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The Prime Minister has outlined the Government’s plan for an early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan which could see the majority of Australian soldiers return by the end of 2013.
The Government had been working towards bringing Australian soldiers home by the end of 2014, the date set down by the NATO-led international forces.
But Julia Gillard says security has improved in Afghanistan and it is likely the majority of Australian troops will leave next year.
“This is a war with a purpose, this is a war with an end. We have a strategy, a mission and a timeframe for achieving it,” she said in an address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“PM confirms expedited Afghan exit,” ABC News, 17 April 2012
The national discourse surrounding this announcement – surrounding this whole war – pisses me off. First is the assumption that anybody in Washington or London or Berlin or Kabul gives a flying fuck whether Australia’s meagre token force is there or not. The Taliban will see it as a symbolic victory, the ISAF as a symbolic loss. Australians should be questioning the fact that their contribution is considered merely ‘symbolic.’
Second is the Prime Minister’s rhetoric-laden speech about how this isn’t a defeat or a withdrawal, but rather a transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces, who will maintain the current status quo of peace, prosperity and stability for which Afghanistan is renowned across the globe. (Imagine what it will be like if they lose any further control.) But nah, I’m sure it’s fine, we’ve been training these guys for nearly a decade. They must be nearly ready now, right?
Third is the ludicrous notion that this is all according to plan, all going swimmingly, a perfectly reasonable and logical step in the itinerary. A five-year-old child born years after 9/11 could point out to our Prime Minister that this is actually a frustrated and hasty political manoeuvre, part of a grander tapestry of hubristic defeat for Western forces. Put quite simply: we are losing this war. Our aims are vague, our forces huddle inside fortified compounds, and our mission has gone from rooting out al-Qaeda to creating a stable democracy to withdrawal by 2014 no matter what the cost. Since Australia’s stake extends no further than supporting US foreign policy as part of the ANZUS alliance – no matter how fucking stupid, badly-planned and frankly naive American wars might be – it’s in our political interest to be the first to leave the party. I mean, hey, we did stick around for eleven years, which is pretty late. But, you know, we’ve got work in the morning, so we’d better get going. Nice seeing you, though!
Countless left-wing commentators will talk about how the military-industrial complex controls this (and every) war, and how it’s not supposed to have clear goals or resolutions, but exists merely to make money for certain sections of Western society. I have no doubt that the relationship between military manufacturers and the interior of the Beltway has been a prominent geopolitical force over the last decade, but right here, right now, in Afghanistan? Their calls are clearly no longer a priority. Our mission in that country has morphed into nothing more sophisticated than a frantic dash for the exit. There is no more damning indictment against our alleged noble purpose than hearing Julia Gillard, David Cameron and Barack Obama talk over and over and over again about how we will be sticking to our scheduled departure date of 2014, apparently with the iron-clad certainty that the security situation will improve by then. How do you think it makes Afghans feel to know that we’re bailing in two years, no matter what? How do you think it makes the Taliban feel?
Here is the plain truth. The public has grown weary of this war, the military has grown weary of this war, politicians have grown weary of this war, and it’s evident to everyone that if we stick around in this static misery we will be in precisely the same situation in 2022 – an endless baton relay, the Afghan runner sprinting ever further ahead of us, never willing or able to take the flame. We went into a foreign country with zero understanding of its culture, background or context, and we are paying the price of our own arrogance. Or, rather, the Afghans are paying the price, and will continue to pay the price. Western leaders never once cared about the people of Afghanistan. For John Howard, Tony Blair and George Bush, Afghanistan was an irritating nest of terrorists to be exterminated; for Julia Gillard, David Cameron and Barack Obama it’s an irritating geopolitical swamp to extricate our armies from. There’s a common viewpoint which says that national leaders care about nothing but getting re-elected, but even the most altruistic of national leaders observe the world through the prism of their own nation’s interests. Never ever forget that when you’re watching Gillard or Cameron or Obama banging on about “the people of Afghanistan.”
