It seems to be a recurring trend: someone gets me agreeing with them for a moment, but then follows up by getting up my nose. Earlier, it was Whiny Asthma Guy, and now it’s Kathy over at Relapsed Catholic.
The posting in question, The Left’s Romance with the Blackout, first quotes a FrontPage magazine article. Please note that FrontPage’s politics are such that their editorial board would’ve called Darth Vader a “liberal pantywaist”:
“But to the collective voice that every time howls ‘Now Americans know what it’s like …,’ the favor should be returned with the suggestion that the Third World try finding out what life is like in the First World — by taking time out to build something, sustain it and learn a way of life in which everyday transactions don’t involve stealing from, bribing and killing one another …”
Which, in part is true. I myself am an escapee from the Third World and part-time returnee, and let me tell you: where lawlessness reigns, life is cheap.
Because this is Accordion City, my first instinct during the blackout was to go out and entertain the stranded, enjoy being able to see the stars and see what kind of fun you can have in the dark. In Manila, a lovely city I recommend visiting, that first instinct would be to retreat home (or actually, my aunt’s house, which is where I stay whenever I visit), which is in a lot surrounded by high walls with sharp shards of glass embedded into the top to foil anyone who wants to scale it. The house itself is in a gated community guarded by rent-a-cops with carbines which have likely been purchased from my great-uncle, P.B. Dionisio (There’s a better profile of the company here — scroll down to number 6). The guards have orders to shoot to kill anyone who’s not authorized to be inside the gates.
(Neal Stephenson is so very on the mark when he has one of his characters in Cryptonomicon say “Filipinos are a warm, gentle, caring, giving people, which is a good thing since so many of them carry concealed weapons.”)
What FrontPage conveniently ignores is that we here in the so-called “First World” — I believe the actual terminology is “Old World”, “New World” and “Third World”; perhaps someone assumed that if there’s a Third World, there must be a First and Second — are more sophisticated about the stealing (Enron and all those other recently-discovered accoutning “irregularities”) and bribing (corporations putting government in their back pockets) and killing. (We’ll have to debate the killing point in another post).
FrontPage also declines to mention why such acts would take place in the Third World during a blackout, aside from some vague hand-waving mention of American supremacy. The reason that they forgot to mention (or more likely, don’t know): is that the divide between the haves and the have-nots there is so much greater. In the Philippines, there is no middle class. You either have servants or you are one. Under blackout conditions, or hell, even after a hockey game, you’ll see the exact same behaviour right here in North America in cities like Los Angeles and Detroit (“not the Third World, but an incredible simulation!”)
Affulence, of course, is not an insurance policy against looting either. My friend Wil last night recounted to me the worst blackout looting stories I’d heard personally, including one where a kid nearly died because he’d accidentally cut his wrist while trying to pass through a stroefront window he’d smashed. Did this story take place in the so-called dangerous streets of Toronto, teeming with icky diversity and no-good dark-skinned (but oh so charming and good-looking) foreigners like yours truly? Nope. It took place in good old, safe old, tighty-whitey Streetsville, a sattelite town of Accordion City.
The next part is Kathy’s own take:
Exactly. If the recent blackout had happened in Pakistan or Nigeria, hundreds would have been killed and raped, and what little they have would have been looted. Here’s a plan for Third World relief: put down the hookah, lay off the jungle drugs, stop setting women on fire and cutting up their vaginas — and freakin’ INVENT something useful for a change. Then you get to have nice things. That’s how life works.
I’m with Kathy on the suttee and female circumcision points (Kath, how ’bout male circumcision, which is still a common practice with Jews and many Catholics?), but as far as “freakin’ INVENTING something”, let me fill you in on a little dirty secret:
THAT’S THE LAST THING MOST CORPORATIONS AND THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT WANT.
Most corporations are banking on the fact that there’s a Third World to provide cheap labour with very little of those pesky things like minimum wage, OSHA regulations and health and disability plans. It keeps costs down, and those savings — supposedly — get passed to the consumer. Take a look at the labels of any of your clothes and see where they were made: most likely, they were made in Thailand, China, India or the Philippines. The work in factories is so bad that many Filipino workers instead choose to become OCWs — Overseas Contract Workers — and thus the Philippines became the biggest exporter of nannies, cooks and drivers to the world.
(Wired magazine, in its San Franciscan “I backpacked across the Third World, I understand it now” fuzzy-headedness, romanticized the OCW phenomenon and co-opted peer-to-peer terminology, calling the Philippines “the world’s first distributed economy”. Hey Wired: Putang ina mo.)
The situation is no longer limited to manufacturing: IT jobs are being exported, and now that it’s hitting the white upper-middle class where they live (or more accurately, work), there’s now some gnashing of teeth.
The US Government itself was banking on the fact that the Philippines was not a democracy, but ruled by a dictator they had in their pocket. You might not be aware of this, but then-Vice President Bush (George Sr., that is) praised President Marcos during a 1981 visit with the line We love your adherence to democratic principles. This was said while the opposition were either in jail or exile. The reason the US supported Marcos? So that they could maintain Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval base in the Philippines, vital strategic points in the Cold War. Yes, defeating the commies was a good thing, but considering the price Filipinos paid, you’d think the US would be so kind and honourable as to cut us a nice cheque for services rendered and sacrifices made.
So yes, there’s a fair bit of romanticism about the Third World being bandied about by the Left, but let’s not forget that the Right are romanticizing their role in ensuring that the Third World stays in Third Place.
Kathy wrote in another posting:
“Right wing” is just what “normal” used to be.
Ah, but I counter with a Bruce Cockburn song — and keep in mind that most of Cockburn’s music annoys the hell out of me:
The trouble with normal is that it always gets worse.