A title is often misleading, and if you were hoping that this post was going to be about gun control, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I may decide to write on that particular topic another time, but not today. The weapon I want to discuss today is a far more universal one than a 9mm pistol or an AK-47 assault rifle – as ubiquitous as the Kalashnikov has become in almost every third-world country and former communist nation on earth, it’s still not as prolific as the weapon I’m going talk about in this entry. This weapon is legal in every country on earth; in fact if you don’t own one, you’re probably seen as weird, disorganised or just plain down-and-out.
What is this deadly side-arm of which I speak? Simple: a wallet.
“Wait, what? A wallet is a weapon? How does that make any sense?” I hear you asking. Well, let’s look at what constitutes the definition of a weapon. I’m sure everyone agrees that objects that are designed to inflict wounds, such as guns, swords and knives, can be unequivocally defined as weapons. Yet, a baseball bat can be as deadly a weapon as a sword. A broken bottle could inflict a fatal stab wound. These objects, whilst not designed as weapons, can easily be used as weapons. “Well, that doesn’t require much of a stretch of the imagination to see,” you say. “But a wallet? It’s small, soft – it wouldn’t do any damage if you hit someone with it!”
Of course, that’s true – you couldn’t possibly kill or seriously maim someone with an object like a wallet. However, in order to illustrate my point, I’d like to explore the notion of violence, and then, more specifically, chains of violence. First, let’s look at a hypothetical case, in which we have two fictitious characters – Tim and Bob. Tim is a small, slightly-built fellow who by nature is repulsed by the sight of blood. However, his squeamishness and weak muscles do not preclude him from having a cruel nature; he is a rich, extremely successful cut-throat businessman who has not an ounce of moral integrity to his name and no conscience whatsoever. The violence he commits is in contracts and ledgers.
One day Tim discovers that his wife has been having an affair. Enraged, he decides that she and her lover must die. However, due to his weak stomach and spindly limbs (his wife’s lover is a strong, athletic fellow) he cannot do the deed himself. Enter Bob. Bob is a tall, burly thug with minimal intelligence a penchant for brutality. He gladly accepts payment from Tim to bludgeon the hapless woman and her lover to death with a sledgehammer.
The deed is done. Two people lie dead, their bones broken and skulls crushed by Bob’s deftly-swung sledgehammer. Bob and Tim are both guilty of murder, in the eyes of the law. But who is more guilty out of the two?
I think most people would agree that while Bob is certainly guilty of committing the vile act, the blame for the murder falls upon Tim. Without Tim’s desire to have his wife and her lover killed, there would have been no murders. Bob would have had no reason to attack them without being instructed to do so by Tim, so they would still be alive and unharmed.
This is where I would like to introduce the concept of a chain of violence. Now, first, what is a chain? It is a single strand composed of many interconnected links. If even one link breaks, the whole chain is rendered useless and destroyed. So, in this case, we must agree that every link, wherever it is on the chain, is essential to the integrity of the chain as a whole. When one link breaks, the entire chain is broken. This concept is key to what I’m trying to illustrate.
In the case of Tim and Bob, the chain is a very short one, consisting of only two links. However, each is nonetheless vital to the integrity of the chain; without Tim’s desire to kill his wife, there would have been no murder. Also, without Bob’s willingness to kill the woman, there would have been no murder (none immediately anyway, until Tim had found someone who was willing to do the deed).
Now, in order to expand on the chain concept a little, let’s redo the Bob and Tim scenario with a few more characters. In this scenario (and let’s say that this happens somewhere in the United States), Tim doesn’t know Bob. In fact, he doesn’t know anyone who would be willing to kill his wife. However, he is a frequent visitor to a seedy strip club owned by a mafioso. He is on very good terms with the bouncers there and one of them, Chris, says that he will put in a word for Tim with Tony, the gangster who owns the club. Tony regularly makes use of contract killers himself, but is wary of getting one of his regular guys to help Tim in case it goes wrong and he is implicated and imprisoned. However, he is eager to take a cut of the large sum of money that Tim is offering, so he calls his friend Jeff, who specialises in human trafficking from Eastern Europe. He asks Jeff to source him a brutal thug who is willing to kill two strangers in exchange for being smuggled into the USA with a forged American passport, along with a small sum of cash. Jeff does some searching and comes across Bob, who is willing and able to do the deed. Bob is smuggled into the US, gets his sledgehammer and instructions from Jeff, and commits the murders.
Now the chain looks like this: Tim > Chris > Tony > Jeff > Bob. Again, let’s ask the same question: Who is most guilty in this scenario? All of the links in the chain bear some guilt for the murder of the two people; if we removed any one of the links from the chain, it would be broken and there would be no murder. Correct? Yet again, despite the length of this chain and the great distance between Tim and Bob (neither of whom are even aware of the other’s existence), the ultimate blame for the murder still sits squarely upon Tim’s shoulders – for again, without his desire to kill his wife and her lover, there would have been no reason for Bob to commit those murders.
“So what the hell does this all have to do with wallets?” I hear you ask. “Sure, we all have them, we all use them every day, but none of us know any mob bosses or contract killers! This is ridiculous!” you protest. But is it? How aware are we of the chains of violence in which we are the links, in which our desires provide the motive (just as Tim provided the motive in the murder scenario) for others to commit violence on our behalf at the other end of the chain?
