Drop the attitude
Many thanks to Dinyar Godrej for his most helpful, clear and concise article (‘Safe as Houses?’, NI 461). Of all that I have read about this dreadful ‘story’, this is the most understandable, lucid description of how it started, where we are now and where it might lead.
Alas, his valiant effort to end on a positive note omits a crucial element: the level of conscience, empathy and sense of duty of the population as a whole.
Whatever practical arrangements we can devise for the tenure of land and property – however fairly intended – will be subject to abuse by reckless, careless, greedy or lazy people. Only a change in attitude on both sides of the divide can overcome that.
Undoubtedly, the ‘divide’ has become grotesquely wide and will surely be our undoing, if we cannot change course soon. But the revolutions of the last three centuries have shown us that moving the political goalposts does little to help the poor; before you can say ‘Napoleon’ or ‘Stalin’ you’ve got a dictator or an exploitative élite back at the helm.
Percy Mark Croydon, England
Dianne Post (Argument, NI 461) takes a rather too dogmatic and illiberal approach. While she is correct to assert that part of the problem is ‘patriarchy, inequality, discrimination’, Bishaka Datta unfortunately hits the nail on head in that it is all too often also, simply and sadly, an economic choice. She also appears rather to demolish Post’s vision of Sweden as an ideal model. Should it really be government’s job to interfere in free transactions between consenting adults? Surely it is up to government to do all it can to ensure that those adults (both men and women, by the way) engaged in prostitution are doing so of their own free will and within circumstances that are as equitable as possible.
Mike Wilson York, England
Dianne Post argues for vigorous prosecution of prostitution as a solution to bigger social problems. But she does not go far enough. There is ample evidence, direct and indirect, that some people marry for money: in effect, they trade sex for other resources. This practice is arguably far more widespread, enduring and pernicious than the time-bounded sex-for-money transactions that most people associate with voluntary prostitution.
To achieve the equality that Ms Post espouses we must agree to ban such resource trading, even among consenting adults.
Geoffrey Milos Toronto, Canada
While reading Wolfgang Sachs’ essay ‘Liberating the world from development’ (NI 460), I was reminded of a man who lived about 200 years ago: William Cobbett. In his book Cottage Economy, Cobbett states: ‘A nation is made powerful and to be honoured in this world, not so much by the number as by the ability and character of that people; and the ability and character of that people depend, in a great measure, upon the economy of the several families, which, taken all together, make up that nation. There never yet was, and never will be, a nation permanently great, consisting, for the greater part, of wretched and miserable families.’ The book goes on to explain how people can provide the necessities of life for themselves by using the resources available to them. Cobbett also practised what he preached.
I could think of several other people and groups of people who worked to help people improve their living conditions. One of these, the Co-operative Movement, is often cited in NI articles.
Improving living conditions is like washing up: it’s never done for all time. Weeding is the same: if you eliminate one type of weed from your ground, other types will either spring up or blow in, to fill the vacancy. If you persuade people out of one delusion, they’ll set about deluding themselves another way; if you close a channel by which people can be cheated or bullied, the cheats and bullies will look for another channel.
To protect ourselves from ourselves, we need organs like New Internationalist. Long may it continue.
Mary Cronin Kiltegan, Ireland
Perhaps the obsession with guns (Mark Engler’s ‘How many more massacres?’, NI 460) is just a symptom of a deeper addiction to violence which appears to run like a dark thread throughout society. From cartoon capers through to ‘action’ and ‘thriller’ movies, the entertainment industry has internalized violence and aggression to the point where it is hardly even noticed. The message, repeated endlessly, is that ultimately might is right; the ‘good guys’ will always have access to superior weaponry to defeat the ‘bad’.
Worse, the trope persists in public life, where politicians line up to express their disapproval of people or behaviours by declaring ‘war on’ them, be they crimes, drugs or any sovereign state whose policies they oppose.
The dark thread then continues unbroken through to death drones, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, ‘collateral murder’ and ‘bombing back to the stone age’.
But if violence is an addiction, it’s interesting to compare the different reactions to it and to drugs. With narcotics, the compulsion is to destroy them – and their producers – at source. We are told we must prevent users getting hold of them, because they can’t be trusted not to consume them. With guns, of course, the opposite is held true – ‘guns don’t kill, people do’ parrot the same politicians who happily vote funds to destroy the peasants who happen to grow poppy and coca.
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The views expressed on the letters page are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist.