issue 184 - June 1988
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
University of Waterloo, Ontario
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
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist