Letters to the Editor

(July 27, 2009)


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Not "Population Control," but Population Decrease: Michael Barker's Buying The Environment To Save Capitalism

To the Editor:


Michael Barker's piece "Buying the Environment to Save Capitalism" reveals his basic misunderstanding of the key role overpopulation is playing in the accelerating destruction of our environment.

There are only three ways to reverse mankind's damaging impact on the ecology.

We could reduce the average affluence per person. However, the people of poorer countries outnumber us, and their governments, especially in India and China, have made it clear that their goal is to increase their affluence, and thus their environmental impact, to our levels. And they aren't about to stop. So average impact per person is actually going to keep going up.

We could make improvements in technology, so we can have the same affluence while having a smaller impact. However, it takes quite a while for a new technology to spread, while the time until an environmental tipping point is short. Also, introducing a technology requires a lot of money, but our governments have just spent all they are going to have for decades propping up employment. We should certainly pursue better technologies, but this is sure to be too little and too late to do the job.

Which leaves only achieving a smaller population. Fortunately, this is easy and inexpensive. About one-third of births now are unwanted, and preventing them alone would reverse population growth. It's also ethical, as once women understand and have access to contraception, they generally reduce their fertility significantly, quickly, and voluntarily. This has worked even in as religious a country as Iran, where births/woman have dropped from over five to under two. There is no need at all to tell people, repugnantly, how many children they should have, let alone to coerce them.

What the Optimum Population Trust (of which I am a member) wants is not the "population control" Barker rails against, but population decrease, an entirely different concept. And without achieving that, I'm afraid we will not succeed in preventing the climate change, extinctions, deforestation, etc. of which overpopulation is actually the root cause.

Barker should put aside the dogma that is blinding him to actual solutions to the terrible environmental problems facing all of us.

Adrian Stott
Manchester, United Kingdom - July 13, 2009

[ed. Ah, neo-Malthusianism...quand tu nous tiens... And where should the "entirely different concept" (though not a new one) of "population decrease" take place? In Africa? In Asia and Eurasia? In Latin America? And who decides? The U.S.? The E.U.? The Optimum Population Trust? The White Man's Burden latest epic? See a pattern? If not, check The Brown Man's Burden.]


A Scholar Disapproval of Michael Barker' "Female Circumcision And The Tahirih Justice Center"

To the Editor:

Hello Michael and Swans:

I am writing to critique your recently published article:

"Female Circumcision and the Tahirih Justice Center," Swans Commentary, July 13, 2009. http://www.swans.com/library/art15/barker24.html

However, please note that I don't have the time to write a lengthy article to deconstruct this piece, or the sources it is based on, so I will limit myself to some quick general observations.

Your article is full of some very good stuff, but it appears to me also to be highly problematic in the ways that it dismisses the extent of the devastation caused by FGM. Further, I think it is in itself hegemonic in favor of entrenching an imperial hegemony, meaning that it too suffers from whiteness issues, and you serve to entrench, rather than unseat, white supremacy and its discourses (in this case focused on FGM and anti-FGM rights discourses).

You don't take your critique far enough, and that appears to be due to your own accidental or incidental blindness -- the term that best describes what so many of us whites suffer from is obliviousness, which is a central pillar of whiteness issues -- and which operates with a certain implied and/or assumed epistemology of privilege premised in arrogance, ignorance, and assumptions about innocence (in this case yours/ours/your sources).

From your article the following statement exemplifies the problem, which -- by the end -- is never rectified:

"Indeed, with regard to female circumcision he concludes that 'the harmful practice claim has been highly exaggerated and that many of the representations in the advocacy literature and the popular press are nearly as fanciful as they are nightmarish.'"

Your article is imperialist in the way that it will use a counter-imperial critique to support FGM. For one thing, the system you are critiquing very much supports FGM in many ways, but you don't explore that at all.

The above quote comes from the paper that you seem to use to form your central argument:

Footnote number 14;
14. Richard Shweder, "When Cultures Collide: Which Rights? Whose Tradition of Values? A Critique of the Global Anti-FGM Campaign," In Christopher Eisgruber and Andras Sajo (eds), Global Justice and the Bulwarks of Localism: Human Rights in Context (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2005).

This article is extremely arrogant, extremely racist, and extremely wrong. While appropriately challenging the US media (A.M. Rosenthal, etc., in the NYT) and their propaganda, the author swings the pendulum way beyond rational thought in the opposite direction. He seems to be another of these armchair theorists or critics who have nothing better to do that drum up noise to suit their own internal state of chaos. For example, the guy uses pure nonsense to justify his arguments that because the Western media and the institutions behind it are lying, manipulating, stereotyping, and otherwise "othering" Africa -- on the subject of FGM -- then FGM must not then be a real problem, and so he decides that it isn't. In fact, he supports it, arguing that it's an African thing and the issue is manipulated for the West's hegemonic benefit, and it's not devastating to females.

This is cultural and political imperialism, not a critique of it of any kind.

So what you have done is used an article by a white fascist who has some agenda to support who thus fabricates a position (strawman) against the FGM practice so that he can somehow challenge powerful factions, or ideological opponents (to him) or ideologically opposed (to him) institutions. You don't anywhere explore the position on FGM -- the discourse or participation in, or critique of, the discourses -- by the radical Christian right. The author above cites some colonial studies, and other people whose agendas need to be examined, and since the argument sounds good to you, you use it to launch your own critique.

