Communique #1: The West and the Rest

The world that those of us in the over-65 age cohort are bequeathing to coming generations is one that faces two threats that threaten all of humankind: one from climate change, and one from nuclear weapons.

Understanding how we– the eight billion human souls on earth today– arrived at this situation is crucial, if we want to plan how to avert or minimize these threats.

On climate change, we need to recognize that countries of West-European heritage were responsible for most of the historic carbon emissions whose effects still plague our climate until today. And these countries continue to spew out emissions at a rate that, per capita, is very much higher than that generated by any countries of the Global South (including China.)

(Click on the image to see the Union of Concerned Scientist’s great web-page with this and other helpful graphics. Others can be found on English-Wikipedia here.)

On the risks from nuclear weapons, we know that the vast bulk of the world’s nuclear arsenals were developed and built by, and are still held by, states of West-European heritage.

And who has borne the harms from these two scourges? The harms that anthropogenic climate change has already caused have been borne disproportionately by peoples not of West-European heritage. And over coming decades, the forecasted effects of climate change will affect all of humanity, but will continue to inflict the gravest harm on the peoples of the Global South.

Regarding nuclear weapons, the harms that their development and use have already inflicted have also been borne disproportionately by people of non-Western heritage. If all-out nuclear war should happen, it will likely wipe out not just all of humanity but many other forms of life on earth. Meantime, a dystopic system of (now multivalent) nuclear-weapons terror maintains its armlock on all of global security. This armlock maintains a perilous situation of distrust among nations and spurs continued, very high spending on military goods that diverts investment from climate-control projects.

The system of global power that birthed these two scourges is one that, for more than 200 years, has been dominated by peoples of West-European heritage. And until today, people and governments of West-European heritage continue to dominate all the key institutions of global governance. These countries (in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, and other scattered islands) account for only 1.15 billion of the world’s eight billion people, but their– our– governments continue to exercise a stranglehold on global decisionmaking.

Those of us who are citizens of these countries thus bear distinct responsibilities to understand the existence and roots of the “White privilege” that we continue to enjoy in global affairs, and to work in respectful alliance with our sisters and brothers from the Global South to dismantle that privilege.

In the Globalities project, I plan to look at different ways in which White privilege continues to control all key aspects of global decisionmaking– even though most citizens of “Western” countries still seem unaware of this fact. I also plan to start sketching out ways to reduce or dismantle that privilege.

Regarding the “invisibility” of White domination of world affairs, the Sri Lankan writer Indi Samarajiva wrote recently that:

The White Empire is the irrepressible cancer that spread out of West Asia and carried it on boats everywhere. It was the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, the Dutch, the British, the Americans, the Canadians, the Australians. Then those savage people turned on each other, destroying their own homeland in two world wars. Then the Americans took over the mantle of empire from the British, occupying Britain’s bases, Europe, Japan, and never laying down its arms, ever. To them, they go by different names and flags, but those are all fig leaves. To those of us who have been fucked, it is all one undifferentiated White Empire.

The greatest trick this devil ever pulled was convincing the world it didn’t exist.

In coming posts in Globalities, I’ll explore many aspects of this theme– including the choice of terminology. For example, up above, I referred to countries and peoples of “West European heritage”. How useful is that category, as opposed to, say, Samarajiva’s use of “White”? Then, if we were to use a simple White vs. Non-White binary, where would China and Japan fall in that? Or where, the many Iberian-settler-dominated countries of Central and South America in which Indigenous cultures have never been wholly extinguished and have started to make a politically relevant comeback? (As has happened, too, in many of the Anglo-dominated settler-colonial states around the world.)

I will be happy to delve into such terminological matters along the way. But I don’t want to let them distract from my explorations into the roots of Global White Privilege… and what we can do to dismantle it. Let the explorations commence!

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