Posted by: chrismaser | October 10, 2009

HOW THE USE OF LANGUAGE TEACHES CHILDREN THEY ARE INFERIOR

A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend upon the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received and am still receiving. — Albert Einstein

It is imperative that people become aware of the long-term effects of their decisions. I say this because I believe children are one of the two silent parties in all decisions; the land and its productive capacity is the other. All parties must understand the environmental and economic circumstances to which they are committing the future because, if the outcome of a decision is a deficit in terms of either the children’s future options or the ecosystem’s productive capacity, it is analogous to “taxation without representation,” and that goes against everything democracy stands for.

In this vein, consider that all we as adults have to give one anonther and our children (ever and under any circumstance) is our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience—which, by our choice, is an unconditional gift of equality as human beings. All our children have to give their children (ever and under any circumstance) is their love, their trust, their respect, and the benefit of their experience—which, by their choice, is an unconditional gift of equality as human beings, and so on. What does this mean in concrete, practical terms? It adds up to passing forward choices and some things of value from which to choose, such as human dignity, as well as Nature’s ecological services (clean air, pure water, fertile soil) and amenities (the beauty of a sunrise, a flower, a human smile). With each choice we protect and pass forward to our children, we confer our love, trust, respect, and the benefit of our experience on that generation. With each choice we foreclose, we withhold our love, trust, respect, and the benefit of our experience from that generation. Our children, in turn, do the same; their children, in turn, do the same; and so on.

Do we not owe this precious gift of dignity and a sense of equality to all the children of the world?

And yet, we in the United States are teaching the children of those countries we smugly deem to be “underdeveloped,” “developing,” or “third world” that they are somehow “lesser” or “inferior” human beings than our children and we are. I say this because, of the several facets reflected in the term “development,” we have chosen to focus on a very narrow one: the growth of personal materialism—a standard of living—through centralized industrialization, which we glibly equate with social “progress” and “economic health.”

I have over the years worked in a number of countries without giving much thought to the notion of “developed” versus “developing” or “underdeveloped,” as some would put it, although I have spent time in each. During a trip to Malaysia some years ago, I was profoundly struck by the arrogance and the narrowness of such thinking. What we are really talking about is a degree of industrialization—and that is a different issue!

That said, Malaysia is the only place in which I have ever heard the people refer to their own country as “developing,” as though they were lesser than “developed” countries and must somehow “catch up” to be equal—a notion of inferiority their children are learning indirectly. Moreover, they often apologized to me for being lesser human beings when they were about to ask me a question—and that included a university professor! Yet the Malaysians have a national unity the likes of which I have never before seen, not even in the United States, where all my life I have been taught about and heard about an equality of being human that is not practiced.

Malaysia is as great a mixture of cultures, national origins, and religions living in as small a space as I have experienced. Yet, when I asked people what their ethnic background was, their answers reflected national unity. They referred to themselves as Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indian, Malaysian Sri Lankan, and so on. But were I to ask such a question in the United States, the response would be to focus on our divisiveness:  Afro-American, German-American, Latino-American—as opposed to American-African, American-German, American-Latino, wherein our commonality of being “Americans” is refined by the addition of “African, German,” or “Latino.” While the difference may be subtle, it is profound.

On any given day in Malaysia, I might eat breakfast the Malay way, using both hands with a spoon in one and a knife in the other. At lunch, I might eat with chopsticks, and at supper, I might eat like much of humanity eats, with my right hand as the only utensil. There were even four, hour-long evening news programs, each in Malay, Indian, Chinese, and English. Of course there are social problems, but I have never before experienced such integration of differences into a sense of wholeness.

As a guest and stranger in Malaysia, I felt that sense of wholeness encompass me. I felt welcomed and accepted for what I was as a human—not who I was as a nationality. In a strange, indefinable way, I felt more at one with the people of Malaysia than anywhere I have ever been. How, then, are they lesser than I or I greater than they?

