Leaning to the Right
Idealism collides with pragmatism to found conservative ideals in the EAW
Author: Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like
As an EAW, nothing imbues you with cynicism-tinged street cred like the adoption of mildly conservative ideas. You will, of course, retain some of your idealism and belief in humanity, but it will now be informed by a hard-nosed pragmatism borne of your years of experience. Yours will be a strategic idealism that grants you immense field cred. You will thus become a romantic figure, disappointed by the shortcomings of human beings, but striving on in your world-saving mission in spite of it all.
Such a rightward evolution may arise from a disillusion with local people and/or the international development scene: “Aid money has only bred laziness and corruption here in Sierra Leone. What this country really needs is foreign-owned textile factoriess.”
Or you may undergo an extreme, unquestioning internalization of local values: “Suffocating women in burqas and social censure is a way of protecting them. It’s much better than the lurid objectification of women we label as freedom in the West.” or “Universal formal education is a silly Western imposition. The widespread child labor in India is an integral part of the country’s culture.”
A turn to the right can even come from observations with a strand of objective truth and cutting insight: “Sure, the Duvaliers created a reign of terror, but Haiti was a much more prosperous, functional country under their watch.”
Issues of sovereignty and Third-World solidarity are also good motivators: “China is doing the right thing by pursuing their interests through alliances with resource-rich dictatorships. They’re honest about their goals, unlike the hypocritical Western countries who wring their hands about human rights even as they exclude up-and-coming countries from the established oil fields.” Or “The Amazon is Brazil’s to do with as it pleases. Europe and the US cut down their forests to develop their economies, so Brazil should be free to do the same.”
Whatever the cause of your flirtations with reactionary thinking, you are demonstrating an admirable capacity to go outside the box and challenge the progressive mores of your EAW colleagues.
Care must be taken, however, to nuance your stances so as to separate them from First-World-based talking heads like Paul “Sweatshops for Haiti” Collier or Bill “Hook African Farmers on Imported Fertilizer” Gates. These ideologues are ignorant of the realities on the ground, unlike you, and consequently paint with excessively broad brush strokes.
Your newfound conservatism should not take on tones of cultural or racial superiority, lest you be confused with a rigid-thinking new arrival, or worse yet, an Evangelical missionary. It must be clear that your cynicism is an evolution beyond the normal EAW’s natural liberal leanings, not merely an unconsidered initial state.
To help you along your ideological transition, it is useful to have an authentic local friend to provide moral support and credibility to your conservative ideas. Usually this friend will belong to an important family whose economic and political fortune has been made precisely by advancing the exploitative, oppressive agenda he is now helping you to understand.
Submitted by Greg Vaughan. Find him blogging at Agrarian Ideas for a Developing World.