Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I Like my Justice, and Diamonds, Bloody

Historically, Charles Taylor isn’t that interesting. History certainly has produced no shortage of despots. What makes him a likely footnote in future textbooks is that he got caught. He, like Bernie Madoff, was tried and convicted.  Mr. Taylor, it would appear, was big enough to be a bastard to many, but not big enough to be “our bastard,” as the famous quote goes.

It’s been a few years since Hollywood made us associate Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish grin with the phrase “blood diamond,” but the diamond industry hasn’t forgotten. I never gave it much thought until I went looking for a ring for my soon to be wife. Given her family is from diamond-rich west Africa, we both decided it would be the height of poor taste to not at least have some idea of where our public display of love came from. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions in global capitalism creating an equitable structure to extract and trade shiny rocks rich people collect, but if I can get a cup of “fair trade” coffee one would think I could at least find a shred of assurance my beautiful fiancé wouldn’t be facebooking  pictures of her new ring mined by an eight year old cousin from back home?

As it turned out, I couldn’t. No one knew where the diamonds came from. I tried small jewelers, I tried big. No one had a clue. As you might suspect, no one wanted to talk about it. But after some uncomfortable pressing, they would all proudly proclaim they didn’t deal with “conflict diamonds.” Sure. But how did they know? They didn’t. But whatever. I didn’t expect them to know any more than I expect the "sandwich artist" at Subway to know which factory farm produces their tasteless tomatoes. In the end I went with a diamond-less ring (which has the added benefit of being much cheaper).

The United Nations backed  “Special Court for Sierra Leone” had been effectively ignored up until the Taylor verdict. Like Samantha Powers dedicating some generic human rights award to a nameless, as well as limbless, child, the media has finally given us the pat on the back we needed for the moment. Who has time to understand the where and why when they’ve already firmly told us the who, what, and when?

The trick to sacrificing someone is to make sure they’re guilty. It is a huge mistake to sacrifice someone with even a shred of respectability. But, still, I must ask, where can a find a “conflict free” commodity of any sort, let alone a diamond? One of the major contradictions, and if we are honest, geniuses, of capitalism is divorcing production from consumption. I’ve been manufacturing commodities for over a decade and I’ve, at least to my knowledge, never used one of the glorified widgets I’ve produced. Alienation has created a fair amount of apathy. (Hey, that’s a good slogan to put on a three dollar mass-produced t-shirt!)

Charles Taylor isn’t “our bastard” because he is a authoritarian murderer. No, we’ve got plenty of those in our little black book. Charles Taylor tried to buy low and sell high outside accepted international frameworks. And, certainly most damning for him, he did so in such a manner that his conviction filled our belly of emotions full of righteousness for some time. (Taylor’s purported mentor, Muammar Qaddafi, learned this lesson a bit too late.)

I hope everyone’s hungry, because justice is served!

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