In Ireland, as in much of the West, the public response was immediate and colossal. Reasons for this include the fact that the regions most affected are popular destinations we've at least heard of, and that the disaster happened over the Christmas holidays giving us plenty of time to absorb media images as we ate and drank ourselves silly. But without doubt, the real motivation of ordinary people responding and acting so unequivocally was that of empathy. Even though we couldn't really comprehend the rising number of dead, or come to terms with the medium and long term impacts, ordinary working class people right across the globe acted out of instinct and solidarity with our fellow man, giving freely of our money and time.
This is in complete contrast to the responses of western governments and their corporate masters. The derisory amounts offered by each and every government have been raised continually by embarrassed ministers, stung by public criticism of their miserliness with our money. Bertie has now raised the E1 million to E20 million. Unfortunately previous experience shows that even when little help is offered, even less is received. For example only 5% of aid promised to Iran after recent earthquake there was actually given. Oxfam have already accused this government of diverting half of the 20 million from existing aid funds!!
The dysfunctional mindset of our political and business leaders enable them to talk up sums offered to rescue, repair and rebuild human lives, whist spending and investing our money on the infrastructure of war and exploitation. Tony Blair revised the UK's pledge from £15 million to £50 million but has spent £6000 million on the illegal occupation of Iraq. Mr Bush has offered $150 million but this is peanuts compared the cost of just one of his stealth bombers, which cost $2000 million apiece.
What about the 'generosity' flaunted by big business to the applause of some sections of the mass media? While of course accepting that corporations have no legal imperative to give anything, it is noteworthy to examine just how generous the big boys really are.
The Bank of Ireland offered E1.8 million when its profits last year were _696 million. The AIB has pledged E3 million, a lot of money to you and me no doubt, but it makes E4 million in profit every single day. These are just two examples of which there are many more.
The message is simple. Powerful and rich men may spend lots of time talking about democracy and liberation but they don't believe in equality. That is why they don't bother counting dead Iraqis. That is why over a million human beings die every month of hunger and preventable diseases across the globe in countries crippled by debt.
It is clear that our 'leaders' and the corporate elite who make their wealth off us do not see all human beings as equally valuable. That is why we have massive war machines, ever ready to bomb and kill for 'democracy', but not massive armies to fight hunger, disease, poverty and squalor. This is the reality of the world we live in.
However, the response of ordinary people suggests that we, the great majority of this planet's population, do believe in equality and solidarity, and that we are willing to act on our empathetic instincts. Mother Nature may be beyond our control but the ability to create global justice and to share wealth is not. Real change will come when we, the people, make it impossible for our 'leaders' to ignore our demands and we remove the structures of enforced inequality and human misery that grind down so many fellow human beings.
This edition is No84 published in Jan 2005