of the hardest questions to answer: How do we stop this? Yes, surveillance, monitoring, stricter border control and law implementation are great measures but they tend not to fully stop poaching. In fact sometimes they can have the adverse effect of driving up the prices of the animal products. The reason this is harmful is because it can encourage more people, especially people living in extreme poverty, to take the risk and become poachers. The real solution would be the one that destroys the initial desire or demand for the animal product, in this case one of the most effective tools is education, however it can take years, even whole generations before it becomes effective. 

So how do we stop animal poaching now? This is where the conversation becomes a bit more controversial. We live in a world driven by consumerism – supply and demand, when it comes to animal poaching there are two areas we need to address: How to stop people from becoming poachers and how to stop people from buying poached animal products. Seeing as most poached animal products often get transported great distances from their source it is hard to have a conversation with the buyers especially considering this often involves multiple countries and vastly different laws. So this leaves us with the task of dealing with the poachers. The only way to make people not become poachers is to rise the risk and lower the reward. In terms of rhino poaching we have done a decent job of raising the risks of poaching these animals, but as mentioned before this has only made the product more valuable – A catch 22 perfectly following the law of unintended consequences.  The only real option left is to somehow drastically decrease the value of the animal product. This is where that controversial conversation comes in. The fastest sure-fire way to drastically drop the prices of the animal products is to flood the market with those exact products, oversupply for the demand. This can be done by means of animal product farming where you save the wild animal group by farming and breeding a selection of the animals in captivity – pretty much sacrificing one for the many. We see this type of “solution” playing out in the fur industry. And as people become more educated and synthetic fabrics increase in quality the fur industry is facing a slow but eventual death, at least in most parts of the world. Yes, animals are still being killed in the millions each year for their fur but at least the wild populations of those animals are now protected from extinction, right? This method, sacrifice the one for the many, or in these cases “captivate and farm some to save some”, although cruel, can have the potential to at least prevent the species from becoming endangered, to save the wild populations. One would think so, this is why the conversation of Rhino horn farming has become increasingly popular in South Africa over the last few years in a last-ditch effort to save the endangered species. Not only could we farm the Rhino horns but places like the Kruger National Park and the Pilanesberg park have massive storages of Rhino horn collected from the animals the have died over many decades. We could flood the market with Rhino horn tomorrow if we desired. We could bring the price crashing down and in essence make Rhino horn a valueless product. Surely taking these extremes will save our Rhinos now? Maybe or maybe not. By flooding the market, we could turn Rhino horn into a valueless commodity, which is the desired outcome.

However, there is a flip side to this coin, Rhino horn has also become much more affordable (and legal) which could create Rhino horn buyer from people who would otherwise never have been even interested in the product. What started out as a conservation plan has just turned into a nightmare, we have successfully increased the amount of people who now consume Rhino horn, thus driving up the demand, thus driving up the price, thus driving up number of poachers. Thus finally, after all that effort, we are back at square one, a huge demand for Rhino horn and lots of poachers. Except now the job of poaching is easier, they can just attack Rhino farms instead of having to risk bumping into Lions and Leopards in the Kruger Park. This is the absolute worst-case scenario, but is it worth the risk? 

As you can see the world of animal conservation is littered with Catch 22’s and unintended consequences. Tackling the problem of animal poaching is an enormous feat that appears to hardly have any good or effective solutions. It’s a problem that can drive one crazy trying to solve.

For now, the only real effective solution, without unintended consequences, is education, but education takes time, lots of time. Can we protect our animals long enough for this to take effect?

Contributor: Lexi Burling (Pseudo name)

BSc and honours degree specialising in environmental sciences as well as soil and water chemistry.

 

Breathing is Getting Harder Under Capitalism

I have noticed how life has taken a toll on all of us. It’s getting harder to breathe each day because of the inequality and injustice we live under. Toxic pollution is hanging over our cities’, possessing a major threat to our health and the climate. We are slowly dying, capital is fueling the earth’s destruction.

Capitalism is deeply rooted in the the exploitation of nature, either as an unlimited supply of resources to produce a product or as a waste dump. Under the capitalist system, production decisions are made by the small, wealthy minority that owns and controls The growing concentration of the world’s wealth.

Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population. The study also said 2018 had been a year in which the rich had grown richer and the poor poorer.

The widening gap is hindering the fight against not only poverty but the number of vulnerable people who will be affected by toxic -air pollution. From the capitalist point of view, it is generally less expensive to dump pollutants into the environment than to fund pollution-control equipment or pollution-free processes. It is more profitable to continue energy production as toxic as it is rather than invest more heavily in solar, wind, or other alternative green energy sources.

Clean air is a fundamental right. Yet, millions of people are denied that right every day in communities across the country as dirty capital industrial plants blanket schools, playgrounds, and homes in layers of pollution.

Toxic air has been causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition on the continent while significantly contributing to the climate crisis. A report by UNICEF notes that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than three decades, from 164,000 in 1990 to 258,000 in 2017, resulting in a GDP loss of over $215bn annually. The pollution has also cut short the lives of children by 24 months.

A recent study from NASA states that pollution from industrial sources and motor vehicles causes high mortality rates in Nigeria and South Africa while emissions from burning biomass and poor air quality due to dust storms increase the number of premature deaths in West and Central Africa.

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, this air pollution is causing long-term health problems, such as asthma, and reduces children’s cognitive development.

Millions of people in South Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan could see their lifespan cut short by five years on average because of the increasing levels of air pollution caused by capital.

Air pollution is also causing global warming. for example, Black carbon is produced by diesel engines, burning trash, and dirty cookstoves, which is extremely harmful when inhaled. According to an atmospheric scientist, black carbon and methane are responsible for 30-40% of global warming.

New data from the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), which converts particulate air pollution into its
impact on life expectancy, suggests that nearly a quarter of the global population that lives in four countries in South Asia are among the world’s most polluted. Citizens in these countries are exposed to pollution levels that are 44% higher than they were two decades ago.

Air pollution, acid rain, toxic landfills and toxic drinking water, industrial pollutants in our rivers and oceans, toxic or cancer-producing pesticides on the produce we eat, poisons in the fish we eat, unhealthy hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy products, nuclear waste and accidents, radiation testing by the government on unsuspecting thousands, ozone depletion and global warming shows that socially harmful decisions are made to suit the financial needs of the businesses making them.

Capital’s need for constant growth has led to the interruption of the natural cycle that took millions of years to develop. With climate crisis posing a grave threat to our collective future, millions living below the poverty line, the economic and social shocks of the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment wave still resounding, Capitalism has shown us how exploitative it is for both people and the planet. It is driven by a desperate need for profit and accumulation. Which is the overriding priority.

Under capitalism, the government itself is essentially a tool of the capitalist class. Politicians may be elected “democratically,” but because they are financed, supported, and decisively influenced by the economic power of the capitalist class, democratic forms are reduced to a mockery.