If this is not development, I do not know what is! But then it depends on how one defines development. If development is defined as a certain material standard of living based on the consumerism of centralized industrialization, Malaysia is indeed behind the United States. But if development is defined as social civility and tolerance, the United States can be thought of as a developing country wherein access to justice is anything but equal.

And what about aboriginal peoples who not only have civility and tolerance but also have a long-term, sustainable relationship with their environment. Are they not developed? Are they not equal to us as human beings?

It is ironic that the very people who consider themselves to be developed and therefore “civilized” are the ones who have, throughout history, so ruthlessly destroyed the cultures of those they unilaterally brand as “undeveloped” and therefore necessarily “uncivilized savages.” Fortunately, despite the continuing onslaught of “civilized” peoples, there are a few remaining aboriginal ones, some of whom live in the deserts of Australia and the jungles of South America, as well as other parts of the world.

I say fortunately, albeit they are severely endangered, because there is much about development and sustainability that we in the industrialized world can relearn from them. After all, our ancestors were also indigenous, tribal people at one time. Our problem of late is that we have forgotten most, if not all, of the wisdom they once knew. And it is precisely this loss of ancient wisdom that is forcing us to focus on a contemporary question: How must we view development if the concept is to be equitable and sustainable?

In placing development within a new context of conscious choice, answers to the following questions will be very different than they are today: What do we mean by development? What do we mean by underdeveloped? What do we mean by poverty?

If a lifestyle promotes sustainability through conscious choice, conscious simplicity, self-provisioning, and recognizes the relationships between a person’s own sustenance and the livelihood of their immediate surrounding (their fidelity to their sense of place) in relationship to the larger world, that life is not necessarily perceived as one of poverty. This leaves the way open to change the indicators of development.

Progress, therefore, would be any action that moves a person, community, culture, or society toward social-environmental sustainability. For society to progress, decisions must be made that recognize and respect the requirements and rights of future generations, as well as the requirements and intrinsic value of all species and the Earth’s biophysical carrying capacity with respect to its human population. (Carrying capacity is the number of individuals that can live in and use a particular landscape without impairing its ability to function in an ecologically specific way.) This position is very different from our blind faith in material “progress,” which we think of as “development.”

Again, I think the narrowness with which we view development (i.e., the centralized production of material consumer goods through industrialization) is one root of the arrogance with which Western industrialized countries designate themselves as “first world” nations and all the others as “second” or “third world” nations. In Canada, however, the aboriginal peoples have turned this notion around.

Although the Canadian government refers to the aboriginal peoples as “Indian bands,” the people think and speak of themselves as “First Nations.” The people think of themselves as First Nations because they were among the original people, the indigenous people on the land in time and space, long before any of the outside invaders even knew the “New World” existed.

Add development to this time-space sense of First Nation, and a clearer picture emerges. The indigenous peoples were not only among the first humans in what is now Canada but also had developed a lifestyle that had long been sustainable in and with their environment, despite the fact that they warred amongst themselves. Yes, the invaders—with greater numbers and more destructive technology—subdued the indigenous peoples, stole their land, and systematically destroyed their cultures. But these same invaders, upon landing on foreign shores, began immediately destroying the environment through economic exploitation for personal gain, something the aboriginal peoples were not prone to do. In fact, the invaders even fought wars amongst themselves over who was going to get which of the stolen spoils.

There is a great contradiction here in the notion of development. Those invading peoples who deemed themselves more advanced or more developed than the indigenous peoples destroyed lifestyles that had been, more often than not, sustainable for millennia, while simultaneously introducing lifestyles of exploitation for personal economic gain that have proven to be non-sustainable. If, therefore, social-environmental sustainability is added as a necessary component to the concept of development in the broader sense, the indigenous Canadians have an even greater claim to being the “First Nations,” and so do all other indigenous peoples in the world.

