On March 15, 2018 (Thursday) at around 7.45 pm, a fire broke out inside a fifth floor apartment at the Sirisara Uyana complex in Dematagoda. Sirisara Uyana is one of the high-rises built by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) for the working class poor of Colombo who were evicted or forcibly relocated there. It was declared open in November 2014 and has 12 floors and 780 apartments. The complex is visible from Baseline Road as one passes Welikada Prison on the right.
Photo by Devaka Seneviratne – Sirisara Uyana on left.
The apartment where the fire occurred was occupied by a family of three. They were not at home at the time of the incident. The head of household earns a daily wage by selling onions on a cart parked outside the apartment complex. His wife worked in Cyprus for five years and returned recently. Their son is eleven years old. Everything in the apartment burned that night. Nothing could be salvaged – including all the items purchased using the money earned during the wife’s time in Cyprus. This includes a refrigerator, a washing machine, furniture and other items.
Interviews conducted the morning following the fire with floor residents, relatives of the apartment occupants and others in the building raised several issues of concern. It is also worth noting that several of these issues have been consistently raised by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (See reports from April 2014, May 2015, November 2016, and January 2017) and other civil society actors over the last three years with the Urban Development Authority with no indication of any of them being addressed.
- No smoke detectors in the UDA complexes – None of the complexes have smoke detectors or alarms, either in the apartments or in public spaces like corridors or staircases. Residents said that they did not know there was a fire until people in the adjacent building (Sahaspura) started shouting. Some residents when interviewed said that they did not know why people were shouting and running downstairs and assumed it was a fight taking place. There are alarms fixed at the top of every staircase on each floor, but residents said no alarms went off that night.
- Building maintenance issues – The breakdown of facilities in the UDA buildings has been consistently raised over the years, but no measures have been taken to address them. Most elevators in the buildings are broken. Some compartments where fire extinguishers and hoses are kept have been vandalised. However on the night of the fire, residents said that the fire hose on the fifth floor did not work and there was no water. Some residents attempted to put the fire out by bringing fire extinguishers from other floors or by using buckets of water, with no success. The fire raged on for more than one hour.
- No prior evacuation training – Sirisara Uyana is a building that spans 12 floors. More than 1000 families living in 780 apartments call it home. Residents said that they have never participated in a fire drill or evacuation since they moved in in 2014 and that Thursday night was the first time they had to leave the building in this way. They reported that the evacuation itself went well and people helped each other. However, a resident of the fifth floor said that not everyone evacuated and in addition to the people who tried to put out the fire, the floor was packed with people who wanted to watch. When the fire brigade did arrive more than one hour later they were delayed in reaching the apartment as they could not make their way through the crowd gathered. Considering the cracks on the walls and floor that have appeared in the apartments adjoining the affected apartment, as well as cracks on the apartments directly below and above, it is evident that people were not aware of the danger of continuing to occupy a burning building.
- Lack of support for people with disabilities – Apartments on the ground floor not being assigned to people with disabilities is a key issue that has been raised for years. A wheelchair-bound resident who lives on the second floor said she was undecided as to whether she should go downstairs or not as she did not know why people were evacuating. Finally two young men that she had never met before had offered to carry her down and then, back upstairs when it was safe to go return to the building. We have met other disabled persons as well as elderly people with various ailments, including cardiovascular disease, who had been assigned apartments on top level floors across many of the UDA buildings in Colombo.
- Delay in fire brigade reaching Sirisara Uyana – Residents reported that it took more than one hour for the fire brigade to reach Dematagoda. One lady reported that she had made several calls while the fire brigade was en route. She was curtly told by the operator that the fire brigade would reach there soon and that perhaps the residents should learn to look after their apartments better. This speaks to the attitude officials have towards the working class poor of Colombo and the petty tyrannies faced by them at the hands of authorities.
Moving forward, there are some key issues the UDA needs to address. For years, residents have been complaining about the quality of the apartment complex with visible cracks appearing on the outer walls as well as inside apartments. This fire has only intensified the fear among residents, about how livable and safe these high-rises are in the long run. The disconnect between the residents and their built environment is evident in the badly kept public spaces and vandalism that takes place. By continuing to blame the residents for the state of the buildings and therefore not maintaining them, the UDA continues to create vertical slums.
