Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Will the Tsunami Change Humankind? Notable Brits Give Their Opinions

In the comic book Watchmen the hero/antihero of the story plans a disaster on an incomprehensible scale in order to avert a nuclear showdown between the USA and the Soviet Union and to unite the world through compassion and relief efforts. Even as an acne riddled teenager I always had an issue with that conceit of both the character Adrian Veidt and by extension the writer Alan Moore. Surely after a disaster in New York, even one of an apparent extra terrestrial nature, would only be seen by the Soviets (as they were built up in the book) as an invitation to attack a weakened America? Would even the worst calamity unite a world for more than ten minutes?

After 9/11 we had a horrific real-life example of the Watchmen climax and a chance to see which version of events- the hopeful or the cynical- would prevail. As with all things humans get involved in it was a messy combination of both. Petulance about Bush 'blowing it' by not reciprocating the held out hands of friendship and by exhorting Americans not to sacrifice but to shop only tells half the story (the half I highlight when feeling blindly partisan). Why should other countries rely on the USA for leadership, on things like this, Kyoto, and so on? I think in many ways an inept and unlikable US adminstration is less a block on global unity but rather the convenient excuse for inaction (the same applies to my lefty friends who complain "he asked us to shop not sacrifice' and then do exactly that; buying toys instead of supporting the causes the purport to hold dear. As mother always says, if he said stick your head in the oven, would you do it?).

Every country must choose to interact within the global community via a triangulation of self-interest, partnership building, and enemy creation based on a calculation of relative strength and national need. Hence, along with the $350 million in aid to tsunami affected countries, the Bush Administration is using this calculated generosity to remind the world that this is America helping Muslims (poor Colin Powell; he's always being made to look so gauche) and to pointedly cut out the UN from administering our money (although the UN hardly have a watertight case for leadership here. Maybe Kofi's reforms will make it easier for thinking people to wholeheartedly endorse internationalism again).

In this story from the Independent various British notables opine in a tragically pessimistic but I fear all too realistic manner about the possibilities for new paradigms in human and international relations following the tsunami:

Could the tsunami disaster be a turning point for the world?

Perhaps the best summary comes from Stephen Tindale, the Executive Director of Greenpeace:

"It seems churlish to say it, but while it's relatively easy for most of us to give £50, it would be much harder for us to make the changes in our modern lifestyles that are needed if we are to move to a fairer world."


Listmaker said...

well said. i always feel so powerless. i plan on giving money but big fucking deal in the grand scheme of things. there needs to be real change not just throwing money at the problem after a disaster. i feel frustrated on the whole let's make real change front and then end up doing nothing. it is interesting to me that everyone is so worried about the victims of this recent disaster but don't really think too much about the billion plus malnourished people living in extreme poverty. a billion is too small, isn't it?

weasel said...

They don't have faces Dan. That's maybe why CNN et al rushed to talk about that injured super model and the dead European tourists in their initial coverage; the "lesser breeds outside the law" (as Kipling so grotesquely describes non Protestant, non Nordic Europeans) are supposed to die in huge numbers due to natural disasters, right?

The insanely infuriating thing to me about the money being given by the US Govt is that it is subject to Enron style accounting practices as reported by Robert Rubin on NPR today- this is not a new altruistic outpouring but rather a raid on the existing foreign aid budget. Therefore we make a big to-do about dissing the UN around the tsunami and stiff Darfur, or Somalia, or Bangladesh, ad nauseam.

Have you noticed that this administration (and I'm afraid western society in general) reacts the most vociferously to critics when what the critics say is most true? No doubt like me you see it in the kids you work with; a nation stuck on the cusp of pubescence with clumsy but developed biceps...