New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 192

new internationalist
issue 192 - February 1989

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

Dying to speak
Cover of the NI Issue 191 Your issue on language (Say Write, Scream NI 191) makes the interesting point that English is taking over as a dominant language, destroying indigenous languages and the world outlook that went with them. I agree that this is a sad loss. But it does not seem to me anything new. Old languages have always given way to new: before the Romans invaded Britain, people spoke various forms of Gaelic. We rarely lament the loss of those languages now.

So long as any inequality of power exists between people, weak languages will always bow down before strong ones. The dominance of a language is like the power of a strong person to shout louder than anyone else: it is the power of a class or a people with the might to impose their own definitions on the world.

Control - or lack of control - over language permeates up from the very roots of our daily existence. If we are poor or black or female, we must fight to be heard. Language reflects and reinforces these relations of inequality, but it does not cause them; we make a great error if we think that.

Billy Brace
London, UK

Dirty money
Your December magazine (NI 190) was excellent, but Dexter Tiranti shows excessive zeal for the hair-shirt. He disapproves of banks and companies supporting charities. Better that they accept their typecasting and that Oxfam relies on the widow's mite and the financial sacrifice of wage earners. It is easy to tell that he is a crusading journalist and not a charity treasurer concerned above all with the users of fund raising. Where would his concept of donor purity end? Perhaps Oxfam's donor lists should be scrutinized to establish whether organizations and individuals measure up to his questionable standards?

Clive Lindley
Monmouth Aid Project,
UK

Bloody mistake
I am puzzled by the bloodstains on Mr Gorbachev's forehead on the cover of the December issue (NI 190): he has got a nasty bruise on page 10 too. Is he perhaps a battered husband? Or has Mrs T. done a handbag job on him for daring to ask the Queen to tea?

Maggie Taylor
Suffolk, UK

Torn apart
The December issue (NI 190) is hardly internationalist in outlook. It consists almost entirely of criticism of the USSR; which is permissible provided future issues criticize other great powers, especially the unreasonably hostile US. Almost all articles are from North America. There is no article from the 'Third World'. And the accompanying Gorbachev photograph is barely recognizable as the repulsive character depicted on the cover.

Kathleen Jones
Shropshire, UK

Irreverent relatives
In reading your film review The Last Temptation of Christ (NI 189) I believe you misunderstand why the film annoys Christians. The film - and the novel upon which it is based - gives a totally inaccurate representation of Jesus Christ. It portrays him as a modern anti-hero; weak, inconsistent, doubtful, wild. The Bible - the only reliable sourcebook we have on Christ - does not portray him as 'a reluctant and uncertain saviour, riven by fear'. Quite the contrary. It shows him as absolutely certain that he alone could save a fallen humanity.

You also say a Christian should accept the statement 'The truth is created from what people need.' The idea of the relativity of truth which permeates our thinking today, is totally unbiblical and quite new to Western culture. There is nothing relative about Christ's statement: 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except by me.'

Barbara Christie
Norfolk, UK

Socialist mugs
I must disagree with Max Neill who denigrates socialism with a few quick strokes of his pen (Letters NI 188). Mr Neill seems to imply that socialists should not ride bicycles, wear radical t-shirts, agonize about sexual roles, feel guilt, be middle class, wear spiky hair, practise non-competitive life-styles and finally hold coffee mugs high - presumably coffee mugs with catchy radical slogans. I think he is being somewhat judgmental. C'mon Max, get with it! Socialists can do all these things and more.

Dale Lakevold
Manitoba, Canada

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Hitting home
NI's quiz How Right-Wing have you become (NI 188) scores home ownership as a minus. Does this mean to remain 'pure' and avoid New Right tendencies we should all rent? I find it hypocritical that NI should favour a privileged class within our society like landlords and property owners. Considering that the landlord has been the bane of the poor, the working class and the underprivileged for centuries I think that the ideal of home ownership, despite the difficulties of achieving it, and its ensuing benefits of control over one's life, are positive values, not negative.

Trevor Gerdsen
Victoria, Australia

Right foot forward
Whilst answering your quiz How right wing have you become? (NI 188) I refused to deduct a point for not converting my car to unleaded fuel. Other than the fact that like most older cars conversion is not possible, it is 25 years old and came from the scrapyard. Fairly sound ecology I'd claim.

Having gained a plus score, I was left with the impression that you accept that the majority of your readers will drift inevitably to the Right. Even a desire to move to the Left may be difficult to achieve for those caught in a poverty trap. Political ideals of any persuasion can be an expensive luxury.

Andrew Currie
Gwynedd, UK

Taking the cake
I must take issue with Debbie Taylor (The Opium Habit NI 188). She says that 'the only difference between the Left and the Right is the way they propose to slice up the economic cake'. I am amazed that she cannot see that the way the cake is sliced makes a fundamental difference. The Right wants a big slice for nuclear arms; it wants tax cuts for the wealthy with no relief for the poor; it wants a bigger slice to help the well-to-do to take out private health care, leaving a smaller piece of the cake for the National Health Service. The contrast between the two is an endless list of priorities, the Right being assiduous in its aims to support its wealthy adherents whether they be capitalist army generals or the whole paraphernalia of the entrenched establishment.

