Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Neocolonialism: Colonization By Other Means

Ayub Khan and John F. Kennedy.
It’s an indisputable fact that British colonizers built roads and railways in India, they established missionary schools, colleges and universities, they enforced English common law and the goal of exploiting natural resources and the 400 million strong Indian manpower at the time of independence in 1947, and trading raw materials for pennies and exporting finished goods with huge profits to the Indian consumer market never crossed their altruistic minds.

Puns aside, there is an essential precondition in the European Union’s charter of union according to which the developing economies of Europe that joined the EU allowed free movement of goods (free trade) only on the reciprocal condition that the developed countries would allow the free movement of labor.

What’s obvious in this stipulation is the fact that the free movement of goods, services and capital only benefits the countries that have a strong manufacturing base; and the free movement of workers only favors the developing economies where labor is cheap.

Now, when the international financial institutions, like the IMF and WTO, promote free trade by exhorting the developing countries all over the world to reduce tariffs and subsidies without the reciprocal free movement of labor, whose interests do such institutions try to protect? Obviously, they try to protect the interests of their biggest donors by shares, i.e. the developed countries.

Some market fundamentalists who irrationally believe in the laissez-faire capitalism try to justify this unfair practice by positing Schumpeter’s theory of “Creative destruction:” that the free trade between unequal trading partners leads to the destruction of the host country’s existing economic order and a subsequent reconfiguration gives birth to a better economic order.

Whenever one comes up with gross absurdities such proportions, they should always make it contingent on the principle of reciprocity: that is, if free trade is beneficial for the nascent industrial base of the developing economies then the free movement of labor is equally beneficial for the workforce of the developed countries.

The policymakers of the developing countries must not allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such deceptive arguments, instead they should devise national policies which suit the interests of their underprivileged masses. But the trouble is that the governments of the Third World countries are dependent on foreign investment, that’s why they cannot adopt an independent economic and trade policy.

The so-called “multinational” corporations based in the Western financial districts make profits from the consumer markets all over the world and pay a share of those profits to their respective governments as bribes in the form of taxes. Every balance of trade deficit due to the lack of strong manufacturing base makes the developing nations poorer, and every balance of trade surplus further adds to the already immense fortune of the developed world.

A single large multinational corporation earns more revenue annually than the total GDP of many developing nations. Without this neocolonial system of exploitation the whole edifice of supposedly “meritocratic” capitalism will fall flat on its face and the myth of individual incentive would get busted beyond repair, because it only means incentive for the pike and not for the minnows.

Regarding the technological progress, I do concede that the Western countries are too far ahead and even the Far Eastern nations, like Japan, South Korea and China, that attained their independence later than India and Pakistan, have become developed and prosperous nations, while we have lagged behind. The way I see it, however, our failure is primarily the failure of the leadership.

It's a fact that the European culture evolved in a bottom-up manner during the Renaissance period especially after the invention of the Gutenberg's printing press when books and newspapers became cheaper and within the reach of the common man, but when we look at the technological and economic development of nations in the 20th and 21st centuries, that happened mostly in a top-down manner, especially in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and in China after the Maoist revolution in 1949.

Cultures take centuries to evolve and the basic driver is always the level of socioeconomic development of the masses, therefore, our primary concern should be to improve governance and invest in the infrastructure development and the technical education and vocational training of our labor force. In the long run technologically advanced and economically prosperous nations are more likely to bring about a cultural change, too.

Regarding the contribution of British colonizers to India, the countries that don’t have a history of colonization, like China and Russia for instance, have better roads, railways and industries built by the natives themselves than the ones that have been through centuries of foreign occupation and colonization, like the subcontinent. The worst thing that the British colonizers did to the subcontinent was that they put in place a tyrannical governance and administrative system that catered to the needs of the colonizers without being accountable to the people over whom it was imposed.

It’s unfortunate that despite having the trappings of democracy and freedom, India and Pakistan are still continuing with the same exploitative traditional power structure that was bequeathed to us by the British colonizers. The society is stratified along the class lines, most of our ruling elite still have the attitude of the foreign colonizers and the top-down bureaucratic “Afsar Shahi Nizam” is one of the most inefficient in the world.

