New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 184

new internationalist
issue 184 - June 1988

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Think big
Cover of the NI issue 183 Your May issue (NI 183) fell short of the mark as a means of dealing with the development crisis. The sheer size of the problem of debt and starvation facing the Third World means that we must go far beyond the kind of decentralized tinkering that you recommend. Like it or not, this will call for international negotiations carried out by large-scale organizations such as governments, producers' associations, big agencies and development banks. One small policy shift reducing a tariff or increasing a government aid budget by a fraction of a percentage can make more difference than hundreds of the small-scale community initiatives you recommend.

Anton Gratz
Alberta, Canada

Intelligent query
I read with interest your issue on Science (NI 182). But I would like to have seen some comment on one area of research which if it reaches fruition will affect us all - artificial intelligence. Will the realization of intelligent machines benefit society? Or will they further devalue the human mind? The danger is that they deaden our ability to take decisions or question the decisions taken on our behalf.

Duncan Priest
Luxembourg

Muddled thinking
It's a long time since I have seen such an assembly of muddled thinking and distorted statistics as in your attack on science (NI 182). You make no distinction between science, medicine and invention, or between science and the way it is exploited by the military-industrial complex. Some of the propositions put forward are ludicrous.

Science is a technique for explaining the world, the most efficient technique we have yet found. This is why the State is so keen on it - explaining is the key to exploiting. Alternative modes of thought can be just as authoritarian when adopted by the dominant powers.

The fact that there is no way of proving causation does not mean that believing in science is a matter of blind faith. It's a hypothesis, and so far it is the best one we've got.

It isn't Western science that holds back Third World science, but the distribution of money, as organised by the industrialised world for its own benefit.

S. Gould
Wiltshire, UK

Experimental progress
As an ecologist I share many concerns expressed by Vanessa Baird in her Keynote article (NI 182). However, without the scientific method she finds so worrying, all workers in this field would be unable to proceed. The environment must be protected but if we act without rigorous experimentation, we may compound the problems already created by unthinking exploitation.

Kevin Judd
Colchester, UK

Science outrage
Instead of an intelligent, unbiased discussion of science (Keynote NI 182), scientists are stereotyped as single-minded fascists who make nuclear bombs, and science is accused of a variety of political crimes even though Mike Rose recognizes that it is a servant, not a master of political systems. Few of the benefits of science are mentioned.

Debbie Taylor's article is particularly ignorant and absurd. Presumably she advocates the replacement of the National Health Service with medieval superstition. The continual reference to sexual imagery was most irrelevant, and the issue as a whole was a biased and unhelpful representation of the subject.

Mike Hubank
London, UK

Balanced view
It is sad that some of your writers - notably Judy Gahagan (NI 182) - feel it necessary to spice their far-from-original articles with so much feminist venom. She conveniently ignores the contributions of women like Margaret Thatcher to our present predicament.

I have known many men who felt quite unsuited to the macho role, and many feminists who are amongst the most aggressive, domineering and egotistical people. One could be forgiven for believing that they see liberation to be found in the imitation of the traits of the worst men. A science dominated by such women would be indistinguishable from what we have now.

These contrasting traits are more accurately described as the Yin and Yang. In our culture male children have been trained to manifest Yang traits, whilst female children have learnt to manifest Yin traits. Both potentials lie within both sexes. If Ms Gahagan is so incensed by the 'male' passion to be 'author of a discovery, father of the brainchild', why hasn't she published her article anonymously, solely in the service of knowledge?

A Mereman
Birsay, Orkney

Cartoon: Cath Jackson
Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Know thy enemy
Mr Halliday (Letters NI 181) says that of course you shouldn't 'print a letter from a South African businessman justifying apartheid'. But of course you should. If you don't know someone's argument, you can't know how best to counter it. We should regard such a businessman as open to reason and therefore persuadable because if we didn't, we should be guilty of something very similar to apartheid ourselves.

Gerry Abbott
University of Mandalay, Burma

Write to reply
Although I was happy to have my article Wages for housework (NI 181) included in your varied and interesting issue on housework, I would like to clarify a few points of confusion which may have been caused by your headlines.

In supposedly summarising my article, the headlines actually attributed to me views which I do not hold.

I do not 'wonder why feminists would rather pay a cleaner than insist that men help with the housework'. I know why. It is because it is less bother. What I don't know is why so much feminist rhetoric blames the exploitation of one group of women (underpaid domestic workers) on another group of women (middle-class career women) without mentioning the middle-class career men who must share equally in the blame for whatever exploitation is taking place.

Nor do I believe that the Wages for Housework Campaign is an 'indictment of the women's movement' any more than is any other campaign that starts from the assumption that domestic work is women's work. A great many campaigns for the 'rights of working mothers' (sic - what other kind of mother is there?) fall into this category, since they simply involve reallocating domestic responsibilities among women while the men carry on as before.

Zoe Fairbairns
London, UK

Romantic rubbish
There are several inaccuracies in the article on housework in Zimbabwe by Yvonne St Claire (NI 181). In fact the recurrent theme in her articles has been to romanticize rural life in a way which is irritating and patronizing.

