issue 167 - January 1987
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 : [email protected]
I found your issue on the future of human labour (NI 166) provocative but troubling. The case is strongly made that we must start to think about work in another way. This may be true. But unless we also think about who makes the basic economic decisions in industrial society it may be a dangerous point to raise.
A new attitude to work fits well with the programs of management and economic planners who are promising us a brilliant high-tech future. They too are unconcerned about jobs. They too talk about new non-work oriented values. But what they want will result in the kind of situation so vividly described in Carol Fewster's story in the issue.
By giving up full employment aren't we letting them get a foot in the door? No full employment combined with no income distribution and no social responsibility for the unemployed is a recipe for the return to feudalism.
Animal research warrants more attention than Francesca Lyman gives it (NI 165). For instance, the notorious LD5O test is still being used by pharmaceutical companies to test the toxicity of drugs. Animals are forced to take excessive quantities of drugs in order to find out how much will kill half of the sample in 14 days. A cruel and horrific experiment which illustrates the behind-the-scenes steps which precede the sale of most drugs.
Other experiments are equally cruel - and unnecessary, as alternatives do exist. The Lord Dowding Fund, for example, sponsors research involving cell, tissue and organ cultures, computer models, chemical analysis and mass spectrometry. But multinational pharmaceutical companies are not being encouraged to change their practices, and government rulings are wholly inadequate to deal with them.
States of mind
Dexter Tiranti uses the word 'Bangladeshi' in his editorial (NI 165) but then you use the word 'Bengali' under your review of Beating Time in the same issue. Which is the correct term to define a Bangladesh citizen?
Until now I was a Bangladeshi but now I'm not so sure.
Dexter Tiranti replies: The state of Bengal was partitioned In 1945. West Bengal is still an Indian state. East Bengal was initially called East Pakistan and became Bangladesh in 1972. Might those who emigrated before then still properly be called Bengalis?
Getting the point
I was surprised that NI should have subscribed to the popular myth of acupuncture being 'painless' (NI 165). Perhaps it is for some people, but for the majority the insertion of the needles can be quite painful.
The needles are very sharp and cause a similar sensation to an injection at the dentist. It does not however last quite so long and, once inserted, the needles can hardly be felt - as long as you keep still!
Writes and wrongs
Your article on literacy (NI 164) seemed a little shortsighted in view of the following facts. Reading before age 11 destroys musical ability, long-term memory and damages sight. Literacy causes an earlier onset of puberty and extra strain for a growing body. There is also evidence that permanent brain damage can occur when a child is forced into premature literacy.
Our literate society is filled with criminals, depressives, child suicides and autism (almost epidemic now), vandalism, mental illness and generally violent, destructive behaviour. Perhaps we ought to find a system of education and childcare which actually works before imposing it upon other cultures?
Milton Keynes, UK
What do modem theologians consider happens to a person's soul when his/her body is consumed and disintegrated by a nuclear blast? It is my belief that the soul is most likely a continuation of our life in the form of electromagnetic energy. If this is true then would it not also be consumed in a nuclear explosion by the accompanying electromagnetic blast?
The idea that society can only change through revolution is not only outdated, but unscientific. Sheldrake's hypothesis of formative causation (now backed up by considerable experimentation) explains why: 'If a critical mass of individuals practising a certain behaviour is reached, it suddenly becomes much easier for the rest of that species to learn that behaviour.'
Critical mass has been estimated to be about one per cent. Therefore, the more of us practising a way of life we find wholesome, the sooner our society will be able to adapt to that way of life. And every person counts towards that critical one per cent
E P N Vallinsky
Stony Stratford, UK
Congratulations on trashing the imperialist label 'New Zealand' in favour of the Maori Aotearoa. Once again, NI has shown itself to be in the vanguard of radical change.
I suppose that you're only doing one country at a time to avoid confusion, but I hope to see the gradual disappearance from your pages of practically every present-day place-name, on the principle that it used to be called something else. I suggest that the next country on your list should be the so-called 'United Kingdom', to be known by its ancient title of 'Albion'. This, it appears, was what the Celts called it, and they came to these shores long before the first Polynesian longboats grounded in New Zealand, sorry Aotearoa. Besides, it's a much prettier name.
The Welsh make a better case for Cymru. But as Margaret Thatcher is fond of pointing out, those 'in the vanguard of radical change' always face carping from sceptics. Ed.
Save the sheep
While it is appalling to hear that fly-strike is responsible for 1.6 per cent of all sheep deaths in Australia (NI 161), may it be remembered that it is the corpse-eating habit that is responsible for 100 per cent of sheep deaths. The most effective solution is to stop eating animals.
Nelson, Aotearoa (NZ)
Your issue on terrorism (NI 165) engaged in a double standard with regard to the war in northern Ireland. You equate the IRA with the Red Army Faction in West Germany, calling the Irish resistance to the British 'an endless round of murders'.