So, here’s what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. We’re going to hang out for two more years, get a bunch of Afghans killed, get a lot of our own soldiers killed, waste a lot of money, and leave with the
South Vietnamese Army Afghan National Army being judged capable of handling its own security. Within the next 1-3 years, the government will be overthrown and the Taliban will be in control again, which will be an appropriate amount of time for the West to save face and argue that it was the Afghans’ fault. For however long the fall of the government goes on – likely no more than two or three weeks – it will feature between page 5 and page 10 of the newspapers, and receive third billing in the 6pm news bulletins.
Every soldier who died in Afghanistan – American, Australian, Dutch, Canadian, any of them – died for nothing. Don’t get on my case about that. Don’t accuse me of disrespecting the troops, who sacrifice their lives for our countries. It’s exactly because the troops sacrifice their lives for our countries that they deserve honesty. They deserve to know precisely why they’re sacrificing their lives, and what that sacrifice will accomplish. They deserve to know why we’re going to war, whether we’ve thought it through properly, and what difference it’s going to make. They don’t deserve to be treated like chess pawns, maneuvered throughout Central Asia in a 21st century reboot of the Great Game, paid off with the sickeningly childish refrain of “this is a war with a purpose, and a war with an end.”
Julia Gillard is making the right decision for the wrong reason. Whatever. We lost this war a long time ago. Bring our troops home, because they sure as fuck aren’t making a difference there. And if you really want to help Afghans, and save Afghan women from the brutal rule of the Taliban? Increase the refugee intake.
I had an epiphany yesterday: bookstores deserve to die.
I have wanted to be an author my entire life. I work in a bookstore. In the brewing war between traditional brick stores and ebooks/online retailers, I would have previously been galloping into battle alongside fellow bookstore lovers. I love browsing, I love discovering books I’ve never seen before, I love the different moods and characters of independent stores. I love the musty smell and quiet atmosphere of a second-hand store – I recall one store in Marylebone that was so cram-packed full of books that you literally couldn’t get down the aisles. I love the jumbled decorations and hipster music of stores like Readings or Planet Books. I love being in a foreign country and tracking down an English-language bookstore, a homely refuge of familiar Western culture – the best English-language bookstore in Asia, by the way, is What The Book in Seoul.
All that was my point of view as a reader, a consumer and a customer. I’d be lying if I said I never used online retail – it’s vastly cheaper than inflated Australian retail prices, and I’m more or less guaranteed of finding the book I need. But I felt guilty about it, especially using The Book Depository, which I’m pretty sure is deliberately selling books at a loss in order to gain a market share. I still shop at independent stores, and when I use Abe Books I always try to shop from stores in Australia or New Zealand. I’m no hippie, but I don’t feel comfortable having a book flown all the way from England or the US just to save myself a few extra bucks.
But my point of view as a bookseller? I’ve worked at my current store for about six months. Recently our stock manager went on holiday for a few weeks, and I accepted the offer of covering for her, since it meant regular hours and less customer service. Yesterday I tackled the thousands upon thousands of overstock books in our warehouse and spare room.
When a book in a bookstore is not sold, it is not marked down – at least, not at my store. It is “returned,” and packaging and sending returns is a huge part of a stock manager’s job. Nobody had done returns at my store for months, which was why we could barely move in our back room. Yesterday I went through the shelves and pulled all the books that had been there for more than five months; some had been there longer than a year. Today I packaged some to be mailed back tomorrow. I filled 33 large cardboard boxes merely with United stock (Allen & Unwin, Simon & Schuster and Penguin). The place is still drowning in a swamp of books from Harper Collins, Hatchette, Random House and dozens of smaller publishers.
I would estimate that we sell less than 30% of the books that enter our store. The rest, ultimately, become returns. As I understand it, the distributors send them to other stores after they’re returned; maybe they return them too, and the cycle goes on until the books are all sold. Or maybe they get pulped. The number of books that get damaged during shipping, or when I’m scraping price stickers off with a razor blade, means a large number of them probably get pulped anyway.