The UDA must address the lived realities of the residents, take into consideration the involuntary nature of their move to the apartments and take measures to rectify their relationship with the affected people in order to avoid the current situation going from bad to worse. An assessment of the buildings must be done to ensure that the apartments are compliant with building standards. Awareness meetings must be conducted in order to inform residents as well answer questions they have about the building as well. Not only is it problematic that the UDA continues to see densification as the only way to house the working class poor (by the time of completion of the Urban Regeneration Project, 65,000 families will be living in one of these apartments), that basic standards are not being met despite residents’ continuous complaints is equally problematic. While their homes in the “wattes” may not have not had smoke detectors, they also did not have to run 12 floors downstairs along with 1000 other people in an emergency.
The standards, including on building compliance, maintained for the construction of prime ‘seven star luxury’ or ‘world-class-living’ apartments in other parts of Colombo (a few of them, ironically, built on land that some of the relocated apartment dwellers used to live on) must be applied to the working class poor of Colombo as well. We are lucky that lives were not lost that night due to the fire and we hope that it does not take the loss of a life, or a situation like the Grenfell Tower fire for the UDA to act.
For more information on evictions and forced relocations in Colombo, visit the Right To The City Sri Lanka initiative.
Editor’s Note: Also read “Evicted Under the World Bank’s Watch” and “The Meethotamulla tragedy: The face not fear of development“
Simmering Underneath the Surface
Came the 2014 Aluthgama riots, the wide margins of tolerance towards Sinhala racist elements on the part of the then government was all clear to see
Looking the other way
There are politicians who use these for political mileage and others who are by nature ethno-religious bigots
Sins of omission by the State
Spectators and cheerleaders
Were the non-rioting majority mere spectators or were they cheer leaders?
Over 6,000 people have been killed in Thailand due to bombings and explosions but yet the country attracts record tourists into the country
The recent media highlighted the impact of communal violence on the tourism industry. The press conference earlier this week threw out a number as high as 10% whilst the actual cancellation was around 500 room nights around the Kandy vicinity was reported.
Whilst the actual impact will be seen in the near future, the incidents sure shocked the industry and took their minds back to the time when curfew was a daily occurrence prior to 2009. The blackout of Facebook and WhatsApp did not help the cause too. Whilst there can be merit for this decision internally, from a crisis management perspective it was against the grail.
Thailand – over 600 killed
From a marketer’s point of view, we come with the experience that if our brands are strong it can withstand any shocks that the environment throws out. From a tourism industry view we can take the case in point of Thailand.
The country attracts almost 30 million visitors a year, but if we Google Thailand security, the news is startling. Over 6,000 people have been killed since 2004. If we take the near future, in 2015 the bombings inside the Eswaran Shrine killed 20 people and injured almost 200 people. In 2016, two bombs exploded in the tourism town of Hua Hin. One person died with 23 injured that included tourists. Last year a pipe bomb ripped a crowded street leaving 25 critically injured. On 22 January a motorcycle bomb exploded killing three people and dozens injured. If we take the press release of yesterday by the foreign office the wording is very clear: ‘Extreme caution must be made when travelling in Thailand as civil unrest, eminent terrorism attacks can be prevalent including Bangkok and places of highlight.’
But the question which is important to us in Sri Lanka is, how does Thailand attract 30 million visitors into the country with so many issues highlighted by the media?
The logic goes back to basics of human behaviour. If the positive stories that come out of a destination is higher as a share of voice (SOV) as against the negative vibes, then the attitude formation is more positively biased to the country. This leads to stronger behaviour such as more visits into the country. This is essential the reality of Thailand tourism.
Five strategies of TAT
If we track back to the strong equity of Thailand tourism, from a mere 81,000 visitors in 1960 today, there is over a 30 million coming into the country. Sri Lanka had around 19,000 tourists way back in 1966 whilst today we attract around two million. The question is, what has Thailand tourism done to develop such a strong brand globally with all the issues that have challenged this brand such as the 6,000 killings in the last 14 years?
The thinking is simple. Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) wants to be a top five destination to visit in Asia. This has a four-pronged strategy;
1) Develop infrastructure and logistics which link domestic tourism with international.
2) Develop and rehabilitate tourism sites and introduce clear guidelines which will enhance the countries potential for accommodating increased tourism.
3) Development of the creative economy with new products and services.
4) Keep the brand salience high and contemporary with the changing competitor landscape.
Building brand equity
– SL example
If we track back to the strong brands in the market, a clear thread that connects the best practice is ‘have a set of values around the brand’ and thereafter sustain this in the communication strategy over time, the logic being a clear identity in the market place. The stronger the coherence of the communication campaigns, the stronger the brand. This is the strength that helps a brand absorb any shocks that it faces in reality.
