Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Masada Complex

And now, laaaadeeeeeeze and gentlemen...something completely different.

This one's a tad more academic. I've been studying for my exams and this is somewhat inspired by my anger over a reasonably famous book which I think is seriously wrong in a serious number of ways.


Thomas Friendman argues in his book, The World is Flat, that the world has been “flattened” – that is, placed on a level playing field – by various “flatteners” that are arguably causes and effects of the progressing “phenomenon” of globalization.
But in what way is this world flat? The playing field isn’t level; instead, I would liken it to Masada, an archaeological formation in Israel that was a fortress for Israelis who were pursued by the Romans thousands of years ago. As the Romans attempted to climb Masada by building a dirt ramp to scale its heights, the Jews decided that death would be preferable to rapture by the Romans, and committed suicide.

The world’s elite and privileged – predominantly educated citizens, mostly white and English-speaking from developed former colonial powers, or rapidly industrializing countries that are molding their economies to fit a neoliberal standard – are now on top of a hypothetical Masada. They claim that the playing field is level because they have little view of the reality below.

The Jews’ fears of Roman capture may have been unwarranted, and their mass suicide certainly was premature. Upon modern examination, it is clear that, at the time of the mass suicide, the feared Roman victory over Masada was years away. The modern privileged forces who drive and benefit from globalization are in a state of self deception, similar to that of the Jews on Masada. They fear the ascent of individuals in the developing world, feeling that those who are currently disadvantaged will rise economically and rob the elite of their privilege. The loss of jobs in manufacturing, most prominently in the auto manufacturing sector, has made workers’ unions a major source of criticism of globalization from the Global North.

Like the Jews, the privileged of the Global North are hardly threatened by the ascent of others onto their “Masada.” They have already prevented the Global South from infringing on their standard of living through colonial rule that robbed the Global South of indigenous knowledges and the means to survive independently. Unlike the Jews, however, the response of the privileged to the invasion of the less privileged onto “Masada” is not self destruction, but instead destruction of the Other. Rather than committing mass suicide, the privileged are condemning and disenfranchising the perceived threat through the use of neoliberal, neocolonial economic policies that essentially remove the dirt from the ramp that those in developing countries are using in their hard work to reach Masada, and place this direct on top of Masada to make the plateau higher.

The real Masada is now no more than a tourist attraction that is at risk of collapsing due to erosion, but the neoliberal Masada of economic globalization in a neocolonial world is getting taller each day through the use of structural adjustment programs, flawed and fraudulent aid programs, and the global rule of corporations that decrease living and working conditions in the south in exchange for profits for the north, control the pharmaceutical industry and undermine efforts that support global health, and degrade the environment at the expense of those who are already marginalized.

Will the global Masada become merely a piece of historic memory, and an example of mounting inequality in the 21st century? Maybe someday. Perhaps it will eventually crumble altogether, and exist only as a myth of the past, a story of a time in which humanity existed in a hierarchy with some lives more valued than others. Whatever happens, until that hierarchy is erased and our Masada is razed, the world will never be flat.

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