Saturday, October 3, 2009

Moving the Goal Posts (p 49 - 51)

Starting the first chapter of her book to deal with something more specific than the general functions of her theory, Amy Chua seems to be trying to kill two birds with one stone - hushing her critics as naysayers ignoring a coming revolution and fleshing out her theory with specific examples.

She starts with Bolivia:
In the fall of 1999 a graduate student from Bolivia named Augusto Delgado raised his hand in my Law and Development seminar. Always frank and incisive, and one of the best students I have ever had, Augusto said: "I believe, Professor Chua, that my country is a perfect counterexample to your thesis. In Bolivia, we have all of the conditions you mention. A very small light-skinned minority dominates the economy, while 65 percent of the population are impoverished Aymara and Quechua Indians. But in Bolivia today there would never be an ethnic movement against the market-dominant minority. The reason for this is because ethnicity has no appeal in Bolivia. No Indian would ever want to identify himself as an Indian. They are willing to think of themselves as campesinos, or peasants, but as indios - no."
Predictably, a poor ethnic majority which has been fed racist propaganda vilifying their own culture which has finally reached a point where identification with their own group has become an almost unthinkable admission of worthlessness is in fact not an easily pacified group and revolts against these terms the wealthy minority has set for them (that is, being peasantry and ashamed of your own ethnicity and cultural traditions).

Less than two years later, when Augusto was back in La Paz working as a corporate lawyer, he contacted me by e-mail. He explained that he was writing to take back his earlier words. At that very moment, angry indigenous coca peasants were marching on La Paz, protesting the government's decision to eradicate coca - for Bolivians, a "sacred plant"widely used in legal, nonaddictive forms; for the U.S.-sponsored anti-drug campaign, the source of cocaine. Calling for a constitutional assembly to organize a new "majority-based" government, the peasants had set up roadblocks, paralyzing the country's major cities.
If we return to the 65 percent figure that Chua was ready to accept a mere page earlier, even if only 8 out of every ten indigenous Bolivians opposed a ban, a low number for a sacred rite, that would be a majority of the population. Her tone seems diplomatic, but clearly suggests her opinion is that these actions were not acceptable, especially the scare quotes around "majority-based" since that's a perfectly reasonable description of what they were protesting in the name of.

She goes on to describe Felipe Quispe, an Aymara "terrorist", quoting a Bolivian minister who attacks Quispe and other indigenous rights activists as operating under a mindset triggered 400 years ago. If their people face a society run for the benefit of a select few who are radically opposed to any sort of victory for the indigenous population, such attitudes aren't antiquated and it's remarkable that Evo Morales's peaceful reform party easily defeated Felipe Quispe's more radical party. Tellingly, Chua omits any references to Evo Morales, although it is unclear whether she wished to ignore a pro-reform pro-indigenous politician who refused to use violence because it failed to fit into her narrow dichotomy of angry poor majorities and blissfully unaware wealthy minorities, or because he wasn't quite the name he was when she originally wrote this book. I will say nothing except that she wrote this book originally in 2003 and Morales's victory in 2002 triggered the crisis her student wrote to her about.

She begins the next section with a description of La Paz: "Despite its stark beauty, La Pax attracts relatively few tourists, in part because its eleven-thousand-foot altitude leaves the unaccustomed with headaches and even the locals with low energy".

One of the most common uses of the coca leaf is to reduce the effects of altitude sickness.

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