Because of this, the world’s polluters remain stubbornly defensive of their profits. This will bear far greater costs in the present and future, the longer profit continues to be put before the earth, the greater the disastrous consequences for all of us.

Tackling pollution is a double opportunity, to not only fight for clean air but to also fight to dismantle capitalism. The best solution to pollution is to confront its main source of production. The solution to the crisis cannot emerge from the system that created it. We need to fight to put the earth and people first.

We need to put matters into our own hands by subjecting the world economy to a socialist plan, as Karl Marx said, through “the introduction of reason into the sphere of economic relations.” This will only be possible if the economy is in the hands of the only class that, as a result of its objective situation and material interests, has an interest in preventing a catastrophe: the working class.

 

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.

Orthalia

Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

Let’s Talk About Clover

These days more and more people are becoming vegetarian or turning to veganism, which are fantastic ways to live an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. However, these methods require major lifestyle adaptations which can be intimidating to many people. I find that people who are often not ready to make such changes in their lives, such as me, often feel that if they do not fully commit to these massive adaptations they cannot make a difference. Therefore, many people often end up not doing anything different at all. However small decisions and choices can make the world of difference and by becoming an environmentally-conscious consumer you can make an impact.

Let’s talk about Clover. Recently Clover has come out with a new campaign that started with the implementation of a new marketing gimmick, turning their milk bottles blue. Now many may find this amusing but the new packaging stood out from the crowd which subconsciously boosted sales and attracted people to buying Clover milk instead of another milk, even though they are all basically the same. Clover’s reasoning was that they were aiming to become a new and better company. This was the only part that I found amusing as they were doing the exact opposite and getting away with it. As an environmental chemist whose specialty lies in wastewater treatment, I was appalled. Many people are not made aware of the issues that arise from dyes being added to wastewater streams. Firstly, organic dyes are often made of complex compounds known as aromatics, theses are carbon-ring like structures, also known as benzene rings, that are highly stable. For instance, dyes are resistant to biological wastewater treatment, which is the general treatment types used in water treatment plants. This means that organic dyes can only be broken down through specialised treatments such as chemical oxidation and then they are only partially degraded at most, leaving behind other chemicals such as phenols, and short-chain acids. Untreated dye wastewater also poses problems: it affects the way light penetrates water, often severely minimising the amount of light that can enter the water surface. This leads to the loss of aquatic plant life as they are unable to photosynthesis efficiently. This, in turn, leads to the loss of aquatic life, not to mention that many dyes are known carcinogens in large enough quantities. 

The biggest problem is that, even if Clover is treating their wastewater or using recycled plastic (doubtful), they have now introduced this new simple idea into the market. A simple, cheap gimmick that can rapidly boost sales and get consumers talking about your brand. I predict that the success of Clover’s new campaign will see many other brands following suit. This will lead to an increasing demand for coloured plastic, which is less likely to be used for recycled material. This will increase the amount of dye entering wastewater, making it harder to treat waste.

One small consumer decision, such as buying Clover milk can change the way large companies view and treat the environment. Buying Clover milk can encourage many companies to do similar marketing schemes, whilst boycotting Clover milk could show large corporations that their consumers will not be misled and manipulated. Even small decisions such as choosing to buy the product using clear or white plastic over a product using dyed plastic can greatly affect the course of environmentalism in our world.

So, what milk should you buy instead? I would recommend the Spar milk; their milk comes in a carton box which is much more biodegradable than plastic. At the back of the Spar, milk carton is a whole piece about how they make their packaging from sustainable resources and the packaging is 87% recyclable. They could consider losing the green plastic lids though.

Being a vegan is probably the best environmental decision you can make; however, it is not the beginning and end of being an environmentalist. Being environmental isn’t always about changing your entire lifestyle, it’s about making informed choices that will help the overall forward progression of an environmentally conscious world. It’s about holding big companies like Clover responsible for their actions and in the same way discouraging other money hungry companies from doing the same. It’s about choosing to buy the white plastic milk bottle over the blue plastic milk bottle because a tiny decision like that, that takes no time and doesn’t affect your life at all can make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. 

 

Contributor: Lexi Burling (Pseudo name)

BSc and honours degree specialising in environmental sciences as well as soil and water chemistry.

Capitalism: A Mental Illness Generating System

In a country afflicted by endemic violence and social inequality, South Africa is a country in which evolving structural violence continues to perpetuate deep-rooted inequality, poverty and social injustice. The mental health sector is not immune to this and often struggles with the same issues faced on a societal level. Mental health in South Africa is increasingly becoming a social crisis; According to the South African government, around 400 million people worldwide suffer from mental health illness. This also include disorders related to alcohol and drug abuse. Also, there are about 23 suicides a day recorded and 230 serious attempts, with approximately eight hundred thousand people committing suicide each year. 

One in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems (and this does not include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia). Furthermore, research reveals that over 40% of people living with HIV in South Africa have a diagnosable mental disorder. A study done by UCT’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health indicates that, in low-income and informal settlements surrounding Cape Town, one in three women suffer from postnatal depression, while research from rural KwaZulu-Natal shows that 41% of pregnant women are depressed more than three times higher than the prevalence in developed countries. 

Only 27% of South Africans reporting severe mental illness ever receive treatment. This means that nearly three-quarters of these sufferers are not accessing any form of mental health care at all. In addition to a lack of resources, stigmas surrounding mental health pose a major stumbling block when it comes to treating these issues in South Africa. As a result many suffer in silence and are afraid of being discriminated against. Mental health illness is now known as one of the great causes of individual distress and misery in the world similar to poverty and unemployment. 

Mental health illnesses are of great social, economic, and policy concern. Substance use disorders are common among low-income individuals. The relationship between income and mental health is not just found at the very bottom of the income distribution but it’s also found in those living below the federal poverty line. This clearly shows that at the heart of many mental health problems there is a lack of one’s social economic conditions. 

Mental health, illness, the working class and Capitalism. 

There is an inseparable relationship between mental health and social conditions. The social, political, and economic association of society must be recognized as a significant contributor to people’s mental health. Capitalism is a major determinant of poor mental health. 

In capitalist society poverty, unemployment and exploitation are an essential part of the system. Ever heard of this saying? The rich continue to get richer while the poor get poorer. The system is meant to produce profit at any cost regardless of the misery extended to the health of the poor. According to the latest figures from the World Inequality Database, the top 1% of South African earners take home almost 20% of all income, while the top 10% take home 65%. This goes to show how Capitalism goes to great lengths to exploit workers and the Poor. The harder the working class works for less money, the bigger the profits for the owners and the more powerful they become. The more powerful they become, the more they’re able to impose their will on the working class, the more exploitable the working class become. 

The working class in South Africa has been experiencing extreme hardship under the Covid-19 pandemic. Some workers have been forced to endure the lockdown with no money as ‘no work, no pay’ policies were implemented. Others have forcibly had their leave days deducted from them, while others must prepare for mass retrenchments after the lockdown is lifted. Under these conditions, workers are faced with are a direct attack on the working class’s mental health. This is due to the significant correlation that social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering. Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering. 

