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About the Author

Benno Hansen
Patent Assistant (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Focusing on our bright green future, environmental sustainability, global partnership and climate change.

MSc degree in horticulture from Copenhagen University, thesis on Hidden Markov Modelling of protein sequences - which is the same algorithm that lies at the core of Google. Winner of TH!NK2, Y!HAA

Have written for magazines at an advertising bureau, supported university students in their IT-tasks, helped maintain the university hardware, software and websites, vacuum cleaned bodies of escaped laboratory test frogs, been a mail man with the Danish Postal Service and counted the number of passengers for the Danish Railways.

My goal is to publish a best selling science fiction novel and/or get elected for parliament with an intellectual party. But I spend a lot more time betting on football matches (and winning), attending FC Copenhagen home games which I hold a season ticket for, reading lots of science fiction and popularized science, skating and eating organic meals with my beautiful, eco-friendly biomedicine ethicist girlfriend.

Oh yeah... every now and then I also blog ;-)

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The willing

Published 28th July 2010 - 8 comments - 7759 views -

Target 4: In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
Monitor: Proportion of population with access to affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis.

A genocide is taking place and we're guilty. “I'm not”, you think, and very well, then let me speak for myself. I am.

This is my confession...

Although, before you read it let me assure you I am a very humane person. I get as repulsed by death as anyone and share the shameful numbness to the flickering images of blood spattered victims of violence on TV.

genocide by ~eldunya at Deviantart

The killing

We have all heard of the Holocaust. The most famous genocide of them all. The meticulously planned and industrially executed extermination of about 6 million Jews and 5 million members of other ethnic and political groups. Martin Bormann, Hans Frank, Wilhelm Frick, Hermann Göring, Alfred Jodl, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg, Fritz Sauckel, Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Julius Streicher – 12 men each with families and loved ones – were later sentenced to death for their complicity.

But what about the soldiers donning gas masks, opening the cans of Zyklon B and carrying the bodies to the crematoriums? What about the architects designing the concentration camps? What about the train drivers taking the cattle trucks crowded with freezing people through the country? The boy scouts smashing the windows in the Jewish shops? The seamstresses carefully sewing Nazi uniforms and prisoner costumes?

Perhaps the 12 chief Nazis died for the sins of the millions of accomplices just like Jesus died for the sins of Christians? Perhaps it is near impossible to apply logic to the moral judgment of something fundamentally inhuman? Or just maybe, genocide isn't inhuman in the sense that it's apparently part of our "civilized nature".

Evidence: The colonization of the Americas: from 2 to 30 million victims – hard to say and depends on who's counting. “Witches” burnt in Medieval Europe: similarly hard to say but estimates wary from 50,000 to 13 million. Vlad Dracula killed up to 100,000 people most of them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In between having wifes murdered Henry VIII hanged about 72,000 thieves and Catholics. For The Thirty Years War (1618-48) (which I haden't even heard of before) estimates on civilian deaths are about 7.5 million. A millennium before Christ the Chinese Shang Dynasty sacrificed more than 4 million people in the course of two centuries. Similar numbers were slaughtered by the Aztecs; two piles of skulls have been counted to “more than 100,000” and “about 136,000” respectively. Some scores for the military campaigns of Mongol Khans go as high as 30 million victims. There is no need to go on listing numbers but I assure you, my accomplice, there are more.

But how about these numbers: Environmental degradation kills 62 million people each year. Climate change is a vector raising the number of deaths from drought, storms and similar events by probably a couple of hundred thousand people. Deaths from HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases largely avoidable and/or treatable diseases amounts to 3, 16 or an even higher number of millions of people every year. The exact numbers are not what is burdening me. It is our shared guilt, our responsibility in the matter and our lack of compassion.

Deaths by cause for high-, middle- and low-income countries

The business

There are three kinds of people on Earth: Poor people in the 3rd world, debt slaves living in the 1st world and then very rich people who don't care where they live as long as it's fenced and the chopper is ready to take them to their yact. We can't ask for charity from the first group and we can't expect it to come from the last.

