Saturday, 6 December 2008

Let's Localise

The interaction between ‘Westerners’ and the rest of the world is making me increasingly uncomfortable.

I’m not primarily talking about politics (although we elect the politicians we deserve) but about the ‘man in the street’.

Despite the fact that we westerners have invaded, colonised, emigrated to and otherwise populated more countries than you can shake a stick at, we seem to be passionately against immigrants to our own countries. We resent them, victimise them, generally put them down and seek ways to exclude or banish them without a second thought. Not only that, when we travel to other countries, whether for commerce or holiday, we expect other populations to fall in with our plans, speak our language, adopt our ways and philosophies (George Bush’s “freedom’n’democracy” being a case in point) and allow us to plunder their resources at will.

The results of our attitude are there for all of us to see – although very often we don’t connect the results to the attitude.

This was brought home to me when I listened to the voices of western tourists marooned at Bangkok airport. Such phrases as ‘cockamamie dispute’ and ‘irresponsible youth’ were being bandied about, with no thoughts about the reasons for the demonstration. Thailand has many problems, with the Government being one of them and religious conflict being another. We in the west pride ourselves on being allowed to demonstrate for or against things we feel strongly about – such as bad government. Imagine how we would have felt if, say, Japanese tourists, caught up in the massive demonstration in London against the war in Iraq, simply complained at the disruption, without considering the cause. (As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine Japanese being so impolite!)

This western approach to other nations has clearly been the cause of many unfortunate consequences over the decades, whether it be terrorism, high oil prices, bad cooking or simply the ‘MacDonaldisation’ of attractive holiday destinations.

So I believe that we in the west will be doing the world a favour if we spend a lot less time travelling abroad, and a lot more time appreciating our own homelands. One thing our current financial grief is doing is forcing us all to become less self-indulgent and materialistic, and this can only be good. In three or four years time, when we start feeling the effects of Peak Oil, we are likely to have a permanently shrinking economy, and we are going to have to find a way of living with that.

Perhaps that will result in a welcome diminution of our desire to influence the way that other people live, and a broadening interest in how to live a more stress-free, economical and satisfying life ourselves.


Dorothea said...

Great post Tim. To hear some of those tourists, fattening their carbon footprints by flying around and taking advantage of poorer people to get cheap holidays for themselves, they gave the impression they don't care what conditions of repression others have to live under.

However, I think your third paragraph is way too broad a generalisation. "We Westerners" are not homogeneous, any more than any other group of people in the world. The fact is that British colonialism stemmed from a relatively small and privileged class, driven by an ideology of "improving" the rest of the world. It is little different today.

But the poor in Britain are never given a choice. If their "betters" want to starve them off the land and force them to emigrate to Australia or Canada, then that's what happens. Similarly, today, when their "betters" decide that we will have mass immigration to give plenty of cheap labour and keep wages and employers' costs down, then that is also what happens.

It's important to place the blame where it belongs - on the perpetrators with the power, not on the powerless victims.

timx said...

Thanks for your comments Dorothea. You are right of course, I am generalising - it's either that or write a book, and I haven't the attention span for that!! The poor and under-privileged always have to put up with the decisions and policies of the privileged few (the Iraq war is a classic example)but the fact is that an increasingly broad spectrum of the population think nothing of travelling abroad for holidays, and the attitude I mention is shared by a majority of travellers, no matter which social grouping they come from. The matter of immigration is another tricky subject, deserving of another book! But hostility towards immigrants in general, no matter what their reason for being here, is worryingly common, in this and other European countries and in America. This is, after all, a debate that will run and run, and while it does, I guess we can have some hope!