“PC vs. Mac” and Violence in the Congo

Transcript of Hello, I’m a Mac … and I’ve Got a Dirty Secret:

MAC
Hi, I’m a Mac.

PC
And I’m a PC.

MAC
PC, what do you have in your pockets?

We notice that PC’s pants pockets are bulging. PC pulls out a couple of rocks in different shades of gray.

PC
Oh, just a couple of pieces of… Let’s see: here’s some tin, and this is called tantalum. Now this is tungsten. I call them 3 T’s. Oh, and here’s some gold. Gotta have gold.

MAC
(off PC)
Uh-hmm.

PC
And you know what’s funny? (pulls down a school-style roll-up map of Africa, points with a pointer) A lot of this stuff comes all the way from the Congo. Where it’s been fuelling the deadliest conflict in the world since WWII. Five million killed in the past 10 years, hundreds of thousands women and girls raped. Horrible stuff. I wish you hadn’t asked.

MAC
So these are the so-called conflict minerals. Armed militias use violence to control mines and trading routes. And then make hundreds of millions from selling these minerals to electronics companies?

PC
(visibly uncomfortable)
Yeah, that’s about right.

(MAC and PC stand in an uncomfortable silence, but MAC has a smirk of superiority on his face.)

PC
By the way, what’s with your pockets?

MAC
Umm, hmm. Just some conflict minerals.
(pause)
I guess we have some things in common after all…

BROOKE SMITH
We want electronics companies to clean up their supply chains. And we, as consumers, can make this happen. Tell them to make their products conflict-free. Go to www.RaiseHopeForCongo.org.

Thank you.

(via RaiseHopeForCongo.org) (via gay persons of color)

Now there are technophobes out there who would use this issue to call for a boycott against computers, but that would be like using the environmental issue of tree conservation to call for a boycott against books. The lives of people are more important than the lives of trees and non-human animals, of course, but my point is that computers (especially the Internet) are an important medium of human communication. The video, its message, and the spreading of this message are all made possible by computers.

There is a huge power imbalance between people who benefit from conflict minerals and people who suffer violence and death from the extraction of conflict minerals. Also note that this is a form of colonialism, in which people in rich nations are using violence to steal valuable natural resources from poor nations. Many people living in rich nations believe that “Africa” or African countries are poor because they lack natural resources. However, Africa is a continent that is rich with valuable and rare minerals and other natural resources; it’s just that they are being stolen by non-African nations. People living in rich nations are under the illusion that diamonds, gold, and metals for electronics “belong” to rich nations, when the reason why they are so prevalent here is because of colonialism and theft.

Raise Hope for Congo has an Action List on their website, but I’m skeptical of the second action, “If you take conflict out of your cell phone, I will buy it.” Not everyone can afford to “vote with your wallet”, but if you can, please do. The rest of us can raise awareness and try to think of other strategies to stop the violence and redistribute resources more equitably.

18 Responses to ““PC vs. Mac” and Violence in the Congo”

  1. Eugene Says:

    Very interesting article man!

  2. Best of teh Internets: Catch Up Edition « hepfat Says:

    […] has a wonderful post about the use of “conflict minerals” in computers, how the use of these minerals […]

  3. Melinda Says:

    People generally prioritize their own species over others, in the same way that they naturally care more about people close to them than people they don’t know. But to say that humans’ lives are inherently “more important” than any other on this planet is the sort of supremacism that is used to justify wiping out entire swaths of species, destroying ecosystems, and seeing the earth and its inhabitants as resources to be utilized and consumed. It’s not unrelated to, or far from, viewing certain human lives as “more important” than others, and it’s fruitless and dangerous to think that humans can rank their needs as distinct from those of the biosphere that allows them to live. It fits into the same structure of oppression that enforces racial, gender, class, and other social hierachies to benefit some groups at the expense of others. The ideology of human supremacism (and the potential it gives for supremacism of certain humans over others) is intricately tied into colonialism and the present-day exploitation and destruction of Congo: its people and its “resources.” It’s not a new story to Congo, and the same story happened (and isn’t over) with the “conquest” of America.