A classic example is the Fonterra brand Newdale in Sri Lanka. Even with all the issues it faced a few years ago on the product element, it was able to take the hit and bounce back quickly to win consumer demand pull from Sri Lankan housewives. This is the benefit of driving strong brand building.
If we track back on the brand building initiatives of Thailand, way back in 1980 Thailand launched its first-ever tourism campaign. It was called ‘Visit Thailand Year’. The campaign attracted two million tourists and made the industry the number one foreign exchange earner.
Once again in 1987, the campaign ‘Visit Thailand’ was relaunched to mark the 60th birthday of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej. It was once again made a strong impact on awareness and share of mind that attracted 3.4 million visitors as against the 2.8 million a year ago.
In 1998-’99, the world saw the launch of one of the best destination marketing campaigns themed ‘Amazing Thailand’ together with a strong private-public partnership. The campaign coincided with the 72nd birthday of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej and it was linked to the recovery process of the 1997 Asian currency crisis. The impact was significant with tourist arrivals crossing 8.5 million in number.
Thereafter in 2003 came the creative ‘Unseen Thailand’ which was a partnership project with Association of Thai Travel Agents, The Thai Hotels Association as well as Thai Airways. This was aimed at building a positivity post the SATS virus epidemic. Even though the industry numbers dropped by almost 10% the arrivals reached a number of 10 million which shows that strong brands can withstand shocks from the market.
In 2006, millions of people worldwide had the chance to witness Thailand’s many spectacles associated with the Royals. This included the Royal Barge Procession and the global communication campaign ‘Thailand Grand Invitation’. The year-long celebration attracted a record 13.8 million visitors into the country.
In 2007, with the celebration of the 80th birthday of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, Thailand launched the campaign ‘Thailand Talk to the World’. The share of voice was able to attract 14.4 million tourists into the country which was an interesting dimension of simple communication creatively executed on a central theme.
Year 2010 saw the celebration of Thailand Tourism’s golden jubilee. The communication campaign was branded ‘Amazing Thailand Always Amazes You’. It was aimed at attracting visitors who have come to Thailand to once again come back to the country. It was a record breaking year with number crossing 22 million travellers by 2012.
By 2014, the Thailand Authority for Tourism had to move to communication based on a new insights that people make the difference in making an experience novel to a traveller. The campaign was themed ‘Amazing Thailand – It Begins with the People’. Even though the target was 26 million travellers, Thailand ended the year at 24.7 million at a growth of 19.6% as against the previous year, which was another record performance.
In 2015, Thailand did not rest on its laurels but launched another campaign called ‘Discover Thainess’. It included traditions and beliefs. Also included was Thai boxing and Wai kru dance as a way of life that helped get attention of the global traveller. The objective been to give a rub off the ‘Thainess’ feel to the world that was well received. The year ended at 29 million visitors. Year 2016 saw the launch of the ‘Quality Leisure Destination Thainess’ year where the focus was to promote Thailand as a ‘Quality Leisure Destination through Thainess’ where the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) was the Thainess campaign. The numbers shot up to 32 million and 2017 ended at an amazing 35 million, a feat which explains the power of the brand Thai Tourism even with all the issues faced with arson attacks, bombings and explosions that have killed over 6,000 people that includes tourists.
Next steps – SL
Whilst Sri Lanka is yet grappling to launch a global marketing campaign since 2015, the numbers have crossed from 0.5 million travellers to 2.01 million even with a positive environment. In my view, it is not the numbers but the quality of the tourists that matters, the logic being that the room-stock is increasing daily whilst the cost of living is increasing disproportionately and the industry is challenged to keep the brand alive.
The Thailand story is an example of how a strong brand can absorb the shocks that the environment throws out and also generate the footfall on tourism.
(The writer is a business personality and Board Director in the private and public sectors of Sri Lanka and former Chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism and Sri Lanka Export Development Board. He is an alumnus of Harvard Executive Education.)
Featured image courtesy Global Press Journal
It certainly was a good Women’s Day this year, when I read on Groundviews about two very brave women who related their experiences of sexual harassment, one in the public service sector here and the other at one of the country’s top garment manufacturers/exporters (8 and 9 March 2018).
It is to be hoped that more people will write in their stories, using anonymity if necessary ‒ as I must in this brief post.
