british things, our british things
I thought that there were many
british things, our british things
it seems there’s hardly any
We’re like Zombies but with better iPhones
[Joint post by Numa and I, it’s taken a while to brew, so it’s long. Ish.]
Betas of the interwebs, let these two aunties here tell you a story. We call this A Tale of Two Developments, The Development You Desire and The One We Are Riddled With. It begins with colonialism—like all the other fucked up things on this planet—and ends with, yes, you got it, more colonialism. Well, imperialism. And neoliberal fuckery. Okay, it doesn’t really have an end, because evil has the best Facebook friends, and will not let up that easily. There is a grand legion of things that are wrong with development, but we’ll talk about a few, seeing how the two of us have experience with teaching and/or studying development while being brown; it’s a strange predicament without a cure. You know how your face gets whenever someone prattles on incessantly about what their ‘yoga name’ really means, think of that face permanently glued on for two or more years.
At least one of us [Battameez] got to do a degree where she had access to Third World theorists saying interesting things. I made the mistake of doing a degree that focused on learning how to run development projects “successfully” (GANTT CHARTS, OH MY) and development theory was one module. All my teachers were basically white dudes who were like what, sexism and racism? That’s just for poor people. In my degree, there was no space to sit back and think about how development was all about perpetuating essentially Eurocentric ideals. We were too busy learning how to write policies that would address those problematic percentages that make countries like India rank so low on the HDI.
It wasn’t until the end of my degree that I started reading brown people critiquing this whole development business and came to the conclusion that I would probably never be able to work in development because it was full of people that did the same course as me but never had that aha moment. That’s around the time I met B, and this is quickly turning into a story of TRUE ROMANCE. BUT I DIGRESS.
This is a PSA to everyone who thinks development has anything to do with benevolence or good will, and that all development brings with it is progress and happiness, we’re on to you. We know that you try so hard to not have it sound like an insult, every time you say ‘developing’ or ‘under-developed’. You can’t not use “developing” as an insult. It is insulting by definition! The entire idea of development as it’s touted is based on this assumption that “developed” countries are the ideal and they reached that ideal because THEY ARE AMAZING and “developing” countries haven’t reached that ideal yet because THEY ARE TERRIBLE. Sure there was that pesky colonialism business, and all that slavery hullabaloo, and it all resulted in this current fuckery of global economic mechanisms that reward exploitation, BUT AT LEAST WE TREAT OUR LADIES NICELY HERE IN THE WEST.
For the past week or two, we’ve seen a fair amount of writing on what is ‘wrong’ with the developing world lately, why can’t we seem to ‘catch up’, or even ‘reach’ our potential—we won’t link, because economist dudes have a propensity for nasty emails, but do google for yourselves. Oh there are Reasons and Percentages to go with every opinion, Facts interspersed with Figures that supposedly never lie—while we’re at it, let’s remember P. Sainath and Ms. Ranjana Padhi here before we move on—and of course, there are Solutions, as every problem must find it’s eventual end. As entertaining all this philosophising on development and social justice can be—especially by people who cannot resist but talk at least seven times in each paragraph about slums, starvation, guilt [because they’re not a toothless Tibetan orphan, you know the kind], all the while alluding to the magical black hole our economies apparently function in, the problem is this: it’s getting quite boring. These days we can’t even muster up fake outrage when we see this kind of shit, which is just so sad. Try to avoid these tropes, and maybe we’ll talk without all the cackling in the background, yes?
a. The last thing people want to read about is *you* when reading about development. No one cares about how you felt while touring [poor country]. Really. We are sure the public toilets were revolting, and the air gave you dysentery and when by some miracle, you didn’t have any digestion problems—which, don’t lie, you did, but your story about hemorrhoids over spicy food is too delicate to be broached on a public forum, we know—you moved on to existential issues of you feasting on delectable treats while starving children literally dropped dead around you. It’s a hard life, to witness all that. But as it turns out, you’re totally off the hook! As an outsider/political commentator/development theorist, you really don’t have to worry about hunger and starvation. Mainly because you let your feelings about the physical manifestation of poverty cloud over your perspective, and from then on everything you write or say belongs in a sermon, not a research paper or thought post. Also because, as hard as it is to believe, starving dying children wasn’t a discovery you chanced upon. Sorry, but look harder next time.
b. Don’t think we can’t discern when and how you use ‘developing’ as an insult—yes, we know it is. You taught us to read, remember? Tangent concern: stop talking about ‘development’ as a sure-fire trajectory, one that must be necessarily achieved at. No, this doesn’t mean everyone should run out of their homes and go back to nature—Thoreau is so 1854, don’t you know?—but show us one ‘developed’ country that doesn’t have social and economic problems and then we can talk about equitable growth. Tangent to the above tangent: remember to make up your mind if a country’s development has anything to do with its social justice problems, because as far as we can tell, only some of us in the Global South have this infection and the rest of the world has the antivirus code. Problem with lenses again?
c. Stop blaming rich/poor/middle class people. Sure, it’s comforting to have a class, sect, caste, ethnic group to blame—think of all the treasure trove of fodder for cartoon artists and political activists!—but sadly, the global chain of economies and development don’t work that way. Certain countries don’t sit together and decide to systematically sabotage other countries’ economies, no wait, that one happens, oops. Point is, things are a little more complicated than just a grand conspiracy theory. So when countries with political and economic clout lay down certain rules, others have to follow, or they get bombed off the globe. Adds a little pressure, no? Then sometimes, looking poorer than you are is the only way to get UN funds. Sometimes, you have to let aforementioned dominant countries irrevocably alter your country’s economic and social policies. Sometimes you let them in to stay afloat, but don’t know how to adapt them, so what you’re left with is a mess of your previous and present systems of economic governance. Do you see how long your Blame List is getting? It’s a very dicey negotiation between various countries at different points in time. Keeping in tune with the villains will just get exhausting, so let up already.