Employers’ main focus is to make a profit by underpaying their workers for the value they deliver. This unpaid value becomes profits. The more exploitation, the more profit. The relationship between mental health and capitalism is often not spoken about, but because of capitalism’s pursuit of profit, we find ourselves living under social factors that are the main cause of suffering. . Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering. 

Employers’ main focus is to make a profit by underpaying their workers for the value they deliver. This unpaid value becomes profits. The more exploitation, the more profit. The relationship between mental health and capitalism is often not spoken about, but because of capitalism’s pursuit of profit, we find ourselves living under social factors that are the main cause of suffering. Capitalism’s ruthless pursuit for profit violently undermined mental-health problems. 

Employment under capitalism depends largely on capitalists’ decisions to undertake production, and those decisions depend on profits. If capitalists expect profits high enough to satisfy them, they hire. If capitalists don’t, we get unemployment. Therefore, capitalism requires unemployment. 

The working class is always under threat of being unemployed,  The constant fear for most workers is a loss of income.The fear can have major influence on a person’s mental health.This threat places the majority of workers in a more precarious position. Working under such strained conditions can make workers sickly. 

Studies have found that workplace stress can negatively impact a person’s well-being, productivity, mood, and behavior. Being unhappy with, or unfulfilled by work has a significant toll on health, relationships, and even an individual’s lifespan. Mental Health America claims that “stress from work can impact their family life, mental health, and even increase risks for chronic illnesses and heart attacks. 

The whole capitalist system is ineluctably rigged against workers. 

In fact, you might say that capitalism is in many respects a mental illness generating system and if we are serious about tackling mental distress and illness, we also need to look into dismantling capitalism. 

“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”  –Martin Luther King, Jr

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.

OrthaliaHer journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

Does Our Social Dilemma Leave Room for a Solution?

Last night (as of writing this) I took some time to watch the Netflix Documentary Our Social Dilemma, which provides a relatively deep dive into the frightening way that social media algorithms have come to dictate almost every facet of our existence. Watching the very people who helped design these systems emphatically convey the dangerous consequences of their creations gave me chills, especially since I was busy scrolling through my Facebook feed as the documentary started. It is very rare that I would genuinely entertain the idea that my own autonomous decision-making might have been compromised to the point where I feel momentarily stripped of my authenticity, but I have to admit, these guys made a compelling case for reconsidering how much time we should spend staring at screens. 

First things first. The documentary provides us with the usual stuff that we already know, except this time it is coming from the Silicon Valley professionals who seem to be engaging in their own strange confessional practice. We are reminded of the fact that each platform has its own set of algorithms designed to manipulate and increase the amount of time you spend on it. Next, we are reminded of the fact that our time on the service serves as passive payment to companies who have their ads shoved in between posts on our feeds. After this, the documentary explores how these manipulation tactics act like sledgehammers to our dopaminergic pathways, resulting in a sort of quasi-addiction state that is not that far removed from being a frequent user of Columbian nose-coffee. And in case you still think it’s not that big of a problem, they treat us to some dreadful statistics about the parallel increases in suicide and self-harm among adolescents, and the proliferation of teenaged social media users. At one point, we are even told about “Snapchat dysmorphia”, which is a kind of dysmorphic disorder where people are dissatisfied with their actual appearance, when compared to what they look like through Snapchat filters. 

As if all this isn’t already ring-clenchingly scary enough, the documentary ends off with examples of how social media has become a tool for manipulating democratic elections, and political infrastructure around the world. Rupert Murdoch? Russian bots?

But, rather uncharacteristically, I would prefer not to spend too much time on politics this month. If you want some leftist advocacy, then I am sure the articles, right above and below this one, do just that. Rather, I think it might be a worthwhile exercise to explore the question of whether or not we, the bunch of millennial screen jockeys that we are, can still make autonomous and informed decisions in an age like this. For you see, today you don’t have to build your own echo-chambers anymore, because Facebook and Google will do that for you, and you might not even notice. And make no mistake, manipulating you, and monopolising your time at all costs, is the only prerogative of the algorithms that make sure you see whatever post is going to best appeal to your emotions. 

The way these algorithms are set up, is designed for them to learn everything about you through observation, and trial and error testing. Basically, by liking posts about Trump or Bernie, you are assured that you will find more of the same on your timeline. Why? Because that’s how they keep you scrolling. However, the one thing that these algorithms are incapable of doing, is distinguishing between real news, fake news, facts, and conspiracies. A few years ago, a man showing up at a pizza joint to free captive children from a non-existent basement, was the most outrageous example of people acting on fake news that we have ever seen. However, the corporate-mandated proliferation of the use of social media has made this incident look like a flash in the pan. As soon as there were reports of a pandemic, there were quack-articles about cures, causes, and conspiracies. Instead of one dude at a pizza place, we had many people around the world burning 5G towers, because they read articles that convinced them that these towers were the cause of the virus. In my home country of South Africa, there were people who believed that we somehow got the virus from a television program, and in other countries there were people making and disseminating hair-brained videos about government conspiracies and the Illuminati. Damn Illuminati, why can’t they ever just do something nice, like give us ice-cream?  

How did all this stupidity spread like wildfire? Well, it’s a chicken or the egg kind of situation. You see, a stupid article, or a crackpot video in a vacuum does very little damage, but if it is spread to enough people, then it becomes harmful. The algorithm just picks up on what is popular, and shares it with more people who might like it. “Okay, Geoff and Steve like this video, and we have 10,000 people in their area whose online behaviour matches theirs. Better send it to them too. Oh look, all of them opened it up, that must mean it’s very good. Might as well show it to another 100,000 likeminded people.” You get the drift. We make stupid stuff, and because the Facebook “AI” doesn’t understand the concepts of true and false, it just sends it around, because it is popular. And if something harmful and stupid finds its way to a hundred people, who like and share it, then the spread becomes almost exponential. On top of that, because people who buy into conspiracy theories, and people who do not, are separated by the algorithm, it is possible for no logical or informed person to see the bullshit post, before it has already gone viral. Yup, your own behaviour, politics, and tastes act as exclusionary and inclusionary criteria for whether or not you get to find out that your blender will give you the Corona virus. 

This is how lies about the virus managed to spread faster than the virus itself. Billions of people have constructed online personas that allowed for an algorithm to realise that they will spend time reading quackery like this. And once again, the algorithm doesn’t care if you believe it or not, it doesn’t possess the faculties necessary to judge its truth value, and it does not attempt to predict any potentially harmful consequences. We are supposed to do these things, but we have relegated that responsibility to a room full of clever computers, and taken up the role of passive recipients who fail to scrutinise anything that shows up on our timeline, because that would be too much effort. We live in a world where “sceptic” is a definable fringe characteristic, a profession, or even an ideology, instead of a necessary trait which every human being on the planet should embody to a degree that allows us to think before we make long anti-mask rants on social media.

