The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

But Can You Take the Country out of the People?

I was cruising around some blogs that I visit with irregular regularity and found an interesting discussion (stemming out of the need of Tsunami survivors, I think) about the best way to get technology to rural areas. At the first read, I made some lame comment about technology improving the lives of rural folk by improving the speed and/or efficiency of the work that they do: a tractor rather than oxen to pull implements through the fields; heat lamps to keep hatched chicks warm. That sort of thing. The writer of the original blog went on to speak about bringing progress to these folks, how important he felt it was that the rural folk have all the advantages of the 'citified' modern folk.

The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if we are doing anyone a favor, trying and succeeding to modernize them, 'progress' them into what we deem is a more productive life.

Do we really have to stick our noses into everyone's business? I feel those rurals who want to progress into a more mechanized world will make themselves known, come up to some city guy and say, "Hey - I hear you have a tractor for sale. I am tired of caring for oxen. Show me what you've got."

I look at 'progress' as industry driven. When I visit Heritage Village, a local park kept in its rural glory, I marvel at the things I see. Baby clothing hand made in neat and economical stitches, so finely done that it exists today, over a hundred years since it was created and worn time and time again. You see the kitchen as it was then - no refrigeration, no electric oven or microwave. Outside is a smokehouse, not a bar-b-que grill. I am thinking of the old methods of washing clothes, of rug beaters, not vacuum cleaners. Diapers were cloth, not disposable creations.

Today children argue over whose turn it is to load or unload the dishwasher. We grumble if it takes too long to warm up a dinner (made by someone else) in our microwave ovens. Yet with all our time-saving devices, few of us has the time to do things like the fine stitching to dress a child, the making of lace; we haven't the time for knitting winterwear, reading good books, helping our neighbors. What happened to all the time we saved by our adapting to progress? Do we love our families more? (When we can find them) Are we more devout in our faith? And why are we so stressed when we have all these conveniences, and don't even have to rush to preserve our food when it is taken from the fields?

I am not a big fan of progress, although I must admit I am rather fond of my computer and its wireless keyboard and wireless mouse. I am pleased that there is a formulation of cat food that helps keep my cat's teeth clean, prevents most hairballs, and keeps her coat shiny and soft. It allows me to have a pet in my apartment, whereas without it she would be running the streets like her forebears seeking out mice and rats and other anti-societal creatures. I would not want to share my bed with her, under those circumstances.

It has something to do with attitude, I think. At county fairs there used to be competitions among neighbors of real everyday skills: quilting, woodworking, that sort of thing. At fairs now, the only ones to enter those contests are hobbyists. People go to the fair to show off their best, and progress makes that best a more level playing field. Real skill isn't at task any more.

And now I think I have come full circle. Those who want to 'progress' the rurals - whether those displaced due to Tsunami or those who just live out of city limits - want them to have a level playing field. I would say this is something that should be offered as an alternative. I bet there are some who wouldn't trade in the hard work and its rewards for the 'easier' life 'progress' presents, with all its stress and related ills.

I don't want to see 'progress' being forced on anyone. If we do "take the people out of the country" and citify them - will they not lose some of the best parts of themselves to the city? Over generations we have shown it is possible to take the country out of the people and now they are just like us.

I hate the arrogant idea that everyone wants to be just like us. Everybody doesn't. Help is one thing. We need to help with the kind of help they ask from us. We need to let them decide how much 'progress' they want to accept. And we need to respect the choices they make.

I need to take a nap now. Technology wears me out.

The soapbox is now open.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

More Thoughts on Tsunami

I have been reading a lot of blog entries and comments regarding the devastation along the Indian Ocean coastline.

This site is rich in comments and ideas - to which I add my own:

Amazing minds at work, great ideas all - but I haven't yet read any concern for the survivors' mentalities the world will be dealing with for years to come.

Not too many of us have lost, in a matter of minutes, everything and/or everyone we belong to or claim as our own. That's got to do something deep inside a person when it is ALL gone, and all he can see around him is - well, more of the same nothing. There are heroes and villians in any group of people: urban, rural, tribal, non tribal, administration or peon - the favorite son or the shamed, all sorts. Dealing with this with no guidance from anywhere save the inner voice is going to leave us with nations of afflicted people - and what will the effect be?

We have knowledge that many of them (dare I say the majority of them?) do not: Each is living in his/her own sphere. I do not think that those in Sri Lanka are aware of the devastation in India or Thailand or anywhere save what they can see from where they stand. They are not aware that so many others have lost as much or more than they, and Lord help those who have not lost as much!

