Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tourism: the seed bed of all evil ;)

Ryan commented on a few conversations that he had regarding the idea that people who faced tragedy or poverty got what they deserved due to their lack of faith in God.

What We Deserve « Rumblings

Comments I made on that post elicited a few questions and I will try to support my comments here rather than derail Ryan’s thread.

Leisure travel is by nature a function of wealth and an exercise in subjugating a place and people. Poor people cannot afford to travel for purposes of leisure. Poor people also are locked into service ‘industry’ (that keeps them poor) through several capitalist mechanisms. The first of which is the system of transnational capital practiced by the IMF and WMF whereby local countries provide free trade zones where foreign companies can come and set up shop without having to pay much of any kind of tax back to the host country. These companies use cheap local labour to extract significant profits while putting very little back into the local economy. Most importantly they locate and fix the indigenous population in place – drawing them to employment in these FTZs. The wages people receive are not enough to support them and they often must work many jobs to survive and they remain in poverty.

Here is a recap of the questions presented in Ryan’s post…

are you suggesting that tourism is evil because it encourages people to migrate to coastal regions where they could be killed by a tsunami? should we perhaps move these hotels inland provided they are not near a fault line or a volcano? or is it evil and selfish because it removes them from their subsistence way of life? is it evil to travel because you might indirectly influence someone to change their current vocation from one of farming to one in the service industry? should we barricade western culture from other cultures in order not influence them?

Answer to the first question:

Tourism is not intrinsically evil but the practice of tourism has significantly subjugating consequences one of which is that due to tourism there were generally more people in the areas affected by the Tsunami than there would have been otherwise. We also know that in the aftermath of the Tsunami wealthy foreigners were significantly advantaged in accessing help – but this is just obvious. We know that the poor suffered more than the wealthy did in this tragedy…

Answer to question two:

As I have already stated the damaging effect of the leisure travel/tourism are evident without them being in the direct path of an impending disaster. Moving the location of the hotels only transplants the problems.

Answer to three and four:

Like I said earlier, the economic systems that drive the tourism industry lock people in place and reduce the options available to them in order to provide for their families. This is what is so insidious since on the surface it seems that people are making a decision between subsistence and service industry employment. But let us not forget that it was not the locals decision to have foreigners come and lounge on their beaches and traipse around on their ancient ruins. And local peoples do not have the power to kick transnationals out of the country.

Answer to last question:

There are aspects of western culture and values that have created significant problems globally. There are other aspects that have the potential to provide significant opportunity to improve the well-being of people around the world. Barricading western culture from the rest of the world is not only impossible but just silly. Cultural exchange is valuable when reciprocity is mutually available and balanced. But when the cultural values of one dominate another problems exist (Unless it is somehow possible to prove that Western culture is just that much more superior to other cultures – in which case subjugate all you want!). Western cultural values hold a place of privilege and authority in the world. As such it is important to address aspects that might be damaging.

Finally, (to try to connect this back to Ryan’s post) when western ideological perspectives and consequences are endorsed through faulty logic couched as Christian values – then repentance is needed. If western Christians think that their advantaged position is somehow an endorsement by the Almighty - they are getting it wrong. If they think that poor heathen people get what they deserve when disaster strikes – they are getting it wrong. If westerners can’t recognize that their practices bear significantly harmful consequences, both overtly and covertly, they are getting it wrong.

I think that there are ways to enjoy the marvels of God’s creation in different countries. I’d be glad to entertain ideas from any of you who bother to read this as to how this might be possible…


Jenivere said...

Yes and Yes!!! When Jesse and I think about traveling, the LAST thing we want to do is stay in an some sort of resort with other North Americans. We imagine traveling where we actually "live" among the locals for a month or longer, and try to glean whatever knowledge and experience we can by working alongside them. The last thing I want to bring with me when I travel is my "better" ways of doing things, though I wonder if its totally possible to leave ALL my "ways" at home.

And of course...all this is thought out in the "safety" of our own home while we dream about what the rest of the world is like.

jc said...

Does the WMF refer to the World Monument Fund or the World Bank? The IMF and the World Bank are not consonant with laissez-faire capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism requires a separation between government and economics. I object to these attacks on capitalism by package dealing statist monetary policies and the concept of capitalism together. I am not sure in what sense you use the word capitalism when you refer to “mechanisms” that keep people poor and locked in there jobs.