Alfred Thomas
Cleveland, UK

Blind spot
I was shocked to see David Kemp's ill-advised letter in your September issue (Letters NI 187). As a black British woman living in Australia I must protest. It seems necessary to remind David Kemp that Aboriginal people are one per cent of the population of Australia; the effects of their customs are of minor consequence to the environment. David Kemp would do well to get things into perspective. The most pressing environmental problem Australia has is the destruction of the ozone layer which is wholly due to the doings of white men.

Arlene Chattakar-Aitkins
Sydney, Australia

Straight debate
I was insulted by a book review in NI 188. The book was Cuba Libre by Peter Marshall and the reviewer said that '.Peter Marshall's standpoint is libertarian rather than straight socialist, so he is careful to document authoritarian excesses as well as the welfare successes. Presumably a 'straight' (as opposed to a 'crooked') socialist would ignore authoritarian excesses. This Stalinist (I use the term advisedly) view is all the more repugnant in these days of perestroika.

Michael Schembri
Seven Hills, Australia

Deadly sin
Vanessa Baird's article Blow by Blow (NI 187) hit many a male on the head, if you will pardon the violent metaphor. Her analysis of how our collective, deeply-ingrained attitudes about anger and other dysphoric (uncomfortable) emotions contribute to physical and sexual violence, was masterful (sic).

How I wish she had completed the picture by tracing the origins of these attitudes to their source - namely religion. In addition to sexuality, anger was another normal human emotion used by the founding fathers of Christianity as additional leverage to manipulate and control the lives of those human beings who were seduced, bribed or brow-beaten into embracing the one true faith. Anger was, don't forget, one of the seven deadly sins. How could one be expected to learn adaptive ways of coping with such an emotion if one was expected to feel guilty even feeling it?

Wendell Watters,
(Clinical Professor of Psychiatry),
Ontario, Canada

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

Letter from China
 

[image, unknown] Little emperors revisited
Sue Robson gives a beating to the
myth of the Chinese spoilt brat.

When we go to lunch in the little street round the corner the proprietors' three-year-old son rushes to meet us. We are made to wait while he shows his new toys; a scarlet tricycle, a pull-along duck, a space-age gun playing the tunes of eight different police sirens when you pull the trigger.

The other customers in the restaurant ignore him. If he starts playing with the keys attached to the back of their belts, they push him away. Chinese parents and teachers complain that today's children are being spoilt. Usually 'only' children, they are plied with expensive toys by an adoring circle of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. 'Little emperors', they are called. 'If he wanted the stars in the sky,' one parent told me, 'you would try to get them for him.'

But to my Western eyes, children here are remarkably unspoilt. It is just that the rules are different. Here, in China, people talk with horror of children playing games we happily permit in the West: teasing and even hitting an older relative, for example, to see them pretend pain and fear. In my view this restaurant's three year old is a model of good behaviour: his tantrums are rare and only once did he complain about a lack of attention by peeing on the floor right between my feet and his mother's.

But China's children are expected to behave like little adults. This requirement may have been part of our own history too. Philip Aries' book Centuries of Childhood argues that in Europe's early history, children's lives were similar to those of adults. That was before a new seventeenth-century protectiveness evolved special ways to treat kids. In China today you only very occasionally hear someone using a baby voice or baby language when speaking to a child. And a British teacher I knew used to point out to me the oddness of Chinese children's drawing styles compared with those of Western children. While Western infants are quite happy to draw in ways that are characteristically 'childish' Chinese children rule careful lines and get quite frustrated in their attempts to produce pictures that do not look childish.

Chinese parents do, of course, shower love and attention on their children but it is always made quite clear that child's-play has to remain well within the limits of normal social behaviour. The same control applies to adults in their treatment of children. You hardly ever see a parent hit a child. That would constitute too great a loss of face. But when I inquired about this I was told: 'they belt the kid later, in private'. Indeed there have been several cases in the press recently of 10- or 11-year-olds being so severely beaten for underachievement at school that they died. A lot is expected of children here - and few allowances are made.

Another thing you rarely see is people crying - be they children or adults. Tears are saved for very serious troubles. So the adult response to a child's tears is more likely to be a brushing aside than an extension of sympathy. On an acupuncture ward I watched a doctor insert long copper needles into the scalp of a one year old and saw the baby howl when every ten minutes the needles were twisted to stimulate the body energy. The parents laughed, showed toys and jogged the baby up and down while wiping his tears. Older children bore the pain in stoic silence.

And while Western influences may be partly responsible for some more flexible attitudes towards education, rote learning and recitation are still primary in Chinese schools. 'Look', a teacher may demonstrate, 'this character is an ideogram for water - mountain - fire - up - down - middle'. But to write the word themselves Chinese children - those spoilt and individualistic 'little emperors - will practise writing individual strokes for hours on end until they can get this horizontal or that vertical line exactly right. It is difficult to imagine the average Western school-child being so uncomplainingly diligent.

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

 
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