Again, critiquing these institutions and their hegemonic "rights" agenda is fine, but you end up dismissing the realities of FGM as a practice that is brutalizing innocent young women, girls, and babies, leading to massive gynecological and natal infections and complications and permanent damage, division of families, patriarchal (African) control of females, and hegemonic Western AND African patriarchal control of female sexual autonomy.

Your agenda is merely to criticize the imperialist rhetoric, discourse, and anti-FGM movement, which is a worthy cause, but it does not look at how the system supports FGM at the same time. But you ultimately -- through this article -- help disseminate confusion about the truth of the devastation caused by FGM , and the injustice of it, by citing such statements as above, which suggest that its impact is grossly exaggerated. In fact, your target should not only be the hegemonic institutions and people, which you cite, but the Western press, which you only address anecdotally.

All in all, as far as I can see, you support the practice of FGM, which is rather blatantly white supremacist, sexist and patriarchal, and meanwhile you don't seem to know anything about the realities of it.

Have you been to a country where FGM is practiced? Have you explored the issue itself? Or merely found what you wanted to enable you to construct the supposed anti-hegemonic critique? Has Richard Shweder ever been to a country where FGM is practiced?

I propose that Shweder re-inscribes patriarchal, white supremacist norms even while supposing -- either obliviously, or, possibly, with premeditated intention -- to confront them. Such sloppy or malicious scholarship is no model to follow, and it permeates the piece you have written, coming directly from the sources you cite, which I define as nothing less than fascist in their thinking and arguments.

I invite you to examine some of the true facts about FGM from an organization that does not in any way serve the agendas and institutions you are critiquing. I'm sure you are aware of this group, as you created a SOURCEWATCH entry for me where this group is cited with my affiliation.

It's not corporate, it's not fiction.

You can also read the paper I wrote on FGM after significant research, and after having worked or traveled in at least 7 countries where FGM and (usually) infibulations are practiced.

- the Realities of FGM in Mali

http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/doc-58FGM%20in%20Malian%20Context.doc: Stopping Female Genital Mutilation A section of the report written for Healthy Tomorrow, a non-profit organization working to stop FGM and other violence against women. (- see also: www.stopexcision.net). Read the html page http://www.allthingspass.com/uploads/html-58FGM%20in%20Malian%20Context.htm

Then I would hope you would correct your paper immediately, correct your paper, and publish an article that is more comprehensive and less problematic.


Keith Harmon Snow
Santa Barbara, California, USA - July 13, 2009

["Keith Harmon Snow is the 2009 Regent's Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work, outside of academia, contesting official narratives on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide while also working as a genocide investigator for the United Nations and other bodies. He is also a past and present (2009) Project Censored award winner." Michael Barker addresses Keith Harmon Snow's critique in Counter-Discourses And Female Circumcision.]


Chronic Lack of Citizen Participation: Charles Marowitz's The Dreaded S Word

To the Editor:

I enjoyed reading "The Dreaded S Word" by Charles Marowitz. As a socialist, I share Mr. Marowitz's desire to chart a course away from the boom and bust cycles of capitalism. However, I found his articulation of the substance of socialism lacking. Socialism as a political system has two features -- social guarantees and participatory structures. We can certainly see the need for publicly administered programs for health care, social security, and housing. Yet, the U.S. also suffers from a chronic lack of citizen participation. Participatory budgeting, public financing of elections, and proportional representation offer significant solutions to this problem. Taken together, social guarantees and participation could form the political and ethical core of a system in which people experience the kind of freedom they deserve.


Billy Wharton
Editor, The Socialist and the Socialist WebZine
New York, New York, USA - July 13, 2009


No Support for Capitalist Imperialism...Seriously(!): Michael Barker's Nonviolence International And Imperialism

Dear Michael Barker,

Nonviolence International shares your concerns about organizations, ideologies and/or movements that support the undemocratic policies of ruling elites or that encourage passivity in the face of injustice. It is true that "nonviolence" is and has been cleverly misused by imperialists to pacify the masses. Nonviolence International and the groups that we work with, do not support capitalist imperialism or passivity (which accounts for our lack of adequate funding). NI staffer Andres Conteris is helping co-lead international delegations to bring attention to the coup d'etat and human rights abuses in Honduras. Would you be interested in financially supporting this effort?


Michael Beer
Nonviolence International
New York, New York, USA - July 23, 2009

[ed. Would Michael Beer be interested in supporting our efforts financially? In the absence of a positive response, may he read Michael Barker's latest article, Subverting Civil Society 101: Managing The Masses. Hopefully, it will be a warm eye opener.]


A la recherche du pain perdu...

To the Editor:

I was delighted to see Jim Chevallier's splendid research at chezjim.com/books/baguette/ (and his book on August Zang).

My concern is much more with the Viennese method of making bread (as adapted in France) and its resultant taste and texture, rather than the shape of the product. Of course, every imaginable bread shape has been produced in France. There is no doubt that in earlier days the French preferred rounder shapes for loaves, since they had less tendency to go stale so quickly. The baguette, in my opinion, is a candidate for a prize for the excellence of its planned obsolescence (discarding the stale remainders): it is uneatable a few minutes after it is cut.

Furthermore, the problem with Web-based research is three-fold: the available search engines are very poor indeed; Wikipedia should never be cited because its weaknesses outweigh its virtues; and there is a great deal that is not available on the Web, especially in French. Ultimate research still, mercifully, requires extensive library and archive work, which generally results in delightful human contact with scholars. There is also a practical aspect, best resolved by spending some time in La France profonde, to taste the differences between factory and properly-made artisanal bread.

Bon appétit!

Graham Lea
Saint Girons, Ariège, France - July 24, 2009


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Published July 27, 2009
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