But who, then, are the “second” and “third world” countries? Professor Ralph Metzner of the California Institute of Integral Studies, has a good idea (“Where is the first world?” Resurgence, 172 (1995):126-129). He suggests that the world of modern cities and the nation state is the “second world country,” while the global, capitalist-industrial economy constitutes the “third world county.”

Historically, he says, each of these worlds superimposed itself on earlier cultures (in the sense of absolute force). In an ecological sense, these later, larger systems became parasites that destroyed the indigenous cultures they parasitized by usurping the flow of energy. “The flow of resources, including raw materials and food,” observes Metzner, “is primarily from the indigenous world to the urban, national, and . . .  industrial worlds, whereas military and political control is exerted in the opposite direction. “

Sustainable development is thus about the notions of enoughness and irreversibility. Here the operative questions are: When is enough, enough? If we err in our decision, to what extent is the outcome reversible? Such questions are crucial because sustainable development is necessary to promote a change in the content of social-environmental decisions. What is needed to resolve our social-environmental problems goes beyond environmentally safe commodity production and technology.

Instead of the current tinkering with symptoms of our social-environmental malaise, problems must be solved at their source—worldview assumptions and values—because these drive our decisions, policies, laws, and behavior. The notion of sustainable development thus calls into question the very purpose of Western, industrialized society, our participation with our home planet, and demands social-environmental justice, which in turn challenges the very heart of our perceived relationship with Nature and one another, present and future.

We, as planetary citizens, must learn to think at least seven generations ahead when making decisions, because the great and only gift we have to give those who follow are choices and some things of value from which to choose. Today’s decisions become tomorrow’s consequences, a notion that highlights the word “responsibility.”

Responsibility is a double-edged sword in that our responsibility, our moral obligation, is to choose carefully today so that the generations to come can respond viably to the circumstances we have created for their time of choice. Intelligent decisions on our part are possible only when we both recognize and accept the intrinsic value of Nature as a living organism rather than treating Nature only as a collective resource (host) from whose body we extract (parasitize) a variety of commodities as the life’s blood of our current, dysfunctional, linear economic system.

Development must be flexible and open to community definition because the values promoted must meet various necessities and situations in space and time. The process of valuation embodied in sustainable development must address social-environmental justice in recognizing the necessity of equal access to resources, including equal distribution of goods and services, while simultaneously protecting the long-term, biophysical sustainability of the system that produces them for all generations.

In the end, it is imperative that people become aware of the long-term effects of their decisions. I say this because I believe children are one of the two silent parties in all decisions; the land and its productive capacity is the other. All parties must understand the environmental and economic circumstances to which they are committing the future because, if the outcome of a decision is a deficit in terms of either the children’s future options or the ecosystem’s productive capacity, it is analogous to “taxation without representation,” and that goes against everything democracy stands for.

Consider that all we as adults have to give one another and our children (ever and under any circumstance) is our love, our trust, our respect, and the benefit of our experience—which, by our choice, is an unconditional gift of equality as human beings. All our children have to give their children (ever and under any circumstance) is their love, their trust, their respect, and the benefit of their experience—which, by their choice, is an unconditional gift of equality as human beings, and so on. What does this mean in concrete, practical terms? It adds up to passing forward choices and some things of value from which to choose, such as human dignity, as well as Nature’s ecological services (clean air, pure water, fertile soil) and amenities (the beauty of a sunrise, a flower, a human smile). With each choice we protect and pass forward to our children, we confer our love, trust, respect, and the benefit of our experience on that generation. With each choice we foreclose, we withhold our love, trust, respect, and the benefit of our experience from that generation. Our children, in turn, do the same; their children, in turn, do the same; and so on.

Do we not owe this precious gift of dignity and a sense of equality to all the children of the world?


 

Related Posts:

• Children Deserve A Voice In Their Future

• The Great American Irony

• Children Deserve A Voice In Their Future

• Changing Our Adult Thinking

• Giving Children Their Rightful Voice—A Democratic Revolution

• Is World Peace Possible?
 


© Chris Maser, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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