But their ultimate fate is irrelevant. What I’m getting at is that the system in place is monumentally inefficient. We ship massive numbers of new releases and promotional stock into the store, sell a handful of them, eventually relegate them to the normal shelves, sell a few more, then – once they’ve been out for a month or two – leave a few copies on the shelf and shove the rest onto the teetering piles in the back room. Allegedly they’re kept there to restock the shelves when those few copies out there are sold, but in reality those copies don’t sell, and the extra two dozen copies out the back sit there until they’re returned.
If you’re even remotely environmentally conscious, consider the impact of all those trucks and planes going back and forth, ferrying unwanted piles of books between suppliers and stores, all so we can have a fully-stocked promotional display for Paulo Coelho’s new book, or because the last Harry Potter movie was released and there might be a few families left out there who don’t own the books, or because somebody at head office had a gut feeling that “Last Man In Tower” would sell 140 copies (I’m not exaggerating, we literally got 140 copies).
It might seem like a leap to go from complaining about this, to saying that bookstores deserve to die. We live in an interlinked, global society, and probably everything you or I own was manufactured overseas and shipped to us in the first world. There are already tens of thousands of cargo ships criss-crossing the oceans, gradually killing them; already thousands of planes in the sky, already millions of trucks on the road. What does it matter if the bookstore supply model is part of that ravenous machine?
It matters, I think, because we have a more efficient alternative. We have e-readers – which I’m not a fan of, but which are unquestionably more efficient in terms of both transport and raw materials, and which will probably endear themselves to the next generation. Closer to my point, we have online retailing, which still provides readers with the comfort, style and possession of a physical book. Ordering books from Amazon or The Book Depository or Abe Books still involves mailing them out to you, still involves that global supply chain – but there is no wasted travel. You select the book online, pay for it, and it’s sent directly to you. None of this zig-zagging back and forth like Odysseus, shuttled from store to warehouse to supplier to store, in the vain hope of finding a buyer.
All this makes me sound like some kind of efficiency-devoted robot who cares nothing for books and literature, but that’s not the case. We will always have second-hand books, and as James Bradley argues, we’re likely to see physical books become more of a status or prestige item in the coming years. I always notice when browsing at Readings that they tend to stock nicer editions of books; hardbacks, and books with interesting covers, like this edition of “The Slap.” I think independent bookstores will persist for some time yet, out of customer loyalty if nothing else; I know of nobody who was sad to see Borders and Angus & Robertson close down (apart from their shareholders), but there were plenty of long faces when Reader’s Feast closed its doors. For dedicated book lovers, I suspect there will always be a few places in any major city where they may indulge themselves.
But for casual readers, who comprise the vast majority of the buyers – people who buy paperbacks from supermarkets and newsagents and chain bookstores like Dymocks – a more efficient model has emerged. The online retailer is more environmentally friendly, more likely to have the books in stock that the reader wants, and has low overhead costs which are passed on to the consumer. Bookstores (like all stores, I suppose) were the only option for many centuries. That’s no longer the case. Like recording companies and real estate agents and video stores, they are middle-men, struggling to stay afloat after being rendered useless by a ubiquitous global communications network.
There are three responses I can see people making to my argument. The first is, as always,“But jobs will be lost!!!” This is never an excuse for anything. Eventually technology renders jobs obsolete. Deal with it, and get a new job. As I said, I hope there will still be a few independent and second-hand stores around, providing jobs for those who are truly passionate about being booksellers. For the vast majority of booksellers who work for companies that treat books like potatoes (which includes mine), there will always be plenty of other general retail jobs.
The second response is that I may be wrong about the scope and extent of the inefficient system, and it may simply be that my company is exceptionally badly-run. This would come as no surprise; they run a wide variety of retail stores, and head office often fails to grasp a lot of the fundamentals of being a bookstore (because, as Henry Rosenbloom points out, books are a hands-on, detail-intensive business which can only be run successfully by people who love books and know their stuff). Our staff turnover is amazing, and one of our senior employees told me the other day that she has never in her life worked for a company more poorly run than this one. Maybe other stores sell a lot more than 30% of their stock. If anyone well-informed would like to correct me, please leave a comment.
The third response is that it’s hypocritical of me to say that bookstores deserve to die out while still hoping that plenty of cool independent stores and second-hand stores survive. Well, you try spending all day boxing up Eckhart Tolle books and Snooki’s autobiography and see how you feel at the end.
Australians are quite notoriously stupid and selfish people. I make a habit of reading the letters in The West Australian, to angry up the blood, and over the last few weeks many of them have been harping on about how we should cancel foreign aid to assist the Queensland floods. This is not uncommon for the typical West letter writer, who is usually an octogenerian Pom who fled the United Kingdom when they started letting darkies in, so I was unsurprised.
What has surprised me is the rabid vitriol with which Australians have met the government’s proposed tax levy. Apparently people are quite happy to feel sorry for Queenslanders as long as they don’t have to do anything, but are absolutely unwilling to part with a miniscule fragment of their annual income to help rebuild. Tony Abbott, the leering populist religious zealot who will no doubt be our next prime minister, is going on and on and on about how it’s yet another “great big tax” that will “hurt Australian families.”
I challenge anyone to show me one family – literally one – that will be “hurt” by the levy. Shit, show me one person.
If you are earning under $55,000 a year, you don’t pay the levy at all. If you earn between $55,000 and $65,000, you pay 48 cents a week – or 6 cents per day. If you earn between $65,000 and $80,000, you pay $1.44 a week – or 20 cents per day. If you earn between $80,000 and $150,000, you pay $2.88 a week – or 41 cents per day. If you earn over $150,000 you pay $14.42 a week, roughly the amount you tip your Filipino maid.
I know maths is boring, but you need to stop and think about or you’ll look like a fucking nong – like, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald did when it published a whiny story about the poor Aussie battler family that will now be doing it tough because of the minimal contribution required to help families further north who have lost everything they own (including, sometimes, their loved ones).
Mr Matias works in IT and Mrs Matias has a home business making personalised luggage tags. Their combined income means the levy will cost them about $600.
This is because they are in the highest tax bracket, i.e. they are among the wealthiest 0.1% of people in the world. And yet the Herald would have us crying sweet salty tears over their terrible plight, perhaps enough to drown out the tears of those Queenslanders who returned to their homes to find them still knee-deep in mud, their possessions destroyed or washed away.
This bears clarification: people are complaining about a tax to help their countrymen who have lost everything – a tax that will, for the average income earner, add up to less than two fucking dollars a week. If that’s enough to obliterate your finances and drive your family over the brink into miserable poverty, then your razor-thin income margins likely should have been addressed earlier.
Abbott’s declaration that “mates help each other – they don’t tax each other” beggared belief, as though he thought the funds raised would be going towards a few extra bottles of cognac at the Lodge, but he quickly amended it to: “Mates choose to help each other. They aren’t forced to help each other.” Many people say they have already donated to the flood relief effort and resent being forced to donate on top of it. This is bizarre to me, particularly in light of the calculations above (again: less than two fucking dollars a week). This is why it seems, to me, to be a facade argument along the lines of “we don’t want boat people coming here because they jump the queue/leaky boats put their lives in danger.” I suspect that the grim reality is that most Australians are happy to give lip service to flood victims, but with squeal like stuck pigs if expected to make any kind of actual, tangible donation, no matter how negligible and unnoticeable it is – like, say, LESS THAN TWO FUCKING DOLLARS A WEEK. FUCK YOU AUSTRALIA, YOU NATION OF WHINY SELF-ENTITLED SHITHEADS.
