How we look to the rest of the world

How we look to the rest of the world

BROCK CHISHOLM DISCUSSES December 7 1957
How we look to the rest of the world

How we look to the rest of the world

BROCK CHISHOLM DISCUSSES December 7 1957

How we look to the rest of the world

For the sake of argument

BROCK CHISHOLM DISCUSSES

We, the peoples of the world, are

now increasing at a rate of about thirty-two million or so a year — about eighty-five thousand a day is our net increase. This is so frightening that we tend to look away from it and not let ourselves think about it at all. Because I happen to be a Canadian I tend to think of it in terms of twice the population of Canada being added to the world’s population each year.

It is also a fact that we are not increasing our ability to feed people at anything like that rate. We have consistently avoided the real basic problems of population increase and food supply and distribution, just as we have avoided the implications of the natural resources situation. At present North America is using just about half of the total production of irreplaceable natural resources of the world. Since the First World War North America has used up as much of these irreplaceable natural resources as the whole human race had used up to that time.

Will the rich get richer?

It may be that we should be doing a great many things about this situation that we have hardly begun to think about. A few people are making preparations. Some have their eyes on the African and Antarctic continents, and are beginning to say, “Oh. we could get plenty o( stuff from Africa and Antarctica.” It may be. There may be extensive resources in those continents, but who is going to get them?

Well, it’s perfectly clear who should get them, isn’t it? The peoples of Africa and Asia, because they are the ones who need them. But never in human history has the distribution of great reservoirs of natural resources been decided except by bloody warfare and wholesale death. Perhaps the next and greatest challenge to the

will and the ability of the human race to survive will be when the time comes to apportion the riches of the African and Antarctic continents. It is time that we begin to think about that as one of the major problems facing us.

We must abandon any idea that our first obligation is to maintain our own standard of living. As long as we believe that our standard of living is more important than the very lives of hundreds of millions of other people, wc cannot expect to be regarded with any great degree of admiration or respect.

The inhabitants of North America already have a standard of living completely out of reach of most people in the world, and it is senseless for us to say that our goal is to raise the standard of living of countries like India to approximate our own. India doesn't even have room enough for her present population, let alone for her increase of five or so million a year (which is not as great an increase per capita as that in North America). Certainly there is no room for the things we regard as essentia! to our standard of living: thousands of miles of fourand sixlane highways; cloverleafs that take up twenty acres or more of good arable land; golf courses; sports arenas — all these things consume enormous quantities of good land.

In our relations with peoples in other parts of the world our high standard of living is undoubtedly a great handicap, because it inevitably produces a high level of jealousy. It is easy for us to disregard this jealousy, to be complacent, to “pat ourselves on the back.” After all, wc are a hardworking industrious people.

What if North America does have more than half the world’s natural resources? Is the standard of living in China today any different than it continued on page 97

DR. CHISHOLM, NOTED CANADIAN PSYCHIATRIST AND AUTHOR, IS FORMER DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION.

continued from page 10

is never been satisfied”

was two thousand years ago? Isn't her standard of living and that of India a reflection of her culture, of her philosophical point of view toward life? And is it really an accident that our culture has evolved differently from other cultures of the world? After all, when we were mere colonies we were poor compared with other countries, but we have evolved with a steady purposeful program. Aren't we to be admired for this rather than resented and envied?

Many of us have had disturbing experiences with students we have met here from other countries — students from India, China or the Sudan. These students have behind them a suffering people, ill and old and hopeless. They see wealth here, and waste, and are met with a lack of sympathy toward their own cultural values. Naturally and inevitably they feel antagonistic.

A man of Southeast Asia cannot get up at six o'clock in the morning and work hard all day. In his climate it is impossible. But it is also impossible because he hasn't the health and energy for it. When he doesn't have to work, and when he is not searching for food, he lies down because he is tired and sick and starving. To help him control the diseases that plague him, to help him get enough food so that he is not hungry and so that he will have the energy and the will to work, as he does not now, will require unlimited patience. ,

It may be useful to try right now a little exercise in imagination. Suppose that we live not here in this very secure and pleasant part of the world but in another part of the world—say in Southeast

Asia somewhere. The first thing we would feel, if we imagine ourselves born and brought up in that part of the world, is hunger; chronic hunger; hunger about which we in North America know nothing; the kind of hunger that is felt when a person has never in his life had enough to eat to feel satisfied; when almost every person is suffering from malnutrition, plus intercurrent diseases caused by malnutrition.

It is difficult to imagine ourselves hungry in that sense. I don’t mean just having come in late from a golf game and being ravenous for one’s dinner. I mean a hunger that has never been satisfied, with one’s children having swollen bellies because of malnutrition, waking and whining in the night for food that cannot be supplied. This is the primary fact of life for most of the people in the world. If we place ourselves in their position, even briefly, we will get a different point of view on many things that go on in the world from that which we are accustomed to seeing from where we happen to be in North America.

