A Future Inhibited by the Past

Submitted by wwpardy on June 10, 2011 - 5:34am

History and the communities that it created, unlike current consumer products, are not disposable, when no longer of immediate use.

History and the communities that it created, unlike current consumer products, are not disposable, when no longer of immediate use.

A Future Inhibited by the Past


It is amazing in life how much the past overshadows the present and shapes the future. It would appear that we are about to revisit the past once again.


There are news articles about financial inequities every day, especially the growing gap between senior executives and other hired staff.  In Britain, a recent article suggests that income levels haven’t been so disparate since the Victorian era. In North America similar articles have suggested that both income and wealth disparities are at the levels evident just prior to the great depression. 


Many governments are attacking expenditures by targeting social benefits or advocating the need for such actions, in order to contain huge deficits.  Yet at the same time they are providing tax relief for the most wealthy.  Apparently similar policy approaches of slashing spending to reduce deficits is what brought on the great depression.


Humans apparently are hard wired to forget the hard lessons of their history.  They also appear programmed to cling to their past, or what they perceive to be their past.


I have witnessed this in my work at home and in my travels.  Most recently in Ukraine, where many were pining for the “good old days” of communism, even though it proved a disaster for people in the end.  Here business and wealth have been hi-jacked by a few Oligarchs who now mostly live somewhere else.  Wages even for highly educated and specialists are miniscule.


I see it here in The Gambia, where a new form of colonialism is pervasive; this time with different controllers.  Here many businesses, NGOs and social organizations are primarily owned or controlled by outsiders.  Much of the wealth generated by business and the aid funds that flow into the country end up somewhere else.  There is not much left for local people, and their own local NGOs and social organizations, especially in rural areas, who struggle to make a difference.


This has been Newfoundland and Labrador’s history, as well, and is still true today.  Much has been written in recent years about the province’s economy and how economic growth has eclipsed all other provinces, including Alberta.  This might make sense in an economic journal, but the reality for most who live here is much different.


Unemployment is still the highest in Canada, the population has been in a steady decline and, per capita, we perhaps have one of the greatest percentages of migrant workers in the world (when there is work elsewhere). Towns and communities are clinging tenaciously to their existence (some have closed).  Even Corner Brook, once the second city and perhaps its most prosperous, now hardly rates when compared to other similar size towns and cities across Canada.


Much of this can be attributed to the history of all three areas, which has been one of occupation or colonial control.  Someone else has always called the shots, especially when it comes to the economy.  People appear willing to accept this, perhaps believing that it has always been thus and can’t be changed.


The dilemma appears to be primarily people’s unwillingness to let go of what has become redundant to the world in which we live.  There appears a collective belief that “this is the way it is and it will always be this way”, or as they say in Ukraine “life is life”.


All three areas have adequate, if not abundant resources and much potential.  Ukraine was the bread basket of the Soviet Union and the centre of its technology base. 


The Gambia has an idyllic environment, much agricultural capabilities, and an abundance of other natural resources and attributes. 


Newfoundland has a practically pristine environment and is still rich in minerals, oil and hydro potential (and until recent times the most abundant fisheries in the world). 


Besides the historic context of all three places there is also the approach to economic development.  Give-aways have been a big part of economic development.  This approach, while again pervasive, takes us back to another era, when businesses were reliant on people and community was as important to them as their workers. 


Most now consider economic development to be someone else’s responsibility; mostly outsiders. 


Armine Yalnizyan in a recent article about the Roil Report, the industrial inquiry commission on the strike at Voisey’s Bay mine (owned by Vale), in Newfoundland and Labrador, in referring to how mines are currently run, suggested that “now economic development does not necessarily mean community development.”


VALE exemplifies the new corporate philosophy of take what you can get and leave nothing behind (and they recently received over one billion dollar loan from “The Harper Government”).


What will it take for people to recognize that history needn’t repeat itself?  When will they appreciate that the only true development, economic or otherwise comes from within?


Will they have to reach the levels of exasperation and despair that are witnessed in many countries where life is so tenuous and without hope that there is nothing left to lose?  Do we have to let our political and corporate masters have the same control, whereby even life, much less human and social support, is not sacred anymore; only total power matters?


History and the communities that it created, unlike current consumer products, are not disposable, when no longer of immediate use.  Both have tremendous residual value in the lessons learnt by our fore-parents and the many battles and wars that were fought to preserve what was considered important.

We need remember that what is won’t always be.  To develop as a people and to create meaningful economies for the future requires in-depth reflection of our history. This is not for history’s sake, but to discover the values, strengths, and more so, the wisdom that helped people build new futures; as their old ones became redundant. 


Written by Bill Pardy

May 29th, 2011