I’m getting to the point where I’m thoroughly disillusioned with Kevin Rudd. These things build up over time – his generally arrogant nature, his proposed Internet filter, his feet-dragging on the republic and gay marriage – but what’s really pushed me over the edge is his stance on asylum seekers.
Let’s recap the history of this in Australia. We have a long, long tradition of xenophobia that I won’t bother going into – the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the gold rush, attitudes towards Southern Europeans after WWII, the White Australia Policy, etc. Even today it is evident in the charming young men and women who drape the flag across themselves on Australia Day and write “Fuck Off, We’re Full,” on their chests (for the record, Australia has the third-lowest population density in the world). Most Australians are racist pricks who don’t like brown people, a sentiment that our leaders rarely neglect to take advantage of.
In 2001, a sinking boat full of several hundred Afghan asylum seekers was picked up near Christmas Island by a Norweigan cargo ship, the MV Tampa. With the boat severely overloaded, the captain requested to dock at Christmas Island. The Australian government promptly refused him. With many of the refugees needing medical attention, and some becoming aggressive at the prospect of returning to Indonesia (where they would subsequently be sent back to Afghanistan, as Indonesia is not a signatory to any refugee conventions), the captain took a stand and entered Australian waters anyway.
John Howard promptly responded by dispatching the SAS, who seized control of the vessel in order to protect Australia… from helpless, sick, desperate refugees. I think it was around this point that, with John Howard’s careful nurturing and a little help from 9/11, we experienced a paradigm shift in the Australian mindset. We went from vaguely disliking the brown people who came here and ate funny food and didn’t speak English well, to seeing them as an active threat that required military intervention; a yellow Sword of Damocles right above us, lurking in the jungles and ports of Indonesia, assaulting us with wave after wave of leaky wooden boats. Flooding us, even! We started using words like border “protection,” a “tough stance,” worried that Australia was becoming a soft “target.” We didn’t talk about refugees and asylum seekers; we talked about “illegal immigrants” and “queue-jumpers.”
Flash forward eight years. John Howard is gone, and in his place is Kevin Rudd, who leans further and further to the right with every passing month. A similar situation has occurred, but instead of a foreign cargo vessel, an Australian Navy ship was first on the scene. 78 Sri lankan asylum seekers were rescued from a sinking ship in Indonesian waters, transferred to an Australian customs vessel, and taken to the nearest safe port in Indonesia. They now refuse to leave the ship, and the stalemate has dragged out for weeks. They refuse to step onto Indonesian soil for the same reason the Afghan refugees on the Tampa did: they will be returned to where they came from, where they have every reason to fear for their lives, and the lives of their children. It is a perfectly understandable response. If I was in their shoes I would do the exact same thing.
I’m sure John Howard was quite pleased with how he dealt with asylum seekers. It was politically popular, and the Tampa alone was responsible for winning him the 2001 election. It was also desirable on a personal level, because Howard was a racist. Not the kind of racist who would spit on an Asian in the street, but certainly the kind of racist who orchestrated policies and legislation designed to limit immigration and keep Australia as white as possible.
Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, is somewhat torn. I’m sure that he personally sees the need to be more humanitarian towards refugees. He recognises the insanity in demonising the world’s most wretched, hopeless, pathetic groups of people, the ruthlessness in painting them as a threat for political gain. Such is evident from his general relaxation of the Howard-era policies: the disbandment of the Pacific Solution, speeding up processing of protection visa applications, and the guarantee of permanent residency to successful applicants.
But, because of the kind of man he is, Kevin Rudd is allowing his political instincts to overpower his compassion. He wants to appear TOUGH, just like John Howard was, and ignore the fact that this was never an issue that needed “toughness” applied to it. That big ball of hatred that Howard carefully crafted is too difficult (and useful) to just get rid of, so he’s done his best to transfer the loathing to people smugglers – a strategy that is both blatantly transparent and no more ethical than Howard’s.
