Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Contraindications (WOF)

As previously hinted at, Amy Chua doesn’t deny that Latin Americans have historically intermingled across racial and ethnic boundaries to an unusual extent. In fact, she mentions one Bolivian who stated “everyone [in Bolivia] is mestizo, everyone has some Indian blood” (71). Her first real case study of the market-dominant minority that she brings up has such serious holes in it, that she can’t help but quote people claiming that the very dynamics she sees are unfounded, impossible, and dependent on a different social reality than the one in Latin America.

Even Chua herself draws conclusions contradicting her bold claims, like:

Political, even populist movements have been organized around class, almost never ethnic, lines. And because in election after election, despite coup after coup, political and economic power always remained in the same light-skinned, ‘illustrious-blooded’ hands, ‘apathy and fatalism’ among the indigenous populations spread and deepened (72).

Chua can reasonably analyze contradictory evidence, and especially if she wants to make claims about global facts, she needs to do so. Yet, she makes these statements without explaining how her arguments stand in spite of these antithetical testimonies about reality. Initially, the various colonists had superior weaponry to compensate for their smaller numbers. They had better technology for organizing conquests and mass enslavement. Soon, however, they had shifted to using social institutions, most notably the Catholic Church, as an agent of control. Now, however, class seems to be their only remaining weapon against the indigenous populations, who have revolutionized the Church and redressed technological inequalities. The endless question is how, how have these large majorities of indigenous, mulatto, mestizo, or otherwise non-white ethnic groups failed to threaten these colonial or neo-colonial powers until now?

Instead of looking into that, she attempts to claim her arguments are predictive, hinting at a shift only beginning now. She blames the decline of class-centered Marxist thinking with the end of the Cold War (failing to predict the surge of the New Left in Latin America a few years later) and the new information age media (and increasingly access to televised broadcasts) for reducing class consciousness. In its place, an ethnic consciousness has arisen, according to Chua. She says-

Latin America’s poor masses are being ethnicized, increasingly through radio, television, and most recently the Web. They are being reminded […] that they are Aymaras, pardos, Indians, cholos, whatever identity best mobilizes great numbers of frustrated, long degraded, dark-skinned masses (72).

Aside from the weird equivalency given to indigenous identities, whatever indigenous identities, (that came up last week) there’s an admission there that even the social groups in conflict are defined by ethnicity, their clashing is defined by class. This may be Chua’s point, but she doesn’t really address why anyone should care about a shift that seems mainly rhetorical.

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