Regarding the lack of civic sense, any person living in Pakistan must have traveled on the motorway between Lahore and Peshawar where the Pakistani drivers scrupulously observe the traffic laws; people generally don’t break the law when the state provides all the facilities and there is no incentive for breaking the law. The issues of corruption and civic sense have more to do with economy than any inherent defect in the population.

Moreover, the rule of law is not limited to the Western countries; people of all the developed and prosperous countries obey the law. In Saudi Arabia, Iran and all other oil-rich Gulf countries where the public servants are better paid and the national economy is strong, nobody takes bribes and the people behave in just as civilized a manner as in the Western countries. Thus, corruption, bribery and lack of civic sense are primarily an outcome of poverty than any intrinsic features of the population.

On a national level there are two classes in any given society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or the peasantry in the rural agrarian economies. The bourgeois generally are privileged and educated people, while the peasantry is uncivilized and jahil. But who do the socialists, who tend to look at social issues from structural angle, hold responsible for social inequities? Obviously, they hold the bourgeoisie responsible for the structural injustices.

Similarly, on an international scale there are civilized and progressive First World states and the impoverished and uncivilized Third World societies; however from a structural angle under a neocolonial dispensation, who should we hold responsible for tyranny and injustice on a global scale?

In order to explain by way of an analogy in the Pakistani context that why colonialism and neocolonialism are unjust and self-serving, we all know that the Pakistani generals are much better administrators than our civilian democratic rulers; our economic growth rate during Ayub and Musharraf’s martial laws was much better; Zia-ul-Haq’s finance minister, Mahbub-ul-Haq, liberalized and radically transformed the ‘70s socialist era economic policy and all the later finance ministers kept pursuing the same policy, more or less, to date.

Moreover, army manages numerous cantonments, schools, colleges and hospitals and the quality of service in such institutions is much better; it has also established a business empire for itself and the quality of services and products like Defense Housing Authority’s residential projects, Frontier Works Organization’s construction of roads and bridges, Fauji fertilizer, Askari bank and cement, all of them are profitable business enterprises; however, despite the success of army’s governance model, its administrative skills and its business acumen, we, the persnickety intellectuals, would never recommend that it should be allowed to take part in politics or business, why?

I can’t explain this in a short essay but people have written voluminous books on the subject, read them. However, if the gullible comprador bourgeois endorse and praise the European colonizers then for the sake of consistency they should, perhaps, give due credit to our indigenous colonizers, too. Suffice it to say that capitalism is based on a single axiom that individuals always act in their self-interest, then how can you expect from the colonizers to work altruistically in the interests of the masses of their colonies?

Regarding the social injustice and inequality in the indigenous societies, I do concede that on the national level, too, class inequality and stratified social structure is untenable, however, any Third World state that dares to sidestep from the trade and economic policy as laid down by the neocolonial powers is demonized and vilified by the Western corporate media with labels such as “brutal, authoritarian, totalitarian,” to an extent that it becomes an international pariah, like Castro’s Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela, for instance.

The way I see it, there are only two classes in the developed world: the ultra-rich and the middle class; social inequality does exists but the real poverty does not exists in the countries where the labor earns its wages in dollars, euros, pounds, dirhams and riyals. Millions of laborers from the Third World countries flock every year to the Western and Gulf countries and they make enough money not only to support themselves but also to send remittances back home to their poor families. This fact shows that the working classes of the prosperous countries are reasonably well off.

Moreover, as I have mentioned before that most of the multinational corporations that make profits from all over the world are headquartered in the Western financial districts; they share part of their profits with Western governments in the form of taxes; that’s why Western governments have plenty of funds for development and social welfare activities and they can even commit hundreds of billions of dollars to the needless wars to spur economic growth (Military Keynesianism.)

Notwithstanding, it’s a fact that I am somewhat insensitive to the issues of racism and discriminatory attitude that the immigrants suffer at the hands of white supremacists. Actually I am someone who is acutely aware of the reality of the Third World: laborers pulling carts like animals; construction workers doing backbreaking work under the scorching sun; the children of the Afghan refugees working as scavengers in the streets of Pakistan; and all in all a subhuman condition in which the majority of the Third World’s population has been condemned to labor.

The Western countries have their Wall Streets, the Third World countries have their counterparts in the form of Sabzi mandis; they control the global economy, we determine the prices of fruits and vegetables, therefore, if you want to criticize the structure of injustice, condemn the exploiters and not the victims, even if the latter are a bit “uncivilized” for your refined and elegant neoliberal tastes.