I cannot speak to the public service sector here, having few friends who are so employed and with no such experience myself. Nor have I ever worked for a garment manufacturer. But this is not important: the experiences are so similar, whatever the sector.
It is understandable that names of the workplaces were not given, and this is in no way a complaint against that: a person who experiences such harassment is herself or himself able to deem what is most appropriate.
Still, after reading about the garment company, I looked at the websites of two of Sri Lanka’s largest such companies, just to see what they looked like visually, and in light of their market focus, pitched towards the foreign companies that they produce apparel for. Both websites’ homepages use the technique of a scrolling slideshow of photos. Here is a brief description of the photos themselves:
- A fair woman (ethnicity unclear) in black lingerie, looking away
- A young man of unclear origin in sports clothes and intently competing in high hurdles
- A white woman in a yellow bikini, smiling and holding a surfboard by the beach
- A fair, female dancer, dressed in a ribbon-like costume
- A fair woman, perhaps of mixed ethnicity amid a swirl of butterflies, using her own hands to cover her breasts, with a dreamy faraway look
- A serious Sri Lankan cricketer (man)
- A white woman in a black bra lying on her back. The photo is of a close up view as she looks right into the camera
- Two men (ethnicity unclear) viewed from mid-range with backs to camera, holding hands and jumping in the air in a grassy field as if having fun, and wearing long shorts and white t-shirts
- Woman, light-skinned, of perhaps mixed ethnicity, in red, white and blue striped underwear and a red strappy top, close up, lying down on her side and looking directly into the camera
- Two men and one woman, white, laughing, the guys bare bodied and the woman in a white top, playing with a water hose
- Shot from behind of a topless white woman, pulling down one side of her jeans to show underwear (perhaps a G-string)
- A white woman in a yoga pose, wearing long black pants and sleeveless white top
- A fair woman, lying on her stomach, wearing red bra and red underwear, with her head turned slightly up and smiling
No doubt, the companies have determined that such images appeal to the clientele of this website ‒ images that that sort of people like to see, and images that by now can even be termed banal in their pervasiveness.
But with all the photos out there to choose from, and the fact that garments are now sold to a truly multiethnic public of manufacturers and buyers all over the world ‒ even if a country may be seen to be largely white ‒ the choice seems to truly reflect deep-seated biases of the usual sort. It is interesting to note that
‒ The men are doing serious sports or having innocent fun;
‒ The women are rarely serious (and the serious ones are fully clothed) with the others looking deliberately sensuous or provocative
‒ The predominance of white people portrayed in these ads, and the view of the women among them, in a country where few actually reside, points to blatant prejudice and sexism.
Why don’t these local companies use photos of very beautiful women from their own ethnic communities? Or aim to show how multiethnic Sri Lanka is?
In the end, the companies highlighted here are committing the ‘worst’ mistake of all (in the business world): they engage in bad business practice, in a quickly changing society, where old ways of portrayal are often seen as crude, self-centred and tacky, and by potential investors and buyers as potentially a reason to go somewhere else ‒ or, at the least, make one wonder what policies the companies actually have in place to combat the harassment of women and men.
As the two women authors to Groundviews have shown, and despite company declarations, there often is no policy on this, except to turn away and enable the harasser, which, in the wide world outside of business, looks like what it actually is: at the least, cowardice; at the worst, collusion.
Editor’s Note: Also read the articles referenced here, “Change is not Courage in a Boy’s Club” and “A Hellish Year: Misogyny in the Public Service Sector“.
Israel has expropriated a natural spring in the occupied West Bank village of al-Walaja, making off-limits a site long used by Palestinian residents for picnicking and swimming.
I have only been to al-Walaja twice. On the first occasion, in 2006, I was a volunteer with the YMCA of Palestine, helping to harvest olives from fields that al-Walaja’s Palestinian farmers could no longer access without threat of arrest or worse due to their proximity to Israeli settlements.
On that occasion two soldiers from the Israeli army turned up. They were pleasant; they seemed amused at our presence – eccentric foreigner “do-gooders” come to help the undeserving. They stayed but 20 minutes and left with a smile and a laugh.
A week later the fields we had harvested were declared a “closed military zone” by arbitrary edict of the occupation. No one, except those who could obtain an authorized military permit, could now access them.
Effectively, the farmer we had helped with the harvest had his lands seized because we had helped him. The unofficial policy of keeping him off his lands was formalized into an official policy of keeping him off his lands.
