"With capitalism, numbers live better than people.
With left-ism, ideas live better than people.
Only with humanism do people rise above ideas and numbers."
"Realism" states that every country will
do whatever it takes to increase its wealth and security. Given this maxim and the
United States' insistence on forcing "Free Trade" on developing
countries, it can only be deduced that Free Trade is primarily in
America's self-interest. Otherwise, why would Washington pursue it
What is less clear, however, is why Ecuadorian officials
accept "Free Trade" for their country. After all, no real
holistic benefit for Ecuadorian society has been presented besides
the superficial promise of "more choice" for consumers (cheaper
goods is a dangerous mirage as will be described later) and a larger
market for Ecuadorian products (that is if they don't compete with
American products). The most "realistic" outcome of "Free
Trade" in Ecuador is that a few will benefit (mainly the already
well-off or well-connected) while the poor and the indigenous will
be further marginalized and forced deeper into debt.
Perhaps Ecuador's negotiators have no choice and are
merely succumbing to America's bullying tactics. On the other hand,
another "Realism" maxim may be at work here, mainly that
all men are corruptible. Or is it that a sucker is born every minute?
The problem with Western "Realism" and its
modern incarnation "Free Markets", however, is that they
represent purposefully misleading agendas. By using the
science of Ego-based reality as its reference (i.e. solipsism), "Realism"
degenerates into a rigid and nakedly self-serving philosophy that
promotes the status quo. Its tenets ultimately become self-fulfilling.
One of the first casualties of a world of self-fulfilling prophecies
is freedom. "Realism" also renders "democracy" meaningless.
Further, "Realism" must be a misguided concept
for the simple reason that so much prevalent human misery, corruption and injustice cannot
be ipso facto of human existence. There has to be another way of conceptualizing
human existence so that true happiness has a greater potential of naturally evolving in more of us.
What that way of thinking may be is the query of this essay.
As is agreed by all sides, we are entering a
new epoch thanks to the unstoppable process of globalization. Potentially, the
most important aspect of this new world order is that people in every
corner of the world are close to realizing the free and unfettered access
to information thanks to the internet. Second in importance is that human societies are organizing themselves around the principles of the Rule
of Law and basic Human Rights.
As a result , today's global community is entering
a stage comparable to natural ecological harmony (Ecological harmony
arises from conditions of equal access to information by all living forms governed by universal
law, in this case, Natural Law). Looking forward, it seems evident that the
organizing rules for human societies should now take into consideration
the "healthy" Biological principles of sustainability, ecological harmony and strength in diversity
and make them compatible with our Human nature (i.e. our tendency towards
ego based "Realism"). Yes, we can be realistic but we can also be smart!
This change in direction is crucial for us
to achieve true freedom and happiness in a troubled world. It is also, I believe, a moral imperative.
Supermaxi: A Case Study in Free Trade
To start, we must view with skepticism corporate "Free
Market" ideologies that lead only to centralized gain and cancerous
growth at the expense of the many.
About a year ago, while relaxing in the doctor's lounge
at Columbus Hospital, one of my colleagues asked me whether I had
heard of the Ecuadorian supermarket chain store, Supermaxi. I told
him that, as far as I was aware, Supermaxi was a family operated business
that achieved tremendous success in Ecuador through the hard work
of its owners. He proceeded to explain that a recent Wall Street Journal
had spoken well of the company's potential for growth and he was thinking
of investing in Supermaxi.
I did not make much of the conversation until recently,
when I began to think about the implications of the Free Trade talks
(TLC) between Ecuador and the USA. Supermaxi, it dawned on me, is
poised to become one of the main beneficiaries of the TLC. With trade
barriers lifted and cheap produce flooding in, Supermaxi has the potential
for morphing into South America's Wal*Mart. However, Supermaxi's post
TLC success will come at a heavy cost for Ecuador's indigenous and
smalltime farmers--and ultimately all Ecuadorians.
