Response to Fox (cont.)

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 7 Oct 1994 14:30:30 JST

Dear Friends (an I do hope that I may include soon-to-be Dr.

What I have just experienced here feels to me like "virtual
community" (Harold Rheingold's term) at its best. In that same
spirit I would like to echo Fox and say that I, too,

"would like to stress (not in self-defense but in an attempt to
make my point more effectively) that real violence is happening
in the name of business all over the world, in Indonesian rain
forests and the waters down-river from the Ok Tedi gold mine in
PNG, in the fields where farmworkers slave to pick fruit in the
Americas, and in the oil fields of the Siberian tundra, in the Nike
factories in Malaysia and in the garment factories in the
American Trust Territories where virtual indentured labor
produces clothing that can be advertised (and is) in the glossy
pages of the NY Times Magazine as "made in america." The ad-
men (yes, of course, SOME ad-men) use images of "cultural"
difference to sell their stuff, and more and more nowadays they
use anthropologists to figure out how to reach into the few
remaining pockets of human life where they do not already
dominate discourse and material existence."

To deny these brutal facts would be criminal. To evade the
responsibility that comes from being on the high end of what is
undeniably a highly unequal system of exchange would be
immoral. The serious issue is what we as individuals,
anthropologists and political actors can do about it. From this
perspective, what bothers me mightily about the current state of
"cultural critique" and "critical theory" is the way it tends to stop
with deconstruction and outrage, as if critique alone was
somehow a step forward instead of the verbal equivalent of a
terrorist's bomb. The evils of unrestrained capitalism are, alas,
almost cliches--terrible life-damaging cliches whose horror is only
magnified by what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."
But what is the alternative?

In central Taiwan in the late '60s, the reason why young women
flocked into factories or prostitution was no great mystery to
anyone who had stood ankle-deep in freezing water to transplant
rice in February (factories were relatively clean and warm) or
seen the way young women were treated in traditional families
(prostitution solved a grim double-bind--repaying the "debt" owed
to the family while securing a small, and too often illusory,
measure of independence from it). Returning in the '90s, one
finds a country where people are obviously better off--and
struggling now to cope with the pollution and social dislocation
involved in transforming the nation's economy. Exploitation and
prostitution continue to exist, but now there are voices raised
against them ,and the number of those forced to accept them by
poverty is shrinking.

Meanwhile, the socialist dreams that fueled the mainland's
revolution look more and more like the fantasies of old men
clinging to their power and terrified of losing control. The coastal
cities where "economic reform" has been allowed to go the
furthest look remarkably like Taiwan in the '60s.

Shifting scenes: today's Japanese consumers are often the great
granddaughters of the girls who endured sweatshop conditions in
19th century silk-spinning mills. Cut to: How many middle- and
well-off working-class Americans can tell stories of how their
immigrant ancestors suffered.

History doesn't make those who suffer any better off. It does pose
serious questions to those who would try to replace a capitalist
world system with something more humane. And what, pray tell,
might that be? Critique alone provides no answers.

Sugestions, please.

P.S. It's "John", not "Jim." Jim's my dad, and being called by his name
makes me feel a little queer.