By David Swanson
Remarks at George Mason University on September 13, 2017
Thank you very much for inviting me.
May I see a show of hands of those who believe we should eliminate all racism?
Thank you, and now those who think we should eliminate all war?
In a typical U.S. crowd, I suspect, many more will raise their hands for ending all racism than for ending all war.
Despite the notion that we live in a democracy being largely fraudulent, I think those shows of hands represent very roughly how far along we are in abolishing what we think of as racism and war. That is to say, I find some significance in the studies that have found the U.S. government to be in reality an oligarchy. The policies favored by wealthy elites are generally acted upon. The views of the broader public hardly matter at the national level (a bit more so at the state level and much more so locally) unless they are accompanied by intense activism and/or they line up with those of some wealthy elites. If we had direct democracy, government by public referendum, then, based on the trends of opinion polls, by definition reflecting the miserable state of our communications systems but not reflecting any heavily funded campaigns to sway any public votes, we would have less investment in wars, more in education, more in clean energy, more taxes paid by big corporations, less taxes paid by struggling working people, a higher minimum wage, an end to mass surveillance, more mass transit, strict restrictions on carbon emissions, a ban on weapons in space, a ban on nuclear weapons anywhere, current wars ended, public financing of election campaigns, gerrymandering banned, voter registration made automatic, citizenship application open to immigrants, et cetera.
And yet, I think that public opinion reflects roughly where the U.S. is headed on racism and war, in part because public activism can influence government, in part because government propaganda influences public opinion, and in part because education -- both formal and through the general presence of ideas throughout a popular culture -- can influence both government behavior and public opinion.
Let's try this. Raise your hand if you think we should eliminate all child abuse. Thank you.
How about all rape? Thank you.
How about all torture of kittens? Thank you.
There are things that most people believe should be entirely eliminated. And they are often things that few powerful interests teach us are ineliminable.
But, remember that I said that I was talking about how far along we are in abolishing what we think of as racism and war. What happens when we look closely at what we think of as, for example, child abuse. There is a single nation on earth that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are parties to the convention that are violating it. But only one country has, as a matter of principle, refused to join it and at least claim to be making an effort to respect children's rights. I don't think I'm being very sneaky here: who can tell me which country it is?
Now, if the United States were party to the convention, it would be forbidden to give life prison sentences to minors no matter what horrible things they had done. It might be forbidden to use its military recruitment techniques to prepare children for later recruitment. It would have to respect the rights of child refugees and the children of immigrants. It would have to ensure that children all have healthcare, and good nutrition, and housing, and education including access to higher education, and a safe environment. Its corporations would be further barred, as they already are, from using child labor. The U.S. government might even be bound to weigh the rights of children in the balance when subsidizing the use of fossil fuels. There have been a number of class-action lawsuits already filed by children against the U.S. and state governments on the grounds that their public commons are being willfully destroyed. Those suits have been unable to appeal to a treaty that the U.S. hasn't ratified. And then, of course, there is the reason you're more likely to hear articulated by opponents of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely that neither a bunch of foreigners nor even the U.S. government should say anything about children, as children are the sole and sacred responsibility of the -- guess what? -- the F word, but the good F word, what is it? Right, the Family.
So, now, if refusing to join the Convention on the Rights of the Child is child abuse, but joining it is an affront to the beloved institution called the family, should we end all child abuse? Are you against families? Do you want liberal foreigners determining U.S. law enforcement policies and impeding military recruitment in the good old USA? Do you want anyone questioning the honor of uniformed generals visiting elementary schools? Should evil international law be allowed to prevent toxic waste dumps near schools if Congress says they're perfectly safe?
OK, raise your hand if you still want to end all child abuse when refusing to ratify this treaty counts as child abuse.
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