World View: *USA:To Whom It May Concern*Africa: Who gains from female circumcision?
Day trading and Internet trading on PCs have grown rapidly due to the need to attract smaller investors by giving them faster access to the trading floor. But it is not only money at risk from widespread playing of a financial video game with volatile share prices.
Time magazine (August 9) featured the 12 killings and suicide carried out in July by an American day trader who tried to make a living betting on share prices. “Who was Mark Orrin Barton? Why did he go berserk?”, they asked. But despite reporting how Barton had lost heavily from trading in erratic Internet stocks; despite mentioning how he twice remarked on a declining stock market to people he worked with at brokerage firms before opening fire on them; despite pointing out he was the prime suspect in his first wife’s murder shortly after taking out a $600,000 life-insurance policy on her (he had wanted it to be $1 million, but could not afford the premiums); and despite printing Barton’s thoughts in his letter for the police (“I have come to hate this life and this system of things. I have come to have no hope . . . [I plan] to kill as many of the people that greedily sought my destruction”), the magazine concluded “he scatters clues but no answers.”
On the contrary, to those willing to face them, the answers for 13 dead and 9 others with gunshot injuries are unmistakable: money and the marketplace. Or—as these are both part of the same system—capitalism. Only capitalism requires money to exploit productive resources, offer finished goods and services to a subordinate majority for profit, and coerce those able to work into becoming employees of an asset-owning class. And because capitalism makes money vitally important for obtaining necessities of life, achieving a bearable existence, and avoiding all manner of disturbing problems; getting and retaining as much of it as possible are what daily preoccupies and drives the vast majority of people, thereby helping maintain the status quo.
Inevitably, when difficulties and worries intensify to the point where sufferers “come to have no hope”, people can snap and lash out. Perhaps Barton thought blame lay just with specific people “that greedily sought [his] destruction”. Or perhaps, as his To-Whom-It-May-Concern letter suggested, he knew full well that capitalism’s “system of things” was indeed responsible, but was not aware a much easier way of living could be pursued, and so, seeing no way out, chose to die with those connected most closely to his downfall.
On July 27, the manager of Momentum Securities, where Barton hired computers and phone lines to gamble at online share trading, insisted debts incurred over several weeks be cleared up. Barton handed over a $50,000 cheque without funds in the bank to cover it. He went home and bludgeoned his estranged second wife to death with a hammer. Next day, the cheque bounced. That night, he killed his 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter the same way. On the third day, Barton arranged to see the Momentum manager, purportedly to pay off his debt at the firm. Once inside his office, Barton opened fire. He also gunned down the manager of All-Tech, another brokerage across the road where Barton had ceased trading in April, apparently because he had been barred until able to restore his account to a minimum balance of $40,000. Several other day traders who had lent Barton money to settle numerous debts, and no doubt wanted paying back, were also killed or injured.
Following the suicide of the man other traders called “Rocket”, because of how excited he got when his stock gambles were climbing, it can be seen that his losses consumed virtually all the cash from his first wife’s insurance settlement. If he did kill her for a better life, as the police believe, the “system” soon determined otherwise. With the known facts, is there the slightest doubt that minority ownership of vital assets, a market necessary for business transactions, and the money mechanism an owning class needs to exploit property and people were what drove Barton “berserk”?
If those working in the media insisted on reporting the true cause of these regular losses of life, rather than usually just beating about the bush, then we would all move that much nearer that much sooner to ending them for good. For this deadly violence is not unavoidable. A change of ownership of productive industries and resources from a few to the many would eliminate the stress of personal financial worries since there would be no finance to worry about.
Maybe, in needing money themselves just like Mark Barton, media employees don’t want to risk their own living standards until support for common asset ownership becomes overwhelming. But as the media do have the ability to inform and influence most people, their weak-kneed entertaining-for-profit reportage of capitalism-caused tragedies and scandals merely perpetuates these incidents, endangering everyone including themselves.
