Choose One: Oppressive Dictators or Colonialism

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Apparently on facebook or something people are suddenly becoming aware that batteries are made from dirt dug out of the ground by 4 year olds enslaved in some unknown 3rd world country. Now people are upset, I guess because forced child labor is being used to build their fancy flying machines or something.

I wonder whether people even question how the world works anymore. Do they even know what is inside their phones, let alone the processes used to get that stuff in there and working? Maybe it’s a dying breed that actively questions the world, or maybe it was never really a thing that many people did.

When it comes to dirt that is in 3rd World Countries, there aren’t a lot of options to getting it. And trust me, we wouldn’t be asking for the dirt if it wasn’t cheaper and better dirt than the dirt in our own backyard.

One option is we pay some guy money to give us the dirt. With that money, he can buy stuff that people in his country has never seen before, the stuff we take for granted. He gets his hands on these things and next thing you know, he’s running his country as a brutal dictator using child labor to dig the dirt out of the ground.

Another option is we move in with our own people, take the land with the dirt on it for ourselves, and then dig the dirt out in a civilized way. Maybe we pay off the locals with tokens and trinkets to keep them happy. Maybe we hire some of them to do menial jobs that they are actually capable of doing. Maybe we just build a fence and shoot people who try to cross it. Either way, this is what colonialism is all about.

In the late 20th Century, colonialism became one of those ideas that everyone universally agreed sounded really bad. I mean, you’re “stealing” land, you’re “exploiting” people, etc… During this time, many colonial European nations began the process of handing control of their colonies back to the people from their colonies. Some worked out OK; most did not. After the Europeans left, things got markedly worse, at least for a time. Some places are still really bad. Some places are in a very precarious position and can easily go back to being bad.

Now that we see the world without colonialism, was it really such a bad idea? Are we comfortable buying dirt from brutal dictators with forced child labor? Or would we rather prefer to do things in a civilized way?

Saudi Arabia is a good example of how you can do colonialism “right”. We (meaning, all Europeans) put the Saudis in power. We moved in, with their blessing, with our machines and our people. We hired their people to do work, and it works out OK. Saudi Arabia, especially the Saudi royal family are fantastically wealthy, the average citizen in their country has more wealth than they could even imagine, and we get all the dirt (in this case, liquid dirt we call oil) we want at a good price.

China is also a good example of how you can do colonialism right, at least how we do it today. With the blessing of their leaders, we moved in, built factories, created jobs, and elevated their standard of living way beyond their imaginations. Now China is worried we will move on to other countries such as India or Vietnam or even Africa, and is trying to build what we have in their own country. (Spoiler alert: You can’t do it that way.)

Perhaps it’s time we moved into Africa as well, took over these mines (with their blessing, of course) and hired our own miners to do the work. We are already doing this all over the world with mining operations and farming and much more, so much so that when you see products enter our country from overseas, you’ll see Americans all over it. Over time, we should probably label all the parts of the world controlled by Americans and American corporations, and as we consume more and more of that map and push the native populations into their own isolated corner (with trinkets and toys and more wealth than they can imagine), we can secede and join the US, just like we did in Texas and Hawaii. I’m certainly all for that. That’s the inevitable conclusion to what happens when you invite a foreign power to setup shop in your backyard.

As to how you can civilize a nation, well, that’s another topic. I used to believe that America could do it, America could be the Rome that brings universal peace to the world, but I am not so sure anymore. We have our own problems to deal with, and we certainly can’t solve the world’s problems. And frankly, we don’t care enough about the rest of the world to give us any hope of doing it right. I mean, we didn’t even know that our electronic devices were built with child labor!

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