So, what are you all reading these days? I’m reading…well…too many things at once, as usual. But one book I feel merits particular mention is this one by Zygmunt Bauman.

I first read Zygmunt Bauman at university. We read his Modernity and the Holocaust, which I would still highly recommend to anyone. Really. Anyone. It has dense moments, but ultimately it was a real mind-opener, for me at least, in terms of how I will forever think about the Holocaust’s meaning.

In this little volume, Bauman tackles the subject of those who do not thrive in our current societies. Those who are outcasts, considered unimportant, expendable, like garbage – human waste, or wasted humans, as he calls them.

This includes refugees, the poor, the unemployed, the economic migrants, and the asylum seekers. He attempts to explain that their existence is, in a tiny nutshell, a direct consequence of the modernizing drive (much as he explained the occurence of the Holocaust – please, read that book!).

There are 4 parts or chapters to the book:

  • The Waste of Order Building (order building being the way we structure our societies, so the waste inherent in our social structures)
  • The Waste of Economic Progress (the chapter I’ve just finished, which gets less abstract than the first, thankfully, and addresses the humans that end up as waste because of our economic system.)
  • The Waste of Globalization
  • The Culture of Waste

I’ve only just finished the second part, but I find it really exciting the way he articulates so clearly the way we have historically used and are currently using immigration in our economic systems.

He also has a very good discussion of overpopulation, which, for all the angry articles I’ve read about why population control schemes are “racist” or “culturally biased” actually has the bet argument for questioning the motivation of population control plans that I’ve read anywhere. (but that’s another post entirely).

He also includes in this chapter a beautiful discussion on fear and it’s interactions with religion, capitalism, and ignorance (particularly trenchant observations when applied to the US where all three are promoted with fervor).

Here’s a great line, giving much food for thought when applied to recent political events in the US (ie – the underpants bomber)

Human vulnerability and uncertainty are the principal raison d’etre of all political power; and all political power must attend to a regular renewal of its credentials.

Ironic no? You think the government is there to keep you safe, that’s they’re job. But if you ever actually were entirely safe (impossible to begin with) you would see no reason for the government. Therefore, to continue existing, the government, whose job is to protect you, has to constantly convince you that you are in danger and that they are therefore needed. What a beautifully and concisely worded insight.

Therefore, at the same time that the political establishment probably sincerely wants to protect citizens from men with exploding y-fronts, they also feel compelled to use this episode to justify their particular actions (money spent on defense, escalation of wars, starting of new wars perhaps, preventing unions in the TSA, etc…) and their very existence.