Sunday, March 14, 2010

Making Peace with Reverse Colonization

Hal Pepinsky,,
March 14, 2010
Wherever, however, you act affirmatively to diversify people with whom you hook up, you enhance your social security. Norwegians have taught me that this applies to nations as fully as it does to daily life.
Last week’s lecture in the locker room of my high school at Ohio State by my Norwegian mentor Birgit Brock-Utne reminded me of lessons I have learned from life in Norway beginning in Trondheim in 1961-62.
Norwegians remained chronically poor seafarers when I was in Trondheim. When my parents spent a few weeks on the European Continent, I ate in cafeterias. There I ate fish balls (cod balls in white gravy) and unadorned boiled potatoes (and it took me years after returning to the US ever to eat boiled potatoes again). Since the fall of the first great seafaring empire, that of Norwegian Vikings, Norway had become chronically poor. They survived and kept their population under control in particularly hard times by emigrating, as to farm in the Upper Midwest in the United States. When Napoleon lost at the Battle of Waterloo, sending soldiers abroad in combat became unaffordable for all time. A generation later, Norwegian incarceration rates fell from a rate equivalent to that in the US in 1960 to roughly the same internationally near bottom rate it has today even in its own mini-incarceration wave.
When I first left Norway in 1962, it was an article of faith across the political spectrum that economic inequality was the greatest threat to Norwegian national security. One time in my school’s social club, votes for president had been marked off one by one as each secret ballot was read out loud. A woman beat her male opponent 32-5. I felt so bad for him. A friend corrected me: No, it was she who had to deal with sticking out. Until oil was discovered in the Norwegian North Sea, overt displays of wealth and privilege were as veiled as those of Mafia dons in the US.
Birgit Brock-Utne and I continue to share that vision. Inequalities that linger across generations are the starkest structural manifestation of violence. Political and economic inequalities imperil the social security of everyone involved, high and low. As the NPR/Library of Congress project puts it, when it comes to social control, this I believe.
It is implicit in the definition of “real profit” that the successful entrepreneur gets more from economic exchange than s/h/it gives. Aggregate that, and you get measures of corporate and national economic “growth.” Is that growth real or inflationary? It is only “real” when those who are growing are accumulating wealth faster than others in some reference group. We only “really” progress economically relative to others, that is, by leaving others further behind. It should be no surprise that time and again, exacerbated by race, class, gender and age as by those now highlighted in wealth between single white women and single women of color in the US. One feminist saying of the 1980s globally was that women do 99 percent of the work and own 1 percent of the wealth. These manifestations of structural violence have only deepened since. Here, too, growing inequality threatens social security, period.
Today, the second largest party in the Norwegian parliament is nationalist: Norway for Norwegians, to whom immigrants are a threat. Norwegians are part of a global wave of white xenophobia. For the last half millennium, Northerners from Spaniards on have colonized the South. They came with gunpowder. It is poetic “justice” that in desperation, Southerners now colonize the North just by settling there. But poetic justice makes for poetic violence. I no longer celebrate justice.
The good news is that in the midst of structural violence, there are always exceptions. In some cases, communities and families of choice thrive because members make a conscious choice to meet, hang out and live among people because of the vitality of their differences, of their diversity. As Darwin put it for species and ecosystems, we become fittest to survive because in unforeseen catastrophe, some of us have what it takes to teach the rest of us to get through and get on.
On one hand, the inertia of human colonial progress is increasing so-called “ethnic” friction. On the other hand, as a friendly social control counselor, I can attest that in any social context, from classroom to workplace to neighborhood to friendship, affirmative action has proven to be my most reliable social insurance. It is also educational. Can’t be bad for humanity or mother earth either.
Thanks, Birgit, for your visit and for bringing this to mind. L&p hal

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