Peaceful protest met with violence
The second occasion I was in al-Walaja had a similar outcome. In 2009, I, with other volunteers, attended a lone farmer’s protest at the checkpoint on the nearby bypass road built for the use of Israeli settlers. We, as internationals, were only there to observe, not participate.
The protest consisted of a Palestinian farmer whose lands were on the other side of the bypass road and who thus could no longer access them; three other Palestinians from the village, and maybe 10 Israelis from Anarchists Against the Wall.
It was a Friday afternoon and for 10 minutes this group stood alongside Highway 60 holding baskets of olives and grapes, a Palestinian flag and a couple of protest signs.
The vast majority of motorists – Israelis heading home for Shabbat – ignored them, or gazed at them as one would an unpleasant looking insect: harmless but unsavory.
The Israeli army, young conscripts mostly, stood amidst the protest, almost doubling its size. They lacked orders and peace reigned. Then the Israeli Border Police turned up.
The Palestinian farmer was brutally and without warning beaten unconscious; the lead protesters from Anarchists Against the Wall arrested. And now lying prone on the ground the police sought to carry off the farmer.
As a group we internationals protested. Some shielding the farmer, others remonstrating with the officer. Cameras recording, the police hesitated; a Red Crescent ambulance arrived. Against police wishes, the farmer – still unconscious – was hastily got into the back of it. And me too.
I went unwillingly – no hero me – pressed into it by the urgency of a plea from an accompanying Palestinian that some “international” must go too or the army would simply pull the farmer from the vehicle at the next checkpoint.
We sped off. We did not go far. Perhaps half a mile up the road and round a bend a group of Palestinian men from the village waved us down. The doors were flung open and the prone farmer removed; lifted on the soldiers of his fellow villagers he was carried off across the fields. I can still view them now running and stumbling over the uneven ground. And then I was alone.
I was shocked – violence, especially unprovoked, gratuitous and sadistic violence always does that to me. A passing Palestinian woman asked me in perfect English what had happened. I told her – she shrugged and continued on her way. What was shocking to me, was normal to her.
Later I heard the farmer had been taken to hospital by his friends – a little concussion and a broken collarbone the sole consequences of his daring to highlight the loss of his lands.
A Palestinian friend thanked me for what I did. Six months in prison, he suggested, was the likely outcome the farmer had faced – and yet I did nothing but be there. I was only a witness.
And yet to witness a crime; to feel the sorrow and shock of it; to feel the shame of culpable injustice – maybe that is something. Maybe it is not. Maybe it is just to be present in Palestine.
Richard Irvine teaches the Israel-Palestine Conflict at Queen’s University Belfast, has taught in UNRWA schools in Lebanon, and has participated in activism in Palestine. He was formerly Education Officer with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Intelligence minister says attack is a ‘clear message’ to Iran it won’t allow its enemies to acquire nuclear weapons
Photo made available by the Israeli Defense Forces showing an alleged reactor building of the al-Kibar facility in Deir al-Zour province, Syria. Photograph: IDF/EPA
Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem-
Israel’s military has gone public for the first time to confirm a 2007 airstrike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, announcing details of a night-time attack its intelligence minister said provides a clear warning to Iran.
In a secret operation that has been extensively speculated on for a decade, Israelsaid it sent four F-16 fighters hundreds of miles into Syria on 6 September 2007, to bomb the partially completed al-Kubar facility near Deir ez-Zor.
Previously-classified footage, images and intelligence documents on the plan showed how Israel had monitored the site for several years and feared it could become operational within months.
One report, dated 30 March 2007, said: “Syria has set up, within its territory, a nuclear reactor for the production of plutonium, through North Korea, which according to an (initial) worst-case assessment is liable to be activated in approximately another year.”
The military said that following the four-hour operation, the reactor “had been totally disabled”, and the damage done “was irreversible”.
Black and white aerial images showed a box-like construction close to the Euphrates river in the desert, while video showed the structure exploding in a cloud of smoke following a countdown by a male voice.
The move to go public with the strike, which has already been widely reported and cited to US officials, comes amid repeated warnings by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the United States and others to take more robust action on Syria’s ally, Iran.
Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, made a direct warning to Iran in a tweet on Wednesday morning, saying the raid provided a clear message that Israel would not allow “nuclear weapons to countries like Iran who threaten its existence.”
The defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, stopped short of suggesting the possibility of a similar strike on Iranian facilities, but made clear the 2007 attack proved Israel was willing and able to act militarily.
