In cities and towns from New Delhi to New York the socio-political policies that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London are being repeated: redevelopment and gentrification, the influx of corporate money and the expelling of the poor, including families that have lived in an area for generations. To this, add austerity, the privatization of public services and the annihilation of social housing and a cocktail of interconnected causes takes shape. Communities break up, independent businesses gradually close down, diversity disappears and another neighbourhood is absorbed within the expensive homogenized collective.
People living in developed industrialized countries suffer most acutely, but developed nations are also being subjected to the same violent methodology of division and injustice that led to the murder of probably hundreds of innocent people in Grenfell Tower.
The rabid spread of corporate globalization has allowed the poison of commercialization to be injected into the fabric of virtually every country in the world, including developing nations.
As neoliberal policies are exchanged for debt relief and so-called ‘investment’, which is little more than exploitation, the problems of the North infiltrate the South. Economic cultural colonization smiles and shakes hands, wears a suit and causes fewer deaths than the traditional method of control and pillaging, but it is just as pernicious and corrosive.
In the Neo-Liberal world of commercialization everything is regarded as a commodity. Whole countries are regarded as little more than marketplaces in which to sell an infinite amount of stuff, often poorly made, most of which is not needed. In this twenty-first century nightmare that is choking the life out of people everywhere, human beings are regarded not as individuals with particular outlooks fostered by differing traditions, backgrounds and cultures; with concerns and rights, potential and gifts and heartfelt aspirations, but consumers with differing degrees of worth based on the size of their bank account and their capacity to buy the corporate-made artifacts that litter the cathedrals of consumerism in cities north, south, east and west.
Those with empty pockets and scant prospects have no voice and, as Grenfell proves, are routinely ignored; choices and opportunities are few, and whilst human rights are declared to be universal, the essentials of living — shelter, food, education and health care — are often denied them. Within the land of money, such rights are dependent not on human need but on the ability to pay, and when these rights are offered to those living in poverty or virtual poverty, it is in the form of second and third rate housing, unhealthy food, poorly funded and under-staffed education and health services. After all, you get what you pay for; if you pay little, don’t expect much, least of all respect.
The commercialization of all aspects of our lives is the inevitable, albeit extreme consequence of an economic model governed by profit, fed by consumption and maintained through the constant agitation of desire. Pleasure is sold as happiness, desire poured into the empty space where love and compassion should be, anxiety and depression ensured. But there’s a pill for that, sold by one or other of the major benefactors of the whole sordid pantomime, the pharmaceutical companies. Corporations, huge and getting bigger, are the faceless commercial monsters who own everything and want to own more; they want to own you and me, to determine how we think and what we do. These faceless corporate entities are given rights equivalent to nations and in some cases more; they have incalculable financial wealth and with it political power. They devour everything and everyone in their path to the Altar of Abundance, assimilate that which springs into life outside their field of control and consolidate any organization which threatens their dominance.
Commercialization is a headless monster devoid of human kindness and empathy. It sits within an unjust economic system that has created unprecedented levels of inequality, with colossal wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer men (the zillionaires are all men), whilst half the world’s population attempts to survive on under $5 a day and the Earth cries out in agony: every river, sea and stream is polluted, deforestation is stripping huge areas of woodland, whole Eco-systems are being poisoned and the air we breathe is literally choking us to death. Apathy suffocates and comforts us, distractions seduce us and keep us drugged: “Staring at the screen so we don’t have to see the planet die. What we gonna do to wake up?” screams the wonderful British poet Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. “The myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost, and pitiful.”
How bad must it get before we put an end to the insanity of it all? It has got to end; we can no longer continue to live in this fog. During a spellbinding performance of Europe is Lost at Glastonbury Festival, Tempest stood on the edge of the stage and called out, “We are Lost, We are Lost, We are Lost”. We are lost because a world has been created based on false values — “all that is meaningless rules” — because the systems that govern our lives are inherently unjust, because we have been made to believe that competition and division is natural, that we are simply the body and are separate from one another, because corporate financial interests are placed above the needs of human beings and the health of the planet. Excess is championed, sufficiency laughed at, ambition and greed encouraged, uncertainty and mystery pushed aside. The house is burning, as the great teacher Krishnamurti put it, Our House, Our World — within and without — both have been violated, ravaged, and both need to be allowed to heal, to be washed clean by the purifying waters of social justice, trust and sharing.
Systemic external change proceeds from an internal shift in thinking — a change in consciousness, and whilst such a shift may appear difficult, I suggest it is well underway within vast numbers of people to varying degrees. For change to be sustainable it needs to be gradual but fundamental, and have the support of the overwhelming majority of people — not a mere 51% of the population.
Kindness begets kindness, just as violence begets violence. Create structures that are just and see the flowering of tolerance and unity within society; Sharing is absolutely key. After Grenfell hundreds of local people shared what they had, food, clothes, bedding; they shopped for the victims, filling trolleys with baby food, nappies and toiletries. This happens all over the world when there is a tragedy — people love to share; giving and cooperating are part of who we are, while competition and selfishness run contrary to our inherent nature, resulting in sickness of one kind or another, individual and collective.
Sharing is the answer to a great many of our problems and needs to be placed at the heart of a new approach to socio-economic living, locally, nationally, and globally. It is a unifying principle encouraging cooperation, which, unlike competition, brings people together and builds community. The fear of ‘the other’, of institutions and officials dissipates in such an environment, allowing trust to naturally come into being, and where trust exists much can be achieved. In the face of worldwide inequality and injustice the idea of sharing as an economic principle is gradually gaining ground, but the billions living in destitution and economic insecurity cannot wait, action is needed urgently; inaction and complacency feed into the hands of those who would resist change, and allows the status quo to remain intact. “We sleep so deep, it don’t matter how they shake us. If we can’t face it, we can’t escape it. But tonight the storm’s come,” says Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. Indeed, we are in the very eye of the storm, “The winter of our discontent’s upon us” and release will not be found within the corrupt ways of the past, but in new forms built on ancient truths of love and unity held within the heart of all mankind.