Imagine no communication available to you and a tornado taking your livlihood, your earthly possessions and a family member or several. Imagine seeing nothing but your own losses. Won't you be more critical of the aid you recieve (hey, thanks for the meal and the immunization, but do you have a cow or a shovel or a goat or a radio? And will you be back tomorrow with more?) if you cannot see past your own misery to that of others - literally tens of thousands of others?

There is a mindset among survivors that will be influencing world happenings for years to come. This could be a dangerous thing.

We have no history from which to cull answers. Sending help, being there and offering help, these are what we can do for now. In five years, ten -- how can we know what to expect? When we see the result, how will we deal with these people with damaged spirits?

And who can help?

I shudder when I think of what I forsee: "Missionaries" swarming into the area armed with food and tools and seed and medical supplies and - doctrine which must be (or at least appear to be) swallowed as a condition of receiving the aid offered. (Become one of us, we will 'save'you!)

I want someone to tell me I am wrong. I want to believe I am. I believe permanent damage has been done - more permanent than the damage we can see. It saddens me beyond belief.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Reply to a Blog (Today, January 11, 2005)

This is in response to one of Taran's blog entries at - it may have been a rhetorical question he asked, but it demanded an answer from me, and I may as well share it here. I have been stunned by world events, and have been quiet here whilst I gathered my thoughts. Well, they are gathered (to date)

...and where the hell am I, and what am I doing in this handbasket?

unprose | 01/11/2005 - 13:24 | Here's Why...

You asked why warning systems were not in place before the Tsunami struck, and I can only shake my head. Like the 9/11 tragedy in the US, like the mudslides in California - no one could imagine such a thing. Sure, we know of the existence of natural disasters and those caused by humans. We also know we have the technology to warn people when such danger is imminent. The two do not collide until disaster strikes. No one could have imagined the disasters in any of those incidents. It just isn't in our minds, because each is something completely out of our experience, or out of our historical knowledge. No matter what the technology, the application does not become clear until hindsight directs it.

Like the aftermath of 9/11, we will set up systems and information centers that will predict and warn of -- exactly what has just happened in the Indian Ocean. We don't know to set our technology to use any other way. Unfortunately, tsunamis are not identical, any more than the next mudslide or the next terrorist attack. Earthquakes are trackable, and sometimes forseeable. Where the land can no longer take the onslaught of the elements is predictable. In the US we have areas labeled "flood plain" and it is reasonable to expect that flooding will occur there; warnings are taken seriously, and floods have become predictable in that area. Human nature is not predictable, especially when cultures do not see past themselves to understand other cultures. Human ingenuity is not predictable, either. All in all, the situation reminds me of an (thankfully defunct) insurance company I knew that did its underwriting at the time a claim was made.

What should have been available is the sort of information the Florida telephone books have: a grid of the area covered by that phone book showing evacuation areas, routes and codes - A, B, C - as many as necessary - in the event of a hurricane and storm surge. Each municipality should have had this in place so that after the earthquake the areas at risk would receive the alert to evacuate. That such an evacuation alert would have come in time is questionable, but certainly some people could have made it to safety with such a warning that did not.

And Another Thing

What I am reading now saddens me still further - accounts of cultures clashing, of greed, of con-men, of those who deface the dead in search of whatever treasures can be taken from bodies by whatever means it takes - cutting off hands for bangles, fingers for rings. I had idealistically hoped everyone would band together, sing Kumbyah, and help one another, but I am reading reports of thievery, of supplies and food being stolen to be sold rather than given to those in need. We hear of children being stolen and sold into dispicable slavery. There are still class distinctions, tribal (and non-tribal) distinctions, and everywhere a sea of need.

It is hard for me - and I imagine many like me - safe in our US homes and way of life - to know what it is really like to lose all that one owns, every coffee cup, every patch of weeds we call our own. These people have absolutely nothing - yet each, in so many instances I have read, become selfish, and critical of what help there is. I suppose this is because many afflicted have no idea how widespread the damage has been, how thinly spread the governments and volunteer aids from around the world really are. And, too, the mentality of one who has lost everything may well be to hold closely to himself whatever he can claim as his own - or what is due him, what is necessary to survive. Having nothing, surviving shifts from being one day at a time to thinking a week at a time, maybe, a month, or even a year is his only security. Multiply that by thousands.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami will not even begin to be healed soon. I ache at the faces the news reporters send us. It is an absolute disaster, as in perfect, complete, whole (Webster's New World Dictionary of American English, Third College Edition) and as such, recovery will take generations and decades.


The world is stunned. I know I am not the only one. Each of us does what he/she can do to help in whatever way he/she can. It is what makes us human.