Friday, March 6, 2009

A Few Minutes with Roy

Having mentioned yesterday that some of Arundhati Roy’s ideas resonated with me, I should like to briefly comment on a few of the points she makes.

Ms. Roy’s book Public Power in the Age of Empire begins by noting that those who run our country claim to be on our side but in reality do not act in our best interests. Nor does our government care about what we think as long as we remain placid and keep re-electing those in power.

“Ordinary people in the United States have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn't the Communists, it's Al Qaeda. If it isn't Cuba, it's Nicaragua. As a result, this, the most powerful nation in the world - with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs - is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear.

“This synthetically manufactured fear is used to gain public sanction for further acts of aggression. And so it goes, building into a spiral of self-fulfilling hysteria, now formally calibrated by the U.S. government's Amazing Technicolored Terror Alerts: fuchsia, turquoise, salmon pink.”

This stance of keeping the people manipulated into obeisance while the rich get richer is not uniquely American. I remember when oil was discovered off the coast of Mexico and it appeared that our neighbors south of the border were going to be rich, rich, rich. But while living there for a year in 1981 it was impossible not to notice the squalor the poor experienced in the big cities, the sprawling slums blanketing hillsides. Simultaneously, the presidents of the ruling PRI and their cronies suckled the golden teats of this oil flow so as to leave absolutely nothing changed except the size of their Swiss bank accounts. All democratically elected hoodlums.

When we were raising our children, my wife once read a book on parenting that noted that parents need to approach their children with an attitude that says, “I’m on your side.” The upshot of this is that the kids feel affirmed and listened to. The children are not always right, but there is a relationship that is healthy and which has ontological value.

Arundhati Roy’s premise is that government’s do not have this attitude when it comes to their poor. She cites dam projects which caused massive destruction and forced evacuations of the poor in India and elsewhere, of the massive destruction of homes in beautification projects for Olympic-sized entertainment complexes, and a whole catalogue of other indignities. And who is speaking on behalf of these people who have no voice in the modern world? These are part of our human family.

Even worse is the death and destruction wrought by war. The Bomb did not get dropped on troops. It leveled a city which was just like any city anywhere made up of people who went to work like you and I go to work, with schools, children, mothers, grandmothers… The destruction of the World Trade Center was not a military attack on a military target. The lobbing of bombs into Israel by Hamas and the incursion into Gaza, what happened there? Political powers made decisions, innocent people with no say in those decisions are killed, wounded, maimed.

But wars aren’t the only form of violence against the world’s poor. The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions are writing economic policies and legislation that has no concern for the consequences wrought. According to Roy, “With a deadly combination of arrogance and ruthlessness, they take their sledgehammers to fragile, interdependent, historically complex societies, and devastate them.”

Because the situations are complex, Americans don’t understand what is really going on in the world. When people like Roy begin to raise their voices and get shrill enough to be heard, it frightens us... not the content of what these people say, but the megaphones they use to say it. As Roy says, the government uses this fear strengthen its power, like a mother hen drawing her little chicks up under her wing. “Yes, it is scary out there, little chickies," our leaders say, "so get up close to me here. I will protect you from the big bad wolves.”

This woman from India has done her homework. I am not sure what her prescriptions are for solution or if I line up with them entirely but I do believe she is speaking for a large contingent of humanity who at this point in time have no power, and no voice.

If interested in getting a taste of these challenging ideas, read Public Power in the Age of Empire here


LEWagner said...

I read the article, and I think Ms. Roy hit the nail right on the head in stating the deadly dangers of unregulated global capitalism.
I think the government here is doing the best job they can to preserve Lao independence, and they do it by appealing to the people to help each other at times when there isn't enough money. Something I've heard many, many times, from both high-class people, and from the poorest: "We have it good, here, in the Lao PDR. The rich and the poor get along together."
And it's true. Even the poorest, most landless people are allowed to build a small bamboo house on someone else's land, and live in it. They don't require building permits to build a small bamboo house, wherever there is room for one. I've been offered a half a dozen places where I could build a house and live, without having to pay any rent -- just be responsible for my own water and electricity bills, and get along with the owner.
Why is such a thing forbidden in the United States? The "owner" doesn't have any rights on his own property, there. The recent story in the DNT about the 2 guys being found in the basement of the Norshor, and kicked out into the cold by Duluth city officials is beyond the imagination of people, here. "That's a Christian country? They want to tell us how to live?"
Also, everybody here, including myself, is allowed to fish and hunt without having to buy a license. And everybody is allowed to go onto any public OR private land that is not fenced in, and hunt, fish, dig for crickets, collect bamboo shoots, etc, for food, either to eat, or to sell.
If you want to claim the use of your entire property for yourself, you have to fence it in. If you can't use all of it yourself, the natural thing to do is only fence the part you're using, and let everyone come in to the rest of it.
If you're a interesting old coot, the people gathering the food will give you more of it than you can eat. I pass some of that extra on to someone else -- I could even sell it, if I wanted to. The government doesn't forbid it. Why should the government forbid it? Why make the poor people suffer?
The government here doesn't have much money for social programs. But they refrain from passing laws and hiring thugs to harass and limit the poor.
It's not that things are perfect, here, either -- but there seems to at least be some sense of humanity behind their laws. It seems to work, too. Laos isn't suffering from the downturn as much as neighboring countries are. The people here are much more cooperative with each other, and down-to-earth than in Thailand, for example, which is very Americanized, motorized, and where the people are under much more restriction.

LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>The recent story in the DNT about the 2 guys being found in the basement of the Norshor, and kicked out into the cold by Duluth city officials is beyond the imagination of people, here.

Most recent results of poll from the DNT:

What would you do with the NorShor building?
Results Percent
Close it
Close it and tear it down
Let it be
Make sure it's up to code

What's really bizarre, is that according to the article, the guys weren't even living in the Norshor Building. They were in the basement of the Temple Opera Building.
One of the English lessons was talking about dreams, and the question was, "Have you ever had a dream that someone was chasing you?"
The class here thought that was an odd question.

ENNYMAN said...

I meant to go online and vote but did not think the question germane to the issue at all.

As for the basement situation, our friend Robert, the street person who lived for a while at Seaway Hotel and ended up in "the system" after his minor stroke episode, was liberated from a hell-hole place in Brookston by Eric Ringsred who gave him a room in the basement of the Norshor. Robert stayed there quite a while till we could find a place for him. I visited him there and a couple times walked that underground walkway beneath Superior Street to see where it went... There was one cellar filled with bowls of fruit, someone making wine from berries, and another filled with bicycles which I assumed was a bicycle repair shop. The whole block from middle to the Opera Bldg was accessible... It was intriguing, but why illegal?

And if the two men did not steal anything or break anything, then why is the Norshore being threatened with closure?

There may be unsavory things going on there, but this incident pertaining to the two men in this story is totally unrelated. As Hamilton Burger (Perry Mason) would say, "Objection your honor! Immaterial and irrelevant!"

I'd better go vote before the lynch mob assembles.

LEWagner said...

>>>>>And if the two men did not steal anything or break anything, then why is the Norshore being threatened with closure?

Many people used to stay at my place in Twig. A few of them DID break and steal things. One of them was totally obnoxious, and even threatening. I called 911, that night.
911 told me they're "not a taxi service".
I told 911, "Well, I'm not, either."
911 told me, "He's YOUR friend, Lloyd."
I said, "Thanks, I'll take care of it on my own."
I ended up calling the neighbors for help that night.
The cops were right there to interfere in Mr. Ringsred's private business, though, when they weren't required.
I'm not sure why that should be.
A person I knew who worked at NERCC once announced with a grin on his face at the Farmer's Market, "My job is license to be an a**hole."
Maybe that's why things are the way they are? It's beyond me, though, why anyone would want or accept "license to be an a**hole.

ENNYMAN said...

I think that what frustrates people with regard to the authorities is the uneven application of justice. As Susie points out, the police could have looked the other way. They could choose to be merciful and not make a stink about it. Or handled it in a different way.


LEWagner said...

>>>>>>>I think that what frustrates people with regard to the authorities is the uneven application of justice.

Which is, actually, injustice.

>>>>>>>>As Susie points out, the police could have looked the other way. They could choose to be merciful and not make a stink about it. Or handled it in a different way.

The police like to say, "We *have* to do this, if we agree with it, or not."
I told a cop one time, "No, you don't *have* to do something you don't agree with. You don't *have* to be a cop. I'm not, for instance."
He didn't seem to like that.
But a former neighbor of mine actually did did take an early retirement from the Highway Patrol, rather than continue what he called "harassing motorists in trouble". He told me in 1990 (while he was still a Highway Patrolman), "The reason I wanted to be a cop when I was young, was to help people who were having problems on the highway. The Department doesn't allow us to do that anymore. We're expected to find a reason to write a ticket."
A quick story from about 2002: Joe, a neighbor kid, (actually, from Munger), had got a roofing job up on the Range.
He fixed up a small car he'd had parked in his garage to make it drivable, and he transferred his insurance from his full-sized pickup to the car -- so it would cost him less to drive to work and back every day.
A couple of days later he stopped over in his pickup. I said, "Huh! You're driving the pickup again. Did the car break down?" I asked him how the first day on the job had gone.
"Not so good, actually. I got sick. It was a hot day, and everyone else had their shirts off up on the roof. I felt cold and sick, started to shiver, and everyone told me my face was as white as a sheet. The boss told me I'd better go home before I fell off the roof. On the way home, I suddenly blacked out for a couple of seconds, and my car went in the ditch up by Canyon on Highway 53. Fortunately, neither me nor the car was damaged, and fortunately, there was a farmer with a tractor right next to the place I went in. He got a chain, and was going to pull me out. Unfortunately, the Highway Patrol stopped first. 'You can't pull him out with that tractor. It doesn't have the proper flashing lights to be an emergency vehicle.' The Highway Patrol called a wrecker. When the wrecker hooked onto the car, they hooked on wrong, and twisted the frame of the car. I could see as they hauled it off that it was ruined. The cop gave me a breathalyzer, and found I hadn't been drinking. So then he gave me a ticket for 'inattentive driving', told me to 'have a nice day', and drove off. He left me on the side of the highway to find my own way home."
"To Protect and Serve"?
At one time I considered painting up a Chevy Caprice I had, to make it look like a police car -- only to paint "Polite" on it, instead of "Police". And then to pull people over, give them a smile and 50 cents, and tell them to "have a nice day".
Bob's friends didn't think that was a good idea, though, so I didn't do it. ;>)

ENNYMAN said...

I like the idea of a Polite car, though in your case it might not have gone over too well.

You are a catalogue of stories which are, unfortunately, quite pointed and revealing.

Yes, the word is Injustice. As I have noted here in other places, the measure of a culture is revealed in how it treats people.

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