 And it doesn’t stop there. It is one thing to spread inaccurate conspiracies, but the algorithm has also aided the spread of dangerous ideologies.  Think about all the fanatics and extremists who managed to be indoctrinated into radical religious, political or ideological sects. Think about all the religious terrorism, the incel shootings, the political hate crimes, and all the other atrocities that have resulted from the fact that people find themselves in fringe online echo-chambers where they indoctrinated into personality cults from which they rarely escape without tragedy. Online echo-chambers, indoctrination, misinformation, and manipulation have real-world consequences that often claim the lives of innocent people.

All you have to do is accidentally click on that one far-right video, and before you now it, your way down the neo-Nazi rabbit hole, on all your platforms. We all love a good rabbit hole every now and then. I have lost hours of my life looking at videos about aliens and Bigfoot. But there is a difference between watching sketchy science fiction videos for fun, and diving into a dangerous ideological sect. The problem is, as history shows, that not everyone can escape from these rabbit holes before they fundamentally distort your view of the world in a dangerous way. Once something about one of these enclaves scratches an itch inside the mind of someone who feels disenfranchised, the sect has found a new ‘recruit’. And of course, they have target audiences (read victims) who are vulnerable to their hateful garbage, and the algorithm functions as the perfect tool to connect ‘like-minded’’ lost souls to problematic organisations that will reinforce whatever it is that they have been feeling. “Feel like the country is catering only to minorities? Well, here are the Aryans, I’m sure you guys will get along like a house on fire. Until you actually set one on fire, that is.” 

I’m not trying to be dramatic; this is literally what happens. Hell, even less disgusting political and ideological groups have been extolling the internet’s capacity to “red pill” people. These kinds of groups don’t conceptualise this as indoctrination, but present it under the guise of illuminating something that someone was hitherto unable to see. However, regardless of how you frame it, groups of various levels of political and ideological extremity, both on the left and right, prey on the disillusionment of individuals who feel wronged by the world they live in, and the internet has transformed into an ala carte recruitment centre for consensual indoctrination. I am going out on a limb here, but I don’t think that any group who claims to want to present you with the enigmatic “truth” has your best interest at heart. None of these spaces exist to remove the shells from your eyes, but are just offering you shells that you might find more appealing than the ones you might have been blinded by before. Whether they are revealing the hidden truth about the flatness of the Earth, the inevitability of vaccine-induced autism, or the liberal agenda to turn your children trans, the only thing these spaces have in common is their gleeful rejection of the truth in favour of something that allows them (and you) to feel special, enlightened, or persecuted. 

What are we supposed to do? Well, according the Facebook Robot overlord Mark Zuckerberg, the solution is more algorithms, and more sophisticated programming that would identify and deter these kinds of spaces from forming, and would stop conspiracies theories from being spread more rapidly than actual news. And before you scoff, they have actually started implementing measures in this direction. However, like all developing tech, these new features are still in the ‘stupid’ phase of development, and I have seen a lot of people get flagged for fake news, when they were making obvious jokes. Satire, it seems, is also outside of the algorithm’s conceptual wheelhouse. 

But leaving the tech giants to unfuck something that they created themselves doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. Facebook designing software to check on software in order for that software to no longer be prone to making the mistakes that it has been painstakingly developed to make, feels slightly cyclical. Leaving private companies to regulate themselves has rarely proven to be a successful way of dealing with internal institutional problems. Here is where I might accidentally sound like a leftist, because I do think that the passing of some legislation regarding these kinds of things could aid the problem. If there were actual juridico-legal parameters set for how people’s data is being used, then maybe it would be more difficult for extremist groups to connect with potential recruits. If there are legal restriction regarding how much of your online persona can be utilised to keep you glued to an app, and by proxy, staring at ads, then it might be harder for your tendency to believe stupid shit to be utilised in order to transform you into a vector for misinformation. 

Wouldn’t it be cool if social media wasn’t trying to coerce you into doing something, but just functioned as a fun way to see what your friends are up to? But you have become a product, and you are being sold to companies without even knowing it. And instead of laughing at a picture of your friend’s cat, you are arguing with someone you’ve never met about ‘wokeness’ in movies. That’s no fun. Wouldn’t it be nice to be on social media for a while, and not end up wondering “how did I get here?” Every little thing on your feed is meticulously placed there with the purpose of keeping you scrolling and typing. You are now in a war for your own time, with an AI that has all the time in the world, and knows you better than your parents do. That is why you keep losing. I honestly think that some external non-profit-driven regulations on these things could do a world of good. 

Finally, there is us. As individuals of sound mind, we should start taking some responsibility for these things. If you have seen the documentary, or read this article, then you have no excuse not to start checking yourself. You know it is happening, so the ignorance defence has gone out of the window.  I don’t have an answer to the question I posed in the intro, but I would like to offer a few recommendations, which I think could be a good place for anyone to start and reclaim some of the autonomy they might have lost to their online profiles. And I am not claiming that these are concrete solutions to your problems, I’m, honestly, not qualified to figure out any sort of solution for all of this. But if you feel as if you might have a problem, then these steps might help you to escape from your social media addiction or whatever fringe echo-chamber you might have gotten stuck in. Whether your apps have annexed and negatively impacted the practical aspects of your life, resulted in you entertaining conspiracy theories, or twisted your worldview according to some gross ideology, these tips should help you to overcome some of the more toxic effects of having a demanding auxiliary life in your pocket. 

Groups to avoid

Avoid any group that claims to have access to truth and knowledge that no one else has. Also, avoid any enclave that tries to convince you that you are a victim in a way that is not apparent to anyone but the people in the group. Be wary of groups that base their beliefs and argument on an outright rejection of what can be considered ‘common knowledge’, and steer clear of any space that is dedicated to hate and scapegoating of other groups along racial, sexual, or religious lines. Stay away from any group that predicates its beliefs on fringe rhetoric concerning politics, spirituality, or ideology, whilst making the uninitiated seem unenlightened, ignorant, or sheepish by virtue of their non-belief. Any group or speaker that starts off by letting you know that you are in any way smarter or more special than everyone else, by virtue of believing them, is full of baloney. If any group’s appeal is based on your negative emotion towards something else, then I suggest that you take a step back. Your emotions do not make for a good barometer with which to scrutinise online groups.  This is an important point to me personally, because I have often found so called ‘leftist’ spaces on the internet, which are usually run by someone using disingenuous emotional appeals and lies, mixed with vague reference to “the means of production” in order to try and get people to go burn down a Walmart or something. Leftism isn’t based on a hate for the rich, but a desire to help the rest.  Finally, remember “everyone else isn’t wrong”. If there is any group that lures you in by virtue of a warning against some mass brainwashing, or social agenda, then they are probably the ones who are planning on doing the actual brainwashing. 

 

Personal Choices

Time yourself 

Do not spend more than two hours a day on social media. It sounds like a lot, but you’d be surprised how quickly those two hours rack up during the day. One of the main priorities of these algorithms are to keep you scrolling. If you can commit to a time limit, then it won’t matter what they still want to show you, because you’ll be done for the day. I’ve been doing this for a while, and it made me a bit happier. 