The rural woman in Zimbabwe is under the control of her husband, his relatives and her relatives. She does not begin to have any major say until she is considered an elder. This system derives from colonialism, prior to which men and women had more equal status. Colonialists imposed their values about the inferior status of women. Under their laws women were minors who could not inherit their fathers' property and had no right to the custody of their children if lobola (bride-price) had already been paid.

Though the legislation has been changed by our current government, this situation continues for the majority of rural women. They cannot consent to life-saving operations for themselves or their children; they need their husband's consent to use contraception; they are told when to stop breast-feeding and when to become pregnant again. Even in agriculture they do not control their earnings.

Chipo Moyo
Harare, Zimbabwe

Fiji fury
The friction between indigenous Fijians and Indians has been caused by the Indian dominance of the economy. Fijians are now in the minority in their own country.

The deposed Government was also very much Indian-dominated. With Indian votes now in the majority, they might have remained in power for the foreseeable future. Does democracy really call for the political aspirations of the indigenous people to take a back seat?

Jeremy L Cole
Midlands, Zimbabwe

AIDS freedom
Regarding your article on AIDS and circumcision (NI 179), there is no widespread circumcision of women in Kenya. Those women afflicted by the disease have been mainly prostitutes working in urban areas American marines and tourists are fond of visiting. Our rural districts are still relatively free from AIDS.

Edmond Maloba
University of Waterloo, Ontario

Male inequality
Now that you have produced an issue on housework, I look forward to your producing a feature on car mechanics and house maintenance, for while most housework is done by women, it is almost always the man who repairs the roof, fixes the car or repoints the brickwork.

M J Hughes
Tyne and Wear, UK

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from China
 

[image, unknown] The foetal ear
Sue Robson gives Chinese acupuncture a chance to tackle a skin problem that Western medicine has failed to improve.

The local hospital's acupuncture department was smaller and much scruffier than I'd expected. Doctors in distinctly off-white lab coats interviewed patients who had come from all over the 'province to choose this traditional Chinese medicine hospital over the Western treatment offered next door.

After years of trying Western creams for eczema, I'd brought my dry and itchy skin to Chinese doctors who took my pulse, asked about allergies, and wanted to know which season made my skin worst. An older woman scribbled down the list of acupuncture points they were to use.

Seven were in my ear. The ear has over 150 sensitive points, I learned, corresponding to different areas of the body - heart, lungs, different addiction points and so on. The inner part of the ear, part in shadow, looks like an upside-down foetus, so the Chinese say - and use this image of a person to explain that the ear is a model of the body. So points to treat feet, calves and so on are at the top of the ear - and points for mouth, head, ears and so on at the bottom.

Using squares of sticky tape, deft fingers fixed hard round seeds over the seven relevant points in my ear. In the West they use steel balls; here in China, tiny seeds are popular. 'Press hard on each of those seeds three times a day,' the doctor told me, 'to stimulate your body's own energy.' I looked around the room and noticed several of the doctors wore white squares holding seeds to their ears - for bad eyesight, insomnia, even colds.

Other patients in the room had heat lamps applied to their needles, or batteries attached to send a stimulating current through each needle. I just had ten needles, carefully pushed into the points listed on my prescription.

The needles were extremely thin, and as the doctor twirled and inserted them I felt nothing more than a tiny prick at first. When I felt a dull ache - or distension, indicating that the treatment was having an effect - she stopped. She pushed a needle an inch or 50 into my thigh and I was amazed to feel a stab at my ankle and my toes beginning to tingle. When a needle went m above my wrist, a finger felt as though it was on fire. 'That's because the line of chi - or energy - goes right down there,' my friend explained.

With ten needles in my ankles, calves, thighs, wrists and upper arms, I lay very still for 15 minutes. One very young doctor came over to chat and practise English, and when I lifted a thumb to emphasize a point it hurt. I felt the blood rushing round my body, sending a buzz down through my ankles to my feet. There was no pain, except for a dull ache if I moved; there was no blood when the young doctor finally withdrew the thin silver needles and dropped them into a container to be sent for resterilization. I stood up and felt a rush of energy down legs and arms, and - in that cold drab ward - a glowing warmth. I looked in a mirror and saw that while my face was pale, my cheeks were rosy and my eyes glittered I looked, in fact, as good - and as strange - as I felt.

'Come back tomorrow for the next treatment,' they told me.' 'Remember to stimulate the seeds in your ear. And boil these Chinese herbs twice a day; drink the liquid and then squeeze the herbs onto your skin.' The jumble of herbs included leaves, chopped stalks, dried mushrooms and the empty thoraxes of what looked like crickets.

The herb tea is extremely bitter, despite its soothing minty smell; the seeds taped to left and right ears on alternate days hurt more when stimulated than the needles do; and the daily acupuncture session leaves me calm and glowing every afternoon. I still don't know if it's going to work - but after a week, and a marked improvement in my skin, it looks as though it might.

Sue Robson is teaching English at a small-town university in the Yangtse River Valley.

 
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