    The message of the video and campaign is essential. Of course we don’t want to hear about it, because our “developed,” industrial, globalized lives of material luxuries are subsized by past and present colonialism, war, rape, murder, and slavery, suffered primarily by those lower on the hierarchies constructed to justify our “right” to buy plastic crap for pennies, have the latest model of cell phone, or whatever it may be tomorrow. What I couldn’t find in the website was an alternative: what products can be used to make these “conflict-free” electronics? And even if corporations suddenly found huge amounts of necessary minerals in the United States to exploit without war in the Congo (though I’m sure it would still come at the expense of poor, disenfranchised communities of color and their environment), what happens when those minerals run out? We don’t have to throw our computers away (let’s not even talk about electronic waste’s contributions to global warming and poisoning land, water, and air), but we do have to realize that our electronic luxuries have an impact, and it’s not sustainable. We can write letters and run campaigns, but there isn’t going to be a magic mineral we can discover so that we can buy and toss even more electronics without guilt. The hard truth is that we can’t keep consuming at the rate we’re consuming — without continuing to kill people and everything, first they, and then we, rely on to live.

  4. goaler Says:

    just blame it on the white race , restructure will!

  5. Restructure! Says:

    But to say that humans’ lives are inherently “more important” than any other on this planet is the sort of supremacism that is used to justify wiping out entire swaths of species, destroying ecosystems, and seeing the earth and its inhabitants as resources to be utilized and consumed. It’s not unrelated to, or far from, viewing certain human lives as “more important” than others, and it’s fruitless and dangerous to think that humans can rank their needs as distinct from those of the biosphere that allows them to live. It fits into the same structure of oppression that enforces racial, gender, class, and other social hierachies to benefit some groups at the expense of others. The ideology of human supremacism (and the potential it gives for supremacism of certain humans over others) is intricately tied into colonialism and the present-day exploitation and destruction of Congo: its people and its “resources.” It’s not a new story to Congo, and the same story happened (and isn’t over) with the “conquest” of America.

    I’m not sure that valuing human lives over the lives of living beings is comparable to valuing some humans over others. For example, some animal rights activists (often white) seem to value non-human animal rights over the human rights of indigenous people and people of colour. For example, being against seal hunting would hurt the livelihoods of Inuit, and being against all meat eating and hunting would also hurt many indigenous ways of living. There are also some people who think that poor people in Africa should not have such a high birth rate because of world overpopulation.

  6. goaler Says:

    Me thinks restructure is the one with the rankings!
    She seems to have a hard on with the white heterosexual male!
    Probably has this group down at the bottom of the barrel.
    May not hear from her today as she is most likely gone to the disgrace of a parade in Toronto today.
    How this event is approved boggles the minds of most good canadians!

  7. fred Says:

    For example, some animal rights activists (often white) seem to value non-human animal rights over the human rights of indigenous people and people of colour.

    You think animal rights activists target “indigenous people and people of color”? Really? I don’t think so.

    ================

    The person who created that video and pushing the idea of “conflict minerals” has no idea what they’re talking about. It’s true that those minerals are in demand. And it’s true that the money made from them is being used to buy weapons. But they’re not the cause of the fighting.

    The problem isn’t the demand. The problem is a 3rd world mentality where warlords maintain power by using their hired thugs to kill competitors and abuse the population.

    Before “conflict minerals” they were using “blood diamonds”. If it weren’t diamonds or minerals it would just be something else. In somalia it’s piracy. In other parts of Africa, thugs hijack shipments of food aid and use that to gain power over rivals. I recently read a study where most of the foreign aid goes straight into dictator’s pockets where it is no doubt used to fund their abuses.

    So when thugs are stealing food and even foreign aid to fund their wars do you really think that “conflict minerals” are the problem?