Lights out

Don’t stay up in the evening to scroll through your timelines. Those things can wait. There are many studies on how detrimental staring into your phone can be for your sleeping patters. Add to that a nice line of digital cocaine every few seconds, and you’ll be scrolling until midnight. If you just stop scrolling at least an hour before bed, then you’ll sleep better, and you’ll be avoiding late night arguments with Cletus and Billy-Bob about free speech. 

Don’t indulge trolls and bots

If there is a hell, then trolls and people with troll accounts will be ending up in the pineapple queue along with Hitler. I honestly think that people who get their rocks off by being as inflammatory and offensive as possible, behind a veil of anonymity, are archetypical examples of just how destructive personality disorders can be when left undiagnosed.  But it is your choice to indulge them, and you shouldn’t. They are going to enjoy it, and feel victorious, regardless of what you do. And at the end of the day, you’ll be upset, and some sweaty dude will be getting friction burns from the amount of furious masturbation he got out of your argument. Why bother, it doesn’t contribute to your life. I can honestly say that my own faith-in-humanity-o-meter underwent some significant restoration when I stopped arguing with these people. Also, don’t argue with bots. They are easy to spot. They usually have photos of someone who counts as someone else’s idea of a stereotype, and speak in short sentences. Their responses are usually only vaguely related, and the actual accounts themselves are vacuous in an obvious way. Oh, and they love all-caps, because it is the easiest way to get attention. 

Don’t scroll as an activity-supplement

What I mean by this is that you shouldn’t be scrolling whilst doing other recreational things. If you are watching a movie, and you feel like scrolling through your feed in the middle of it, then the movie is not for you. Pick something else. If you’re reading a book, and you keep putting it down to scroll, then find another book. If you are having drinks with friends, and find yourself scrolling, then find some more interesting friends. All jokes aside, your fun activities should be fun enough for them not to necessitate Facebook or Instagram. I usually scroll when I am doing tedious work-related things, but not when I am enjoying a person, a piece of literature, or a piece of entertainment that warrants all of my attention. Those things should be amazing enough on their own, and not in need of some scrolling to make them more interesting or fun. True story, I once had a friend who couldn’t stop scrolling whilst watching movies. I recommended that he start watching foreign films with subtitles. These are his favourite kinds of films now, and he has relearnt to enjoy English movies without scrolling as well. Try it. 

You are supposed to enjoy it

If you find that the notification noise on your phone fills you with dread and annoyance, instead of the ecstasy that it was designed to give you, then maybe you are using the app wrong. It is easy to develop a relationship with social media that is more about arguing with strangers than sharing memes with a thousand of your closest friends, and at that stage it might be time to get a new account. We all got social media because we were told it would be fun, but if you are afraid to post jokes or ideas, because you don’t want to invoke to pseudo-intellectual wrath of Cletus and Jordan B. Shapiro the third, then maybe you’re not having as much fun as you think. It is great to have conflicting viewpoints on your timeline, because that is one way of avoiding the echo-chamber, but it is also worth being cautious enough about it to ensure that your social media doesn’t become something that has a negative impact on your affect. Back when I did argue with people on social media, I had many a day completely ruined by asshole on the internet, and the resulting negative affective state would influence my real-life relationships in ways that I wasn’t able to see. I would be unnecessarily confrontational and thin skinned, even if the situation didn’t call for it. I got to the point where I spent more time arguing on social media than I did looking at post that I liked, and the resulting psychological state was rather terrible. I would be in a bad mood the moment I was notified that someone commented on my posts. It wasn’t any fun, and it completely defeated the point of social media, which is to connect with friends, and distract in times of boredom, not to colour every waking moment in a cloud of irritation. So, I stopped, and I am truly happier for it. And sure, I still get prompted for argumentation all the time, but from the same sort of people who are unwilling to consider news sources that might tell them that they’re wrong, and if someone is that far gone, then I’m not ruining my day by arguing with them. 

Turn off notifications

On the topic of notifications, it might be a good idea to turn them off.  At least some of them. They are designed to grab your attention any time you are not on your phone. Every time you hear a beep or a ping, it is the algorithm desperately trying to draw your attention away from whatever you are doing, and towards you phone screen. If you turn off these things, then you alone can be in charge of when you check your feed, not some program who will remind you about your social media every five minutes, in a bet for your undivided attention. I have actually been doing this for a while, and it really helps, because I can do other things without being constantly harassed by my phone, who wants to tell me that someone that I know liked a post by some else that I know (that really is how asinine it can get). Doing this also helps with limiting your time spent online, and it helps with not being tempted to check your phone an hour before bed time. 

Parents, don’t let your children start too young

I have heard the recommendation that children should wait until the age of sixteen before joining social media, and it honestly sounds like a very reasonable proposition. I am not talking form a ‘back in my day’ position, because no one in history has ever had this problem growing up before, at least not on such a grand scale. I’ve already mentioned some of the troublesome statistics about this, and there is good scientific and psychological reason to argue that the impact that social media is having on kids and teens is overwhelmingly negative. Being a kid is hard enough, and as teenagers most of us were already feeling a bit icky about ourselves, but we didn’t have it this bad. Remember the kids that bullied you and called you names? Imagine a world where there are thousands of them, and they follow you home from school every day. They sleep in your bed, and are the first people you see when you wake up. Well, kids growing up today don’t have to imagine that. Also, remember how bad you felt for not looking like the ‘good looking’ people in school? Remember the hours in front of the mirror, and the envy you felt for the attractive heroes featured in your favourite shows? Imagine having an entire Instagram or Snapchat feed dedicated to making you measure your life and looks against those of more attractive ‘peers’. It is borderline dystopian, and these are problems that grown adults are having trouble navigating! I can’t understand why we would subject children to that. It is very telling that most of the people in the documentary, who helped build these platforms, either place intense restrictions on their children’s use of social media, or disallow it altogether. They know it is harmful, because it was low-key designed to be. 

Escaping the echo-chamber

Question everything

Being sceptic and being contrarian are two different things. Just because you feel the need to question and double-check everything you read; does not mean you are turning into an edgelord. It is a good idea to look at multiple, distinct sources, before forming an opinion. And don’t fall for source-echos, where a few biased sites cross-reference each other, in order to validate a piece of crap story. Go out of your feed, go into Google news, and look at several different credible sources on the matter. They might not all say the same thing, but it is better than just going with whatever narrative shows up on your feed. In a historical period defined by the popular emergence of ‘fake news’, combined with the fact that Facebook’s algorithm is designed to build you your own little echo-chamber, it would be irresponsible not to fact-check the ‘facts’ that show up on your newsfeed. 

