This week will go down in history as the moment when humanity succeeded in making the first Dutchman a commercial space flight, while hunger and poverty have not yet been eradicated. That was my first thought on the successful launch and landing of New Shepard, Jeff Bezos’ spaceship, in which eighteen-year-old Dutchman Oliver Daemen was one of the four chosen passengers. It is not too far fetched to look for a relationship between the environmentally polluting commercial space race among billionaires and the global increase in hunger and poverty.
We lack neither the knowledge nor the financial means to eradicate hunger and poverty, but we find ourselves in a psychological prison where inequality is declared a natural law. A common lie in this prison is that a world free of hunger and poverty is a utopia. Based on this internalized lie, the status quo is maintained in favor of dominant groups and at the expense of vulnerable groups. Declaring the eradication of hunger, poverty and inequality a utopia creates a license to make insufficient efforts against it.
History teaches us that achievements that the Dutch now take for granted were once considered utopia. The fact that children do not have to work in factories but have to go to school, the right to social assistance or AOW, the universal right to vote for men and women – those who are committed to these and other achievements were initially considered crazy, but thanks to their efforts many Dutch people live in a society once thought to be a utopia.
Hunger, poverty and inequality are not the result of a natural law, but of the social structure of our world. The space race between billionaires illustrates this. You can also choose to invest with the aim of eradicating hunger and poverty, instead of colonizing space. Billions are spent on environmentally polluting activities for the pleasure of the happy few, while a vast majority of the world’s population lacks access to basic goods and services such as food, clean drinking water, medical care and security.
It’s an open door, but a billionaire exists by the grace of the world around him. We are interconnected, and there is no convincing moral justification for allowing individuals to spend millions or even billions on short-term entertainment, while such large numbers of people in the world are dying in poverty because they are in a ‘wrong’ part of the world. world, body or family are born.
This was also apparent from Jeff Bezos’ speech, when he thanked both the employees and customers of his company Amazon after the landing of his spacecraft. Without them, the multi-billionaire emphasized, financing his expensive spaceflight would never have been possible.
To eradicate hunger and poverty, we must first stop blaming ‘nature’ for global inequality and instead examine existing power relations and internalized myths. In his classic Power. A Radical View British political scientist Steven Lukes argues that you can understand power through three dimensions. In the third dimension, power is understood as the result of psychological control, the ability to influence how people think and feel, even when it is against their interests.
Without a change in mentality, we will send several Dutch people into space in the coming years, while part of the population will remain behind in the poverty trap. That is why the question arises as to why we allow it to continue. Why not declare hunger and poverty a crime against humanity? Let anyone who sees the suffering of other people with a clear conscience and allows survival pay a price through an international criminal court.
Then ask me in eight years’ time whether a world free of hunger and poverty is still a utopia.
Kiza Magendane is a political scientist. He replaces Rosanne Hertzberger this week.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 24 July 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of July 24, 2021