“Nation Building”: Disguised Tyranny
September 20, 2014
Here is another passage from the book, Shooting At the Moon, which I reproduce here to emphasize that a modern westerner’s view of “reality” is quite different from other views of “reality.” And of course to understand why what appear to be little more than “common sense” public policies, like building highways or universities, or nations are anything but “common sense,” it is necessary to understand how our “reality” must be imposed on others whether they want it or not. Shooting at the Moon does a decent job of illustrating these issues.
“The tribespeople believed that every living thing had a spirit. Before they slaughtered animals the Meo talked to them, asking their permission. Before they felled trees, they told the tree they needed the wood. When outer beings died, the spirit went back to where it was born….
“’By and large,’ Lawrence explained later, ‘the people never wanted to leave their villages because of their animistic attachments to this tree and that tree and this stone and that stone. You would find that they were going to build something somewhere. Only afterwards would you find out that they’d put the building at such-and-such an angle so that their Aunt Millie’s tree or her stone or her grave or whatever would look at the reflected light of the building early in the morning…. They wanted to stay local, and if they stayed, the family stayed. Up to a certain point, the families just did not want to move….’”
“The nature of the challenge facing the Meo operation, Lawrence decided, was nation-building. In those years, ‘nation-building’ was a great catch phrase for Americans in Asia. Putting roads and highways was nation-building. Setting up rural aid programs to help farmers was nation-building. There were nation-building programs in South Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand, but no nation needed as much building as the haphazard stew of ethnic groups gathered by French colonizers into an artificial political entity called Laos.” [Pp. 109-111]
Now, you may laugh or smile at the “animist” views of the Meo, but you also should laugh and smile at Warner’s phrase “an artificial political entity,” as if there are “natural political entities!” And, of course, Lawrence’s language, which Warner seems to accept, belittles the phenomena he was witnessing in Laos, thereby blinding him to any question about what happens to human beings and their societies when they sever the links between themselves and the “animal” and “natural” world. It was not an attachment to “this tree or that tree” that describes the Meo’s “reality.” Rather, it was an attachment to something sacred, a sacredness of place that includes “this tree or that tree.” Can a feeling of sacredness be preserved once we lose our connectedness to the world around us? And if it cannot, what happens to us, to our societies? Just wondering.