Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Freewrite #4 Universal Universalism?

In freewrite on February 23, 2010 at 11:42 pm

While reading Wallerstein’s article, I found myself nodding and underlining many points he talks about and I cannot agree with more.

He says in the beginning of the book, “We tend to be in no doubt that we ought to fight evil, and we are often in not much doubt as to who and what incarnates evil” (xiii). What is the notion of “evil” composed of? How defines it? Media? What else?

Behind media, there might be political forces. Behind political forces, there are decision makers. So in the end, it’s human (some of us) who defines what evils are, and influences the rest of us to act against evil.

In other words, some of us make the rest believe in what is good and evil. In some instances, the process of making people believe can involve military forces.

Universalism is one way of making us believe what shall be done to the rest of world by imposing certain values on people and claiming their universality.

Wallerstain writes, “The usual argument is that the expansion has spread something variously called civilization, economic growth and development, and/or progress, All of these words have been interpreted as expressions of universal values, encrusted in what is often called natural law. Therefore, it has been asserted that this expansion was not merely beneficial to humankind but also historically inevitable” (I).

What makes many of us fundamentally believe that those are self-evident ideas? Also, what it takes to challenge this self-evident notion, especially when the realization of the problems of that universalism is rare, not at all universal? What can we do to help challenge more people about this thinking?

On one hand, I stand with Wallerstein on how severe the problems are. On the other hand, I am wondering his solution is, if there is any?

It doesn’t occur to me while reading his articles that he has suggested a practical solution. Saying “It is not an easy game” (49) is not a solution. To me, it is more like avoiding the problems.

The causation of the existing universalism must be somewhere, and there shall be a way to overcome it.

Will losing its global power help the Western world realize their mistakes? Will gaining global power change what have been done? Or it will be the same old story, but with different characters, like China will be acting like the current Western world, exploiting the Western (current non-Western world) in the next couple years? Is it just a game of changing names?

Along this thread of thought, I found myself stuck in the dead end…I don’t know what could potentially be the solution. Hence, I decided to look at the problem from another angle.

Why didn’t China or the non-Western world become the global power? Why the Westerns?I tried to think the difference culturally, and maybe from there, I can get something out of it.

From a cultural perspective, I think that China, and many other non-Western world like Africa, share a notion of collectivism, which is fundamentally different from Europeans’ individualism.

In Africa, the notion of ubuntu means that individuals contribute to the collective knowledge/power of the community, and thus the individuals will all benefit. The indigenous people believe that individuals will bring their own uniqueness to the group; individuals are born with purposes to help the community become a better one.

In China, current education teaches collectivism starting from elementary school. I was taught that each student should strive for excellence, because our individual excellence will bring glory to the class, and only when the class is excellent, we can all be even better. The mistake of an individual student reflect poorly on the whole class. The punishment to one student means the punishment to the other 50 students.

The communal benefit goes before personal interests; yet, they are self-interested as well.

The individualism Western world has been proud of goes largely at the self-interested level, and it seems to me that we talk too little about the benefit of the community. We talk about what will do good to our own business; we talk about how much power our country will gain by doing this and that; we concern about ourselves.

Maybe if we consider ourselves as part of a group, and start to think about what our actions will result to the others in the group, something may be different. If we think about the community when we think about our own business; if we think about other countries when we think about our own, something maybe different.

The fundamental capitalism belief doesn’t need to change: we are still self-interest driven human beings. The fundamental liberalism thought doesn’t have to change: free market will still be there.

The only difference is that we are all going to do better because our community is better.


Free Write #3 on Pears Soap Ads

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2010 at 1:29 am

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Before I start writing, I tried many ways to research “Pears Soap” and the impact of its advertising. I was surprised at how few scholarly sources there were on the subject. Google’s top 10 search result didn’t reveal the connection between Pears Soap ad with racism or with colonialism, imperialism. I, then, tried ProQuest. Similar results. The only articles I found are summaries to a book written on Pears Soap and colonialism.

I arranged these five ads into three groups: picture 1&4, picture 2&5 and picture 3.

Picture 1&4 both imply the message that Pears Soap (imperialism) is coming from the ocean. Picture 1 gives me a feeling that the glory of British Pears Soap is going to shine upon the land of the boy. The power represented in this image is asymmetrical: the woman is the position of power as she dresses in pieces of shells, as a goddess of the ocean. She looks very friendly as she has a big smile on her face. In the background, the sun rises with “good morning” written in the middle, corresponding to what she is saying to the boy. On the other hand, the boy, whose eyes are filled with joy and excitement, is not in any place of power because his expression looks as if he is receiving a good news/product from the “modern” world. He is topless, wearing a traditional Indian feather on his head–stereotypical backward living conditions. The contrast between wealth and poverty, modern and outdated, white and black are very strong.

Different from Picture 1, In Picture 4, the illustration is more subtle in representing the superiority of the white world. Yet, the headline is quite bold: the beginning of civilization, a message from sea. The arrival of Pears Soap landmarks the civilization of that land, regardless of the decision of the locals. Along with Pears Soap, Eurocentric imperialism is coming.

The second group, Picture 2&5 both represent racism in advertising as Pears Soap is so powerful that black children can turn into white after bath. It is interesting to notice that both ads use children as the message deliveryman. Is it because children are more innocent thus trust-worthy to the audience? Both images convey the idea that dark skin color is a result of dirtiness, lack of cleaning.

Picture 3 seems to me very different from the rest of the ads. In late 19th century, Britain invaded Sudan and Picture 3 illustrates what actually happened historically in Sudan. British soldiers wrote “Pears Soap is the best” on the rock to publicize their latest advancement during the invasion. The Sudanese are portrayed as shocked as they saw the presence of divine in the ad; to the British readers, this ad became part of their historiography on Sudan.

None of those ads, at their times, caused any protests against discrimination, racism, false representation of people in other races in society. They collectively show the common mindsets of the British at that time as very closed, opinionated and Eurocentric. As Dussel says in his article, the Western tried to irrationally claim their own definition of “modernity” to universality. But how was that possible in the 19th century? Was it merely because the restrains of resources of information that the public had no access to any otherwise? Then, how are we different today? Our understanding of the non-western world is still not in proportion to the development we achieved in expanding our resources of information. Is it because that the Western still controls the economic and political power in the world so that they psychologically regard own model of modernity success?