Upon flipping to the business section of the New York Times an Ohio University student saw a startling headline glaring back at her American Corporations Suspected In Millions of Third World Deaths. As she read the article it became apparent that international corporations many of which were based in the United States exploit the poorest of the poor. These companies paid workers extremely low wages and exposed them to hazardous materials with out any protection. Working conditions were unsafe and often lead to health problems. It appeared that slavery was alive and well in the name of Global Industrialization.
Even more shocking was the fact that this new form of slavery was also present within our own borders. Migrant workers and illegal aliens were becoming an increasing percentage of Americas labor force. These workers were paid well below minimum wage for jobs, which often put their health if not their life in jeopardy. It appeared that Americas industrial empire was built upon the exploitation of the poor throughout the world. Often women and children were the victims of the Global Market Economy. The article stated that millions of goods were produced by children as young as 6 in third world and developing nations.
Companies producing these goods claimed that it was not slave labor they claimed it was the efficient use of human resources for production. It seemed that companies in their desire of progress and profit were oppressing the worlds poorest nations and their citizens. This is not a new phenomenon it has gone on through history; the strong oppress the weak. What is amazing though is the fact that industrialized nations all consider themselves to be the most civilized societies in the world. Industrial powers view less developed nations as backwards which is a synonym for barbarous. But are the societies of industrially advanced nations truly the most civil? This is the question Montaigne raised over 400 years ago in his paper entitled Of Cannibals.
Throughout history it seems that the most technologically advanced societies are the most powerful. And the most powerful nations view themselves as the most civilized people in the world. But what exactly are the defining attributes of a civilized society? According to Websters Third International Dictionary a civilization is: an ideal state of human culture, characterized by complete absence of barbarism and non-rational behavior, optimum utilization of physical, cultural, spiritual, and human resources, and perfect adjustment of the individual within the social framework. By this definition it is clear that no powerful nation is civilized. While America does not meet the definition of civilization, we are technically civilizing other countries. In other words we are forcing a particular foreign cultural pattern on other populations.
Few would argue that many nations and cultures are going through a process of Americanization through the use of our massive media and advertising empires. This is also not a new development powerful empires often try to spread their culture, Alexander the Great instituted Hellenization around 330 BCE. But not on the level that is taking place today. This attempt to change foreign cultures into our culture is proof that we believe it is the best culture currently available. Going back in history we can see that in the days of Alexander the Greats empire foreign cultures were viewed as Barbaric. Today we prefer the words: backwards, underdeveloped, or classify them as the third world.
The term third world is extremely interesting if they are the third world industrial nations we must be the first world. Them term third world blatantly declares our belief that our society is the best. But is Western society the best form of a civilization the world has to offer? Montaigne asked this same question over 400 years ago. In his paper Of cannibals he discusses the difference between European society and a newly discovered society of the native people in present day Brazil.
At the time of his writing this new culture was considered to be savage and barbaric. It is common to describe foreign cultures as barbarian since as Montaigne points out each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice (77). He explains this further by stating