November 10, 2008
They might be giants
The town of Washington DC, where I live, is lilliputian in many ways. There are a few giant Gullivers, surrounded by droves of busy-body Lilliputians. I figure among the diminutive, cause-obsessed lilliputian hordes. We run to and fro with much speed but variable impact, given our small stature. We are disposable and easily replaced; not so the giants whose favor we seek.
The slow-moving Gullivers to whom we cater are the official faces of our body politic. The limited number of giants accentuates their visibility, particularly as they control policy and choose how to spend the assets they obtain from more hordes like me, only further from view.
The reason for my busy-bodyness before these giants is that they dispose of the public funding for which cause-obsessed little people like me must compete. If we win, we use the wealth to assist and rebuild other lands that are at war or are emerging from conflict. The giants grant us these assets with the understanding that they get the credit for any success we achieve through our work. Every act abroad must reflect the grandness of our giants.
Speculation among the hordes
Most of the distant places that benefit from our giants' largesse are poor, diseased and war-wracked, with little immediate strategic interest to the giants themselves. If one of these places fell off the map today, our giants would not miss it.
Why do the giants spend our public funds on crippled, diseased and impoverished places, far from these shores? How do they use the credits they accrue by doing this? We speculate over this. There is no consensus among giants or nor do they offer explicit rationales for these programs. Giants can differ bitterly between themselves over why, where and how they commit public assets in this way.
On the rare occasion when we are face-to-face with such a giant, we defend our cause. To maintain funding levels, we argue that poorer, unstable lands are in the giants' interest. We try to be inventive in our reasoning, but in the end we use a standard set of justifications.
A new set of giants is preparing to assume control of our land, our public assets and, possibly, the ways we engage less fortunate, non-strategic lands. In the short term, a handful of distraught and tragic places will continue to consume the majority of our assistance because despite their chaos, they are considered strategic. Our current set of giants believe these lands are strategic because they harbor our enemies. Something local must be done to deter or befriend them. They cannot hate us; they do not know our beneficence.
The continent that wouldn't go away
A strange twist of fate, the majority of these catastrophic lands with disastrous leaders happen to find themselves in the same neighborhood. Their neighborhood is large, and fills an entire continent. Because this neighborhood is geographically self-contained, it is easily ignored, like a garbage dump outside town. The people on this continent sense their plague and leave in droves. Some manage to arrive at our shores. Their presence here humanizes the pandemonium they leave behind, so strange is it to us. That they survived their ordeal is miraculous, but sheds no light on a solution.
The current set of outgoing giants have done little decisive for this troubled continent, despite having spent more on foreign crises than any previous body politic run by giants. Before the new set of giants settles in, we the cause-obsessed wish to present our strategies for saving the lost continent.
i. No jobs without infrastructure. Without jobs, dependency on foreign assets will continue indefinitely. There is very little electricity or roads on the lost continent. The private sector cannot incubate or grow because indirect costs, owing to absent infrastructure, are prohibitively high. Another land with giants for leaders--China--is bartering road building against access to raw materials (minerals, oil, timber) in these lands. No money exchanges hands, which is good because corrupt leaders would otherwise steal it. It is bad because it infantilizes these leaders, letting them rule while robbing them of genuine responsibility.
ii. No prosperity without stability. For the last eight years, our giants have repeatedly offered this continent all-expenses paid democratic elections. They believed that democracy would solve the continent's problems. Yet there is almost no clean water, medicine, or personal safety for the people of this continent. Many of the new democracies our leaders purchased are skin deep, or have collapsed. The new set of giants should focus on providing security and infrastructure, because fragile or nascent democracies cannot survive without this basic dual foundation.
iii. No accountable governance without education. We wonder why there are not more revolutions on this continent: there is much bloodshed without political intent. Why do they not overthrow their venal political class? Because they lack an effective, sustained system of education. Without education, manipulation and exploitation meet no resistance, and become the norm. Violence escalates but remains unorganized, absent of strategy or political objective. People kill out of frustration, not for want of change. In other places where the majority is educated, the ruling class is held accountable to common standards. Apolitical violence becomes anomalous.
Lastly, we wish our giants to abandon the grandiosity imperative. Our acts abroad should not reflect our greatness, this world is not a hall of mirrors for the vain. Our acts abroad should meet the immediate needs of the people who must live there. Their political present and future are not our experiments to conduct; their world is not our laboratory.
Posted by Edward Rackley at 12:02 AM | Permalink