“The motivation of our enemies has grown in recent years, but so too the might of the (Israel Defence Forces),” he said. “Everyone in the Middle East would do well to internalise this equation.”
Israel had acted before against the nuclear ambitions of its neighbours, notably in 1981 when it attacked a reactor under construction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Syria signed the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty and had always denied the site was a reactor or that Damascus cooperated with North Korea to build nuclear weapons. At the time of the 2007 attack, Syria accused Israel of invading its airspace without providing further details.
Israel’s military sought to justify the strike on Wednesday further, noting that the Islamic State group captured the area around the facility during Syria’s civil war.
“The security implications of a nuclear reactor falling into the hands of Isis or other extremist groups during the war in Syria are vast,” it said.
Israel is not a signatory to the NPT and has long refused to confirm or deny reports by foreign governments that it holds nuclear weapons.
The military did not specify why it chose to go public with the material. As well as speculation that it was released as a warning to Iran, the move may be related to the upcoming memoir by Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister at the time, who ordered the strike.
As Iran becomes increasingly engaged in Syria’s seven-year conflict, Israel has grown distressed that its most potent foe has a military presence in a country with which it shares a border.
The Israeli air force has conducted well over 100 airstrikes in Syria, most believed to target suspected weapons shipments destined for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group.
Last month, Israel downed a drone in its airspace that it claimed was Iranian, triggering a clash in which an Israeli jet was struck by Syrian anti-aircraft fire and “large-scale” strikes on targets near Damascus.
By Robert J. Burrowes- March 21, 2018
In 2014 I wrote an article titled ‘The Global Elite is Insane’. I want to elaborate what I explained in the earlier article so that people have a clearer sense of what we are up against in our struggle to create a world of peace, justice and ecological sustainability.
Of course, as I explained previously, it is not just the global elite that is insane. All those individuals – politicians, businesspeople, academics, corporate media editors and journalists, judges and lawyers, bureaucrats…. – who serve the elite, including by not exposing and resisting it, are also insane. And it is important to understand this if we are to develop and implement effective strategies to resist elite violence, exploitation and destruction but also avert the now-imminent human extinction driven by their insane desire for endless personal privilege, corporate profit and political control whatever the cost to Earth’s biosphere and lifeforms (human and non-human alike).
But first, who constitutes the global elite? Essentially, it is those extremely wealthy individuals – notably including the Rothschild family, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim, the Walton family and the Koch brothers – as well as the world’s other billionaires and millionaires. See ‘Bloomberg Billionaires Index’.
Testament to their secretly and long-accumulated wealth and power, a 2012 investigation concluded that rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets – which excludes non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and racehorses – in offshore tax havens. See the Tax Justice Network.
If this sum were devoted to programs of social uplift then starvation, poverty, homelessness and other privations would vanish immediately and environmental restoration projects as well as research, development and implementation of visionary sustainability initiatives would flourish instantly. The idea of an ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ national economy would vanish from the literature on Africa, Asia and Central/South America.
In addition to these individuals, however, the global elite includes the major multinational corporations, particularly including the following – although, it should be noted, this list simplifies the picture considerably by ignoring the conglomerate nature of many of these corporations and not including many of the (more difficult to identify) private corporations that should be listed in any comprehensive presentation:
- the major weapons manufacturers (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics)
- the major banks (including Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, HSBC Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Bank of America) and their ‘industry groups’ like the International Monetary Conference
- the major investment companies (including BlackRock, Capital Group Companies, FMR, AXA, and JP Morgan Chase)
- the major financial services companies (including Berkshire Hathaway, AXA, Allianz and BNP Paribas)
- the major energy corporations including coal companies (such as Coal India, Adani Enterprises, China Shenhua Energy, China Coal Energy, Mechel, Exxaro Resources, Public Power, Glencore and Peabody Energy) as well as the oil and gas corporations (such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, Rosneft, PetroChina, ExxonMobil, Lukoil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Petrobras, Chevron, Novatek, Total S.A. and Eni)
- the major media corporations (including Alphabet [Google owner], Comcast, Disney, AT&T, News Corporation, Time Warner, Fox, Facebook, Bertelsmann and Baidu)
- the major marketing and public relations corporations (including Edelman, W2O Group, APCO Worldwide, Deksia, BrandTuitive, Fearless Media, and Citizen Group)
- the major agrochemical (pesticides, seeds, fertilizers) giants (including Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont)
- the major pharmaceutical corporations (including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline)
- the major biotechnology (genetic mutilation) corporations (again including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Pfizer and Novartis)
- the major mining corporations (including Glencore Xtrata, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Anglo American, China Shenhua Energy, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, and Barrick Gold)
- the major nuclear power corporations (including Areva, Rosatom, General Electric/Hitachi, Kepco, Mitsubishi, Babcock & Wilcox, BNFL, Duke Energy, McDermott International, Southern, NextEra Energy, American Electric Power, and Westinghouse)
- the major food multinationals (including Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Company [ADM], Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Associated British Foods and Mondelez)
- the major water corporations (including Veolia, Suez Environnement, ITT Corporation, United Utilities, Severn Trent, Thames Water, American Water Works).
