Red or dead?
Margaret Taylor has the right to give free reign to her fantasies about ‘the Soviets with their failing economy’ waiting for ‘the rich pickings to be had in a defenceless West if we gave up the Bomb’ (letters, NI No. 100). And if she really believes it would be preferable, she may choose death rather than life under Russian rule if such a situation ever arises.
Soak the poor
I read Jorgen Lissener’ s article 'Merchant’s of Misery’ (NI No. 100) with interest, and agreed with his reading of the advertisers’ invariably distorted representations of the Third World in the name of charity.
What drew my attention to the article was the recent Christian Aid campaign, which was centred around the slogan ‘Soak the Poor’. This poster may be termed an integral design: where the slogan or phrase cannot be seen separately from the photograph. The photograph may on close scrutiny reveal the subjects’ enjoyment of water supply. However, if seen at a glance, it falls into the stereotype of the ‘starving child’ created by the advertising industry and the society that demands it.
The campaign came to my notice when walking down one road in an area of Birmingham that has a high population of Asian and West Indian people. I had noticed and queried the poster in other locations in the West Midlands. What is communicated is not a caring for people of the Third World, but an acceptance of ethnic groups living in Britain. and some snide attempt to instill guilty consciences in those immigrant groups.
It is not enough to leave the choice of location to chance. Christian Aid and other charities must take into account the placement of their advertising, even if it means reducing the number of free sites offered.
Like Winnie the Pooh
As one of Jorgen Lissner’s ‘advertisers’ I have followed his writings over recent years with interest Jorgen is generous in his criticism of us. We have ‘good intentions’ and the money we raise ‘does help people in need’. But we are misguided if we ignore ‘the political side effects’. Regrettably, there is no easy choice here. To follow the communications strategy advocated by Jorgen is to isolate our message from most people.
If you want to say something meaningful to a person you must say it in their terms. Not until we have established common ground can we drain away the prejudice and the stereotypes that pervade much of the thinking and attitudes to development and to development aid.
If you want to do something about prostitution, someone is going to have to visit a brothel. If a Christian wants to convert alcoholics, he or she may need to visit a public house. There is too much coyness about putting our message into the language the ‘ignorant’ will understand. If all they understand is ‘the starving child’, then we must be prepared to start with this. Many agencies seem to be like Winnie the Pooh, not caring what the message means to the receiver as long as it means something to the sender. Or like Pontius Pilate washing his hands to be kept clean and spotless from the dirty task of dealing with death and pornography.
Communication is a bridge-building exercise. It is a long way from where some people are to where we think they ought to be. So some of the most important bridges we need to build are very long.
And we must make sure our bridges are firmly set at both ends. If we only want to build our bridges halfway across the water, the only people who will cross over are those whose understanding has already been moved part way towards us (probably by ‘the advertisers’ from some other agency).
We should have communications strategies comprising bridges both long and short; strategies which seek to find the variety of common grounds in our societies. Such a strategy is followed by World Vision of Australia and, I note, by Oxfam in Britain. I submit that agencies like these may be the only ones who are saying anything meaningful to the bulk of the people in our countries. The rest of the messages are falling off the ends of one-ended bridges.
Vetoed — and so it should have been! The advertisement ‘People eat what he leaves’ (NI No. 100) fully illustrated the bias of attitude behind so much that is produced by the Western advertisers.
My response to your article ‘The World at War’ (Letters, NI No.101) may be superficial, but the article does not deserve any more considered response. The map includes Britain as a ‘war zone'. No attempt is made to distinguish between military and policing operations by 'government troops’ and to suggest, as the map does, that I live in a ‘war zone’ — ‘torn apart by strife’ is ridiculous.
The Editor replies:
The Northern Ireland troubles are why the UK is declared, according to the map reprinted from ‘The Pacifist’, an area where there is ‘armed conflict involving government troops’.
I was disappointed that the New Internationalist should be inaccurate in writing about multinational oil companies in your June issue. Standard Oil has not paid a princely $4.3 billion for the Amax Metal Company. The deal fell through. And how many of your readers would know that you were referring to Standard Oil of California, better known as Chevron, and not to the several other Standard Oils like Exxon and Amoco?
Nor has the Canadian drinks company Seagram paid $2 billion for St. Joe Minerals. St Joe was actually bought by Fluor Corporation. What Seagram did was to sell their oil and gas subsidiary Texas Pacific to Sun Oil for $3.2 billion in 1980; and to spend 1981 trying to buy companies with oil/coal/mineral interests like St. Joe and Conoco — so far unsuccessfully.
To add force to your piece about oil profits being used to buy into other resources: the takeover bid for Kennecott copper is from Sohio (Standard Oil of Ohio). Sohio is a subsidiary of British Petroleum who recently bought a big mining company Selection Trust for $814 million.
It is not just the Seven Sisters who are doing the buying and it is not just metals, mineral and mining that they acquire. Phillips Petroleum have just bought a share of a genetic engineering company. Mobil bought a chain store, Montgomery Ward. Exxon bought Reliance Electrics for $1.2 billion. The money has come from huge profits as oil prices have risen worldwide and been decontrolled in the U.S. In addition, in the last month $40 billion has been made available by the banks for the oil companies to defend themselves against takeovers and acquire new subsidiaries. Several individual companies have raised $5 billion lines of credit. Contrast that with the difficulties that the Third World has in raising money!
The editor replies:
We stand corrected, Chevron bid $4.3 billion. The takeover did not go through.
No one has the right to deny another of the chance to participate in existence. To advocate legalised abortion as a preventive for back street practices is astounding (Letters, NI No.101) and represents the current expedient attitudes of our society. Perhaps we should legalise murder and rape because they are also persistent evils? Because an evil persists it does not mean that it should be legalised, rather the society should be changed to eliminate the causes and climate for that evil.
Richard & Cate Ashley
Do Catholics have their faith stretched to the limit by the Church’s attitude to abortion ? (Letters NI No.101) As grass-roots Catholics who are proud of our Church in this matter, perhaps we can shed some light.
We find it difficult to understand why others do not see the child in the womb as a person. But for those who do not share our view and wish to understand us, ask yourself what your attitude would be if you were told that the answer to the world’s problems is to take away the rights of all children under nine months old?
Rosie and Bob Lyons
Abortion — a basic need?
To hell with the Pope! I write simply as a human being. The first defence of my own existence, which I value highly, is my respect for the existence of others. If abortion were a cure for the ills of the world, euthanasia would be far more effective. There are simple means available to shorten the lives of the starving and the diseased and so prevent their breeding to extend human misery. What stops us? Self interest. If I put no transcendent value on human life my own existence is threatened.
The child in the womb is not potentially human, it is human with potential. So forget about abortion. Get to the root of the problem. It is not self-interest. It is the selfishness of those who have sufficient and want still more at the expense of those who haven’t enough.