    I wish I was sitting on a pile of “conflict minerals”. I wouldn’t be using them to fund wars. I’d start a corporation to mine them that would employ tens of thousands of people and put me on the Forbe’s list of richest people in the world. I wouldn’t give one red cent to charity. And the world would be a better place because of it.

  8. Melinda Says:

    @Restructure

    Re: “I’m not sure that valuing human lives over the lives of living beings is comparable to valuing some humans over others. For example, some animal rights activists (often white) seem to value non-human animal rights over the human rights of indigenous people and people of colour. For example, being against seal hunting would hurt the livelihoods of Inuit, and being against all meat eating and hunting would also hurt many indigenous ways of living. There are also some people who think that poor people in Africa should not have such a high birth rate because of world overpopulation.”

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ever chose to save people’s lives over the lives of non-humans. As people, we care about and prioritize those closest to us, and those are usually other people. What we shouldn’t do is think that we as humans are more important and more deserving of rights than anyone or anything else.

    A good deal of the animal rights movement has no sense of oppression on a greater level. PETA, for a classic example, is a disaster zone of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and all-around horrific failure to have any understanding of or empathy with human beings. The people behind the endless stream of horrifically offensive ad campaigns see animal abuse as the exception in a world otherwise free of oppression. Obviously, that’s not the world we live in.

    I’m not advocating that sort of view of the world. I’m advocating a holistic view of oppression / supremacism.

    What I’m saying is that all oppression is interconnected. Oppression comes from an ideology of hierarchies and supremacy. The idea that humans’ lives are inherently “more important,” as a toss-aside comment, as a default assumption of civilization, goes back to a hierarchy in which some beings have inherently more “value” than others. Racism / white supremacy, sexism / patriarchy, homophobia / heterocentricism, transphobia / ciscentricism, ableism, etc. are justified in the same way, generally coming from the assumption that humans are supreme and can and should rule over everything else: animals, plants, whatever it may be. As soon as certain groups of people are dehumanized, they lose their rights and are subject to ostracism, abuse, exploitation, rape, murder, etc.

    I get frustrated when people view the anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust, for example, as a singular event, a unique occurrence that has no connections with anything else. Obviously, the Holocaust is not the only example of racism, genocide, and dehumanization. It ties into a greater problem of racism, ethnocentricism, ideologies of Aryan and/or white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, ableism. I hate the kind of feminism that sees women as the only oppressed group; all that otherwise privileged women need to do is join (or replace) men at the top of a hierarchy that oppresses others. Jennifer Kesler at the Hathor Legacy has a good post on this, what she calls “narcissist feminism.”[1] Same kind of thing is happening in much of the animal rights movement, but with the focus on animals. The likes of PETA have strange views on what “rights” mean for animals anyway. You can’t just toss the view of human rights, developed through specific social norms and contexts, onto a different species and call it functional, much less claim the world thus “cruelty-free.” Eschewing meat and animal products is no solution to the destruction humans have wreaked on species and ecosystems around the world. Not only am I suspicious about its effectiveness in helping animals, it also depends on a lot of privilege (and the underlying exploitation that allows it) that many people don’t have.

    In the example of Inuit people who hunt seals, there isn’t an issue of human supremacism, domination, and destruction of ecosystem and its inhabitants. As far as I know, Inuit seal hunting is a sustainable way of life and is based on a mutual relationship with the ecosystem, not blatant disregard for it in order to expand cities, make profit, whatever. Often traditional indigenous communities have a better relationship with the land than that of our “developed” civilization borne of colonialism and massacre; it’s not a one-way, take-and-destroy mentality that sees the earth as a dead pile of resources to snatch before someone else does. Protection of the land and its inhabitants is critically tied into indigenous rights[2], because, as I said before, no people can live without the biosphere,[4] and because destroying a sustainable indigenous way of life (by, for example, overfishing to extinction, slaughtering buffalo, destroying rainforests, etc.) is an effective way of killing or forcing assimilation on indigenous people. Environmental devastation also tends to impact low-income communities of color, especially women, often in other countries, before it does the privileged groups doing the destruction.[3][4] It’s no surprise that the BP spill occurred off the coast of some of the lowest-income states in the U.S.