"Factory conveyors" by avramcLiving in the 1st world usually means having at least two bank accounts and one credit card. Some have a bit of digital cash on one account, negative figures on the rest. Many have climbing, blinking red digit debt on all of them. It is usually impossible to get a place to live without a threatening red digit account to go with the apartment. Never mind all the other expenses people need, expect and dream of. Smart people stay in line, pay off their debts as agreed. Any large deviation in a 1st world life is bound to have enormous consequences to this fragile debt existence.

We enter this world covered in slime like most other organisms. We stumble through childhood like larvae merrily learning about the world. We expect to unfold into beautiful butterflies unleashing our potential and acquired skills sometime when we have grown up. But few really do. For some reason, there is room and use for only a few butterflies in this world. One queen in each ant colony. Get too creative with your worker ant role and your fellow worker will stomp you down.

We are insects. Puny and worthless. You can't blame the insect that has been behaving good and gets a chance to take just a little step up in the colony for doing so. In Nazi Germany people were waiting in line to buy bacon and sausages. They were waiting in line to get a more decent job. Driving a train perhaps meant being able to eat meat twice a week instead of just once as a road construction worker. One day you have lumber in the wagon, the next day you have unspecified criminals and prisoners of war. Someone else is filling out the papers.

Today there are hardly lines at apothecaries and pharmacies. For most 1st world people having even a very expensive disease is affordable. Why is a 1st world person - who perhaps brought a disease upon him or her self by smoking, unsafe sex or other irresponsible behavior - more deserving of treatment than an African child getting malaria from a mosquito bite or an Asian woman getting tuberculosis from the unhealthy sweatshop working conditions?

The guilt

We are talking about two digit millions of people who die from preventable causes. The scale is comparable to any of the historical genocides. Numbers are so high they make no sense to an individual. Yet we rarely even do the body count.Shame of History - Genocide by !obsadan

However, just like the simple law abiding citizen of Nazi Germany had multiple perfectly rational reasons for his or her nice little share of guilt in the Holocaust so too do we have our excuses for the guilt we share in the everyday avoidable death toll around the globe. Depending on ones general outlook on the world one would call it either capitalism, the laws of economic nature or ignorance.

The 1st world wealth didn't come by itself. It came in many ways - one of them being people teaming up in groups to curiously investigate how to solve our many problems and make our lives better and easier. This is now completely industrialized. The inventiveness of geniuses is reduced to corporate quotas of non-obvious improvements to everything from procedures, processes, gadgets, icons, anything you can imagine including medicine. The pharmaceuticals that are usually very cheap in production and that would prevent millions of deaths every single year.

The people inventing them, investing in them, producing them, shipping them, advertising them and administrating them are just insects in a colony. They all have red digit bank accounts and cannot afford to step out of line. And effectively they are saving lives. It's just that they are not saving all saveable lives. Only some.

It's a gigantic trade-off that has been in effect since 1883. If you invent something you are given twenty years of exclusive right to produce this product, thus a chance to profit off of your investment in development. Fair enough, most would agree. In reality, mega-corporations are pounding this idealistic rule into the corner of the boxing ring. Minute improvements to products assembled from multiple protected parts or changes in dosages and mixtures effectively keeps the end product expensive and profitable. Faux inventions are claimed to keep competition from similar products off the market. Entire sub-colonies of worker ants are kept busy by monitoring markets, adjusting prices to keep parrallel imports and even legal copies out of business. Sometimes it seems even obvious combinations of existing technologies aren't done. Could it really be that development is being held back? Resulting even in suffering among the rich to squeeze out the last bit of profit from the health products already being marketed?

So, blame the evil mega-corporations! Perhaps. Perhaps not. They too are locked in combat for their place in the society of corporations. Lose pace and be bought up. As societies of humans however, we could ask ourselves if we are justified in effectively letting people die, looking away as Africans and Asians are lucky if they get to succumb in a hospital bed instead of the dirt. Two-digit million people vomiting, bleeding, panting and coughing to death every year. The sick and poor have to die watching the sick and rich live on until the research investment has been returned. It’s either this - some dead now, many saved later - or no investment in research and no-one saved at all, everyone dies. In the mean time buy stocks in Gilead Sciences. Donald Rumsfeld did.

