Culture of the Global Pecking Order
The Fine Distinction: How Language and Ideology Harden the North-South Opposition
By Yash Tandon
[This article originally published in: Freitag 39, September 22, 2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.freitag.de/2000/39/00392302.htm.]
[Yash Tandon is director of the International South Group Network (ISGN) - a network of organizations, initiatives and scientific institutions of the South. Founded in 1994 at the University of Fort Hare (South Africa), ISGN maintains agencies in Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, the Philippines, Nicaragua and South Africa.Conflict with the liberalization policy of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a current focal point for the network. Yash Tandon comes from Uganda and lives at the moment in Zimbabwe. He also works as director of the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Initiative.]
The opposition between "North" and "South" deepens more and more. Statements seeking to relativize this assumption of a general division of the world - as for example the thesis of the "North" in the "South" are more than geographical constructions. The dominant North has historically recruited a small subsidiary of its own class in the South who dominate there and share in over-consumption. At the same time the North produces an impoverished and marginalized "South" in the North that does not dominate and suffers in under-consumption.
The modernization theories of the fifties and sixties started from the assumption that the societies of the South could then be unlocked to the North if they opened their economy at last for western technology and science and emulated the democratic institutions of the North. These theories were nothing but the ideological expression of the western endeavor to dominate and conquer the "rest" of the world. This effort continues undiminished. Now it is called "globalization" and no longer "modernization". Like the earlier concept of modernization, globalization is also presented by its ideologues as a process driven by technological and economic forces that cannot be stopped, a "natural" process inherent in history itself.
Demonization of the Black Leader
Language can veil reality. Often language consciously stimulates the formation of a certain philosophy of life or ideology. Thus people in the once colonized world had no individual identity - they were Arabs, Asians or Africans. Their personalities were generalized and their individualities dissolved. The racist polarization between "us" and "them" promoted the global control during colonialism. Nothing describes better the skilful use of language to produce ideologies than the western definitions of what constitutes "barbarism" in our time. No one who is somewhat normal would justify the assassinations at the US embassies in Nairobi or Daressalam in August 1998. Whether this was the work of the "terrorist" Osama bin Laden is still unclear today. However the US government viewed him as the culprit and bombarded a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan that provided "the terrorists" with chemical weapons according to assertions. No single country - not even Great Britain - supported the US. If one were objective, the US bombardment must be described as an "act of barbarism" in the same way as the attacks in Nairobi and Daressalam. Only the latter is "barbaric" in the language of the West.
The UN childrens' relief association UNICEF reported in 1999 that nearly 600,000 children under five died on account of western sanctions against Iraq. Infant mortality rose from 56 per 1000 births to 131. Isn't this "barbarism"? In the language of the West, the death of children is only a "collateral damage". It is incredible and grotesque how language caricatures reality, "purifies" from all evil and releases criminals from all guilt. Only Saddam Hussein has responsibility! This "scapegoat syndrome" is deeply rooted in the culture and history of the West. Responsibility for "collateral damage" that struck the Yugoslavian people is shifted to Slobadan Milosevic. Fidel Castro is made responsible for the US sanctions against Cuba. After being isolated, attempts were made to kill him.
Accuse Nasser and bomb the Suez Canal! Charge Lumumba for the chaos in the Congo and murder him! Accuse Ghaddafi and shell his house! Denounce Mugabe as a Marxist! Demonization of the "rebellious" leader estranges him from his people and his history, making him out to be irrational or simply someone outside "civilized" discourse. This is a recurring characteristic of the "justification" of the West for its barbaric acts against the "rest". Language makes "acceptable" what is inhuman and unjust.
Burden of the White Man
While language describes individual events, ideology is a complex mixture of values, prejudices and assumptions. Language and ideology serve the same goal - the veiling of reality and enforced "acceptance" of what is inhuman and unjust. The anthropocentric ideology sets humans in the center of the universe and "justifies" the subjection of all "lower" life forms under their control.
The ideology of the "burden of the white man" sets this man in the center of the universe and marks all other human species to be controlled and abused. In this increasingly narrow circle of the definition of "superiors", the gender ideology of the Anglo-Saxon man ultimately plants him at the center of the universe. Anglo-Saxon women are moved a step back from the crown of creation. Racist and sexist ideologies define the pecking order in human society. While language is descriptive, ideology is prescriptive, stipulating or dictatorial. Ideology shows the direction in which the universe has to move at the behest of the "superior" beings. The communist ideology was teleological and promised to lead to a classless society at the behest of the avantgarde of the proletariat. In contrast, the capitalist ideology is economistic and promises an unending "growth" at the behest of owners of capital. Both are reductionist and arrogant. Both ignore the role of the human spirit in the promotion of humaneness or human nature.