A real left-wing politican would try to undo Howard’s legacy. A real left-wing politician would try to convince the Australian people that refugees are not a threat, not a danger, not a problem to be solved but rather people to be helped. A real left-wing politician would make us look at refugees and see human beings, mothers and fathers and their children, rather than “illegal queue-jumpers.”
Unfortunately, Rudd is not really a left-wing politician at all.
Every single weekday here consists of pacing like a caged tiger around a table full of kids as they scream out “TEACHER HERLP PREASE” and “TEACHER I AM DONE” because these are THE ONLY ENGLISH WORDS THEY KNOW AND THEY WILL NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER TRY SOMETHING BECAUSE THEY EXPECT ME TO GIVE THEM EVERY SINGLE ANSWER, wrangle through Korean Confucianist half-answers and duckings and weavings with my supervisor whenever I ask for a REASON why something has to be done or a REASON why something hasn’t been done, sit at my computer doing endless plans which basically just equate to “NEXT FOUR PAGES IN THE TEXTBOOK” but arranged into a nice table for the fucking parents, and serving the kids lunch which apparently I haven’t been doing properly so my supervisor has started sitting on on my lunch periods and LITERALLY SPOONFEEDING the kids. Then at the end of the day I trudge up the stairs to my apartment, suck down a bottle of wine and plot my escape from this wretched place.
Truly, these are the best days of my life.
What is it with Australians? Why are most of us such irredeemable fuckheads?
A bunch of refugees show up in a rickety boat, having crossed thousands of miles to escape the kind of terror and misery that we can’t even begin to imagine, and Australians react by writing angry letters to the The West Australian about how we should “send them back where they came from” and how “we decide who comes into this country.” The West feeds the fire by regularly splashing photos of boat people across the front page with headlines like “STRAIGHT TO OUR DOORSTEP.”
I hate the West. I really do. I read it because I don’t have much of a choice, it being the only daily in the state. The highlight of each paper is usually the letters to the editor, a seething nest of xenophobic snakes that lash out at anything remotely foreign and lament the road to ruin that we are surely rocketing down. And you know, the funny thing is, the day that the most recent SIEV exploded out near Ashmore, killing two and severely wounding dozens, the West ran two editorials by Andrew Probyn and Paul Murray. Both of them dispelled the notion that there is a “tide” of illegal immigrants threatening to “swamp” Australia, and pointed out some facts:
1. In 2008, 4750 people applied for (“applied for,” not “were granted”) asylum in Australia… compared to, say, 36,900 in Canada and 31, 200 in Italy.
2. Less than 1% of the global population of asylum seekers wind up on Australia’s shores.
3. The vast majority of asylum seekers (95% to 99%) in any given year arrive by plane, not by boat. The vast majority of illegal immigrants in Australia are not those who apply for refugee status, but rather those who arrive here legally on tourist or working visas and then simply remain when they expire.
Why does the West concurrently run reasonable, sensible articles on the one hand, and throw fear-mongering headlines around with the other? A rhetorical question. It sells papers, and all you need to give up in return is your journalistic integrity!
The fundamental truth is that asylum seekers are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a threat to Australia. They are poor, ragged, desparate human beings who throw themselves on our mercy. The fact that the previous government exploited them as a convenient political scapegoat, pandering to the worst kinds of ugly, racist elements in Australian society, is disgusting. The fact that the current government maintains the status quo for fear of being seen as “soft” is disgusting. The fact that most Australians still see refugees as a threat, a problem or an inconvenience, rather than as human beings who need our help, is disgusting.
We went camping on the weekend. Chris and I had an argument with the adults about the whole issue. I find it shocking that these people, mature adults whom I am very close to and whom I greatly respect, have such ignorant and bigoted views on the issue. My father complained that all the medevac flights and Navy rescues and surgical operations will cost a lot of (PRECIOUS TAXPAYER’S) money. What is the alternative? Letting them burn to death, or drown? How warped does your moral compass have to be to put a price tag on a human life? “They’re not from our country,” he said. How warped does your moral compass have to be for you to think that, simply because somebody was not born on the same patch of soil that you were, you have no obligation to PREVENT THEM FROM BURNING TO DEATH?
One of my aunts said “where do you draw the line?” I repeatedly tried to explain to her that there is no need to draw a line; that boat people are a non-issue; that the numbers are so miniscule as to be completely irrelevant. She stubbornly repeated the same line over and over.
Another of my aunts said she was genuinely concerned that Muslims could become a majority in Australia and somehow destroy our culture and not let us raise the flag, sing the anthem etc etc. Apart from being a mathematical impossibility, the fact that people view Muslims as some kind of all-devouring force of subjugation and destruction is so hysterical as to be completely laughable. “They come here and tell us how to live,” “if we tried that in their country we’d be shot,” “we’re not allowed to celebrate Christmas anymore” BLAH BLAH FUCKING BLAH. I’m so goddamn sick of hearing the same old, tired arguments with a foundation in nothing more than a filthy swamp of prejudice and xenophobia.
And this didn’t fucking happen by accident. Yes, the urge to fear and destroy anything different from us is deeply embedded in our genes, but it was fucking Howard who carefully, painstakingly nurtured that urge into violently nationalist sentiment over his eleven years in office. Now it’s part of the zeitgeist and it isn’t going away. We still have people perceiving a handful of Muslim refugees in leaky boats as some kind of MASSIVE OVERWHELMING THREAT to the Anglo-Saxon juggernaut that straddles this massive continent. Racism and intolerance has become a social norm.
I can’t wait till that generation dies.
I was channel-surfing just now and reached some documentary on the ABC about Bhutan, and the first sentence I hear as it changes over, with an image of a peasant woman looking over a valley, is about how the Bhutanese live “a content life, free from the trappings of the Western world.”
What a load of horseshit. I can’t stand it when Westerners get all disillusioned with their lives and look at people in the Third World as some shiny paragon of the human spirit, living a romantically idealised life. 80% of the people in this world – the ones that you’re looking at with naive envy – spend their days squatting in ditches to take a shit, building mud bricks under the unforgiving sun, and watching their children get kidnapped by the local drug lords to be sold off as sex slaves in Eastern Europe, until they eventually die of cholera at age 41. They would trade their rustic rural life for yours in a fucking heartbeat. The “trappings” of the Western world, all that consumerism and bustle that you find so hard to deal with, you poor little things? Those “trappings” include stuff like medicine, clean drinking water, electricity, central heating, and the ability to walk down the street without being caught up in the crossfire between rival clan militias.
There’s also the entirely unrelated fact that it is an insult to their dignity; one of the more benign cases of categorising foreigners as Others, but an example of narrow-minded orientalism nonetheless. There is something immensely frustrating about watching a group of clean, healthy Europeans traipse through a Himalayan mountain village and croon about how the life of the villagers is so simple and pure, and oh my god they must know the amazing secrets of the world, before promptly returning to South London and their oh-so-evil consumerist lifestyle.
I saw an episode of Oprah a while back where she went on a roadtrip across the country and spent some time in Amish territory, and upon showing that segment she turned to her audience and said “100% happiness – they are one hundred per cent happy – and how many of us can say that?” The hive drones nodded and murmured in assent and I felt like kicking the TV screen in. If that life is so perfect, why don’t you go join them? Yeah, didn’t think so.
To sum up, it is incredibly ungrateful and inappreciative to look at Third World citizens with that kind of ultimately insincere envy. There are people who risk absolutely everything to bring themselves and their families into the sanitised corporate bubble of the West (where they are then thrown into a detention camp on Christmas Island and called “illegals” and “queue-jumpers” in newspaper editorials), so show a bit of gratitude that you were born in this clean, safe paradise instead of in a squalid refugee camp in the DRC, by not making stupid blanket statements about the “trappings of the Western world.”