d. And specifically, we’ve noticed the popular game among development theorists and economists, namely Blame The Middle Classes in the Third World. Due to the many many criticisms of development theories/literature that have pointed out that a lot of it is basically neo-colonial in nature, newer theorists/policymakers have had enough self reflexivity to be like, “Hmm, maybe this neo-liberal economic model is kind of the wrong way to go, what with increasing social inequity and environmental degradation.” So there’s been all this stuff written about how the emerging middle classes in India and China will basically consume all the natural resources and everyone will die. WE’RE ALL LIKE ZOMBIES, ONLY WITH BETTER iPHONES.
In order to prevent that, India, China, Brazil etc. have been put under quite a bit of pressure to develop a more “green” approach to development. This means that instead of building shit loads of electricity plants that run on coal and oil, villages get solar panels to light their one light bulb. Sure, that could have been a slight oversimplification, but we think it’s fair only if the Third World is being held to a completely different development standard, and to a large extent is being held responsible for dealing with the fuck ups of the “developed” world did to the environment. You don’t get to do what we did, you have to take care of the environment.
Same goes for middle/upper class people in the Third World. They’re following the same capitalist aspirations as those in the “developed” world, but they get critiqued for it because well, there’s already a whole bunch of people living selfish unsustainable lives in the West and we don’t want you to tip the balance because DOOM. Not to say that explains away financial excess and consumerism of any kind—when we plan the zombie apocalypse, we’re going to not discriminate and kill the whole bourgeoisie, never worry beta—but we’re past that stage where we have to explain why such different standards of morality are spoken of as diversionary politics to move away from the slightly more pressing topic of But When Will 80% Of Us Have A Choice To Not Sell Our Bodies To Neolibreal
FascismIdeas Of Progress.
And ultimately that’s what gets us. We are all for trying to figure out how to live sustainably. But the thing about people that write about development, about the development industrial complex (and it really is that) in general is that changes/advice only go one way, from developed to developing. ‘Developing’ countries have to change, they have to adjust to this failing economic system, but they have this massive handicap because ‘developed’ countries are unwilling to make the same systematic changes to how they run themselves. Development policies never seem to acknowledge how inextricably linked the First and Third World are. How, our consumption habits in the West need to change drastically if we want to stop reading all these poverty porn stories of dusky bodies dying. If you’re going to blame someone, do it properly!
e. Don’t take UN figures at face value. If you do, we are going to make it into a drinking game till you learn your lesson. Also: try using ‘industrialised’ as a metaphor of progress one more time and see if you escape unhexed. Last also: whoever said creating more jobs is the solution, lied. And it is such a meaningless economics-y tidbit that gets thrown around. It’s basically shorthand for “improve the economy” but it’s so disconnected from the context in which our economies operate. Going back to the ‘prime’ of capitalism, betas of the interwebs, DO REALIZE HOW MESSED UP THE ACTUAL INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION WAS RIGHT. It resulted in the original factory sweatshops with machines that ate children for lunch. It resulted in sprawling urban spaces with no regards to sanitisation. And you know why the lives of these poor workers eventually got better? BECAUSE OF COLONIALISM. Because suddenly other people far away were being treated much worse. And that’s the system that’s still in place today. We live in a fucked up world that’s set up so that every time you benefit from something, there is somebody else that will suffer as a consequence. So whoever said consolidating neoliberalism is the only way to go forward [often understood as synonymous with democracies bent on protecting individual rights and freedoms only] lied [again]. You may want your money back on that school of thought. Otherwise, don’t complain to us when the wrath of zombie aunties descends on you.
B AND I MADE A BEAUTIFUL AUNTIE POST.
English, Engliss, Engliji?
J. and I were speaking about our tongues and I realized that while Engliss was a familiar friend, it was not mine entirely.
Engliji instead of Engliss is more accurate for me, although, neither of them represents how I actually pronounce the word. Because, truth be told, I mostly sound Amreekan with some Austrian, and British (English) thrown in.
But that is only true for when I speak English all the time only. When I speak Bangla, the Engliji comes out, and it just goes to show how this colonialism business went down because there’s a lot of Engliji that gets mixed in!
Let me tell you a story:
I was watching the news in Bangla with my dad, and I remarked that the people on the TV peppering their Bangla with the occasional English words were probably educated in English medium schools. But as we continued watching, we realised that everyone who spoke was using some English, except for Sheikh Hasina (but she’s PM and has a speech writer). My dad said “Ma, eta amader Bangalider character” [Ma, this is the character of us Bengalis] and then noticed what he’d said and went “Dekhso, ami “character” bebohar korlam, Bangla shobdota jodiyo chinni.” [Did you see, I used “character” even though I know the Bangla word for it.]
And I thought, yes. Even those who have never been abroad, who have never learnt English in school, will use words that are English, like “table” or “chair” instead of their Bangla equivalents, even though I’m pretty sure tables and chairs existed before English became a common language to speak.
So yes, think of this as my introductory tongues confession.
Hello, my name is Numa and I speak English, Engliss, and Engliji.
It’s like the first day at a new job. Except, instead of brownies, I have writings to offer when I say Hello.
Pliss, submit your tales of Engliss for purpose of part sedition and part pleasure. Up to you, only, of course <3