Sunday, January 02, 2011

Political peripheral vision

When it comes right down to it, the poor and politically disenfranchised continue to come up with the short straw on any matter of critical importance here in the U.S. At issue can be something as devastating as Hurricane Katrina or seemingly mundane as a New York snowstorm. (GW)

Snowpocalypse and Theories of Sustainable Development

December 30, 2010

One of the theories that exist within sustainable development is the idea that within our society there are effectively two kinds of people: a small core elite who exercises control over the larger - unsustainable - system, and the rest of us in the periphery who have to make do within said system.

In other words, there are those who make the rules and those of us who are forced to live by them.

On a macro-level this ideology is reflected in the stark reality that only a handful of countries (the G20) control the global economy. They not only make the rules, but rather rig the entire system so that they are (hopefully) best positioned to benefit.

Yet this idea of core versus periphery is not just reflected on a macro level, much like fractal theory, it is continually repeated it on every level. For example, you can see it on a national level, often most egregiously in developing nations, where an elite minority controls nearly all of the decision making and the wealth.

Most interestingly, and related to the snowstorms that buffeted the East Coast, you can see this on a city level.

In New York City, some four days after the blizzard dumped between 15 and 29 inches of snow, Manhattan - the seat of the city's power and most of its elite - is mostly clear of snow. Set foot in the outer boroughs and that's not the case as citizens appeal to news programs to get the city to remove snow so that they can get the cars they need to get to work now that the city has reduced transit services (while increasing prices) yet again.

Despite the city's claims many streets in Queens and Brooklyn (and perhaps Staten Island or the Bronx) have not been plowed. Or, perhaps they have been plowed, but being able to see the road or, you know, drive down it, was not actually the goal of the plow so much as shoving the snow around. In New York property owners are responsible for shoveling their streets and in my neighborhood everyone does - it's a curious feeling to walk on perfectly clear sidewalks and yet to have problems crossing the unplowed streets.

The problem with a society that is shaped this way, is that everyone suffers. In the case of New York City many people who live in the periphery yet work in the core simply didn't go to work, or, arrived late and left early. In countries where wealth is segmented the rich live behind walls and with armed guards while the rest squabble over an ever smaller piece of the pie. On a transnational level, countries go to war to protection "non-negotiable" ways of life.

Yet if everyone suffers why does it persist?

Because, as we've seen over and over again… it's just that those of us on the periphery suffer more.


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