Regarding the neoliberals’ revulsion towards religious dogmatism, although it’s a fact that the first amendment rights were not revealed to the Bedouins of Arabia 1400 years ago, but does that implies that we should exclude 1.5 billion adherents of a faith from our project of building a Eurocentric liberal utopia all over the world? That sounds exclusionary. Our belief in the merits of cultural diversity and pluralistic society dictates that we should be open-minded and tolerant towards the contrasting belief and value systems.

Although, I concede that religious dogma limits the freedom of investigation, but it is never about the written word of the scripture as much as it is about the contextual interpretation of the scriptures by the subject. A Muslim living in a developed Western society would generally adopt a more liberal interpretation of a Quranic verse; a subject, who has been brought up in the urban middle class of the Muslim-majority countries, would adopt a moderately conservative interpretation of the same verse; and a rural and tribal Muslim, who has been indoctrinated in a madrassah, would adopt an extreme interpretation of the same verse.

It’s always the culture that plays a much more substantial role in forming our mindsets than religion, as such. The intellectual opinion leaders of the subaltern cultures need our approval and support for the cultural advancement of their respective societies, even if they don’t quite meet the criteria of our utopian ideals.

Cultural progress and social advancement are worthy ideals, however, being a citizen of an impoverished developing country my foremost concern is social justice. I can live in a moderately conservative society just as happily as I could live in a liberal state, but the mass exodus of the immigrants from the developing world to the developed world has less to do with the latter’s liberalism and cultural appeal and more with its economic prosperity: a fact that become obvious when we witness the changing trend of immigration to the conservative Gulf Arab countries instead of Western countries lately.

The way I see it from a pragmatic angle, secularism and liberalism only have secondary importance in our everyday lives; how much wiser the citizens of the supposedly secular states have become when they naively endorse and justify an absurd liberal interventionist narrative in the energy-rich Middle East, and elect the likes of fascist Bush and Trump to the highest offices? The only tangible progress that we have seen in the last two centuries has mostly been techno-scientific progress, other than that we are still stuck in the Renaissance era, culturally speaking.

To match the Western technological progress, more than the rhetoric of secular and liberal values the citizens of the developing world need to invest in their infrastructure development and the technical and vocational education of their human resource a la China, whose consistent GDP growth rate and $8,000 per capita income is the new paradigm for the whole of developing world.

China is an interesting case study in regard to its history, it did fight a couple of Opium Wars with the British in the middle of nineteenth century but the influence of Western imperialism generally remained confined to its coastal cities and towns and it did not make inroads into the inland areas, that’s perhaps the reason why the Chinese don’t feel shame in speaking their native Mandarin language and take pride in their cultural ethos and values, unlike the subjugated Indo-Pakistani elite of the subcontinent.

Moreover, China is ethno-linguistically homogeneous: more than 90% Chinese belong to the Han ethnic group and they speak various dialects of Mandarin. These two factors, along with the visionary leadership of Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai and the Chinese Communist Party in general, have placed China on a path to progress and prosperity in the 21st century.

Philosophically speaking, if I buy a car for my personal use, build a home for my family and work hard on my job for my children, would you say that I am a good person? On the basis of aforementioned self-serving achievements, you could say that I am a competent and successful person, but am I “good” too? No, good basically means to be morally good, which in turn implies empathy, compassion and altruism; things that I do for myself and my family (which is a part of my extended self) don’t make me good; things that I do for others, who are not related to me, make me a compassionate and good person.

The Western civilization, no doubt, is a techno-scientifically advanced civilization; their scientists, technicians and inventors have made miracles happen; but how those technological inventions have been put to use, that we need to question? The motive for hard work in a capitalist society is not the general wellbeing, the incentive is only to make money. The highly entrepreneurial multinational corporations and their employees work hard day in and day out, but not for the welfare of the humanity; their motive is exclusively to make profit; therefore, should they be given credit for the unintended consequences of their self-serving motives?

An ethical egoist, a la Ayn Rand, might justify such haphazard “progress” and its concomitant consumerism; but the way I see it, Western materialism and commercialism has only worsened the human condition and has led to more violence, inequality and human suffering than ever before in the history of mankind.