Be wrong sometimes

Or at least entertain the idea that you might be wrong. Echo-chambers and fringe groups do not work by telling you that you’re wrong. They positively reinforce your politico-identity by means of confirmation bias. A lot of people won’t do what the previous point recommends, because they might have to find out that they are wrong. And in 2020, being right is all that matters. Dualistic political lines are drawn in the sand, and you can watch people fall on their swords and die, rather than give an inch of consideration to the possibility that they might be partially wrong, or worse, that someone else could be partially right! In South Africa, if you suffer from being a ‘conservative Afrikaner’, then you have sworn allegiants to a carcinogenic fuck-factory of a publication, which I won’t name here. A publication so biased, that they only write ‘news’ in a language that huge portions of the population can’t speak. I have personally fact-checked and debunked stories on this website for people, but they would persist in using it as their primary news source regardless of my efforts. The problem is that this insipid trash-fest of a publication knows what their audience wants to hear, and they are more than willing to shovel that shit down people’s throats as long as it keeps their benefactors happy. And this will not change until their audience starts to develop as much interest in the truth, as they have in hearing that they are right. See the problem? And there are millions of shit-shovelling publications like this all around the world, preying on your desire to have your biases reinforced. 

Final thoughts 

The internet is, obviously, not all bad, and implementing some self-control, scepticism, and good judgement could prove a damn good start to addressing a problem that, as of yet, does not have a clear solution. And on that note, I am so happy to be part of one of the spaces on the internet that tries to do things differently. Every time I read an article by Dayna Remus, Wehan Coombs, David Barnard, Darryl Wardle, or Helgard Jordaan, I am in awe of the amount of thought that goes into these. I share them because I love them. And it is wonderful that there exists a space that makes no absurd truth claims, or draws lines in the sand with regards to who we get to hate. It is wonderful to read what thoughtful people have written, in an attempt to honestly convey their thinking, and inspire thought in others. This space has become one of the most positive on the internet, without having to compromise on its core values, which is a rare and difficult tightrope to walk. Thanks to all you guys for making the internet a cooler place, and thanks to all our readers who support this space. And if we ever start behaving like those dangerous groups mentioned in this article, then I beg you to let us know, and to call us out. Do it for all our sakes, and for the sakes of those people who might find us on one of their leftists, algorithm induced, deep dives. Welcome to your thinking space, we don’t know the truth, but we are happy to look for it with you. 

 

 

Contributor: Sarel Marais

SAREL

 

Disillusioned academic going through every day life. Entertainer, musician, and comedian that hates entertainment, music, and comedy. Writer that uses any and all writing skill, stretching to the far reaches of my vocabulary to convey my utter annoyance with the absurdity of human existence.

Why Capitalism is Inherently Racist

As the world continues to be a deeply racist society, racism continues to inhere in at least two aspects of the system. First, the continued exploitation of people of color for profit. And second, it is demonstrated in the demand that people of color must accommodate to the white man’s system, rather than vice versa. 

The  capitalist system is the fundamental issue. The system depends on exploitation,this basic fact means that capitalist societies, can never rid itself of poverty; poverty is the basis of wealth. 

The dependency of the rich on the poor is the fundamental, hidden reality of this system. Racism is a system of exploitation. It is a mechanism for effectively controlling and oppressing peoples so that a maximum of profits can be extracted from them.

The  relationship between capitalism and racism is closely connected. Capitalism evolved because of imperialism and the ability to extract wealth from the other nations and peoples of color.

Racial capitalism is the idea that racialized exploitation and capital accumulation are mutually constitutive. Racially minoritized and economically deprived groups face capitalist and racist systems that continue to devalue and harm their lives, even within newer, supposedly deracialized neoliberal agendas.

Lack of health-care resources, higher rates of poverty and joblessness, and racially discriminatory treatment in  communities of colour are fundamental causes of disparities in mortality.

This racist difference in conditions comes from racist organisation of political power, wealth, and public resources. This mode reflects a historical commodification of racial identity. 

A racial division of labor continues to be very evident in this society. Despite the movement of small numbers of people of color into middle class jobs, almost all of the “dirty work”in this society continues to be done by people of color.  Anyone who keeps their eyes open for one minute will see it. Who makes the beds in the hotels? Who cleans the floors in middle class houses? Who collects the garbage? Who empties the bed pans in hospitals? Who does most of the minimum wage jobs in this nation, and the below minimum wage jobs?

The exploited labor of these millions of workers fills the coffers of the wealthy, virtually all of whom are white. Wealth is continuously drained from  communities of colour , through the hard labor and lack of remuneration of their people. The huge wealth of white-owned corporations rests on the backs of the hard labor of workers, many of whom are people of color. There is a systemic racial oppression that keeps people of color doing the dirty work. 

Racial capitalism creates conditions and ideologies that devalue the lives of masses of people who are presumably recognizable by their skin color, hair texture, or facial shapes, to devalue their labor. This relation creates the conditions for super-exploitation by race, by gender, by citizenship status. It produces the systematic knee on George Floyd’s neck, the hunting down of Ahmaud Arbery, the slaying of Breonna Taylor. It produces systematic protection for their killers.

The capitalist system of racialized labor involves the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars each year in value from the labor-power of Black and Brown people to white owners of capitalist enterprises. 

If there is a class division in the Black community, then race can no longer be an important factor in our society. Class and race are not opposing dimensions, which somehow need to be sorted out. Rather, capitalism is a system that breeds class oppression and racial conquest. The two forms of exploitation operate in tandem. They are part of the same system that creates inequality, impoverishment, and all the other host of social ills that result. You cannot attack racism without attacking capitalism, and you cannot not attack capitalism without attacking racism.

 

Contributor: Orthalia Kunene

Orthalia Kunene is a mother, activist, feminist and writer based in Soweto.

Orthalia

Her journey started as a activist fighting for service delivery issues in Soweto, with an Organisation called Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee/Operation Khanyisa Movement. Her writing  gave her strength to not shy away from the truth, it gave her strength to hold local government accountable and to advocate for access to information and  transparency through addressing socio-economic issues; inequalities around gender-based violence and climate change.

She is currently volunteering for an Organisation called keep left, as a working group member, keep left is a revolutionary socialist organisation that believes in workers control of society and the means of production. She is also a volunteer at an Organization called Extinction Rebellion, a climate change Organisation that seeks to fight the climate crisis. Her main focus is on Climate change issues, gender inequality and addressing issues of capitalism and how it feeds on inequality – particularly in South Africa.

Story-time

St. Augustine and Heidegger were two thinkers obsessed with time. Not time in the sense that physicists might understand it, but time as a phenomenon: how humans experience time. St. Augustine was fascinated with the mystery of time: in what sense do the past and future exist? They are in an obvious sense unreal – all we really have with us is the present after all. But even the present is a mystery: if it has any duration (e.g. a second long) it means that we can journey through it from its beginning to its end. But how can something which has a past (beginning) and future (end) be the present. If it has no duration, on the other hand, then how can it be a part of time? 