    [1] http://thehathorlegacy.com/narcissist-feminism/
    [2] http://resistanceisfertile.ca/wazmarch2010.html
    [3] http://www.ecoshock.org/cfro/2007/ES_Ruether_070704_Ecofeminism.mp3
    [4] http://www.altmuslimah.com/a/b/b/3805/

  9. goaler Says:

    Africa was a lot better under colonization.
    Can you give me a stable nation that is not corrupt?
    South africa did not deserve the world cup as China did not deserve the olympics!
    Its the old Hug-A Thug theory.
    Be nice to these brutal countries and maybe they will be nice!
    Right-you cant change a tigers stripes!
    please prove me wrong?
    and China was never under WHITE rule either

  10. Restructure! Says:

    Melinda,

    I never said that human rights are the only issue to be concerned about. I care about other issues as well, but the other issues should not have priority over human rights. Human lives *are* more important than the lives of other organisms. Killing a human being *is* worse than killing a cockroach. To think that killing a human being is worse than killing a cockroach is not some kind of gateway into racism. Maybe the racism is equating oppressed ethnic groups with the oppression of non-human animals.

  11. Melinda Says:

    @Restructure
    It’s really unfortunate you chose to interpret it that way. You’re completely misunderstanding what I’m saying and missing my point entirely. I recommend checking out the links listed in my last post. Not just because they might explain it better, but also because there’s some really good stuff there.

  12. Restructure! Says:

    Melinda,

    No, you are the one misunderstanding me. Most of the content of your comments are rehashing what I already said and implying that I am not aware that environmental issues can be connected to human rights. You are also assuming that I’m anti-environmentalism and not an environmentalist.

    You said:

    But to say that humans’ lives are inherently “more important” than any other on this planet is the sort of supremacism that is used to justify wiping out entire swaths of species, destroying ecosystems, and seeing the earth and its inhabitants as resources to be utilized and consumed.

    No, that doesn’t follow at all. That would only follow if the person believes that human rights are always in opposition to environmental sustainability. You are assuming that I think this, when I do not. I just think that human rights and environmental sustainability sometimes support each other, but sometimes they are in opposition. When they are in opposition, human rights take precedence.

  13. Melinda Says:

    First, I’m not saying you’re an anti-environmentalist. I’m saying that the idea of human supremacism is, however, a huge factor in the destruction of the environment, as well as other destructive features of civilization, such as colonialism and genocide, and that your off-hand comment in the post reflected one of the basic assumptions that human supremacism espouses. I’m responding to your comment, not making assumptions about what you do or don’t think or what you are or are not. I am discussing what I find problematic about that attitude and what it can and has led to — not what it means about you personally. Second, I am not at all suggesting that by the leap in ideology of seeing one’s species as supreme and having the right to kill off everything else to seeing one’s race as supreme and having the right to kill off everyone who does not fit the people in question’s definition of “same” (sometimes classifying those people as not even people) that I think that oppressed ethnic groups are *actually* non-human. Pointing out instances or phenemona of dehumanization does not mean I believe that certain people *are* not human.

    If I am at any point “rehashing” what you said, it’s that we probably agree on those issues. My original comment was not meant to dispute everything you said; it was meant as a comment, partly on the content of the post and response to the video/campaign, and partly on the “human lives are more important” comment.

