So sang Kermit some thirty years ago. I thought the song nicely represented the idealism of we brown rice eating, sandal-wearing, goatee bearded fading hippies who were the members of the (then) Ecology Party
in the UK. Well, that's how the media liked to portray us, along with our pre-Raphaelite girlfriends who wore Laura Ashley
gypsy clothes set off with granny glasses.
Except, of course, the reality was different and even Kermit has copped out
. Thirty years ago we were about to be assailed by Margaret Thatcher who didn't give a flying fornication for communities but promoted the notion of amassing individual wealth through being 'shareholders' in what turned out to be the amorphous multi-national conglomerates.These shareholders have 'earned' their so-called wealth from the poor of the world who have little choice but to work long hours for minimal pay in sweat shops or to grow crops for export cash rather than family food.
I would like to argue that it's good to see the hegomony of the rich West being challenged by the emergent South, i.e. India, and the mysterious East, i.e. China. But then, in the words of George Monbiot
, multinational corporations ... move from nation to nation, seeking ever-lower standards
Lower standards means the pillaging of natural resources with little regard for sustainable development, built in obsolescence for increased sales, and a marketing industry devoted to one basic credo
It ain't easy being green? Here in Jakarta, it ain't easy seeing
green. They didn't pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Nope, first came the shopping malls.
What is needed is a fundamental refocussing of trade so that the producers have a continued investment in their products or crops. This means empowering them.If we oblige corporations to set high standards, by punishing them for the destruction, oppression or dispossession caused by the trade in which they engage, then the market begins to work for the poor. The people of the poor nations can then pursue the case for necessary changes in national legislation themselves; they would be aided by the contrast the new global trade rules establish between the standards the export industry has to set and the standards fixed by the domestic employers. Trade rules would then facilitate, rather than impose, domestic political change.
This may sound as if George Monbiot, and Jakartass by association, is advocating revolution. Indeed we are, but then here in Indonesia reformasi
has stalled. Forbes
may believe that there are only two Indonesian billionaires, but we know that isn't true
. The others have moved their wealth into offshore funds which can't be taxed or have invested elsewhere, such as in China or the UK.
It is beyond my comprehension that anyone could exploit others. That's not naivety: it's just that Jakartass stands for the right of every individual to fulfil his or her potential without impedence or exploitation.
That, of course, is egocentric, but then to some that is our God-given right, our 'soul'. We all have a right to be ME; that is surely the essence of existence, a philosophy of life, personal journey, contribution to the world, service to mankind, source of creativity, inspirations and love of life.
It's those without purpose, imposed by poverty, war (for resources or converts), or the lack of a community of love (= belonging) who become the terrorists, the suicidal and the insane. Or the drunkards, addicts and 'fallen women' who must be punished by the (self) righteous who are, if they care to examine their motives, themselves victims.
The Fair Trade movement is but one way that individuals can be empowered, paradoxically through investing time and energies in community-based activities. In some ways, this is a western-based values system as many of the initiatives are the result of input from outsiders.
But isn't that what education is generally about, the passing on of experience and knowledge, the sharing of ideas?
Indonesia does not have the advantage of a settled, well-funded education system. It is still learning how to establish equitable systems of government, if indeed democracy offers that. Communities have yet to learn how to stand alone in economic terms, whilst being part of a larger society. Dependence is difficult to unlearn and reformasi
is only 8 years young.
The offering of tools such as micro-credit facilities and communal export and trading services - with minimal bureaucracy, can empower small-scale entrepreneurs and co-operative members to enhance the lives of themselves and their families. Being paid a fair price for their products with minimal intervention from middlemen seems fair to me.