Is the best we can really come up with poverty, death and squalor by nature in an under-colonized world versus poverty, death and squalor by artificial scarcity in a urbanized, developed dystopia?
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In defense of colonialism

Instead of going to vacation in Europe again, my family opted to visit Southeast Asia for a summer cruise this year. The experience has left me with a strange revision of revisionist history. You can see there is a lot of poverty but it occurs to me that this may be related to the climate, environment, and human nature more than some post-colonial oppression narrative.

In some academic circles, colonialism has taken a hit as racist, classist, brutal, culturally-destructive, and generally a plight upon non-European cultures.

But what if all that is true and yet there was an upside? It isn’t necessarily a contradiction!

I was watching a few hours of the tour educator’s lectures who was an Englishwoman who emigrated from the UK to Australia in her 30s. Her narrative was surprisingly convincing: before colonialism, places like Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore were rife with pirates, organized crime, prostitution, and lawlessness.

As with any fascist order, colonialism transformed the indigenous cultures from subsistence living into plantation and wage slavery; this was harmful for generations of peoples but created vast wealth and development for the ownership class. Urbanization, organized religion, materialism, cultural aspiration to European mores- it all drove a vast pyramid of wealth concentration allowing for creation of edifices like the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. From piracy to a sprawling metropolis in 180 years? Impressive and all thanks to colonialism of sorts.

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But as with any pyramid, it is based upon a broad base of very humble people. When you tour Southeast Asia you see a lot of people hanging about and those aspiring to eke out some kindFullSizeRender of wage riding around on motorcycles, even in the rain.

When we consider the natives of Papua New Guinea, whose country remains in a hunter-gatherer mode owing to a very rocky history and active vulcanism, we see that the natural state of man is also scarcity but that the carrying capacity of the land and the level of social justice is perhaps even less desirable than the wage serf of a modern city who can rely upon order and safety in most cases.

Of course, when we strip it down, we see that colonialism is not racially-based at all. The empires that conquered the peoples of Southeast Asia included those from India, China, Java, Portugal, England, Japan and their tools included organized religion, taxation and wage slavery, rents and cost of living profiteering and the rest.

Colonialism is like being adopted by a rich and brutal foster parent. At some point, the adolescent rebels and demands independence but the existence of economic and political models for sustainable development without usury, exploitation, violence, and dehumanization are scant so the newly emancipated slave merely seeks to become the emperor like the Goths overthrowing Rome.

When freed from colonialism, the natural tendency is to establish an FullSizeRender (5)authoritarian state that maintains political power, ownership and capital among the hands a few families. Strongmen, like Sukarno and Suharto in Indonesia, the rotating sultans electing their king from themselves in Malaysia, and the strong man Lee Kuan Yew who governed Singapore for its entire history of 1963 until 1990 are very effective.

In the final analysis, there are no good and bad people or motives. Whether it be the Buddhist temple or the Rockefeller Foundation, people organize into authoritarian structures, objectify people as commodities, and then profit from the populace’s need for identity.

If you think there is a fundamental difference between the Nike Corporation and Buddhism, I submit this image taken from the Temple of Paradise in Penang, Malaysia.

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In it, the Buddha is depicted in the background as riding nobly through life while the the foreground, a carousel with coin bowls for people who want to earn  “happy marriage”, “safe travels”, “long life”. I can think of nothing less Buddhist than pitching coins into a carnival-style game for worldly wish fulfillment.

As a civilization, we are still awaiting a new abundance-based reality based on free water, free food, free electricity, and freedom from violence and abuse. Sadly, the media, property rights, educational curricula, religious dogma, market economies, mass surveillance, fear-mongering of epidemics and cataclysms conspire to disinvent anything that would jeopardize the colonization of our minds.

When visiting the Cloud City in the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, one of the major installations was something called “5 degrees” which played out a global warming scenario as if such climate science was predictable and firmly established. .

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Is the best we can really come up with poverty, death and squalor by nature in an under-colonized world versus poverty, death and squalor by artificial scarcity in a urbanized, developed dystopia?

For an alternative vision for the future, see this blog on the views of the literally and figuratively far-sighted humanist scientist Buckminster Fuller.


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