Sunday, April 24, 2011

My naïve conclusion

I feel like I’m ten years younger writing this post, saying something that should be basic to any curious and intelligent being who is well into her thirties. But I justify it as delayed maturity caused by a late onset of teenagehood at the age of 21. So here goes.

I recently read an article by Adam Curtis about development of the concept of humanitarian intervention (obviously spurred by the highly debated western intervention in Libya). It goes without saying that this extensively researched piece is a must read. However, in summary, Curtis describes how a group of French philosophers, innately interested in helping victims of injustice, started a thought movement that justified intervention aimed at achieving this justice, by force. Needless to say, that journey was a bumpy ride that in my opinion can no longer be seriously defended, for two main reasons. One is that when you use violence, for whatever reason, you will attract the vilest people who would jump at the opportunity to take advantage. The second is that no matter how well you think you understand the situation on the ground, how many experts you consult with and how smart your weapons are, you can never predict the outcome of the intervention and ensure that more innocent lives will be saved than if you hadn’t lifted a finger. So humanitarian work reaches another dead end. Where do humans go from here?

Throughout these last few weeks, I have also come across a couple of other pieces that affected me in the same way that Curtis’s research has, by basically shattering some basic beliefs that I held. The first are the RSA Animate videos that use fun animation to get a very serious point across. The main aim of all the videos is to debunk long-held myths about our societies. One of the videos that really caught me by surprise was on the internet, and whether it empowers or censors citizens, especially in light of all that is happening around us these days. In a nutshell, despite all access to information provided by the internet, the video concludes that the internet actually serves as a tool to make monitoring people much easier. To make matters worse, it is not used by as many people for obtaining information as we think. It is mostly used for entertainment.

Another interesting piece about the UK that countered my take on social structures is one on social mobility, which I always believed was key to social development. The author, Owen Jones, argues that it is a dead end. In summary, Jones states that we cannot ensure social mobility to all working class, because in the end, "society as it is currently structured depends on millions of people working in these crucial jobs". And no, we cannot keep importing these people (like we do) because it will still be unjust. What needs to be done is "emphasise the social worth of working-class jobs and support struggles to have pay and conditions that reflect it", instead of trying to convince workers that there is a system in which they eventually wouldn't have to engage in such work.

Now regardless of how convincing all these arguments are, they did make me reconsider a lot of what I used to take for granted on how justice can be achieved in the world. It was a no-brainer for me that in order to help those less privileged than myself, I need to engage in a mission that provides aid and assistance to suffering children, that to liberate people, they have to be provided with access to information through technology (basically connecting them) and to achieve equality, the political system needs to ensure social mobility through traditional education. I know now that it is much more complicated than that.

And this brought me to my naïve conclusion: Learning about life is a continuous process of refining ideas and beliefs, one that requires an open mind and enough humility to admit I'm wrong every once in a while. As long as my principles remain the same, it is OK to keep changing my opinion, instead of sticking to a losing argument for the sake of consistency. I have found that to be extremely liberating.


Karl Sharro said...

I agree on intervention of course, but disagre with your point that somebody always needs to do the dirty work hence social mobility is impossible. The problem is trying to understand this from the limitations of the system we live in, not of how we can re-order the world to ensure a more just and prosperous future. Once we free ourselves from this restriction, we can see that manual labour can be mechanised, as it increasingly been for centuries, and that whatever 'dirty work' humans need to do can be shared. The problem is no that there is no way out, it's that we can't imagine a different world.

Loulia said...

Love your point about leveling the "lesser" jobs with the social worth they contribute. Doesn't necessarily have to mean increasing the pay of the people who collect the trash but could mean anchoring that task in a better defined career ladder/framework so people could view these jobs as entry positions in something related and greater (there are phds out there dedicated to social waste management and recycling).
Not so sure about waitressing though because low value = more fluidity = more turnover = better for starving students to get a job while they pursue an education. I think society would still need some jobs that are not meant to be careers.