issue 205 - March 1990
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
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Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
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No, I didn't quite nod off while reading about trade (Trade Wars, NI 204). But I found much of it unduly optimistic. After all, many Third World governments are queuing up to join the 'Rich Man's Club' that is GATT. They have as much vested interest in the status quo as anyone else. And progressive political parties in the rich world are scarcely likely to promise to dismantle trade barriers, when mass redundancies in dozens of industries, from textiles to printing and electronics, would result.
Two things you don't cover might actually have strengthened your case. The first is the future of the environment, and the implications for trade of trying to protect it. The second is Eastern Europe. The economic failure of communism is, as you show, more than matched by the economic failure of capitalism in at least half the countries of the world. How long before Eastern Europe discovers this too?
We are two very lazy people who do use terry-towelling nappies - or diapers - and don't find them any more trouble than disposables (Green Consumer NI 203) Nature has its own way of doing things that many people have come to depend on chemicals for. For example, sunshine bleaches and freshens nappies - even in an English winter.
Keith Rose and Lynn Jones
You could try only washing-up - and washing clothes - when you haven't any clean things left (Green Consumer NI 203). This would leave you more time to do things that are more fun as well as energy-saving.
We were pleased to see Amway soap powder mentioned in Juliet Kellner's article Beware the green con (NI 203). But why only with reference to Australia? Amway is available in over 40 countries worldwide including the UK and US, and offers some 400 products, many of which are household and industrial cleaners. It was the only recipient of the United Nations Environmental Award and has been making non-CFC products for eight years - since the connection between ozone depletion and CFCs was first made.
Robert and Klasiena Slaney
Once upon a time, your letters column was full of people droning on about imperialism. After a time you called a halt to their unimaginative Trotskyist dogma. But now - with your January issue (Letters NI 203) - they are back, this time using something called 'historical inevitability' as the cover for their clichéd, dogmatic and irrelevant drivel. Wouldn't it be a good idea to deny them space now, rather than waiting until they've clogged up your letters pages all over again?
In your Architecture issue (NI 202), many strong arguments were presented for the feminization of architecture. Like medicine, science, law, economics and accountancy, architecture perpetuates a masculine culture based on individualism, exclusion, aggression, competition and hierarchy. Yet I was frustrated and disappointed to observe that NI did not explicitly call for changes in architecture as part of the feminization of culture which is necessary to bring about a humane, just and environmentally sustainable world. You did not refer to feminist architects until page 25 and it appeared as a mandatory token 'woman's piece' among many by male experts.
As an architectural technician I am increasingly conscious of the way in which architects are constrained by economic pressures and consequently fail to design buildings which meet human needs (Architecture NI 202). The architect's priority is almost always to maximize the number of dwellings for the money available, instead of creating environments in which people are happy to live. The office-blocks, houses, skyscrapers, supermarkets and hotels being built today are unimaginative in their use of space and alienate people by their size.
It was good to see your issue on Homosexuality (NI 201). Traditional thinking about human sexuality tended to categorise everyone as 'heterosexual'. More recent ideas challenged this but often only replaced one label with two - 'straight' and 'gay'. Sexual feelings, whether homosexual or heterosexual, are not mutually exclusive. Many people have both homosexual and heterosexual desires. This fact is well documented, but often overlooked.
Some of your Christian readers are obviously experts on both human sexuality and the word of God. Perhaps they could answer a question for me. If sexually transmitted diseases, in particular AIDS, are signs of God's displeasure at certain kinds of sexual activity, why do homosexual women enjoy the lowest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases of any sexually active group?
In the issue on homosexuality (Pride and Prejudice NI 201), you correctly state that Amnesty International does not include within its mandate, the imprisonment or persecution of people because of their homosexuality. There have been moves to include homosexuality, but these have been opposed by many from the 'Third World' countries which belong to Amnesty, on the grounds that such a move would make it impossible for the organization to find support in their countries. Amnesty already faces great difficulty in recruiting members in certain countries and we were unwilling to risk undoing work already underway. However pressure to include homosexuality remains, and many members, such as myself, hope that in time it will be included.
Criticisms of your excellent Palestine/Israel issue (NI 199) are seriously flawed. Images of blood-crazed Arabs murdering and raping
Jews may make good propaganda but they hardly reflect reality. It was Israel that initiated hostilities in 1967. Nasser's threat to attack Israel was always conditional upon Israel first carrying out its own threat - made in May 1967 - to attack Syria. Israeli generals have since admitted that the Arabs had neither the intention nor the capability to wage war on Israel. Moreover Arab recognition of the state of Israel is, and always has been, Israel's for the taking should it choose to recognize the rights of those whom it has dispossessed - the Palestinians.
