Thursday, 12 February 2009

Take up the White Man's burden

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
-- Rudyard Kipling

Interestingly enough (I think it's interesting enough), Kipling wrote this poem 110 years ago in 1899, after the USA took control of the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American war. This week, the New York Times reviews a book called Great Powers: America and the World After Bush by Thomas Barnett.

Barnett tells Americans that "We are modern globalization's source code — its DNA," and they should "take everything we've learned along the way and sell it across the planet at suitably discounted prices." Patience is needed with those countries who resist America's benevolence, because "we're playing against 'younger' versions of ourselves in many instances." See how easily that fits with Kipling's "half devil and half child"?

I tried reading some of the excerpts (there are links to his blog with the article), but the writing style made it very difficult for me to take him seriously. This is essentially my problem, not any author's, I know that, but in this case I do believe style is an indicator of content. I hadn't read the entire review when I read the selected paragraphs, which meant a pleasant surprise when the reviewer called the book "talky, glib, overly long and piled high with filibustering verbiage".

Leaving you (and hurrying to work), here's one more thought from the book. One I actually agree with: We shouldn't blame other countries for not reaching a certain level of sophistication. "If a mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one."

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