October 3, 2023

If Only We Would

By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 17, 2022

Individual gifts are nice this time of year, assuming you’re on Santa’s nice list. But the world as a whole could use some gifts, too.

For example, ending slavery would be an excellent gift. Perhaps you thought slavery was a barbaric relic of the past. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

According to the World Population Review (WPR), an independent data analyzing organization absent political leanings, a stunning 167 countries still engage in some form of slavery. That is particularly alarming since there are only 195 countries listed by the United Nations (UN).

To be fair, both the UN and WPR have a more expanded definition of slavery than that with which we are most familiar. They include the traditional and ugly definition in which a human being is literally owned by another human being but also add forced government conscription for little or no pay, forced prison labor for little or no pay, forced sexual slavery, forced migrant labor, forced debt bondage (or what we used to call indentured servitude), forced marriage, and child labor. Altogether, more than 46 million people fit into one of the above categories.

All 195 UN countries have laws that prohibit the legalization of slavery, but only 94, fewer than half, have outlawed the practice itself. India, with it’s archaic and cruel caste system still prevalent in some areas, leads the Slavery Hall of Shame with more than seven million people fitting the WPR definition. They’re followed by China, Russia, and Nigeria with six other African nations, which should know better, rounding out the top 10.

Whatever the definition, slavery is an ongoing obscenity that stains the world, and its end would be a lovely gift.

While we’re at it, let’s also give the gift of ending war and the butchery and displacement that goes with it.

In addition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there are armed conflicts in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan, Colombia, the Sahel (a region of predominantly Saharan Africa that includes 10 countries but the fighting mostly impacts Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger), and in our own backyard in Haiti. Not to mention, and we wish we didn’t have to, Saudi Arabia’s ongoing assault on Yemen, ably abetted by weapons of war we sold them.

(Recent complaints about our willingness to trade Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known by some as the Merchant of Death, for American Brittney Griner, were rich with hypocrisy. Bout’s individual efforts to provide arms pale in comparison to ours. The U.S. is by far the biggest arms dealer in the world, responsible for 39 percent of all such sales, according to statista.com. That’s more than the next three exporters—Russia, France, China—combined. Some of our weaponry is now in the hands of the Taliban and ISIS and has been, and will continue to be, used against us.)

While we’re in the gift-giving spirit, let’s give the gift of protecting and maintaining our forest lands around the world. Tree canopies continue shrinking at a disheartening rate, and since they provide almost a third of our planet’s oxygen, we'd be wise to protect them. (About twice that much comes from tiny marine plants, so the gift of getting serious about protecting our oceans would be nice, too.) According to the World Wildlife Fund, some deforestation is getting worse.

Hacking away at the Amazon rainforest accelerated under the leadership of recently defeated Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and that canopy has decreased 15 percent just since 1990. The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia are both 20 percent less leafy than they were 30 years ago, and Paraguay’s forests have decreased by a frightening 34 percent in the same time.

Finally, let’s give the gift of ending racism and antisemitism. Both are difficult challenges because both are based on ignorance, which is tough to overcome.

In the U.S., and it’s likely no different elsewhere, we still have the vestiges of racism that cling like an infection against which antibiotics are helpless. We have politicians denying it still exists because they find some political advantage in perpetuating that lie or they just haven’t opened their ears and eyes to the realities surrounding them. Refusing to acknowledge our none-too-attractive history won’t change it or make it go away, either.

The antisemites are back spewing their old tropes about how Jews are controlling the banks and Hollywood and the media and pretty much anything else they don’t understand. It does not help at all when a former president dines with overt white supremacists and antisemites and condemns neither. And a so-called celebrity goes on a podcast and declares his love for Adolf Hitler. It’s absurd.

Santa probably can’t gift us an end to slavery, wars, deforestation, or racism and antisemitism. But we could gift it ourselves…if only we would.


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