I don't really understand why a localized tourist industry would keep people from subsistence farming lifestyle. Why do you think these people have chosen[or describe the process which they were forced] to leave there subsistence farms and work in tourism industry? Before the influx of tourism were these people locked into poverty and their lifestyle of subsistence farming? It also strike me fallacious to argue that tourism could be ascribed any moral blame for loss of life. It seems just as logical to argue that the fishing industry also must have some placed on it for its tendency to people in areas that are susceptible to tsunamis.

“Cultural exchange is valuable when reciprocity is mutually available and balanced.”
How do we evaluate the ideal equilibrium.

“But when the cultural values of one dominate another problems exist “
Are all cultures values to be regarded as equally valid? Are there no absolutes? I would be quite happy if the Western value of an individuals right to his own life dominated another culture's value of human sacrifice to deities. However, I am not sure if that is what you meant to imply by that statement.

Increasing... said...

First off a couple of corrections that more diligent editing would have corrected:
-I did mean World Bank and International Monetary Fund not the Monument Guys – Important distinction.
-I also hope that it is possible to agree that capitalism is not just an economic policy or method of operation but an ideological framework which is constructed (as any ideology is) on apparatuses which make the ideological principles active (Althusser)
The IMF or the World Bank operate under principles (use apparatuses) that strongly reflect capitalist ideology even if they are seen to work with otherwise socialist political entities or countries. An investigation of their policies with regard to the operationalization of transnational capital investment in many if not most third world countries through economic restructuring and the establishment of Free Trade Zones is ample evidence of this… (Argentina, Chile, Dominican Republic, Jamaica are all really clear example of how IMF policy has reshaped and decimated local economic opportunity).
As to whether laissez-faire capitalism requires a separation of government and economics, there are many critics who amply evidence that government is always complicit in the administration of economic policy. It is my conviction that economic policy is always a political and ideological choice made by those with power. I’d be interested to know what you mean by stating your conviction about such a separation…
Tourism does not keep people from subsistence farming. Tourism is one of the apparatuses that the IMF has encouraged as a way to increase foreign capital investment in these struggling countries. Most of the time this investment comes with huge concessions that exempts these companies from paying local taxes or abiding with local employment regulations. Tourism has taken the place of other resource industries/operations that used to or still try to function in these countries (sugar, coffee, fruit, minerals, etc). Manufacturing is another option often advocated by the IMF. The individual is not faced directly with a choice between subsistence farming (or the indigenous lifestyle of the past) but is confronted with limited options about what type of employment is available to make life work. The colonial rape of these countries’ resources historically means that labour and as a result population density has been focused on where jobs were most prevalent. It is impossible to imagine what populations would have looked like had colonial efforts been interested in better stewardship of local resources or seen local individuals as real people. It is safe to assume that the type of concentrations would not have occurred in the same ways. Tourism itself is a very localized/situated apparatus. Tourists who visit Indonesia by in large are not actually interested in seeing how people live life in these regions they are interested in relaxation and experiencing fun, exciting venues. Had the coast line of Ache province been as ‘touristically’ exploited as the northern coast of British Columbia is there would have been less loss of life. I am certainly not arguing that tourism is alone the culprit of the tragedy in Indonesia but I am suggesting that ideological apparatuses like tourism need to be implicated as causal factors along with other significant and complex issues. I am also arguing that it terms of the overall effects of a tragedy like this tsunami – the poor bear a much larger burden (This is even evident in New Orleans). These same poor who are located where the jobs are - - - -

More broadly speaking cultural values are not the same as moral values. Deciding that certain cultural values are better than others must be understood to be a subjective choice and exercising authority over cultural norms is an act of power. If there are cultural absolutes regarding values there are far fewer of them than we should arrogantly claim (especially from our position of relative power in the west). Your example seems to make the choice blindingly clear – individuals’ rights to life should trump human sacrifice. But as Ryan amply pointed out (read his post: Playing God) it is the premise of these same rights to life that implicate western cultural values as meddling with end of life and death issues.
More importantly any evaluation of cultural values that reinforces the type of colonial domination that the west has been indulged in for so long, is imprudent. That is why values that are reinforced by ignorant Christian perspectives that serve to further indulge our notions of cultural superiority should be weeded out.

jc said...

Your last response is a too long for me to respond to everything in it. So I will pick a couple things to respond to.

“It is my conviction that economic policy is always a political and ideological choice made by those with power.”

