Well Endowed

This blog is based upon a conversation I had on Friday with one of the guys from my internship.

We were talking about why I study what I study, and about some of the content of the presentation that I gave to the rest of his colleagues the previous week; in particular the theme of “he who wins the war, writes the history”. A question that I had been asked earlier this year came up: do I have the right to speak regarding issues of social injustices around the world?

Do I have a right to ‘champion a cause’ so to speak? I have every single advantage in the world that I could possibly ask for. I am white. I am male. I am middle-class. I am an English native-speaker. I have had the opportunity to study tertiary education because of a semi-Social-Democratic welfare state system. I am not part of an oppressed minority. I am not structurally discriminated against in any way.

The converse of being so well endowed is that I do not have a cause of my own to struggle for. I am not fighting for my own rights. I am not seeking to end the oppression of my people, my gender, or my religion.

This means that if I say that I am standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, giving the voiceless a voice, or upholding the downtrodden in our global international system, then I am just like the European colonial powers: assuming that I am correct/superior/better equipped than those for whom I wish to support. This sort of thinking is so dangerous and I think it is quite prevalent amongst the minds of those in the West who have the very best of intentions. Unfortunately, perhaps we have fallen into the trap of the ‘Messiah Complex’: trying to save a world that we think cannot save itself.

This bothers me greatly. What right do I have as such a well endowed white, Western male to speak on behalf of the ‘victims’ of our globalised political economy and international system? The evidence is clear that there are inequalities in the world, and that the divide between rich and poor is forever increasing. (I must stress though, we must not fall into the trap of the ‘us-and-them’ mentality of Global North/West and Global South/’Third World’. See my post  ‘It all comes back to statistics’ for more information: http://blogg.mah.se/bordercrossings/2011/10/03/it-all-comes-back-to-statistics/)

There are victims of Western affluence. The core does exploit the periphery. We know this.

However I am a descendant of two colonial powers: the British and the German Empires. My ancestors, who had the mindset of a ‘right way of doing things’, were a part of oppressive colonial empires who destroyed pre-existing cultures, engaged in the slave-trade, and their actions have led to many of the problems that continue to plague the non-Western world. If they thought that their actions were ‘right’ due their so-called superior civilisation, culture, and education, but they still led to so many problems, what right do I have to make the same claim? What right do I have to say anything about problems and causes that are not my own?

I still do not have the answers to these questions. Perhaps they lie in the direction of empowerment non-Western peoples and societies. Perhaps I should be a supporter and not a leader. There must be a way to channel my passions and convictions in a positive manner. As to what this manner is, I suppose I shall continue to explore the idea as my journey continues. This exchange experience has certainly challenged my conceptions of the world, and I have been forced to reconsider my views of different peoples and societies simply by being exposed to them.

I suppose I have to leave it here: I have questions without answers. I have thoughts without practical solutions. I have a drive to apply my gifts and abilities in a positive way without knowing in which direction this way should be.

I remember a quote my father once told me: “Philosophy taught me all of the things that I ought not to think about”. I always seem to end up with more questions and more unknowns, than answers!

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2 Responses to Well Endowed

  1. Courtney Hassall says:

    Interesting blog Adam!
    I have also been thinking similar thoughts in relation to the subject I am studying, human rights. I think there is much validity in how you questioned whether one has the right to speak regarding social injustices especially where no causal connection exists between the two. Especially where ones understanding of said abuses is not informed by first -hand experience. I also think ‘the mere formulation of a problem can be far more essential than its solution’. I think to raise awareness and increase public’s consciousness regarding social injustices, especially grave violations of fundamental human rights is paramount in preventing and punishing these abuses. I think to be empathic to those who suffer these injustices and provide support in overcoming the challenges is also beneficial.

    • Adam Ridley says:

      Hi Courtney,
      Thanks for that! It was also a question that my African Studies teacher at home also raised for me. Certainly raising awareness and trying to address the gross inequalities and exploitation are important, and I am mainly concerned as to whether it is my place to say anything whatsoever. Are my thoughts valid in the discourse? If they are valid, to what extent? Can I critique my own society and my own culture? Am I allowed to label neo-imperialism? Am I allowed to challenge the West’s domination of the rest? Or is there a domination-relationship occurring in the first place? I suppose these are the questions that I will continue to ask!

      Hopefully then, my contributions towards the ‘formulation of the problem’, as you put it, would then be valid contributions to the broader discourse as opposed to the ‘Messiah Complex’ which so often possesses the good-intentioned!


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