Perhaps those who write and broadcast will consider what will happen when the prolonged US bull market collapses in a big way. How many more Mark Bartons will violently emerge from an estimated 5 million other apparently normal Americans also engaged in online trading from home computers, and from millions of other small-scale investors with life savings tied up in stocks and shares? And how many more “ordinary” individual killings from robberies, domestic quarrels, financial disputes, etc will follow that such a serious market downturn, which would impact on economies world-wide, accompanied as it will be by an increase in social poverty and desperation as squeezed profits means unemployment rises and indispensable money becomes even harder to obtain?
Just one week after Barton’s rampage, another gunman in America shot two dead at his workplace, and a third at a firm where his mother stated he had earlier been laid off due to “economic downsizing”.
Female circumcision, like male circumcision, is a practice that dates back to the remotest of times in history. Today, however, the former has come under fire by feminists and other concerned groups and individuals. Why male circumcision is not touched is not clear. Perhaps the whole issue is still part of the male chauvinistic nature of contemporary society since it may not be plausible to claim that male circumcision is harmful as there are no statistics regarding the casualties the practice has caused or how it has affected fertility.
I am not holding brief for this custom but some of those against it fail to situate the practice in its right perspective and thus fail to find the right solution. This myopic attitude is reminiscent of similar haughty attempts to characterise traditional African religion as “barbaric” and “uncivilised” (when in fact all religions are the same).
Like other customary practices, female circumcision is a tool in the control and manipulation of society by the elders and leaders who in traditional society were the owners of wealth. In the case of female circumcision, a group of individuals (including vocal and influential women) soon emerged who specialised in the art of operation. In many areas, these “doctors and paramedical staff” introduced mysticism into the act in order to gain a monopoly over their “profession”. As religion and spiritualism are part and parcel of their life, it is always easy to weave the supernatural element into anything that is done. This mystification is usually intensified if there are some material gains attached.
It is common knowledge that not all those who are involved in collecting girls for the ritual nor those who carry out the operation do so for a fee. Yet they get more than if they were charging fees. It is the same with traditional healers. They charge no fees but you give what you feel like giving—and the gift/payment is usually more than a mouthful.
Those who organise female circumcision get a lot of material gains from the parents, relatives and well-wishers of the girls. For instance, the food requirements, drinks, kolanuts, tobacco, etc., of both girls and organisers are provided for by the girls’ parents. And here we are talking about a period which could last as long as six months though these days the period may be just about two months in some areas. But the organisers actually make their money during the “passing out” of the circumcised girls. In most cases, each chief organiser (who is always an influential woman) becomes a social, political and spiritual “mother” to all girls circumcised under her authority—they all join her camp. Such women constitute the ideologues of the practice of female circumcision and they concoct all myths to perpetuate the custom. Those girls who do not go through it are stigmatised and derided and may even find it difficult getting a husband.
Perhaps started by men to control family property relations, female circumcision is strongly encouraged today by some females for the sake of material gains.
One other prominent feature in the whole affair is the intervention of non-governmental organisations. Needless to say, much credit goes to these NGOs for “sensitising the international community” to this “evil custom”. But it is equally important to point out that, far from helping solve problems, NGOs are themselves an offshoot of the profit system. In fact, the ideology of NGOs enhances the money system and perpetuates its evil practices through the half-baked and inadequate measures they put forward for solving the world’s problems.
I know very well that there are genuine individuals who are doing their best to ameliorate the deplorable state of mankind. However, I do not think they can make any meaningful headway by targeting isolated issues like discrimination against women or, to be specific, here female circumcision.
What I therefore put forth as a lasting solution to these undesired customary practices and to the gender problem is a holistic and all-round approach. This entails a complete rejection of the status quo. Production of goods and services should be organised for the sake of satisfying needs and not for profits. Therefore money in all its forms (cheques, treasury bills, tickets, etc) should go. But as this cannot be wished away, people will have to come together and through concerted effort push towards the realisation of the objective in a world socialist movement.
SUHUYINI NBANG-BA (Gambia)