    I’m not talking about killing cochroaches as some kind of gateway into racism. Hardly. I’ve already noted that obviously we care about other people more than other animals, trees, rivers, whatever. It’s the idea of human supremacism — the lack of any other beings’ right to dignity or life (this doesn’t mean not ever eating animals, btw) — on a structural level, built into our cultural attitudes and societal norms. When we don’t see ourselves as humans as part of the wider community of the earth, without which we would not even exist. The belief that we are more important and have more rights is what allows us to completely break down the ecosystem that sustains us and many others, because our “right” to buy, destroy, or use whatever we want to supersedes the rights of plants, animals, water, land, and air not to be poisoned or wiped out. (Of course, no matter what we think about the environment, racism, misogyny, or classism, *all of us* who in industrialized countries in the globalized world live off the products of present and past colonialism, war, slavery, and ecological destruction and it’s near impossible for most people to even eat, much less use technology, without supporting them. It’s not a personal thing; it’s an institutional thing.) Obviously this hurts us too, in the end, and because of the hierarchy of racism, classism, etc., it hits more oppressed groups earlier and to a greater degree. All of these issues are linked, which doesn’t mean they’re all the exactly the same. And you may completely agree with this or any other part of what I’m saying, I don’t know.

    I don’t think we can seek a sustainable way of life while seeing ourselves as distinct from and an exception to nature and our local ecosystems. Is this maybe where we disagree? If so, that’s fine. I just want to be clear about what I am and not saying. Honestly, I’m not here to argue with you or try to prove you “wrong” or anything other than discuss the content of the post and related issues. It’s fine to disagree; I just don’t want to you to think I’m saying something other than what I am. Likewise, let me know where I am right or wrong about what you are saying if I’ve made any assumptions.

  14. Restructure! Says:

    Melinda,

    OK, I think I understand what you’re saying now. It’s just that I’m aware that “human lives are more important” sounds like it’s the same as the ideology that views everything that is non-human as a resource to be exploited, but it’s not. I feel like you’re missing nuances.

    An illustrative example is if a bear attacks a human, and another human intervenes and shoots the bear, thereby valuing the human’s life over the bear’s life. If a human’s life is no more important than a bear’s life, then they should not have intervened. However, the fact they value a human’s life over a bear’s life does not imply that they agree that hunting all bears to extinction ls justified, since recreational hunting is not a human right, but the right to life is a human right.

  15. Tiktaalik Says:

    “*all of us* who in industrialized countries in the globalized world live off the products of present and past colonialism, war, slavery, and ecological destruction”
    It’s way bigger even than that. We pretty much eviscerated several continents’ ecosystems during the Pleistocene (and proceeded to do it to literally almost every island on Earth since), and twisted the knife by inventing agriculture…

  16. Anonymous Says:

    those animals live off our aid!
    maybe we should send the cdn army to help those jerksyeah right!

  17. Anonymous Says:

    congo sucks as does most of africa!
    the only non racist place is uganda!

  18. Luke Says:

    Damn – I hate being white, taking advantage of all these little African nations, even when there are absolutely no white people in the country (most of whom have been killed/ exiled), their poor economic performance is my fault.

    Also, no one assumes that Africa isn’t wealthy in mineral commodities, neither is that the reason why they are so poor. Most mineral commodities (I am Australiain, know all about the mining sector…) are extracted largely by foreign owned companies, especially in the third world with almost no nation savings. Sure, employees benefit, but that’s about it.

    Reasons why Africa is so poor is the lack of capital and infrastructure provided by the government – unstable politcal environments also discourage foreign direct investment (FDI) flows. Most of their exports also centres around agricultural commodities, which are easy to produce in large quantities, thus worthless almost when compared to good such as TVs, fridges (elaboraltey transformed manufactures (etms)). The European union and its strong focus on agricultural protection also prevents African nations from gaining significant access to its markets, as well as many other trade blocs do not look favourable upon Africa – however it is their own right to protect their domestic agriculture and farmers, no one has the right to force them to trade.

    So, in summary; they are poor because of poor investment, poor infrastructure, poor choice of goods to export and the fact no one really wants agricultural products.

    Side note: Most third world countries do not produce the capacity to extract mineral resources, which is why large foreign firms do it instead. Some items of value, such as diamonds, which can in some locations be extracted by labour and little skill/capital are an exception. I can guarantee you, operating on common sense, that the militia groups are not smuggling commodities in large enough value to be significant to any electronic companies. The saddest thing is that so much killing/ rape goes on for almost no gain, at least colonialism yielded some small benefits…


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