We are both guilty, you and I, reader and writer of this text. Your guilt is not something I wish to discuss in particular. If you disagree, stay in your denial to which ever degree you can sustain it. I for one will go to work tomorrow morning and every morning in foreseeable future. I bike to save CO2 and stay healthy. Taking my place at the office assembly line of selective life and ignored mass death. Because as you can tell from my profile biography this is my business.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
 - The Bible

GenOciDe by *kharax at Deviantart

Further reading suggestions: Death surge linked with mass privatisation, The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell... and so much more.


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 28th July 2010:

    I like your post very much and I do agree that we should focus on de-consumption. I just need to react on the story of genocide of Jews. Of course, noone can take it back. In Poland we had a lot of stories that Polish people who are usually thought to be victims as well did help genocide to happen. But nowadays I just don’t agree on telling about WWII and Holocaust with contest of Palestine and what’s going on there.

  • Benno Hansen on 28th July 2010:

    Palestine? Not that I tried to avoid it but I didn’t mention the Middle East at all, did I?

    Vlad Dracula, the environment, the Holocaust (tm), colonization of Americas… anything… just don’t mention Palestine, right?

  • Johan Knols on 29th July 2010:

    Hi Benno,
    Well written!
    It basically goes down to our own existence. What kind of a creatures are we?
    Are we willing to help the helpless before thinking about our own situation. No…
    And since we are getting more and more used to a higher standard of living (whatever that may be), it is getting more and more difficult to help others as we are constantly busy with keeping up those higher standards. And as you say, most of us don’t feel rich because of their red bank accounts. Yet, we have everything (and way too much) to live a comfortable living. It is bizarre!

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 29th July 2010:

    A lot to take in, Benno.

    1. “Or just maybe, genocide isn’t inhuman in the sense that it’s apparently part of our “civilized nature”.” I was thinking about this some time ago. If we homo nonsapiens do something all over again, and again and again, maybe this is really who we are? If we don’t learn from our mistakes but instead repeat them only not to look back and repeat once again, maybe we are not that sapiens after all? On the other hand, it was us who defined what sapiens is, so we’re floating around in our own definition, touching walls sometimes and trying to get out, other times just staying comfortably in the middle vacuum.

    2. Even though I don’t like the words “third world” (my “Define Development” and “Give Photography a Chance” explain why), I agree that generally, we can all be put in these three categories: the rich, the poor and the indebted. “The 1st world wealth didn’t come by itself.” No it didn’t, someone had to pay the price and is still paying it, and will continue paying it. Very often we take what we have for granted (the good things: clear water, full supermarkets, good medicine) but struggle for “more” because we can see that it’s there (and we are greedy).

    3. And that is connected to our guilt. Guilt is impossible without information. I’m poor here in the UK, but while back home I was watching people living their comfortable lives without thinking (wrap up avocados in a plastic bag in the supermarket, take a car to the city centre which is 15min away - walking slow, buy buy buy..). If people don’t know, they don’t care. If they know but still don’t care then it only proves the existence of homo nonsapiens. And yes, we are all selfish creatures and firstly we think about ourselves. Fair enough, but the gap between how much we think about ourselves and the rest of our species (not even talking about other species!) is widening, and that’s scary. Maybe our greed and vanity will destroy us one day. Would that be deserved?

  • Benno Hansen on 30th July 2010:

    Thank you very much for your comments, all three of you. Don’t have much to add right now though. But thanks for your thoughts!

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 01st August 2010:

    Please react when you feel like doing so. The Willing indeed posted a lot of questions that need to be discussed.

  • Luan Galani on 02nd August 2010:

    Benno, one of the best posts ever. You really said something, as well as the other comments here. You said all and I do not have any answer to that. Thanks for calling our attention.

  • Benno Hansen on 05th September 2011:

    Related: James Love at Huffington Post / In Defense Of WikiLeaks: Looking At Cables On Pharmaceutical Drugs And Trade Pressures

    The beginning is about the recent leak of the leaks. Begin at…
    “Even before the most recent dump of documents, were were able to locate 240 cables detailing U.S. government efforts to expand controversial intellectual property rights in the evidence that new medicines are safe and effective—an IPR rights that works interdependently from patents granted on inventions. This is a topic that is obscure to most non-experts, and completely unreported by the mainstream press, but is extremely important in the eyes of public health groups. To see what our government does, why it is important, and how aggressive is U.S. advocacy in shaping another country’s laws, take a look at these cables on Jordan or Guatemala, for just a few data points.”

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