This last week I bought The Economics of Happiness DVD by Helena Norberg Hodge and friends, and the Badger and I watched it last night.
It is a very beautiful film, very watchable, giving a glorious insight into cultures around the world. Its ideas (pro-localisation, anti-globalisation) are well thought through and well-argued, and very familiar to me.
However, it had the usual gaping holes, and I do wish one time the Resurgence crowd (Satish Kumar, Vandana Shiva, Helena Norberg Hodge, Wendell Berry et al) would do us a favour and take a good hard look at these.
As usual, ‘white’ and ‘Western’ were dirty words. Helena N-H did have a suggestion for those of us who have drawn that particular straw: we could go back to our cultures as teachers, to let everyone back home know how wrong-headed and destructive we are, and how much better off we would be if only we lived according to the culture Ladakh had before the road was built and the Chinese imported our cultural norms second hand and everything was ruined.
Helena N-H says she spends a good chunk of every year in Ladakh, and we saw wonderful footage of their simple agricultural lifestyle, which was held up as an example for us all to emulate, and contrasted favourably with all the rush and tear of our white Western mechanised industrialised ways. So . . . er . . . how does she get to and from Ladakh, I wonder? Bike? Rowing boat?
We saw a scene in which Helena had brought two Ladakhi ladies back to The West to show them how awful everything is, and watched one of the ladies turning in sorrow from a decrepit old lady sitting in a nursing home room by herself, obviously abandoned by her heartless family.
But, wait, Ladakhi lady! I am taking a funeral next week for an 85-year-old man who lived in a nursing home for the last stretch of his life. It wasn’t that his family didn’t love him – on the contrary, when his wife (long deceased) had cancer, his daughter and sisters and female friends organised into shifts to care for her so she could live at home to the end, and when she died the same ladies cooked for him and cared for him. They visited him constantly (same story with another dearly loved old man whose funeral I took last week). But he had dementia, and needed more care than they had the skill and resources to provide. And when he died, his relatives visiting the care home found the care assistants weeping, because they had loved him. Why wasn’t a scenario like that in the film? Wrong message?
I had some friends who were missionaries in Bhutan, which is near Ladakh and has a not dissimilar cultural outlook. While they were there, they were cherished and adored, because the simple Western medicines they brought easily healed illnesses the Bhutanese had simply had to struggle along with. But the missionary family had to come home because a baby born to them was lactose intolerant, so couldn’t thrive on her own mother’s milk. In the evil white West, they saved her life. In lovely Bhutan, she would have died. Perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered?
In Quaker meeting a few weeks back, a Friend was moved to tears as she told us about a TV documentary (yes, TV, that the Amish call ‘the sewer in the living room’. Ha ha.) on the work of Sight Savers (to whom a Hastings Quaker financial offering was going) in India. What made her cry was to watch a lady who lived in a mountainous village, where the tracks were unsafe for her to walk, being carried 10 kilometers for eye treatment – after which she was able to walk home to her village. I wonder where the Sight Savers eye specialists trained, and who put up the money for the clinic. Perhaps it all came from rural Indian villages, where they have got life right, unlike white Westerners – but then again...
When Helena N-H is staying in Ladakh, suppose she sustained, say, an eye injury requiring delicate and complex surgical intervention to save her sight. I wonder what she’d do? Shrug her shoulders and let the eyesight go, I suppose. Hey, what does it matter? Or maybe it might cross her mind to hop on an evil aeroplane with its affordable (if earth-wrecking) flight from its shockingly untaxed aviation fuel, to get to an evil white Western hospital and get the eye fixed? I’ve met several English people who chose to live abroad because they liked the sun and the way of life. While all was well, and they had money to spend, they lived there happily. Then when they got ill and needed long-term hospital care and attention, they returned to England where they would receive it free. So the society people love to revile was the one that helped them and gave to them, even though as citizens they had not chosen to enrich or support it.
Last week on Facebook, a (white, English, female) friend linked to this article ("10 Conversations On Racism I'm Sick Of Having With White People"), feeling that what it expressed was helpful and good. I did not share her view. I thought it racist in the extreme, and damagingly inaccurate.
It is racist to lump together ‘People of Colour’ and contrast them with ‘White’ people, and give the impression that’s what racism is – a skin colour issue perpetrated by whites. What about the Hutus and Tutsis? What about the way Robert Mugabe treats his own people? (Seen his palace? It's here.) And so many other ‘what abouts’ I could mention from all around the world, I expect you can instantly think of many.
Yes, oppression and prejudice and cruelty and torture and disrespect and unfairness are wrong – but race has nothing to do with it: they’re wrong under any circumstance and perpetrated upon any person.
