Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Nothing New Under the Sun

I'm reading Arundhati Roy's new book Capitalism: A Ghost Story (Haymarket, 2014), and as usual with Roy, it's fascinating, infuriating, and depressing.  Here are some choice tidbits.  Get the book and read it.
Martin Luther King Jr. made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism, and the Vietnam War.  As a result, after he was assassinated even his memory became toxic, a threat to public order.  Foundations and corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, with an operational grant of $2 million, was set up by, among others, the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Mobil, Western Electric, Proctor and Gamble, US Steel, and Monsanto.  The center maintains the King Library and Archives of the Civil Rights Movement.  Among the many programs the King Center runs have been projects that "work closely with the United States Department of Defense, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board and others."  It cosponsored the Martin Luther King Jr. Lectures Series called "The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change" [38-39].
This sort of thing is evidently pretty common.  "You will also find the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of Germany" (44).

But it's not only posthumously that great legacies are squandered:
[Nelson] Mandela gave South Africa's highest civilian award -- the Order of Good Hope -- to his old friend and supporter General Suharto, the killer of communists in Indonesia [40].
I must look into this some more.  Why would Suharto, who presided over the massacre of at least half a million of his own people in 1965 with US support and assistance (as well as another quarter million East Timorese from 1975 to 1999), have supported and befriended Mandela, of the leftist, communist-supported African National Congress?

One more bit, on the role of NGOs with respect to poverty: 
Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem.  As though the poor had not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (adminstered by NGOs on an individual, person-to-person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance.  Under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.
Indian poverty, after a brief period in the wilderness while India "shone," has made a comeback as an exotic identity in the arts, led from the front by films like Slumdog Millionaire.  These stories about the poor, their amazing spirit and resilience, have no villains -- except the small ones who provide narrative tension and local color.  The authors of these works are the contemporary world's equivalent of the early anthropologists, lauded and honored for working "on the ground," for their grave journeys into the unknown.  You rarely see the rich being examined in these ways [37].
This fits with what I'd noticed about some liberal discourse on poverty myself.