issue 186 - August 1988
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Snap and grab
I was very interested to read your issue on photography (NI 185), although I think it failed to make a very important point. Photographs represent the photographer's attempt to possess the moment by turning it into something tangible; something which can be held forever. The subject of the photograph becomes an object to scrutinize at one's leisure. When I come home from my holidays - whether they be in Africa or America - I have a packet of photos to show my friends and neighbours. I have brought the country and its people home with me; in my own small way I own them.
This illustrates a fundamental characteristic about people from capitalist countries: their insatiable desire to acquire things. The value of their lives and indeed themselves is measured by what they've got. And holidays - which are by nature transitory - must be evidence as having 'been had'. The photo provides just this. If only we could forget the need to possess and live for the moment. How much richer our lives would be.
Your issue on Trees (NI 184) followed the usual NI formula: analyze a subject; make the reader feel guilty for living in a developed nation; highlight the way in which poor countries are being crippled by the problem; suggest that an individual can bring a problem of mind-bending proportions nearer to a solution.
Regarding NI 184, it is difficult to believe that you seriously suggested readers would help the world avoid ecological destruction by converting their pets to vegetarianism. Everything will be destroyed if the motor of the world economy continues to be fuelled by the demand for short-term profit. Until NI realizes this, your solutions to such problems will remain as banal as they were in the Trees issue.
One shouldn't be too critical of the forestry policies in developing countries (NI 184). Developed countries have all devastated their forests to subsidize their development. How can we in the West sit back and ask poor countries not to cut down their trees for the same reason?
No-one tried to solve the development puzzle of your last issue (NI 183), perhaps because the pieces do not fit together. On the one hand the magazine campaigns for letting people decide for themselves what they want, while on the other it prescribes what development must be about for a vision of a better society (with community-owned housing for example). It seems we are already in danger of falling into a new development orthodoxy to replace the mega-development projects of the 1970s. The revised version emphasizes grassroots development molded by the latest Western, feminist and leftist propaganda.
Sadly not all the oppressed and exploited of the world want a revolution, or even to be involved in the small-scale co-operatives that NI describes. They see success as individual, social and economic promotion within capitalist socio-economic relations.
So M J Hughes (Letters NI 184) thinks that only men fix cars and roofs? My friend Janette read the letter on her way to mend her broken wing-mirror. It made her very angry. Does M J Hughes really find time to do such chores in between looking after the baby? If so his roof and car must be in awfully poor condition. I suggest he gets his wife to have a look at them when she gets home from the office.
Debbie Taylor asks us if we believe in magic (NI 182), but it was David Werner in the same issue who reminded us of the greatest health-related 'magic' of the century. It can halve the mortality rate of the biggest child-killer disease; it is out of the hands of the multinationals and available in any Third World village. He was talking of salt-and-sugar water for childhood diarrhoea. Unfortunately the ultimate magic which would remove the root causes of child mortality - poverty, malnutrition and unhealthy living - is a long way away.
Community Health Team
Cartoon: Cath Jackson
What is this mysterious force called 'Science' (NI 182) which is apparently responsible for all of today's nasty technologies? In reality technologies are chosen by the societies in which they flourish. Our present society is hierarchical, competitive and violent and it chooses large-scale, centrally controlled technology which often causes violence to people and the environment. If we want more human technology we must establish nonviolent, decentralized and co-operative societies. Shooting the scientists won't help.
I am very disappointed that your magazine has given scant coverage to the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. If media such as yourselves don't expose the brutalities inflicted on the Palestinians, who will?
The title of NI 182 is misleading in that most of the articles do not focus on 'Methods and Madness in Science' but rather on the manipulation of science in the hands of governments and multinationals.
Research requires funding and this is usually forthcoming in amounts proportional to either the likely profit margin, or the size of the bang produced. Little wonder many scientists are forced to pursue research which may have beneficial applications within a framework contrived and controlled by those whose prime concern is profit or 'defence'.
The assertion that physics equals nuclear bombs and medicine equals biotechnology cannot be denied. However physics also equals solar power, and medicine, penicillin. The fact that science can be perverted does not diminish its potential as a major force for the betterment of humankind.
In the past I have trusted NI editors so completely that I cited, without corroboration, facts which I read in this journal. Imagine the embarrassment of a naive reader who took seriously Neil Thin's article about a dowser solving the problems of drought in India (NI 179).
Dowsers have as much relevance to Third World poverty as mathematicians who can multiply wheat-grains using logarithms, exorcists who prevent famines by undoing curses, and psychics who communicate with the dead to learn which crops should be planted in specific areas. Including them in an issue dedicated to human rights allows sceptics to laugh away your serious conclusions along with your silly ones.
Value or money
I read your issue 'The Politics of Housework' (NI 181) and ended up with a sense of despair when I was looking for hope. What most disappointed me was to see perpetuated the idea that reproductive labour is of little value. It seems that the writers have fallen into the same trap everyone else has - that of equating 'value' with economic return. Along with pictures of the world as it is, I would have appreciated more discussion on the intrinsic value of housework. If we women cannot see value in this work, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so either?
Mary Lou Kiassen
Letting the Irish stew
Having read your magazine thoroughly, I found not one mention of the war in British-occupied Ireland. It would appear that English journalists, no matter how liberal their attitudes towards other nations, clam up and remain silent when it comes to reporting this issue. I can only assume it is out of fear of the British state security regime, alongside the eternal memory of being part of a society which had probably the biggest empire in the world. Nowadays English people don't like to be reminded of their bloody colonial past when they sent storm-troopers to butcher and occupy Irish, African and Asian people. When you write about the seedy exploits of the US-backed dictatorships in Central America and Africa, remember too the ugly presence of your own shoot-to-kill murder squads in Belfast and Derry and the misery you are bringing Irish people.
Name and address withheld by request
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist