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The issue on Money (NI 306) omitted the most obvious alternative of all, namely doing away with money and ex-change altogether. The result would not be a system of barter but of free access for everyone to what has been produced.
The profit motive limits production to what can be viably sold, irrespective of what is really needed. And the money system implies a colossal waste of energy in unproductive activities like banking, insurance, bills, tickets and so on.
Freed of these constraints, people would be able to produce for use and take what they needed from the common store. It’s a shame these truly radical ideas get little space in the NI.
Not only is David Boyle (Money NI 306) editor of New Economics magazine, but also of the weekly newspaper, Liberal Democrat News. You should not omit a mention of a writer’s political affiliation – readers are entitled to know.
As an expatriate Canadian (Swiss-German ethnic, from the greater Mennonite community), now living in the United Kingdom whose multicultural mosaic throughout history has enveloped intensely regional and local identities into
recognizable Britishness, I can hear what Neil Bissoondath (Migration NI 305) is trying to say, but I am afraid he is rather missing the point.
The multicultural ethic in Canada has a longer history than Neil implies. In the late 1950s, for example, primary-school children throughout Ontario were taught that Canada embraced and cele-brated different cultures, unlike those ‘melting-pot’ Americans.
Therein, implicitly, is the seed of a Canadian identity which Neil misses in his argument, but which he seems, almost by osmosis, to have taken on. Perhaps he cannot see his Canadian identity because it is so quiet. I could tell him, however, that the quiet, tolerant Canadian is well-recognized throughout the world, though these virtues, oddly enough, are generally thought of, at least over here in the UK, as inherently boring.
Anouk Ride (Migration NI 305) speaks about cost and GNP benefits from migration as would an accountant, but nothing about the environment and the other plants and animals with whom we share this planet.
There is no doubt that something must be done to reduce our population. Allowing people to immigrate only exacerbates the situation. We should label those who have more than two or three children as selfish thieves, stealing the right of future generations to share our planet. A large part of the blame lies on the doorstep of organized religions. I also believe that relief organizations who give sustenance without a population-reduction policy are exacerbating the problem. However, it is inspiring to see countries like Italy and Spain with the smallest population growth in Europe because of a healthy, educated and rebellious attitude towards that infamous Papal edict on birth control.
M E Barlow
I would like to congratulate the NI on its coverage of ‘reproductive rights and wrongs’ (NI 303). This issue constitutes a major area of human-rights concern and as a Tibetan woman with a family in occupied Tibet I know only too well the trauma and misery that have been inflicted upon countless numbers of women as a result of China’s notorious coercive birth-control policies. Indeed, the mass sterilization and abortion programmes which deny women freedom of choice have now gained the attention of Amnesty International who have rightly condemned such practices as gross violations of human rights. However, for Tibetans these abuses are not just a denial of reproductive rights but part of a centrally directed effort to reduce the Tibetan population to dangerously low levels. Similar genocidal practices suffered by Gypsy and Jewish women during Nazi occupation are thankfully history; but for women across the Chinese Empire they remain a grim fact of life.
No easy options
On your letters page (NI 301) Charles Philip writes of ‘intransigent dictators’. He should remember that it is just a few years since the US, having found it too costly, decided to stop supporting dictators who were certainly intransigent to their populations.
There is an estimate that by the year 2000 nearly 1,000 billion barrels of the world’s total original petroleum resource of approximately 2,000 billion barrels will have been consumed. Exploration may revise these figures but they are still ominous portents. The ‘end’ of oil is in sight. With that threat it is not difficult to understand why Saddam Hussein has to be vilified when he tries to recover Iraqi territory. The idea is not only to prevent Kuwait being reintegrated with Iraq but for Iraq itself to be made into a colonial producer of oil for the Western Emirs. For neo-colonial and designated colonial peoples there are no easy options.
I was disappointed to read your Country profile on Georgia (NI 299) with its complete dismissal of the people of Abkhazia and their plight. I visited Abkhazia in 1994 and witnessed the aftermath of the war. Whilst it is true that Abkhazia is in a state of international isolation, I feel this is more to do with the West’s desire to remain on good terms with Georgia, with its promise of future access to rich oil and gas reserves, than to any sense of international justice.
The Abkhazians have lived in Abkhazia for many centuries and are believed to be one of the earliest civilizations in this area. Their language is unique and separate from neighbouring Turkic and Slavic languages, with a wealth of literature to support this. The Georgians attempted ethnic cleansing, starting the war by deliberately bombing the record office and removing the Abkhazians’ claim to their land.
It seems strange that the NI can dedicate an entire issue to the worthy cause of the Saharawis and yet in another dismiss a nation in a similar position.