In the first place, we would find that we are somewhat impatient. Hungry people are not usually patient people. We would find a great envy of the people who live in North America; also we would find a somewhat limited gratitude; that is, a recognition that the people of North America have been extremely generous. They have given away more than any people before in human history, but we would note also that in doing so they haven't really hurt themselves very much. They probably haven't reduced their standard of living even by one per-

cent—perhaps not one tenth of one percent. So we can’t give them a great deal of credit for self-sacrifice.

We do not particularly admire those people in North America. We know, as apparently they do not know, that they are the most wasteful people in the world, that they destroy and throw away more stuff than would keep an equal number of people alive in some other place in the world. We know that we could live in luxury on the garbage dumps of North America—real luxury, from our point of view. We know that those people in North America have destroyed tremendous quantities of food while we were starving. We know that they are now limiting their production of food, reducing it, because we are not able to buy it; we don’t have the money for it. We recognize that the people in North America have enormous leisure, that they have no real worries at all, because nobody is hungry, nobody is dying of starvation, nobody is dying of exposure.

We know that they have great thinkers. We know that they have tremendous machines. We know they have more equipment than anybody else in the world, greater resources than anybody else in the world, and we wonder why they don't use all that for world good. Surely they must, in North America, begin to recognize that their security is indivisible from ours in another part of the world. They surely can’t continue to believe that they can survive if we die. It’s obvious to us that they can’t and that the human race will survive or will die in the near future, and never again can large parts or small parts of the human race survive at the expense of the rest of the world.

What’s “the American way”?

We in other parts of the world wonder why it is that people in North America aren’t working at the problems that we see—of overpopulation, of starvation, of lack of facilities for distribution of food on a world basis. We know that when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tried to set up a world food council, it was the government of the United States that blocked it, as most people in the United States do not know. But we in other parts of the world do know, and we can’t understand why.

Our attitude does include admiration on some scores; of technical ability, yes; of personality and character, no, not generally. The evidence we see of what those people are like and what they mean when they say “the American Way of Life,” we think we know, because we see it in the movies they send us. These movies are predominantly gangster movies and this we accept, because we are simple people who believe what we see as the American way of life, portrayed by the Americans themselves, and distributed on a world basis for the education of people in other parts of the world. We read their stories and see their movies, which magnify the virtues of their great Indian killers, whose only virtue was that they killed large numbers of Indians, Indians who were most wickedly trying to defend their homes and their wives and their children, and their right to their own country. We do admire their ancestors. Their ancestors had the foresight and aggressive drive to go out and grab the world’s best space while the grabbing was good and before the world rules got changed, but now they won’t let anybody else get theirs. They pen us up and say that nobody is allowed to go across this boundary or that boundary today while still regarding the aggressive be-

havior as highly virtuous in their own ancestors. This seems inconsistent to us and confuses us, yet when we try to express this confusion they are apt to call us “stupid” or “backward.”

Well, so much for some of the points of view that we can find from that part of the world. Now that we have exercised our imaginations to this extent let us jump farther away still. Let us really get out into outer space somewhere and suppose that we are intelligent beings, and are arriving at this planet to explore it and to find out what we can about it. We recognize the conventional markings on the map. But then we find a whole set of other markings the like of which we have never seen before and which we can't understand. We ask the planet's inhabitants what they are and they answer, “Oh, those are the international boundary lines.”

We say, “Well, what is that?”

We are told, “Those are just lines between countries. People of one country live on one side and people of another country live on the other.”

“But,” we ask. “is this a good thing? Should people be kept apart from each other?"

And then we would get what would be to us amazing explanations: because sometime, somewhere in the past, somebody was stronger than somebody else and marched in and took this much land; because somebody ran out of food at this point in his advance and dug in at this point; because one time, when there was a war on, in the middle of a battle it started to rain and both armies stopped here. And we would be told with great pride:

“This is our national boundary, and rightly so. And for more than two hundred or three hundred or six hundred years our people have fought to the death to keep this boundary exactly where it is—-unless, of course, we could extend it farther into the territory of somebody else.”

And we would be told further, "It is disloyal — almost sacrilegious — to question these things. We have known and believed these things since we were children. They are the way they are and that’s the way we want them.”

As visitors from outer space we would come to the inevitable conclusion that loyalties inculcated in childhood mean limitations on capacity to think for the rest of one’s life and we would consider this gravely serious. We would be appalled that the earth's inhabitants did no thinking at all in these tabooed areas and it would seem to us that these things vitally needed some thinking about. If we regarded ourselves as some kind of interplanetary judiciary committee, we might decide that the best solution for the problems of the human race would be to wipe that race out entirely.

This would be rather a dreadful thing to say to the peoples of the world. Yet if the human race is going to survive into the distant future we are going to have to develop in that direction. No one can think clearly about the future of mankind without recognizing that some kind of world organization, some kind of world government or confederation is both inevitable and desirable. Security cannot be limited to this group or that because security for the human race is now, for the first time in human history, indivisible and will always be indivisible in the future. ★

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Chisholm’s forthcoming book. Prescription for Survival (Oxford University Press). In the next issue he will discuss The Pitfalls of the Ten Commandments.