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Dance of the Elephants


By Ian McDonald
Guyana Journal, March 2008



We have not progressed at all. The ideology of world empires based upon the supposed superiority of each nation or race of empire-builders was succeeded by the ideologies of Communism and Fascism which have been succeeded by a new, all-powerful ideology – the god of the market-place and technology, its acolyte.

We are all being urged, browbeaten, into becoming believers in this new and morally vicious ideology. All are being harried into accepting its absurd but fashionable truisms. Love free trade. Embrace globalization. Bless the market. Which public figure of any persuasion can stand up against these narrowly defined truisms without committing career suicide?

Consider one example. The concept of protectionism is considered economic heresy and those practising it fit to be burnt at the WTO stake. But the historical evidence from countries that have sustained fast growth and those that have not suggests that trade protection can be one of a number of powerful instruments for nurturing new activities and higher valued-added processes in existing activities, provided it is brought down pari passu with the rise in producers' production and marketing capacities.

On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that the people and capital released from activities knocked out by trade liberalization are not always able to be re-combined to make other products saleable in internationally competitive markets, whatever the exchange rate. They may well not be employed at all. Such unbridled liberalization often spells the death knell of valuable home-grown enterprises.

We are being herded into acquiescence by the dominant ideology. Throughout history the standard reaction to any overwhelming ideology has been passivity. Passivity, indeed, is one of ideology's most depressing effects. It is sad to see it happening all over again. The citizen is reduced to the state of a mindless subject or even a sort of serfdom. With one stroke of a flawed intellectual argument the whole planet is put in its place.

The new ideology is defined and organized in the form of a modern corporatism whose dominant exemplar is the multinational corporation. Of these there are now upwards of 40,000 in the world with 200,000 affiliates accounting for perhaps one third of total global production. This corporate network is steadily becoming stronger than any government, even the most powerful. Increasingly what it wants is what will happen. The philosophy is summed up in the words of Sam Weller in Charles Dickson's huge and marvelous novel, Pickwick Papers: "Every man for himself and God for us all, as the elephant said as he danced among the chickens."

The world has gone dancing far along the new ideological path. Make a simple test by examining the health of the public good. There has never ever been so much money – actual money, disposable cash – in circulation as there is today, in absolute terms and on a per capita basis. Look for example at the extraordinary growth of the banking industry and the even more explosive growth of money markets everywhere. Yet there is ridiculously little disposable cash for the public good. In a corporatist system there is always a lack of money for the public good because the system is ideologically based entirely upon carefully measured self-interest. The general good is not a good which the new ideologues recognize.

The results are there for all to see if we were not blinkered by the dominant and acquisitive vision of others. One thousand soldiers and 5,000 civilians are killed every day in ongoing and steadily escalating wars. In the Third World there is more misery than there has ever been: 200 million children aged 4 to 14 are slaves in the workplace; one third of the world's children are under-nourished; 30% of the adult able-bodied are unemployed; debt declines not in the slightest and US$1.5 trillion is now owed by poor countries. Worldwide, in developed as in developing countries, the virulence and extent of corruption and violent crime is growing out of control.

If there is one thing that mankind should by now have learnt is that ideologies are not to be trusted. But ordinary men and women are all too easily argued or browbeaten or actually beaten into embracing the confident certitude that every ideology offers. Who dares contest what these great and knowledgeable people are claiming? But we should not succumb. What is happening is not inevitable; rather it is of a temporary, and even incidental, nature.

This new ideology – so largely based on the crude self-interest of a corporatism running wild – must be seen as ephemeral when measured against other perspectives which have been with us through the ages: Solon's ideas of public justice, the Socratic view of the citizen as irrepressible critic, Cicero's "The good of the citizen is the chief law," to name a few of these essential and infinitely more human perspectives.

We must draw upon that well of deeply human insights that the best human beings have worked out so that we can confront and ridicule the crude and narrow perspective that claims pure economics lies at the heart of civilized life and that we must therefore fling down or fling up the structures of society as the market place dictates, and that if we don't the market place will do it anyway sooner or later.

It is time to stand up and be counted amongst those who do not believe that brutal vision of mankind's future.


Dr. Ian McDonald is a poet, novelist, columnist and an advocate for the sugar industry in the Caribbean. (With permission from the author. Previously published in Stabroek News, February 17 2008.)

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