Notwithstanding, the basic trouble with the 21st century social reformers is that they have lost all hope for bringing about economic reforms; nobody talks about the nationalization of the modes of production and labor reforms, anymore. Laissez faire capitalism and the consequent social stratification is taken for granted; thus, if reforming the economic system is out of question, the next best thing for the chattering classes to espouse is cultural reforms. It must be kept in mind, however, that reforming the culture is many times more difficult than reforming the economic system, which the neoliberals have already given up on, because it appeared daunting and impossible to achieve.

Truth be told, the victim-blaming Indo-Pakistani neoliberals lack any original insight into the social and political phenomena and they uncritically imitate the views of the Orientalist academics. After the onset of the Industrial Revolution, when the Western societies had been riddled with social disparity, the response of their intellectuals had been to come up with theories of economics such as socialism, Fabianism and Marxism; however, in the age of neocolonialism and corporate imperialism, the condition and social status of the labor in the developed countries has improved; therefore, their focus has shifted from economic reforms to cultural reforms. Our gullible intelligentsia, on the other hand, is fixated on bringing about cultural reforms without the essential prerequisites of socioeconomic development and investment on education.

The public schools of the developed world provide quality education to all the citizens irrespective of their social status, because in a country like UK the budgetary allocation for public education is $150 for a population of 65 million, while in a Third World country, like Pakistan, the education budget is only $5 billion for a population of 200 million.

Thus, the fundamental social axiom of the egalitarian modern world view: that is, the equality of opportunity, which is directly linked to the equality of elementary education, has been ensured in the developed world, but not in the Third World countries where education systems are highly stratified along the class lines. Although, the elite schools of the Third World countries provide quality education to the children of the upper classes, but their tuition fee is generally so exorbitant that it exceeds the net income of the majority of the households in Pakistan and India.

Necessity and common sense dictates that the underdogs all over the world must unite against the exploiters. But what do the neoliberal underdogs do? Those “useful idiots” are always eager to form an alliance with the exploiters against their regional rivals, and the perks usually are a few slices in the pie of outsourcing and foreign investment. Neocolonial powers obviously have a way with manipulating divisions and coaxing the ruling elites to act against the interests of the masses of the Third World.

For the last five centuries, since the invention of the Guttenberg printing press and the consequent Renaissance, only the Europeans have exploited the rest of the world; either through direct colonialism, or through a more subtle and indirect approach of economic neocolonialism. Keeping in mind the relative balance of power, only the Western World is in a position to enforce a system of international justice that can punish the wrongdoers in the same manner in which the judiciary and law enforcement agencies of nation states punish and deter the criminals.

What’s lacking is not the capacity but the will to enforce justice on a global scale, because the Western World is the beneficiary of the contemporary neocolonial system of exploitation. When it suits their interests, their aircraft-carriers, Tomahawks and Hellfires can destroy entire countries, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, in a matter of weeks; but when the will isn’t there, the Media Corps of the Western political establishments have indoctrinated plenty of imperialist apologists all over their former colonies to offer lame excuses on their behalf.

Finally, it’s a fact that we, as individuals, don’t like to revamp our deeply entrenched narratives even when such narratives have conclusively been proven to be erroneous, because our minds are incapable of radically transforming themselves, especially after a certain age. Despite being a mystery of gigantic proportions, the human mind still has its limits, especially the minds of grownups are highly cluttered.

The reality is always too complex to be accurately conceived by the mind. Our narrative is only a mental image of the reality that we have formulated to the best of our humble abilities. But since our minds are quite overloaded, therefore, we generally tend to adopt linear narratives; and try to overlook the deviations and contradictory evidence as mere anomalies (selective perception and confirmation bias.)

Moreover, our minds also adopt mental shortcuts, or heuristics, to ease the cognitive load while making a decision. To instantiate this concept, Pakistan has numerous problems: like, social injustice, corruption, patriarchy, bigotry and oppression of the minorities, to name a few. My individual narrative, however, has mostly been predicated on the social justice aspect; but I do appreciate the activists who are doing commendable work in other areas too.

My only gripe is that most social and political commentators, these days, restrict themselves exclusively to denouncing the crime and the criminals, without looking into the socio-political and socio-cultural root causes that have spawned the crime and the criminals; such an approach seems facile and lacking in perspective.