I am not sure I agree that those with political power are always making an ideological choice as it seems they are often motivated by public opinion, pragmatism, or winning the next election... etc. But I would agree that it seems that decisions about economic policy are being made by those with political power or political pull. As the government is asserting more control over the economy you can be sure that these types of power and pull will become more important. This is why I try and advocate a laissez-faire capitalist system. I believe the current trend is leading us down the “Road to Serfdom” as Hayek called it.

Regarding hotels. If it is the case that the government of Sumatra has decided that it wants help and subsidize the tourism in Sumatra then I would obviously be against it. If it is the case that the citizens of that country have developed this industry on their own volition then of course I have no problem with it.

My conviction about the separation between government and economics stems from an aspect of man's nature. If it is true that a man has a right to his own life this must also mean that he has a right to sustain and support his life by means of his own work. A man must use his mind to decide on which course of action is best to produce the values that allow him to support and enjoy his life. He must also have a right to what he produces... a right to property. If a man has no right to what he produces then he has no means to support and enjoy his life. In the reverse, there can be no such right of one man to the products and effort of another. That is generally known as slavery. Any initiation of force against an individual man whether it be buy government through economic controls or a another individual through the barrel of gun is an infringement on man's right to life. This is the system of laissez-faire capitalism and the role of its government is to prevent the initiation of force between individual citizens or from foreign governments.

“More importantly any evaluation of cultural values that reinforces the type of colonial domination that the west has been indulged in for so long, is imprudent. That is why values that are reinforced by ignorant Christian perspectives that serve to further indulge our notions of cultural superiority should be weeded out.”

Something about this seems odd to me. You seem to argue that one culture's values should not be seen as being superior to another culture. But could you not say that the group of people that hold that their Christian culture is superior to culture X is itself a culture? Now you come along with your own group of people or culture that holds the belief that you need to stamp out that Christian culture's belief that culture X is inferior then what makes you any different then them? Aren't you just part of a culture that wants to dismantle a part of another culture out of your own feelings of superiority? Does the belief that no culture should view itself as superior to another culture stand outside of culture? But, Maybe I am missing your point.

Increasing... said...

“I am not sure I agree that those with political power are always making an ideological choice as it seems they are often motivated by public opinion, pragmatism, or winning the next election... etc.”
I would suggest that decision making based on public opinion, pragmatism, or electoral strategy is intrinsically ideological since these concepts themselves are an ideology. I am not sure how one might construct/define them otherwise.

“Regarding hotels.”
Is it not intrinsic to the logic that the third world nations need economic help? Is it also not true that there are limited sources available to address these economic needs – with the IMF being a dominant force? I am suggesting that there are very few options available to struggling nations and that of those limited options most involve the categorical advantaging of foreign western economic interests. In my view and from the material I have read on the subject this seems to be a fairly accurate statement. Check out the material in this post as an example of what I am referring to…

I am unclear how you are using the demarcation of ‘laissez-faire’ to qualify the concept of capitalism. While I suspect that your conviction on the matter is that capitalism releases individual from the slavery of state controlled economic parameters (a la socialism), it could be just as easily argued that any flavour of capitalism is able meet the very same criteria that you suggest renders an individual a slave. I resist the urge to enumerate the relevant (rehashed ad nausea) arguments unless you think it would be valuable but if there is some aspect of the special case of laissez-faire capitalism that you would care to identify – I might be better able to understand how the distinction you have drawn factors into our discussion more directly…

“More importantly any evaluation of cultural values that reinforces the type of colonial domination that the west has been indulged in for so long, is imprudent. That is why values that are reinforced by ignorant Christian perspectives that serve to further indulge our notions of cultural superiority should be weeded out.”

I appreciate the challenge to my logic here…
Christian values and any ensuing cultural expression from those values are defined internally through a set of dogmas/principles which, open to ever-changing interpretation, hold the community accountable to certain behaviour. One of those principles could be loosely stated as the equality of all peoples. It is based on that principle that I suggest that the Christian community excise the offending perspectives that seem to be ignoring significant implications of a particular interpretation of Scripture. I am suggesting that in order for Christians to remain accountable to this principle they must engage in a dialogue about how particular perspectives affect their ability to fulfill the mandate presented in this principle. If it were to be decided from within that this principle was no longer essential to the Christian community then the former perspective which I have identified as offending could remain viable. If this were the case I suspect that a significant portion of the Christian community would no longer choose to associate themselves with this group.