Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The White Man's Burden

While I don't hear the term used anymore, I think the debate over the White Man's Burden is far from over.  We frequently hear discussions in the news concerning our obligations to developping countries, e.g. does the West have an obligation to spread democracy to the rest of the world?  Should the United States have intervened earlier in Syria?  If we do have a moral responsibility to help the rebels, is it enough to merely give them supplies, or should we send in soldiers of our own?  What responsibility does France owe to Mali?  How much should we let a situation deteriorate before we help?  And while I think that overall western society has gotten better about only involving itself for the right reasons, such as democracy and human rights, there are still examples of us intervening for the same purposes that underlay imperialism a century ago.

8 comments:

Cassidy George said...

I agree that "The White Man's Burden" is still existent in our society. However, it is harder for us to analyze our own time period with the same critical lens with which we examine the past. I was thinking about this same concept today when we discussed the Christian Missionary Society. I was silently judging them for their corruption of the Ibo culture-their attempts to stifle their traditions and replace them with Western ones. Then I thought about the Missionaries today, who are highly respected and esteemed members of society. Is there really a difference between these people? We are quick to judge because we already know all of the consequences. But who knows what could be the repercussions of our "Burden" responses in modern day?

Cassidy George said...
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wkuehne said...

I agree with both Ben and Cassidy. I recently came across an article in the Economist about Africa's development into a "modern" society. They're criteria were mainly economic: GDP per capita, economic growth rates, birth to death ratio, and life expectancy were all mentioned. But I began to question the criteria with which Westerners deem society "modern". Culture cannot be quantified. It is irrational, and for the most part we must just accept culture because it is hard to question and change culture. Because culture cannot be quantified, it is hard to tag culture as "good" or "bad", but there are flavors of culture - "gun culture" is being discussed in American politics today. Anyway, the gist of what I'm trying to say is that African culture seems to be much more embedded and intertwined with their culture, so to call them a modern culture, and to grade Africa, or indeed any country by universal standards is good for economics, but impossible to do holistically because culture, society, politics, and tradition can be positive or negative, but they cannot be quantified. From what I've read I would have to say that African culture, for the most part, seems to be positive. The judicial system seems fair, balanced, and well organized, people seem content for the most part, and most people in the community are valued. However there are some, like twins, and women, that seem forced to bear the brunt of African culture.

Austin Falk said...

I agree that the white man's burden still does exist today. However, I do not necessarily think it is a good thing. Africa still has major problems today due to British Imperialism. Africa was divided into many different countries with made up boarders by foreign westerners. There are many different tribes and groups in Africa that are unfairly grouped together in boarders set by foreigners. Although this Imperialism was not for the right reasons, I think that the white man's burden in general has caused a lot of trouble since westerners seem to have a tendency of ignoring foreign cultures traditions and automatically replacing them with their own. The ignoring of culture has lead to a lot of problems that Africa has.

Ian J said...

Indeed the "White Man's Burden" is still very much in existence in today's society, but I do not think it is as much of "The White Man's Burden" as it is Africa's burden. African countries and some of the more primitive tribes within Africa have a lot of leadership/centralization problems. I hear a lot about this on news programs and I read an entire book about it last year, "The Devil Came on Horse" by Brian Steidle. This book talked a lot about the Darfur conflict and yes, while I agree that the U.S. or other more developed countries should help those African countries, I also think the African government has a huge burden itself to get things straightened out within its own country. It needs to take control of the problems that have arisen on their own soil. I realize that Africa is underdeveloped and has problems that require outside help, but they also need to step up and try to help themselves as well as other countries stepping up to the plate to help them.

Tyler Dean said...

It is definitely still existent. What first comes to my mind is the Arab Springs conflict. Many African and Middle Eastern countries are seeking democracy and new forms of Government, and thereis a lot of intervention by western countries. Many nations feel it is their duty to aid the countries on their road to democracy and, in turn, to modern, advanced society. Many nations, however, arent doing it just for the humanitarian reasons. Many nations are trying to either maintain or create links in the countries so they can be used for their advantage later on.

wkuehne said...

I agree with you Tyler, I think many countries are aiding other countries for partially selfish reasons. It bothers me that countries such as Africa and Asia seem to lose a lot of their specific cultural traditions because of modernization and globalization. I don't think the tide can be overturned now, but the colonizers of the late 19th century had the opportunity to try and preserve African culture by celebrating it, instead of trying to impose something on top of it-mainly their countries economic goals.

Grant Reggio said...

I definitely agree that "The White Man's Burden" is existent today, but going off on what Ian said, I think it exists in a much different context. When the United States does involve itself in the affairs of Africa, the Middle East, etc, the motives are not necessarily as self serving as they may have been in the past. The motives today are more suited towards the protection of our allies, which, even though they are allies, should take on the head of that responsibility.