Of course, the global elite also includes elite fora where various combinations of elite individuals from the corporate, political, media and academic worlds gather to plan their continuing violence against, and exploitation of, the Earth and its inhabitants. This is intended to consolidate and extend their control over populations, markets and resources to maximize their privilege, profit and power at the expense of the rest of us and life generally. Among intergovernmental organizations, it includes the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
A quick perusal of the agenda of such elite gatherings – including the World Economic Forum, the Bilderberg Group and the Trilateral Commission – reveals a comprehensive lack of interest, despite rhetoric and the occasional token mention, of pressing issues ranging from the threat of nuclear war and the climate catastrophe to the many ongoing wars, deepening exploitation within the global economy, extensive range of environmental threats and the refugee crisis, each of which they generated and now continue to deliberately exacerbate. See, for example, the agenda of the recent WEF meeting in Davos.
Primary servants of the global elite include political leaders in major industrialized countries (who legislate to progressively expand elite power, profit and privilege, such as Donald Trump’s recent tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of social programs), the judges and lawyers (who defend elite power using the elite-designed and manipulated legal system: ever heard of a wealthy individual convicted in court and given any serious punishment or of any major corporation genuinely held to legal account for its exploitation of indigenous peoples or destruction of the natural environment?), as well as corporate media editors and journalists, entertainment industry personnel, academics, industry organizations (such as the European Round Table of Industrialists) that represent the interests of major corporations, so-called ‘think tanks’ (such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution) and ‘philanthropic trusts’ (such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford foundations) all of which justify, ignore or divert attention from elite violence and exploitation.
Importantly too, primary servants of the global elite include those who work within elite-directed agencies, notably including those in the so-called ‘intelligence community’ (such as the US CIA, British MI6, Russian SVR RF, Chinese Ministry for State Security and Israeli Mossad), who perform elite functions in relation to spying, surveillance and secret assassinations (particularly of grassroots activists), ostensibly under the direction of national governments. But it also includes many lower-level servants such as those who work as political lobbyists or in the bureaucracy as well as the education, police and prison systems.
So why do I claim that the elite and those who serve them are insane?
Any dictionary will offer a simple definition of ‘sanity’ along the lines of ‘soundness of judgment or reason’ and ‘the ability to think and speak in a reasonable way and to behave normally’.
But if we use this definition of sanity then, obviously, ‘sanity’ must be interpreted to mean that it is ‘sound judgment, reasonable and normal’ to further perpetrate the violence and exploitation that are overwhelmingly characteristic of our world. After all, most people powerlessly accept this incredibly violent state of affairs and, if they discuss it, do so in terms of its merits, politically, economically, morally or otherwise. Few people argue, simply, that violence is just insane.
So I would like to propose a more rigorous definition of sanity: Sanity is the capacity to consider a set of circumstances, to carefully analyze the evidence pertaining to those circumstances, to identify the cause of any conflict or problem, and to respond appropriately, both emotionally and intellectually, to that conflict or problem with the intention of resolving it, preferably at a higher level of need satisfaction for all parties (including those of the Earth and all of its living creatures).
Clearly, my proposed definition of sanity is designed to imply that any conceptions we have of ‘sound judgment’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘normal’ mean that they are qualities we associate with individuals who possess the desirable capacity to improve the overall state of human affairs, whether an interpersonal relationship or geopolitically. This means, as an absolute minimum, the capacity to reduce violence or exploitation in one context or another.
You might, of course, accuse me of writing a definition of ‘sanity’ that serves my agenda to dramatically improve world order in the direction of peace, justice and sustainability. And you are right! But whose interest does it serve to have sanity defined as behavior that involves ‘sound judgment’ and is considered ‘reasonable and normal’ in the context of perpetuating extraordinary violence?