It always saddens me that my race is hidden, disregarded, as well as despised. I am English, but I can never say so. If I make a purchase online, or fill in a form, or complete a questionnaire, when I am asked to enter my country, I am given a list, and England is never on it. I have to fill in ‘UK’. But I am English. For the Royal Wedding, Rough Guides have some internet advertising telling folks about what a good holiday they could have here because "there's a lot to discover in this busy, diverse country" (Great Britain). Great Britain isn’t a country at all. It’s a collection of countries, of which England is only one. The Royal Wedding is happening in England.
Among the Amish, ‘English’ seems to be a word with about the same level of respect as ‘nigger’. I am English, and I notice. But as an English woman, not only do I have to put up with racist sneers and smears such as are in the article "10 Conversations On Racism I'm Sick Of Having With White People", and the invisibility of my country being hidden in ‘the UK’, but also with my own people eager to do themselves down and say how awful we all are and how much better off we and the whole planet would be if we all lived as they do in Kerala, or Botswana, or Ladakh.
At present there is argument going on about putting a cap on economic immigration to England, and if there is such a cap what the level should be. What? You mean they all want to come to this awful place with its terrible values and heartless abandonment of human beings and evil soul-destroying consumerism? I wonder why? Many of those who revile England do so having ungratefully benefited from education received here. Our English government officials are not always admirable in treatment of refugees, and there is much to be put right – but we do at least have such places as The Medical Foundation here, receiving and helping people who have been tortured from all over the world, and England does seem to be perceived as a refuge, so we must be getting something right.
I think Ladakh is beautiful. I have watched every TV programme and seized on every picture book and website I can find about Ladakh. I feel much the same about Bhutan and Nepal and Afghanistan.
I have learned a tremendous amount from reading about traditional rural and nomadic peoples, about Romany gypsies in traditional rural England, and about new green initiatives and eco-villages all around the world.
I believe in simplicity, frugality, and establishing health through nutrition, lifestyle and traditional remedies. I dislike the fashion industry and the global rat-race. I believe in life lived slow, with room to breathe and pray and sing. I like to grow my own food in the garden. I love the traditional Christian worship of the Church of England, the 1662 prayer book. I love our old cottages and little villages. This weekend coming, we have the Jack in the Green festival here in Hastings, and the town will be heaving with Morris Dancers and clog dancers and people in costume celebrating ancient traditions to welcome in the summer. And these are living traditions here in Sussex – just as alive and just as much a folk tradition rooted in English earth as any corresponding festival in Ladakh rejoicing in its roots.
And tomorrow we have our Royal Wedding. If the Royal Wedding were Ladakhi, no doubt it would be lauded as an example of splendid tradition and admirable social cohesion. Here it attracts criticism on every side from every whingeing socialist and moaning Minnie you can think of. But I am proud to sing “God save our gracious Queen” – may He indeed rest her happy and glorious, and give her victory over all that harms and hinders her. I am so grateful for her reign over us, sober and wise defender of the Faith, ever an example to us of dignity, self-discipline and restraint.
Can we not find a way forward that addresses the urgent need to change from consumerist and destructive habits but doesn’t involve an old racism dressed in new clothes – without demonising and hating all things white and Western? If what we want is a return to rural agrarian traditional cultures, can we have some suggestions about how to treat the sick – yes, I do know that depression and cancer and MS and fibromyalgia etc etc are connected to our Western nutritional patterns; but I’ve seen some horrendous (untreated) cancers in rural Indian and rural Indonesian contexts too, not to mention other global shockers like guinea worm and ebola virus. And AIDS started with a European air steward visiting America – but then African traditional cultures have done little to stop it in its tracks. Surely we don't want to embrace a slow, peaceful agrarian economy at the cost of losing our medical research and treatment of illness both chronic and acute?
Building the Peaceable Kingdom is not possible in a culture of name-calling and blaming and hating. People have histories to get over – sure they do; but the getting over part should be as high profile as the history. And it isn’t helpful when people see themselves as archetypes and icons – as, for example, in 2007 when we all focussed on the abolition of slavery, I heard the well-to-do, comfortable, successful Christian leader Joel Edwards identify himself with the slaves and the white people in his audience with the slave traders. What? If he has chosen to throw in his lot with the evil white Western world and live here participating and integrated into this English society, must he not also accept a share in responsibility for the global influence we exercise – regardless of his skin colour and racial descent? What’s that got to do with anything? I thought we were all descended from Africans anyway!
As I understand it, the way forward is to treat all living beings with kindness and respect, to accept responsibility for making choices that bless the Earth and all the beings that live here. As far as I know there is not one country or race or cultural group that does not have some area of behaviour for which they should be ashamed. We every one of us stand in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and may God forgive the English for our arrogance and for our part in the damaging aspects of colonialism, as well as for our destructive consumerist habits. But let us not delude ourselves that other cultures are Utopian, and if only we lived there all would be well.
Undoubtedly the way forward is a path of simplicity, leading away from reckless consumption and the unsustainable manufacture of useless junk and disposables; but please can we get there without embracing this culture of blame and racism, without accepting the undiscriminating demonization of everything white and Western?