There is a passage in the Bible which says 'Thou shall not deliver the sins of the fathers upon the children'. Who can deny that the sins of the European fathers have been visited upon the children of Palestine (NI 199)?
G A Rose
I would like to add a postscript to your article about Jesse Jackson's hoped-for changes in America (NI 200). Around 22,000 people shoot themselves or are shot in the US every year. Nearly a third of a million people have died by the gun since NI's first issue appeared, a death toll comparable with some of this century's bloodiest wars. This gruesome statistic comes from an organization called GRIEF: Gun Responsibility in Every Family - which was started by a mother after her 11-year-old son was accidentally shot by a playmate whose father kept loaded guns in the refrigerator. One child a day is killed in such a way.
GRIEF is working to change the Connecticut laws so that there will be trigger locks on every gun sold and tougher parental responsibility laws. It also has a nationwide aim of educating people to the point where ownership of a handgun is as socially unacceptable as drunken driving.
If you would like to support GRIEF, please write to:
Mrs Susan Kenney,
PO Box 768,
The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist
Becoming a person
Stone-throwing in Bolivia gives sex a whole
new meaning. Susanna Rance explains.
It may not be your idea of romance to have a pebble chucked at you from over a wall. Nor to have the sunlight flashed in your face, caught by a mirror two fields away. Or a hat snatched away and hidden, or a shawl roughly tugged by a passer-by. Courtship rituals in the Andes are a far cry from the 'hearts and flowers' approach favoured by Mills and Boon.
But these brusque gestures are loaded with meanings derived from the deepest cultural roots of the Aymaras and Quechuas. Bolivia is a land in which God is the earth mother and the sowing of seed in the Pachamama's belly is a ritual act, performed jointly by men and women. In the Andes farming, survival and human fertility are bound together with natural forces in a silent pact which has the potential to bless or destroy crops and communities.
'In this world, everything comes in pairs,' goes an Aymara saying. Even rural villages on the high plateau are divided into two with the upper half being male, and the lower half female. Ritual fights between the rival portions can end in death.
Meanwhile adolescents are not deterred from curiosity about the opposite sex. Exchanging furtive glances, they embark upon the courtship game. Desire and repression, pursuit and escape can prolong erotic play for weeks or months. Although direct contact is taboo, stones leave the hand to touch the beloved's body, and outer clothing may be snatched and taken home in the hope that a visit will follow to recover the purloined garment.
It is often at fiesta that the game reaches its climax. Alcohol mellows constraints and social prohibitions relax. The girl is 'kidnapped' by her suitor, who takes her home for the night. The next day his parents visit the girl's family and begin negotiations which usually lead to the regularization of the relationship.
Marriage may not follow formally until the couple have lived together for some time and already have children. 'Trial' marriage, or sirwiñacu, is traditional, allowing the young pair to prove their compatibility and capacity for hard work on the land. Youngsters are allowed two tries at establishing a couple - the third would be seen as bordering on promiscuity.
By uniting as a couple, the man and woman acquire adult status in the community whether they are legally bound or not. In Aymara, the verb jaquichaña - to join together or marry - means 'becoming a person'. Together the pair form a cultural and social unit which emulates the dualism of the opposing forces in nature: night and day, hot and cold, light and shadow. The man is fire, lightning, heat, power and order. The woman is identified with all that is dark, negative, archaic, hidden and wild. According to Aymara symbolism, it is only through motherhood that she acquires a magical force which channels her potentially malignant energy into the creation of new life.
Myths are like the pull of a strong underground stream which vibrates under the thin soil of everyday life. But what happens on the surface? Descriptions abound of harmonious domestic and social relations in native societies and rural homes. It is said that women and men in the countryside have complementary roles. Personal desires are largely sublimated to community needs. Defenders of indigenous values swear that machismo arrived with the Spanish, to contaminate the natural balance which reigned before the Conquest.
Today's Aymara women have their own tales to tell. 'My story is sad, but funny too,' ponders Doña Ema as she sits twisting her spindle in a local meeting turned chat session. 'At least you lot had a chance to get to know your partners. But I was only 14 when I got married. I didn't know what love was all about.
'One night the man who is now my husband took me by surprise. He had a few words with my father, saying he was in love with me. It would have been alright if we had been courting ... but I hadn't even known him a day. My parents believed that you shouldn't turn down an offer, so they accepted.
'The next week, they got together with a band and lots of beer and they made me drink. By the time I left I was completely drunk, and still didn't know my husband. They took us off to his room and left me in there, all alone with him. His aunts were saying, 'Just go to bed, lass. Don't be afraid". That's how it is in the countryside.'
Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.