COLUMN

A liberal dose of simplicity

We need faith in our own culture if we wish to help the Third World

Barbara Amiel August 24 1981
COLUMN

A liberal dose of simplicity

We need faith in our own culture if we wish to help the Third World

Barbara Amiel August 24 1981

A liberal dose of simplicity

COLUMN

We need faith in our own culture if we wish to help the Third World

Barbara Amiel

Every August for the past 50 years a goodly section of the Canadian intellectual establishment has migrated north to Ontario's Lake Couchiching to have a think-fest. This year's Couchichingites were thinking about ways in which the West (renamed the North) could develop the Third World (renamed the South). I'm not sure who initially did the renaming, but it caught on with the same enthusiasm

that turned “retarded” people into “exceptional” persons and the lower classes into the “disadvantaged.” I was invited up to Couchiching this year to do some mild dialoguing about economic problems of the Third World and suggested that one couldn’t entirely blame our side for their miseries.

As an example, I offered the deteriorated economy of Ghana, where a combination of restrictive government marketing boards and bureaucratic corruption had discouraged ordinary farmers from cultivating cocoa crops. This statement, which by now is

scarcely news, produced a furore. A delegate in brightly colored indigenous clothing jumped to her feet shouting, “Point of order!” I braced myself for an onslaught of revelations about the efficacy of marketing boards. The chairperson recognized the indigenous person and she strode to the microphone. “Point of order, that is not true!” she said, and sat down to the unrestrained applause of the audience. The applause was even greater when Tanzania’s finance minister called me “immoral.” Why? For saying that I detested South Africa’s apartheid more than the oppressive totalitarianism of his government because, as a white, I felt a larger responsibility for apartheid. Apparently morality Tanzanian-style would have required me to be easier on evil practised by my own tribe.

This, and similar moments of shared epiphany between speakers and audience, led me to a few tentative conclusions of my own about the Third World and its problems. Since the Canadian

delegation to Mr. Trudeau’s NorthSouth summit in Mexico this October is unlikely to mention those views, I offer them here.

There are probably four reasons why, in spite of 30 or so years of aid, the horrors of poverty, disease and oppression continue in the Third World. First, traditional small “1” liberals proffer only motherhood generalities. These generalities—the need for increased literacy, education and technological development—are not untrue but do beg the

question of implementation. They also depend on a general liberal atmosphere; otherwise, the literacy will only teach people to mouth Marxist or fascist slogans while the improved technology supplies weapons for their suppression. Second, the “solution” of collectivization, state ownership of the means of production and all political power—so popular in a number of Third World countries—is quick and decisive in its implementation and very tempting to liberals-in-a-hurry. The basic problem here is that it doesn’t work. It produces neither justice nor plenty, as one glance at its results in Africa and in Eastern bloc countries shows. Thirdly, it may be that, for reasons of climate, geography and culture, there are simply no solutions to some of the problems. Can you, for example, get a really high degree of productivity in the tropics where people must battle sweltering heat and monsoons? Finally and most importantly, we in the West who might be able to help with the most effective solutions

have lost the courage of our convictions. At Couchiching, speaker after speaker named the free-market system and Western liberal democracy as the cause of the Third World’s problems instead of their most likely solution. “How courageous you are,” murmured a member of the audience to me after my suggestion that free enterprise and democracy may stop starvation sooner than the planned economy of a repressive police state.

Courageous? Controversial? We have

totally forgotten the political and economic attitudes that created the wealth and technology, not to mention the orderly and relatively just government, that we now wish to share with the South. Should it take courage to speak out for the best virtues—not the worst mistakes—of our own culture? Is it controversial to suggest that other people might benefit not only from the finished products of our civilization, the typewriters, cars and refrigerators, but also from gleaming the ethos that “permitted their creation? “Simplistic,” shouted “hard-core Couchiching in-

tellectuals whenever I touched on the general principles of economic and political freedom. Of course they found nothing “simplistic” about their general principles expressed in terms of such buzz words as “colonialism” and “exploitation.” But how can one have a useful discussion in an atmosphere in which the political prisons of Chile’s right-wing dictatorship are a rallying cry for liberal outrage—while the political prisons of Tanzania or the genocide of the Ibos are airily dismissed as a “stage of Africa’s cultural development”? I make no apologies for Gen. Pinochet’s prisons, but I note that fascism has been largely defeated or isolated in the world over the past 40 years because liberal opinion found it outrageous and unacceptable. Until liberals in the West can rise to the same heights of moral indignation over the acts of totalitarian socialism in various nations, from Ethiopia to Angola, neither the problems of hunger nor civil liberties can be solved.