Heidegger, on the other hand, spoke about the three ecstasies of time: basically the past, the present and the future. And what I would briefly like to reflect upon in this piece is how we relate to these three different ‘times’, and in particular how, I believe, many of our problems arise from the fact that we often fail to give each of these three ecstasies their due. In short, we often fail to find a balance between living in the past, the present and the future. 

Beginning with the past, there is often a tendency, especially as people get older, to live in the past: to spend (waste) one’s present time obsessing about the past, either in the negative sense of mulling about past hurts or lost opportunities or, in the positive sense, of reminiscing about one’s ‘golden’ days of youth. In such cases both the present and the future get sidelined and one effectively gets trapped in the past. Without a present and, in particular, without the goals and dreams that come with the future one cannot move forward in any true sense. 

Moving on to the present, there has been much made about this particular ecstasy in some of the New Age influences on our culture that arose particularly during the 60s. As an example, think of Eckhart Tolle’s well-known book called The Power of Now. While living in the present has its place, without a clear future and a clear past, the present simply lapses into a miasma of meaninglessness. The present is too chaotic and complex to provide any meaning of its own: we need the two other times in order to orientate us in the present: to guide us in terms of what to choose to notice in the present and to provide the present with some sense of meaning. 

And then lastly we have the future. Just as in the case of the other two ecstasies we can easily get lost in the future and spend all our time planning and scheduling and chasing dreams and goals. If taken too far this means both not learning from the lessons of the past and, in addition, not being open to the unexpected opportunities and threats that arise in the present. We become blind to the need for occasionally changing our projected path through life. 

In conclusion, we need to give each time its due and find a way to balance the three ecstasies. We need to find the time for each of the three times. In short, we need to realize that human time is story time: a journey that has a past, a present and a future. We are, in a strange way, our own stories and one cannot tell a story (and be fully human) by neglecting the past, present or future. 

Contributor: Ian Bekker
Ian Bekker
By day, Ian Bekker works at the English Department at the North-West University of Potchefstroom, specializing in the phonetics of South African English. At night, he enjoys indulging in reading about a range of other (mostly philosophical) topics. He is also an ardent Liverpool FC supporter.

Eviction Convictions: Property Rights versus Human Rights

In Cape Town, South Africa, there has recently been an outbreak of riots, and the very first thing that most news sources would tell you about was the violence. Oh, the violence, so bad, so terrible. And yes, violence is absolutely awful, and should always be a last resort. However, thanks to the unilateral narratives peddled by the media, we are usually quick to assume that the acts of violence we see on the news are not last resorts. But what if, in some cases, they truly are acts of desperation? Would that demand a different kind of judgement?

Looking into the story, in order to find the enigmatic justification for the riots, I found this quote from a spokesperson for the group ‘Cape Town is Gatvol’, which reads: “Over the past year, our situation has gotten worse and we are nowhere near a solution. People are still being evicted and thrown to the streets during this time of natural disaster, with no concern for their health and safety,” Mind you, I had to read a lot about throwing stones before I actually got to an article on News24 that actually addressed the reasons for the riots. People are being thrown out of their houses during a pandemic, where work is scarce, and where not every person has had the luck to be able to save up enough money to be able to live comfortably for four months without work. That sounds like something that we should be concerned about, right? But why does this sound so familiar?

The answer to that can be found in an episode of Last week tonight with John Oliver, released on 29 June 2020, where the host discusses the growing amount of people being evicted from their apartments during the COVID pandemic, because they could no longer pay their rent. And sure, some people get to stay, but they accumulate so much debt during this time, that they will be paying for these last four months for the next four years. Again, I have to ask, are we really okay with this? And sure, if you are one of those people who harbour the illusion that any conversation that takes this trajectory is a bunch of bleeding-heart leftism, then you might as well stop reading now, and return to Ben Shapiro’s YouTube page. The rest of you might have to bear with me for a few moments, because we need to understand how it is that we got to a place where these evictions are not only possible, but defendable, and (for some) morally justifiable.

You see, it all comes down to economics, or at least ‘the economy’, as some independent force that “fairly” regulates the dispersion of resources among the population of a country, or even the planet. There are thousands of variations on this rhetoric, and it usually stems from a combination of the libertarian ideals of Nozick and Freedman, and the faux-ethics of selfishness peddled by people like Ayn Rand. Usually, the counterarguments to pointing out economic disparity take the form of, either a devout commitment to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, or a quasi-religious understanding of economy that resembles that of the South Park episode ‘Margaritaville’. It is worth noting that I do not completely agree with the conclusions drawn by this episode, but the approach is something to be admired.

All too often, criticism of inequality is met with “the economy is my shepherd, I shall not want” or, “that’s just the way it works, I’m sorry if these ‘facts’ trigger you”. However, most of the people who levy this argument have very little idea what the concept of ‘economy’ actually entails, and instead deploys it as an unshatterable ideological wall that, by virtue of its infallibility, ends the argument in their favour. For a very long time, the message to the left has been clear: “do not interrogate the concept of economy, because it is impossible to question it. You MUST accept it and all its consequences”. The economy is the so called “fact” that cannot be disputed by those of the left. And I am not attempting a strawman here, I am literally congesting hundreds of articles, videos, and books into a few common statements. And look them up, you will find them presented in every language, in every format, that you wish to hear them in. This argument is almost as old as the concept of ‘economy’ itself.

So, this is how the left loses every argument about housing, medical care, food, welfare, and systematic inequality. We just don’t get the economy, and that’s why we have our little bleeding hearts ripped out all the time. If our eyes were only to open, and we were to swear our devotion to the cult of economy, then all these concerns for the poor, the sick, and the otherwise disadvantaged would disappear. As soon as we know that being selfish can also make us feel heroic, in Rand’s terms, and that whatever privileges we have over others have been preordained by the gods of the economy, then we can also sleep well at night, knowing that a select few have more money than 60% of the global population put together, and that around 735 million people are living in extreme poverty right now. I mean, that’s how the economy works right? Surely every billionaire out there deserves all their money on a moral level, and the evil left should be ashamed of gunning for some of that money to be distributed in a way that would assure that poor people won’t be evicted during a pandemic. Billionaires, they are the real victims here, right?

As ludicrous as these statements might sound, they are not far removed from the dreck spewed by right-wing and libertarian think tanks like PragerU, where big words, and logical fallacies galore are deployed in order to help the middle classes understand that the lazy, stupid, emotional, left wants to take all their money. This is a very common tactic of these websites and talking heads of the right. Even though they are often funded by people with excessive levels of wealth, they are not targeted at the rich. No, these organisations hone in on the middle-classes, and deploy every tactic in the book to scare them to death. If you watch these things, it usually boils down to the left wanting to take the money from Uncle Jeff, who finally got to by a second car. And this is simply not true.

