Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Intolerance Boom?

A provocative article here from columnist, Doug Saunders, in the Globe and Mail. He suggests and I am inclined to agree that the climate of the global economic woes foster intolerance – even racism. He suggests that expressions of anger over failed policies and inadequate safety net programs are to be expected as thousands of people face job loss and protracted unemployment.

The ugliness, however, manifested itself when the anger suddenly turned against outsiders. Phrases like "Buy American" and "British jobs for British workers," which gained popularity because they seem to reflect a deeper sentiment, are chillingly redolent of earlier moments, in 1873 and 1930, when economic depressions morphed into fierce moments of nationalist self-defence and attacks on outsiders, leading to isolationism, racism and war.

Protectionist strategies seem to be gathering incredible momentum these days and it is not hard to see how these ideological perspectives inform essentially racist sentiment. And protectionism itself, I would argue, is a not so distant cousin to the mercantilism of the late colonial period.

In times of relative prosperity the race to the top of the socio-economic status heap seems an endless tunnel of hope. Consumerism flourishes. Everybody is richer than they were and they all feel pretty good about it. In these conditions, those people who have conventionally held the power in racial distinctions (most typically whites), can easily be distracted into acknowledging that minorities and otherwise oppressed groups can achieve even similar economic success as they are achieving. After all the white man says to himself look that the awesome conditions I have created that allow other 'underprivileged' people to flourish. This benevolence is strangely lacking when the risk of economic collapse is looming on the horizon. When the effort being expended is directed at NOT becoming poor the attitudes change.

I recently spoke to a friend of mine working in HR in a local assembly plant. His company has recruited many workers from Central America and the Philippines. One of the stipulations of the agreements that employers enter with the government organizations is the requirement to terminate employment of these workers before any other layoffs occur. Without work these individuals are then required to return to their country of origin. On the surface it seems to make sense that this type of policy should be in place. After all people who are citizens of this country ought to be able to benefit from that status in some way.

What is morally questionable is how these companies can bring over these workers who perform jobs that the general population does not want to do. Let's remember that the pay scale for these employees is typically significantly lower than other comparable jobs. Then these companies can turn around and dismiss these people to fend for themselves.

It will be interesting to see how these sentiments play out in Canada compared to places like the U.S. where racial tensions over employment opportunities has been contentious for some time.


Mary Rempel said...

I can see where this discussion is coming from. Protectionism does lead to separation and, potentially, to fear and loathing. Serious problems in a global economy. We are far to entwined for that in this age.

I am troubled, however, by the presumption that there are jobs in the US or Canada which citizens are not willing to perform. While there may be jobs which are less preferred by the majority of workers, are we failing to instill an appropriate work ethic in our children?

All work is given by God and is of benefit to the worker as well as the employer. We are called to work as for the Lord regardless of the job title and expectations. Yet, it seems we have a certain level of work which is considered worthy of being done well and another level which is demeaning and, therefore, not worth doing.

Brother Lawrence saw the value in peeling potatoes for the Lord. I see (when I choose to do so) the value of cleaning toilets in my home--as to the Lord.

Are we really so snobbish in N. America that we will choose to remain unemployed rather than take a low-paying honest job? That is a sad state of affairs.

In reality, I think we have gotten into much of this current mess because of a sense of entitlement. "I deserve the best of everything, even if I cannot afford it. If I have a problem with my finances, it's not my problem. I'll just walk away from it and let someone else clean up my mess. Just like the low-class immigrants who clean my office."

It is, in my experience, exceedingly difficult to raise socially adept, humble children in the cultural morass in which we live.

When we refuse to do so, when we foist off the social and spiritual education of our children onto others, we get what we truly deserve--a generation of stubborn, selfish and superior adults who would willingly turn up their noses at an honest day's work for an honest day's pay simply because they have a high school diploma which should entitle them to more.

Since the majority of the economic issue, at least in the US, has its origins in credit too freely given and not repaid, the solution is unlikely to come in the form of further spending by an already bloated government. The solution requires a change of mindset. I'm not sure the majority of Americans, at least, are mature enough to make that change.

Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with you, Dale ;)

Increasing... said...

I think a proper work ethic is one of the primary projects of parenthood. And I would agree that it is very difficult in our current social climate.
I would also agree with your sentiment that work is tied to the way God designed this place to function best and that there is deep fulfillment in working hard and achieving success.
Exploitative work, however, is demeaning no matter how honest it is. My argument in this piece is to underline how the exploitative labour practices bear the bitterest fruit when the economic climate yields protectionist ideology. Perhaps that clarifies the matter somewhat...?

Anonymous said...

What is honest exploitative labour? Mirriam Webster defines exploitative as "unfairly or cynically using another person or group for profit or advantage"

Increasing... said...

sorry anonymous I am not tracking with your question...