This is the same kind of doublethink that you criticise the Reaganites of engaging in and does nothing but show the hypocrisy of the British middle-class left in refusing to deal with the war in Ireland in the same manner as they deal with similar events in other countries.
Even the US courts have found that the IRA is a political resistance force and cannot be political refugees. It's not a simplistic matter of 'whose ox gets gored'. It's recognizing that there is a war going on and deciding which side you are on.
David L Benson
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to perfection (see Addicted to Perfection, NI 162). Who would want an error-prone brain surgeon? The problem lies in our reaction to errors and to criticism. If you are punished for making a mistake (the surgeon buries his), the problem-solving ability of the brain is inhibited by anxiety.
Mistakes are essential to learning and to creativity. A computer, by being non-judge-mental, allows human beings to solve problems without fear of punishment The learning and problem-solving processes are not inhibited by a tone of voice, a dour look, or uncomplimentary words. If the computer were to give you a nasty shock every time you made a programming error, you would quickly abandon its use.
Princetown Day School
Such a simplistic approach serves no one. Native hunting and trapping for direct personal use of furs and meat is legitimate, especially if done humanely. But to include the so-called 'working class' who trap animals and club seals to serve the luxury clothing trade in the advanced economies as legitimate is wrong. These are petty-bourgeois entrepreneurs engaged for profit in an unnecessary trade.
To call critics of this last activity 'imperialist' is to completely misunderstand the meaning of the word. Imperialism means employing excess capital to turn a profit in another nation - an activity in which commercial trappers and hunters are themselves engaged as agents at the behest of Western corporations.
I have complete sympathy for the native peoples of northern Canada hunters who could be using their time in more useful pursuits. I especially have no use for those who indiscriminately back trappers and hunters, knowing neither the difference between personal and commercial animal use, nor the meaning of terms such as 'imperialist' which they fling at critics.
Swansea, Wales, UK
Correspondence on this matter is now closed. Ed.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
Baba Nhamo, the thatcher who is helping to build my house arrives just as I am finishing breakfast (tea, home-made bread with locally ground peanut butter and supermarket cheese). The builder and his helpers are still sitting outdoors laughing and eating theirs - honey dug yesterday out of a tree. So we wait in silence, till they finish.
Unlike the builder, this is Baba Nhamo's first job for a European. He does not work with figures, so there are bound to be problems between us, given our different starting positions. He has already done a lot of work selecting, felling and de-branching over twenty straight, slim trees and dragging them by ox-sledge to the house site, where they stand stacked against a tree.
I draw a sketch of two possible ways to build the roof; to a single point, or with a spine. I ask which way he planned to construct it. I then realize that is a double mistake, both the sketch and the question. 'When I am there to build you will be there to tell me how you want me to so it. If I do it wrong.'
From feeling delayed and criticised by a fussy European, he begins to feel unbearably put upon. Smiling but with anger's emphasis, he speaks directly to the builder. 'Tomorrow I will yoke my oxen and take those poles to my house and you must find someone else to build your roof'. As we are still trying to persuade him, he rises, repeating his refusal and leaves.
For a while we sit quiet, stunned. Then the builder says, 'His mind is not settled because his son Nhamo has run away to the army with one of the other village boys. Nhamo's wife is at home with nothing to eat, and her bride price has not been fully paid'. No wonder Baba Nhamo had not joined in the laughter with his co-workers at breakfast.
I felt angry with Gabriel, the boy Nhamo had run away with. He was headstrong and charismatic and he must have played a part in persuading Nhamo to go. Other village boys told me that Gabriel had tried to persuade them to join the army; reciting action-packed fantasies of explosions and ambushes, just as at the other times he had told them of his religious revelations. But to the others it was Nhamo, not Gabriel, who was to blame. He had left his family in distress. Even worse, he had left without discussion or agreement.
At 21 or so, Nhamo seemed unusually young to have been married. Most young men of his age would only marry if their girl friends were pregnant. Marriage is becoming prohibitively expensive for boys' families, as girls' parents demand increasingly high bride prices. They want significant return on their daughters' school fees. This forces men to delay marriage until they and their families can afford it. Why, then, had Nhamo married at such a young age? The builder's laconic question told the whole story; 'Why is it that these temporary teachers all think of marrying?' Nhamo had married on the strength of a teaching job. He was laid off after three months. Losing his job must have been a catastrophe.
The clash of two ways of life that belong centuries and continents apart is throwing Nhamo's life into turmoil. He married because he thought his wages could pay a bride-price, but the modern world snatches his bread winning role away from him. In an attempt to regain regular wages he runs away to join the army, disappointing his family and community. We struggle to keep a sense of proportion as these two societies, the world of waged work and that of staying close to family and friends, meet and merge within and around us.