You see, the right’s tactic of weaponizing the sentiments of the middle-classes is based on the idea that the middle-classes are somehow enemies or victims of wealth distribution. First of all, you have to do a lot of damage to every single middle-class household, in order to make even a fraction of the difference that you would make by properly taxing and taking from multi-millionaires and billionaires who get by on tax cuts. Secondly, the left has never been about creating poverty for people, contrary to what the right might tell you. So why would we make someone else excessively poor, just to spread the money around in ways that assure than almost no one can ever pay rent again? Thirdly, and this is an important one, the middle-classes already do what the left wants them to do. They work, they start businesses, they employ, and they pay their taxes. And for all this they get to have a house, a car, and hopefully enough money to send their kids off to college, because no one wants free education in the West, or so it seems.

This has been a very prominent tactic of the right, to convince the middle-classes that the left is out there gunning for little Johnny’s college fun, when in fact, the left is trying to distribute the wealth of billionaire tax dodgers in such a way that little Johnny won’t need a college fund. Middle-class people, listen to me now, YOU DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH TO PUT A DENT IN OUR PROBLEM. WHAT CAN BE TAKEN FROM YOU IS NOT ENOUGH. TAKING FROM YOU WILL JUST SPREAD THE POVERTY MORE EQUALLY, IT WON’T ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS OF POVERTY. SO, GET OVER THE IDEA THAT WE WANT ANYTHING FROM YOU EXCEPT YOUR SUPPORT IN TAKING DOWN THE DISGUSTINGLY WEALTHY 1%. And seriously, please don’t be fooled by these videos that try to convince you that you are in the same boat as Jeff Bezos, trying to keep the left from taking your money. You are not, and will never be in that same boat, and rhetoric like that only serves to widen the gap between you and the billionaires you stand in solidarity with.

And sure, there will be talking heads on the left that will say the opposite of this, because we have never claimed a monopoly on intelligence, but we do believe that our intelligent people make a lot of good sense. This is especially true when you consider the fact that generally, the left isn’t the bunch of recreational abortionist communists that your average Fox News pundit might have you believe. Instead, usually the idea is just to avoid accumulation that is in such gross excess that it has a negative impact on everyone else. No one is saying that a brain surgeon and a janitor need to have the exact same things. What we are saying is that no one should have eleven houses, at the expense of someone else dying of hunger.

What we are saying is that we need to level the baseline to a point where you don’t need to be wealthy to afford life-saving surgery, and where one single person does not have more money than the GDP of some poor “third world” country. What we are saying is that we should start this conversation at the bottom, and talk about the people who suffer, and think about how we can make their lives better without rendering anyone destitute. But instead, the figureheads of the “Lord God Economy” crowd always seem to want to start this conversation from the perspective of whatever wealthy victim might not be able to go on a second ski trip this year. And through the magic of “that’s just how the economy works” you have a “logical” and “moral” argument for why skiing trips and champagne are more important than food and healthcare. At this point, it is fair to say that there are significant rumblings in the zeitgeist that indicate that an enormous portion of the global population have grown tired of these bullshit arguments. I mean, if you are reading this website, then you’ve probably been harbouring some of these thoughts already. Do yourself a favour, and look into John Rawls and the Difference Principle.

Well, that was a massive deviation. Back to evictions. These evictions are particularly distressing, because the people who are justifying them seem to be using the same arguments that the cult of economy have been deploying for decades. I mean, it totally sucks for you that you have not accumulated enough wealth to be able to pay all your bills during a time of crisis, when it becomes difficult for you to earn the living you’ve been earning for the past few years. And it sucks for you that you can currently no longer afford the roof that you have been paying for all this time. It EXTRA sucks for you that none of these things are in your control, and that governmental restrictions during a global health crisis has completely destroyed your life. But, unfortunately for you, that is just how the economy works hey. We don’t make the rules, we just follow them.

What exactly are we to expect from people when they are presented with this rhetoric as justification for why they’ll be sleeping on the street tonight? How are they supposed to feel, knowing that an invisible, insentient, force is somehow responsible for putting their living, breathing, feeling, and bodies out on the street? How are they supposed to feel when no creature with a brain is willing to take responsibility for their misery (even when actively complicit in its generation), but passes the blame to some illusive mindless force that every single person on the planet is beholden to? And what are they supposed to say when they are made to understand that they only have themselves to blame for “not working hard enough” to keep up with the requirements of the Geist economy.

Yup, one of the biggest evils that has resulted from this devotion to the economy, is that it automatically allows for a reductionist sentiment that let’s every person know that, because the hypothetical possibility of a better life exists, it is their own fault if they are not adorned in wealth and luxury. It is the proponents of this very same argument that are usually offended when people talk about privilege, because the ‘economy desserts’ argument only works if you completely dismiss any understanding of social and material privilege. And that is how you get to divert your attention away from people getting thrown out of their houses, and towards their angry reactions to these injustices. “You live on the street now, the economy wills it, and it is all your fault. Therefore, every negative reaction you are going to have about this is going to be judged as ‘thuggishness’ and unwarranted violence”. Welcome to hell folks, because that is how you get to justify putting people on the street. And that is how you get to focus all your attention on the ‘violence’ that they commit in protest, instead of the accumulation of circumstances that put them in a position that necessitated protest.

Look, here is the point of this whole long-winded rant. There should be no argument that allows for atrocities like eviction and starvation on the part of many, in order to maintain disturbing levels of material wealth for a few. The economy argument has turned into a weird knee-jerk response that presents as quasi-ethical, and quasi-logical, as long as you mindlessly accept the omnipotence of the economy as a barometer for both ethics and logic. It echoes those arguments that are okay with the same things because they are “God’s will”. I will give the Christian crowd this, at least they are under the impression that their deity is conscious. The economy cultists base so much of their decisions off of something that has no mental capacity to make any decisions. Phrases like “the market decides” or “the economy decides” serve only as frustrating reminders that we are all subject to a cult that has to repeatedly anthropomorphise a golden calf that none of us had a hand in moulding, and yet we all have to pray to. There is no ethical argument that can reasonably be made to justify starvation and eviction, based on the “decisions” made by an invisible force that does not have the faculties required to make decisions.

It is for this reason that no person should buy into any moral argument that attempts to justify putting poor people on the street during a pandemic, if that argument is based on “well, the economy…”. No, your moral argument should start with the value of human life, the mutual responsibility that we have to speak up against injustice, and the obligation we have towards each other as human beings. What were those things that Aristotle said we should strive for again? Oh yeah, virtues of good character. Which virtuous character trait generates suffering in people who are already in dire straits? Which virtue denies people access to that which can save their lives, based on the fact that they don’t have enough wealth? Which virtue puts a single mother and her kids on the street because the pandemic has ruined them financially? The economy cult is for the privileged egoists who are threatened, or think they are threatened, by the application of human virtues in a time where they are more desperately needed than ever. You can take that to the damn bank, since that is where you seem to generate your ethical decisions.

Contributor: Sarel Marais

SAREL

 

Disillusioned academic going through every day life. Entertainer, musician, and comedian that hates entertainment, music, and comedy. Writer that uses any and all writing skill, stretching to the far reaches of my vocabulary to convey my utter annoyance with the absurdity of human existence.