Monday, November 23, 2015

Frankenstein's monster, or the hunter and the mosquito

The approach of some liberals toward violent actions like what happened in Paris last week (as I've heard on the radio, or read in progressive media), is something along the lines of :

"We've created this. We're just reaping what we've sowed."
"If only the people in power understood the implications of our foreign policy"

Basically, there is some temptation to view "us", or the West, as the creators of our own fate. "We" colonize the world, "we" deal with multiculturalism. "We" ghettoize a minority through poor urban planning, "we" must deal with the radicalism brewed in these communities. Modern violence is payback for centuries of colonial abuse. Some cannot help but view these events except by wrapping them up in the garb of liberal white guilt.

There is some truth to this. There probably is a really complex net of causes to current events. "We" have indeed contributed to the rise of radical Islam and terrorism through funding by the CIA of radical fighters in Afghanistan, financial aid to Saudi Arabia, etc.

But this feeling of "we've created a monster" is evidence of something else, other than perspicuity. It is evidence of a feeling of paternal responsibility for shaping the world. Dr. Frankenstein had to be able to create his monster before he could be held accountable for its actions. As the "creator" and "father" of a beast that does not know its own strength, that wants to be loved but is shunned by the world, we the reader find ourselves willing to exonerate the monster. We feel that we need not hold the monster to the same standard of behavior as Frankenstein, who really should have known better. We still view the actions of monster as the unfortunate mistakes of a clumsy child. We deny that the monster has agency or the capacity to control its actions.

We similarly infantilize the Muslim community in Europe, or in the Middle East, when we put the onus of radical Islam on the shoulders of "the West".  We are basically asserting that the Muslim community does not have the capacity to govern its own actions - it is just another clumsy monster that can't express itself without violence.

It may or may not be accurate. Regardless, it is evidence of incredible privilege. It is evidence of a culture that has become so adjusted to a position of authority that to suggest that some group just wants to destroy them to reap advantage seems preposterous. It is like the hunter gently swatting mosquitos, or maybe even just coming to terms with the fact that mosquitos need to drink a little blood.

But if that hunter were to face another hunter, then the self-delusion of supremacy would be a huge mistake. It would be a mistake to not regard the enemy as cunning, as daring, and just as thirsty for power as "our" imperial predecessors. There comes a point when it is no longer appropriate to coddle the enemy with paternalism, a point when the monster must be engaged on its own terms.

When a culture is adjusted to a default position of easy authority, the cunning enemy may just slip them out of the driver's seat without them even knowing it. Culturally, Europe still doesn't realize it isn't driving anymore. It's been in the back seat since the Second World War.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Internal Colonization?

Last week, I began work editing the poorly translated manuscript of another academic book. This one is about the development of China's western provinces.  It's pulling from a variety of perspectives, with economists commenting on the large-scale indicators and socio-cultural academics paying more attention to the specifics. By the definition used in this book, western China includes most of China's ethic minority regions, including Xinjiang and Tibet.  My post today quotes from the section outlining the remaining problems facing western development in a chapter by Lin Ling (林凌) and Liu Shiqing (刘世庆):
The west is an important source of resources and energy. In terms of China’s overall industrial layout, the east focuses on manufacturing and emerging industries, while the west focuses industries such as minerals, energy, and processing raw materials. Western China’s raw resource-oriented have been besieged by two unequal transaction systems. On one hand, there is distorted pricing system for raw resources and raw materials but high prices for finished products, resulting in very low profit margins for those developing resources in western China. On the other hand, eastern industries make excess profits through the low-cost resources and unfettered environmental exploitation. This is particularly true because resource exploitation by central government-owned enterprises does very little for local economic development. This structure has not worked in the interests of the west or its populace and has resulted in many social conflicts.
 If one were to look at this system purely in economic terms, it greatly resembles a colonial relationship. Western China, home to uncivilized pastoralists and impoverished farmers, is a source of cheap resources for the east. At the same time, however, all the major indicators used by economists to determine quality of life have gone up.

Along with economic progress, also worth nothing is:
As of the end of 2007, the critical “Two Basics Goals” (两基)—promoting nine-year compulsory education in rural areas and eliminating illiteracy among young and middle-aged people—had been achieved in western China, with the education and literacy reaching 98 percent of the population.