Alternatively, you might argue that my definition of insanity is too broad. Surely, you might say, we can account for many of the behaviors outlined above in terms of different belief systems, ideologies and religions. Doesn’t a person who believes in killing people to win wars (or for other reasons) just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should resolve conflict nonviolently? Doesn’t a capitalist just have a worldview different from those who believe that people should share resources equally? Doesn’t a person who believes in the unlimited accumulation of wealth just have a worldview different from those who believe in ecological sustainability?
But there is a more fundamental issue here. As I explained in my original article, cited at the beginning of this one: Do you really believe that someone who is capable of perpetrating extraordinary violence, inequity and biosphere-threatening behavior – and thus clearly incapable of experiencing and expressing the love, compassion, empathy and sympathy that would drive a nonviolent approach to the world – is sane? Given that emotional qualities such as love, compassion, empathy and sympathy are an evolutionary gift to those not seriously damaged during childhood, what happened to those individuals who do not possess them? See ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
Or, to explain it based on my longer definition of sanity highlighted above: Casual observation of the state of our world, including the primary threat of near-term human extinction through climate catastrophe or nuclear war – see ‘On Track for Extinction: Can Humanity Survive?’ – clearly reveals that none of the elite is paying considered attention to the perilous state of our world, analyzing the evidence in relation to it, identifying the cause(s) driving it or responding powerfully to end it. Why is this?
In essence, it is because one manifestation of their insanity drives them to deny reality to make huge profits from weapons production used to kill people, the burning of climate-destroying fossil fuels, environmental destruction (through, for example, mining and rainforest logging), commercial farming based on the poisoning and genetic mutilation of foods, the mass production and sale of poisoned, processed and nutritionally-depleted foods, the consumption of health-destroying and dependency-creating drugs, and control over the sale of water, once considered a human right. Moreover, insanity makes the elite do everything in its power to maintain this highly profitable state of affairs. See ‘Profit Maximization is Easy: Invest in Violence’.
Moreover, of course, there is no evidence of committed elite engagement in efforts to end the many local wars (from which they make huge profits), end corporate exploitation of human beings (which kills, through starvation alone, 100,000 people every day but from which they make huge profits) and nonhuman beings (which drives 200 species of life to extinction daily but from which they make huge profits) or end local environmental destruction in a myriad ways (from which they make huge profits).
So, in summary, given our ongoing rush to extinction, it is clear that those who exacerbate this threat through failure to consider and act with awareness (as well as encourage aware action by others) fail to satisfy the definition of sanity that I offered above. In short: Gambling on the future of humanity is not sane.
As an aside, it should be noted: Often enough too, the elite can rely on a largely insane population to mindlessly consume the latest consumer product, no matter how unnecessary, or they can rely on their marketing and advertising agents to persuade those of us who show the slightest reluctance to buy the latest inanity.
So with an insane global elite and its many insane servants as well as a largely insane consumer population, what can those of us who have the sanity to respond powerfully to the many threats to our survival do?
Well, if you want a child who is emotionally and intellectually engaged with the world and therefore capable of responding powerfully to their circumstances (which includes being able to resist the lure of serving the elite and being suckered by its marketing), then terrorizing the child into obedience is not the way to go about it. So, you might like to consider making ‘My Promise to Children’.
If you are sane enough to investigate the evidence and to act intelligently and powerfully in response to it, I encourage you to do so. One option you have if you find the evidence in relation to one or more of the threats mentioned above compelling, is to join those participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’.
If you are self-aware enough to know that you are inclined to avoid ‘difficult issues’ and to take the action that these require, then perhaps you could tackle this problem at its source by ‘Putting Feelings First’. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, few of us had a childhood that nurtured our sanity.
If you want to mobilize people to campaign effectively on the climate, war, rainforest destruction or any other elite-driven violence that threatens our future, consider developing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to do so. See Nonviolent Campaign Strategy.
And if you want to participate in the worldwide effort to end the insanity we call violence in all of its manifestations, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.
Elite insanity, if not stopped, will drive us out of existence. If you believe that the elite and their servants will ‘see the light’ before it is too late, I invite you to seek out the evidence to justify your belief. I have found none.
I also see no evidence that individual members of the elite will do the emotional healing necessary to be able to act sanely in response to the extinction-threatening crisis it has generated.
So it is up to those of us who can think and act sanely to stop the rush to extinction before it is too late.
Are you one of those people?
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is email@example.com and his website is here.