As Ecuador's markets are opened by the TLC, excess
American agricultural produce will flood the local market. A large
venue, like Supermaxi, will be needed to distribute this large volume
of goods. These products will have an unfair advantage over local
produce as a result of illegal American subsidies (agricultural subsidies
makes American produce artificially less expensive than Ecuadorian
produce). This unfair advantage is compounded by the greater ability
of large factory farms and corporations to effectively market their
products via the mass media. Consumers in Ecuador will not only feel
like they are getting a "bargain," but they will feel privileged
to buy the "superior" American goods they see on the television
The result of the TLC will be that Supermaxi, and
similar retail stores, will no longer be compelled to sell the more
expensive and less sought after produce made in Ecuador. Eventually,
local indigenous and smalltime farmers will not have anywhere to distribute
their products. These farmers, as has happened in other parts of the
developing world, will be forced to sell their land and move to the
city where they will compete in a race to the bottom for the lowest
wages offered by the globalized industrial labor market. Others will
be left to beg in the streets.
This chain of events will undoubtedly cause great social
upheaval and misery in Ecuador. In the short run, this state of affairs
will prove beneficial for Supermaxi, the corporation. After all, Supermaxi
is in the business of making profits--not of promoting sustainable
social development in its... community?
Since Supermaxi, the corporation, only exists on paper,
it has no physical neighbors or any "communal" attachments
to Ecuador. Taking advantage of the unnatural disconnect between Supermaxi
and its immediate surroundings are foreign investors like my colleague.
Likely unaware of the social consequences of his investment, my doctor
friend was ready to invest in Supermaxi because some Wall Street pundit
had said it was a "strong buy." As an investor, he would
become a part of the constituency to whom the directors of Supermaxi
would ultimately have to respond. This constituency potentially will
be made up of foreign, often baseless cyber-investors, who will demand
immediate return on their investments with little regard to the long-term
consequences of their gain.
If Ecuadorians are not careful with their shopping
decisions -- and, simultaneously, if store owners view the bottom
line as the only measure of success -- the end result of the synergistic
combination of the TLC and globalized investing is that the course
of Ecuadorian society will no longer be in the hands of Ecuadorians
but in the pocketbooks of faceless foreign investors.
Since I hope to move back to Ecuador's rich and beautiful
countryside, the above scenario worries me. What will I be going back
to? Right now, Ecuadorian government protection and Fair Trade laws
supplement the marginal subsistence existence of Ecuador's farmers
and indigenous people. This aid allows farmers to offer their produce
at competitive prices -- at least to the local market. The current
state of affairs, imperfect as it may be, keeps Ecuador modestly self-sufficient
as it maintains the countryside's cultural authenticity. With the
TLC, the continued existence of Ecuador's rural countryside is threatened.
What can be done? Isn't this state of affairs just
"Realism"? To start with, we must not be fatalists. As Ecuadorians
we must understand that without COMMUNITY ACTION (which means, first
of all, an end to the petty political infighting, bureacratic corruption,
glaring nepotism, environmental carelessness and racism that is prevalent in our society) to prevent
the implementation of unfettered "Free Trade," the future
of Ecuador, without exaggeration, will be like that of today's Haiti.
Second, as world citizens, we must ask ourselves simple
but fundamental questions: Who are we? What is our relationship with
each other? With the environment? Where are we going? At this point
in mankind's existence, Buddhist-like mental discipline is in order
to answer these questions.
Given the transient nature of our existence, it is
my belief that a plausible answer to these questions is that we need
to evolve to become what we have always been, Eco-tourists. Let me
Eco-tourism, in its original usage, is defined as
"responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment
and sustains the well being of local people."
The International Ecotourism Society states:
"Ecotourism ...is environmentally responsible travel and visitation
undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature
(and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present) that
promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides
for beneficially active socioeconomic involvement of local populations."
Eco-tourism, in the sense of an all-encompassing philosophy,
extends the travel definition to our entire existence. Eco-tourism
emphasizes responsible interactions with the "other" in
order to enjoy and appreciate the "other's" nature. "Responsible"
interactions include those which promote the sanctity or autonomy
of "self" and "other" and provide for a mutually
beneficial, socioeconomic exchange.