It was particularly heartening in your issue on Money (NI 306) to see you highlighting the development of local economies as a way forward. My one criticism would be in the implication (perhaps understandable in the context) that economies, whether local, national or global, are an end in themselves. They should be a means to the end of meeting human needs and assessed on their ability to do so.
My own view on how best to meet human need is to start by recognizing that individuals seek to realize themselves and that this can best be achieved through a network on reciprocal relationships that allow everyone involved to explore and express themselves in ways that are acknowledged and valued by all. That is one definition of community. A local economy (such as a LETS system) is then a means to that end, to be judged as such, and not something to be established because it is seen as a ‘good thing’ or because the alternative is even worse.
A big thank you to all readers who wrote or e-mailed in with topic suggestions for next year’s issues of the NI. We have had so many suggestions that we will not be able to reply to you all, but will contact those whose topics have been chosen.
The views expressed on the letters page are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist.
Tea and delight
Louisa Waugh joins in a birthday celebration and has a party of her own.
Kultii was hacking at a huge slab of fresh, moist beef. ‘Louisa, it’s my birthday on Sunday,’ she said, wiping her damp forehead with the back of her bloodstained hand. ‘Come over in the afternoon and drink some chai [tea] with Delgermaa and Javhlan.’
‘That would be good,’ I nodded, blowing on my own bowl of steaming black salty chai. ‘What time shall we visit?’
I was perched in the spartan but vigorously scrubbed school kitchen which has been ruled by Kultii, Delgermaa and Javhlan for the last 19 years. They bake and boil meals for 85 pupils each day without electricity or running water and have 20 kids of their own to look after between them. The school food is very basic – even potatoes are scarce here. People in these remote western mountains live on rice, flour, meat and milk. But there’s always a bowl of tea and usually some hot food for anyone who drops into the kitchen. People in Tsengel village know how to give.
I arranged to meet Delgermaa and Javhlan and left them kneading a mountain of dough for the thick crusty bread they bake on the blackened wood stove. I strolled to one of the cramped wooden cabins that sell flour, rice, soap and a lurid assortment of boiled sweets. I rarely buy this stuff – I don’t need to, for every time I browse I am given a handful of sweets or biscuits. The traders spoil me. But now I bought half a kilo of sweets for Kultii.
A couple of sunny, windswept days later I head over to her house with Delgermaa, Javhlan and a posse of local women. We crowd into Kultii’s two-room log cabin, gather round the table and pass each other bowls of milky tea. Kultii’s table is laden with everything she can afford to buy or bake for her friends – fresh bread, fried dough sticks, sugar, biscuits and dried milk curds.
‘Have some more food,’ she urges me, ‘and give me your cup, Louisa. You need some more tea.’
Mongolians are dedicated tea drinkers. We crouch on narrow stools drinking, nibbling and gossiping. Delgermaa and Javhlan prompt the ritual singing, more women arrive with young, shy children and we get noisier and gulp even more tea.
Kultii, sweating next to her wooden stove and breastfeeding her eighth child, suddenly claps her hands. ‘Louisa, did you bring your camera? We need pictures!’
Fourteen mothers rush for the mirror, straightening headscarves, passing a single lipstick back and forth (it’s me who is camera-shy here). The table is pushed back against the wall and my friends line up like soldiers. I start laughing: ‘No! Act natural!’ and snap photos of the beaming group. We toast the birthday girl (who is 41) and wander outside into the autumn sunshine, lingering with the yaks and goats.
Four days later it is my birthday. By midday my arm is aching from shaking hands with half of Tsengel. People dismount from their horses and camels to greet me. Men, women and children shyly push bouquets of plastic flowers into my arms, give me chocolates, miniature bottles of perfume and bags of those glistening sweets.
Kultii, Delgermaa, Javhlan and my other friends arrange a disco in Tsengel’s ancient, generator-powered theatre (there’s no electricity here). Two hundred people turn up and we dance all evening. Then, under duress, I clamber up onto the narrow stage, thank everyone in Mongolian – and sing a Beatles song.
By midnight a small group has settled in my felt ger, pushed the desk back and presented me with a midnight feast. Kultii’s bread, home-made cheese, meat fried in precious onions and, best of all, four fresh apples Delgermaa charmed off someone who’d just been to Ulaanbaatar. Here, where there is so little, I am utterly indulged. We get out the guitar, sway to lilting folk songs and stay up with the stars. I fall into bed at dawn, still slightly drunk.
The next morning I wake up late with a hangover. As my head slowly clears I smile, recalling Javhlan trying to explain to me what the name ‘Tsengel’ means. I sluggishly reach for my dictionary, and there it is in black-and-white. Delight.
Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer who lives and works in Mongolia.