Archive for October, 2013

Arrogance seems a key element within racism. In order to make claims about groups of people that often include many millions, you need arrogance to ignore your lack of information and the internal complexity of the selected group.

For good reasons, many people often base their opinions on the news. Within ca. one hour a day they get information about the whole world. Luckily, most of us are wise enough to acknowledge our limitations and try to avoid claims that are all to strong. Only a person with a (slightly) distorted psychological condition can jump from these few bits and bytes of information to general claims.

It’s ok to listen, read, think and, yes, even to judge. But stay open-minded for new information and don’t take too many drastic actions that you can’t reverse.

It’s ok to draw links between race, poverty, education and criminality. But searching connections is like an archaeological endeavour that needs time and resources. Also, when x is connected to y, the one isn’t reduced to the other.

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Manifest and Latent Racism. (1)

Posted: October 26, 2013 in Society
Tags: , , ,

As a fundraiser for Oxfam Solidarity I go from door-to-door briefly explaining people what we do and ask them for financial support. The vast majority sticks to “no” and responds on any further question “not interested” or they simply repeat their “no”. I don’t mind. Actually, when I’m really busy or in a bad mood, I might sometimes respond similarly. Others do want to elaborate on their “no”…

What bothers me more and more are people who make aggressive and extremely generalizing remarks about race and religion. Depending on the area I work in, between 5 and 10% bluntly express their views to me on the street. They aren’t very original, so I can write them down in a few seconds. Before you read these statements, remember that I work for an organization that is trying to work in the long run to help people to develop their own community. Our work with refugees from Syria is a bit an exception within our huge amount of projects.

The most popular comment is, “You should take care of our own people first.” Within our Belgian borders there is indeed poverty as well. It’s true that we are often fighting poverty abroad. Oxfam does this by investing in education, seeds, organisations, … Basically, we try to give people the power to govern their own life in their own community. We ask Belgians 10 euro a month to support our projects. For most Belgians, this is less than an hour wage. So, I agree we should handle poverty in Belgium, but I’m convinced most of us can manage to pay an additional 10 euro a month for the rest of the world! Besides, there is no point in even asking how they fight poverty in Belgium. They don’t.

The second most popular is a reaction on the example I always give. Because of the huge crisis with the Syrian refugees, my first sentence is usually: “Today over 3 million citizens have left their houses and jobs in Syria, fleeing from a war they don’t want anything to do with.” I’ve updated this sentence many times. Now it’s quite resilient against any remarks about politics, religion and poverty in and around Syria. I continue: “Currently those people are in desparate need of basic things like clean water.” Yet, I can’t count how many times I was told they should fight their own wars or if I want to go on a Jihad, I was free to go but I shouldn’t bother them with it. The word “Syria” seems to trigger a reaction that I can’t escape in any way. No matter how hard I stress we are working outside Syria, helping citizens, ordinary working people, etc., they always manage to ignore every word and simply go crazy on “Syria”.

Another example in this branch is, “It’s a pure religious war.” Obviously I disagree with this statement. Wars aren’t “pure”. They need way to much manpower and machines. No “pure” army could ever last long in a war. But what’s more, the statement itself is completely irrelevant. Even if I would agree with it, there are still 3 million citizens who only accidently came into this horrible situation and are in need of clean water. Not a billion Jihadist fighting in Syria will change that.

These are the things I hear each day from ordinary Belgians. Luckily, I worked one day in a city’s poorest neighbourhood. More than half of the people weren’t really able to support Oxfam financially. They kindly said sorry and wished me luck. The other residents (who weren’t rich either) were good for more donation than on an average day.

I’ve only just finished reading the famous and interesting book of Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel. The last chapter is an addition to the original. It handles some questions that remained unsolved in the big book. The first is a really good and relevant point. The second is neither, but it goes straight to my heart.

The most interesting point is a possible attack on the main thesis. The question of the book is: Why did Europe invaded/colonized the Americas, Australia and Africa instead of the opposite? Referring to guns, germs and steel isn’t his main accomplishment. It’s his Darwinistic take on why Europe was superior at that point in those three categories that makes this book quite interesting. According to Diamond, geography, climate and fauna & flora are the cause of Europe’s position. The problem in the book is that the whole reasoning is based on Eurasia. Every comparisons goes by opposing the characteristics of on the one hand Eurasia and on the other either the Americas, Australia or Africa. But these arguments in favor for the strength of Eurasia don’t explain why it were the United Kingdom, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal and (in lesser degree) some other European countries that colonized the world. Eurasia is bigger than those countries.

Yet, the reason for this blogpost is Diamonds example of contemporary German beer. First of all, don’t make me laugh, Belgian beer is far superior. There is no reason to cram your bags with German beer when you return to the USA. Secondly, according to the book, German beer is produced far less efficient than American beers. The reason lies in the size of the businesses. They can’t scale up and improve efficiency. Well, I’m pretty sure that it’s even ‘worse’ in Belgium. But than again, you can find all those ineffective small breweries at every top list of best beers in the world. Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle… Americans are very efficient in creating piss, congrats!

“[T]he literal is nothing but the disciplined and domesticated replaying of the flight of figures. The literal is to the figurative what the dog in the fable is to the wolf.” Latour B. – An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, p. 252.