issue 185 - July 1988
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I was disappointed with your June issue (NI 184). By lumping a whole range of different tree-types together you once again resorted to gross over-simplifications in order to make a political point. Trees are not all the same. The problems caused by deforestation in tropical countries bear no comparison to the very minimal environmental effects of forestry in Europe. Moreover the argument that we use trees to satisfy wants instead of needs is dubious. How do you define a need? Should I for example stop buying pencils? And what would you have me use instead? Plastic pens, I suppose. (Or haven't you heard about the environmental problems associated with plastic?) As for the suggestion that I should convert my dog to vegetarianism - I never heard anything so cruel in my life!
NI has engineered its own monster (albeit not genetically) in its Science issue (NI 182). Driven by a worthless method of enquiry, blinkered to alternatives, nurtured by unfeeling recluses who at best are cheats and at worst are phallo-imperialist megalomaniacs, this monster with the teeth of a wolf and the eyes of a tiger is a simple, convenient scapesheep on which to blame all our modern woes.
Hidden away in the issue are some very valid points. Science (or more correctly, technology - the way science is applied) is indeed 'only as good as the political and economic system in which it operates'; collective decisions need to be made on the ethical issues raised; and more people, especially women, need to take an active interest in science. Unfortunately your journal, which thanks to technology reaches thousands of readers throughout the world, presents precisely the kind of image of science that will continue to turn such people away from getting positively involved.
In her article Do you believe in magic? (NI 182) Debbie Taylor claims that magic is more logical than modern medicine. But surely the whole basis of magic is that it cannot be explained by logic or reason? And her own logic in this article is lamentable. She derides scientific medicine and ignores the many benefits it has brought, drastically reducing morbidity and mortality worldwide. Vaccines against a wide variety of infectious diseases have been of major importance in saving young lives, as have other advances like antibiotics and oral rehydration therapy. She scoffs at 'placebos' and controlled studies in medicine, forgetting that they are the only consistent and unbiased way of objectively assessing various therapeutic procedures.
Your issue on Housework (NI 181) missed an essential point. It is not housework as such which is the instrument of women's oppression, but having to carry out other people's housework, especially without compensation. Gandhi's perception of housework as an activity of equal importance to that of advising the British Governor (see Ben McNaughton's article), reflects my own realization that cleaning can be very therapeutic after a hard day's mental work. Recognizing this fact frees one to enjoy all forms of human activity equally, whether it be washing the kitchen floor or composing a letter to the NI.
I read the Housework issue (NI 181) with great interest. As a nanny I make $800 per month and am considered well paid for what I do. Yet I work a laborious 10-hour day with an incredible amount of responsibility attached to it. Any man with such a job description would be paid much more than I. When will society begin to value our services?
Victoria BC, Canada
I found your issue on Education (NI 180) confusing. On the one hand you decry attempts at imposing Western educational values on Third World students. On the other, you condemn the lack of money being spent sending Third World students to Western-style schools. Which is it? Or do you believe that a bad education is better than none?
How dare Stuart McKelvie and Gerry Chidiac (Letters NI 182), suggest that women should continue with unwanted pregnancies to produce babies for childless couples? They may couch their proposals in compassionate language but the implication is that women who do not want to be pregnant should be forced into surrogacy.
If you really want to improve the world, Gerry Chidiac, work towards improving it for everyone. Let's see fertility treatment freely available for all women regardless of race, age, marital status or sexual orientation. Put women's reproductive rights where they belong - in the hands of individual women. If McKelvie and Chidiac long to produce children for childless couples then I offer my support. As for myself - I am quite capable of making my own informed decisions. So get off my back!
Cartoon: Cath Jackson
I was surprised to find a letter in NI 181 claiming that no Jewish person could be called 'remotely "indigenous"' (to Palestine). I thought it was well known, and it is certainly well documented, that the Jews were the inhabitants of the land of Israel from at least 1200 BC until they were the victims first of Babylonian, then of Roman, imperialism.
Whilst I do not condone Jewish racism - of the Zionist or any other variety - it should at least be understood in its context 2,000 years of persecution and suffering, of which the Nazi 'final solution' was only the latest and most outstanding example. The Jewish people's patience, endurance, and final return to their land should be an inspiration to all tribal people now suffering and dispossessed by imperialism (as indeed it has been to the Rastafarians, for example).
Let us look forward to a just and peaceful settlement of the claims of all the indigenous people of Israel or Palestine - a settlement not to be achieved by closing one eye to this or that unwelcome fact.
John McCord (Letters NI 183) swings a few punches at Greens and feminists whilst reminding us that our essential battle is to 'break the power of multinational corporations' and a 'society that puts profit before people'. I wouldn't argue with him about the need to overthrow capitalism but why does he have to slag off Greens and feminists? Any mass movement that is seriously going to challenge the power of capitalism will be heavily influenced by all the down-trodden, myself and himself included. We should be building barricades yes, but let's not forget the bridges.
The term 'macho' which appears at least once in virtually every issue of the NI, is the Spanish (Castilian) word meaning 'male'. Your using it as a pejorative term to mean 'male sexist' or 'chauvinist' is an insult to my Latin friends and family, and to Spanish and Latin-American people generally. Please discontinue this racist usage.
John David Simnett
Editor: Interesting point. But we have heard macho used in this sense in Spanish too. Guidance from Latin Americans please!
Though I am greatly informed by your magazine, I have to admit it also brings me down. Surely it is possible to keep in touch with humour and look at the incredibly good things happening, without denying the problems that we all know exist?
New York, USA
Chileans used to sunbathe quite frequently 20 years ago, but are now afraid to do so because of severe burns caused by the depletion of the ozone layer above the earth.
An official scientific investigation has apparently been carried out recently, but the results suppressed because they were too controversial. Can anyone shed light on this?
As a white woman I cannot imagine a feminist paper written largely by men, and I wonder therefore why there are no black editors on NI. I understand that one of the major aims of the magazine is to change our currently racist, imperialist society; aren't the people in the best position to do this those who have first hand knowledge of oppression?
Editor: The point you make has always been a concern to us. Whenever we shortlist for a job we take affirmative action, which we believe is necessary to counter the effects of society's racism and sexism. But recently by far the best candidate at the end of the process has been white. We should mention, however, that we have had two black women editors in the past five years.
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist