Africans are no cure for Western torpor

21 01 2008

James Rose has an interesting piece in The Age today. He starts off by recollecting his trip to Kenya in 2006 and hope and optimism he saw in ordinary Kenyans. Rose than goes on to make a bizarre connection between Kenya and Obama’s election campaign:

The US could already be benefiting from the import of hope from Africa. Barack Obama may well win the US presidential race on the back of an ability to apply the balm of miraculous possibility to the angst of a population. Obama clearly holds considerable oratorical and strategic gifts. But is it a coincidence that this man, part Kenyan, has constructed his major campaign pitch around that word, hope?

Ummm…. Maybe. Obama also happens to be half white. Maybe that’s the reason he is so popular. Besides, given the post election turmoil and murder in Kenya, I doubt Obama will be advertising his Kenyan connection all that much.

Rose is correct to point out that despite negative press in the West, Africa is rapidly developing. African economies are growing faster than the world average and a survey of citizens of 25 African states last year, it was found the highest number of respondents felt they, personally, “will be better off just five years from now”. This goes in stark contrast with surveys done in the West showing citizens worried about future security and economic prosperity.

This brings us to the most bizarre part of Rose’s article where he proposes that to change the gloomy attitude of the West, more African immigration is needed. Rose really seems to think that Western torpor can be overcome by importing plane loads of joyful Africans from downtime Nairobi. How simple!

While I agree with Rose’s analysis of Western pessimism, African immigration is not likely to solve this problem. Our pessimism doesn’t come from the lack of African vitality, but from West’s own misanthropic intellectual culture. This culture is evident in the West’s suspicion of technological progress and continued innovation (just think of public’s attitudes to GM foods, nuclear energy and cloning). Environmentalism, currently one of the most influential ideologies in the West, is also deeply hostile to globalisation, economic development and premise of boundless human growth.

Western torpor is partly symptomatic of our success. We have become so comfortable that it is hard to imagine how our lives can get any better. On the other hand, the West no longer has it all its own way. Globalisation and emergence of third world economies as genuine competitors has affected the Western psyche. Western workers, Europeans in particular, see globalisation as a threat to their jobs and standards of living. Unfortunately, instead of promoting and embracing the numerous benefits and opportunities afforded by globalisation, Western intellectuals chose to promote the fear in order to push their own agendas, be it environmentalist or socialist and to offer their preferred ideological solutions like windmills or economic protectionism.

The so-called “progressive” intellectuals have morphed into arch-conservatives successfully exploiting and whipping up the fear of the future. The results are plain to see. Ask any Western child about the future and you will probably hear about global warming, overpopulation, deforestation, avian flu epidemics and losing jobs to China. We are raising generations of children with entirely negative vision of the future in ever deteriorating world. This is the real problem that can’t be solved by importing happy Africans to Sydney’s suburbs. Instead, our own misanthropic intellectual culture needs to be confronted. Our children need to believe that the world is getting better, not worst and that future is full of opportunities not threats.

If Rose really want so see more optimism in the West, he should strive to change our intellectual culture, not offer gimmick non-solutions like more African migrants. He could start by challenging so much fashionable misanthropy emanating from his own newspaper The Age.




One response

21 01 2008
James Rose

Hi Lattenomics
THanks for picking up on my Age piece. I enjoyed your comments and you make some good points.
I would say first of all that I wasnt suggesting that boatloads of happy Africans streaming into our suburbs was the panacea for our ills. I agree with you that there is a weakness in our intellectual culture. I was only thinking that our overly materialist culture could do with an injection of esprit de corps which is something, the polls tells us and my own experience confirms, Africans have in abundance.
I’m not sure I see that our kids are more full of fear than they were in the past, as you do. I can remember being shit scared on a nuke war when I was a kid and I’m sure other kids of other generations have their own pet fears. Not sure this generation is all that different in that sense.
It is therefore, in an attempt to address our cultural weaknesses through opening up to other cultures with other inputs that the argument was put.
I think its easy to grab chunks from an 800-word oped as by nature these pieces tend to be a bit choppy and sound-biteish. But, I think you grabbed the wrong bits to really articulate my argument.
Anyway, enjoyed reading your post and keep up the dialogue with the world out there. Something we all need more of.
Best wishes

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