It is obvious to anyone who even makes the slightest scratch through the shiny “ain’t life swell!” veneer of modern urban life, that our lifestyles are utterly destroying the planet upon which we reside, and are the cause of untold suffering, brutality, pollution and destruction. The oceans are choked with plastic waste and will be effectively dead and devoid of life by 2048. Read that sentence again, a few times, and allow the implications of it to actually set in. “That’s terrible!” you gasp. “Someone should stop those bastards!”. We kill 150 BILLION animals a year to satisfy our cravings for meat, dairy and eggs. I don’t think the human mind can accurately envision that number, but trust me, it’s enormous; literally, as I’ve just said, beyond comprehension. What’s more the vast majority of those 150 billion unfortunate creatures, who are slaughtered for the sole purpose of convenience and our pleasure, spend their ENTIRE lives, from birth to slaughter, never seeing the sun, breathing fresh air, for many not even being able to MOVE within the confines of their cages. They are treated with hatred, brutality, cruelty sadistic malice and callous indifference from the moment their lives begin until finally death releases them from this hellish existence. They are not shown an ounce of kindness, love or compassion.
And we are an integral link in the chain of violence at the end of which they are the victims – it is because of our link in that chain, our desire to consume their bodies and secretions that they are brought into this world. The livestock industry is a greater carbon emitter than all of the transport industries on the planet combined. The grain and soybeans used to feed and fatten these animals requires the clearing of vast tracts of land. Jungles, rain-forests and old-growth forests, which have covered the earth for millions of years and served as its lungs, its purifying air filter, are hacked down to make way for grazing land or to grow feed for animals in feedlots.
In South-East Asia rainforests are being destroyed in vast swathes to make way for palm plantations, to produce palm oil. Again, this destroys the earth’s lungs and is leading to the extinction of numerous species.
Our addiction to oil and plastic products has lead us to the point where massively destructive methods of extraction such as tar sands and fracking are coming to the forefront of oil sourcing.
In the third world millions of underaged workers, and indeed entire families, live and labour in conditions almost as bad as the chattel slaves experienced two hundred years ago on plantations and farms in the New World – yet these slaves (indentured labourers is the preferred euphemism, I believe) work in factories that produce our brand-name (and non-brand name) running shoes, athletic wear and technological products.
Before anyone jumps on me, yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy and bitter irony of the fact that I’m typing this on a product of this system.
Links in the chain – who is to blame? Remember Tim.
Let’s not stop there – what about resource mines that reduce entire mountains, valleys and other former wild landscapes to barren rubble to source the minerals from which our leisure products are made? Diamond industries that line the pockets of savage warlords who massacre families and force children into soldierhood and/or sexual slavery? Soft drink giants who are taking over streams and other fresh water sources in third world nations to source their bottled water, shamelessly depriving the poor of the single most important element (besides air to breathe) necessary for survival?
Most of the things that are produced by these rapacious, exploitative and immensely destructive industries are not necessities – they are luxuries. We can quite easily live without them, and indeed we can live far more healthy and fulfilling lives when we have weaned ourselves off of these addictive products and freed our minds from the consumption=happiness ideology that is forced down our throats 24/7 by those who profit from the destruction of the wilds, the enslavement and mass slaughter of billions of sentient beings, the plundering of our oceans and the exploitation of the poor in the third world.
Before you assume, however, that this post is entirely pessimistic/accusatory/judgmental/damning, let me make one more important point. While a wallet can be a weapon, a weapon that is an integral link in the chains of violence that I have talked about above, it can also be used for good. The whole point of this diatribe has been to illustrate personal complicity in systems of destruction, cruelty, barbarism, exploitation and greed – but remember, we have just as much power to say NO when we make a purchase. In fact, the act of defying society’s norms, awakening from a state of apathy, and refusing to continue to participate in the systems of exploitation and brutality that have been sold to us and forced down our throats as “normal and desirable” since birth is an act of massive power and defiance, akin to hurling a mass of hand grenades into the massed ranks of the enemy. Remember, every time we pull out our wallets and hand over a stack of notes or handful of coins, we are firing bullets. These bullets travel along a chain, as I have illustrated – but they need not be the chains of violence.
When we choose NOT to buy products that come from systems of exploitation and brutality and wanton destruction, and instead buy products that come from sources that espouse values of sustainability, kindness and compassion, we are like soldiers throwing down our guns and walking away from battle. There are no generals forcing us into the wars against nature, animals, the poor citizens of third world nations and the environment, these wars that we are unwittingly funding. We will not be court-martialled if we desert. And every “deserter” weakens the armies of destruction and exploitation, and for every soul who deserts these systems and crosses over to the side of peace, sustainability, forethought and compassion, a small victory is won. It may seem tiny and insignificant, but what is an ocean but a collection of tiny drops?
The time has come to awaken from the stupor of apathy, to throw down your weapons and desert the armies of the oppressor, and to make choices every day that say yes for good and no to evil. This is the only way that the war will be won: from the ground up. Always remember – we ARE the ground, we are the soldiers holding the weapons, and we have immense power in EVERY single choice we make.