On City Propaganda

My wife’s cousin sent me an eMail with several images attached. They were all of beautiful places in Africa. The force of her message was, imho, ‘what gives? why is this not the Africa we hear about?’

There is both truth and distraction in what we see about Africa. I call this ‘City Propaganda.’

Africa has ruins that indicate a high level of civilization in the deep past. This is seldom mentioned, as if China and Peru etc had the only interesting antiquities.
Africa has modern cities. So do Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, just for starters. Canada has modern cities, and we have grovelling poverty at a high rate, generally in those cities.
One thing I learned from Frederick Turner (my wife’s uncle) was how ‘new wealth’ affected a country like Qatar. There were only four jobs a native Qatari could do, and fig trees and goat herding are two that I remember. Frederick told me, ‘they have been dragged out of the stone age in less than twenty years, and the oil wealth has not helped.’

Great cities are a wonder of the world, but they conceal the background facts in at least some cases. Bear with me as I elaborate on this point, eh?

A man freezes to death in Toronto in a bus shelter, said man wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Why do we not simply fix poverty?
Edward Keenan documents the flow of a can of tuna from its donor to the eventual dependent single parent, who needs food bank food in order to pay rent. Why do we not simply fix poverty?
Africa is host to malaria, AIDs and Ebola, and was the crucible for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Ebola response is tragically weak due to astonishingly low doctor/patient ratios. Why do we not simply fix a poverty of health care?

Much of Africa is broken.

Africa is presented to us in the media via the bad stuff, the poverty, disease, suffering, poor health care. That is a biassed view. Africa likely has as many viable tourist cities as any other continent. But we think of Africa as poverty and safaris. Even a safari in Africa brings westerners face to face with bad water and disease risk. (I know this because my current MD has been there, and told me what they risked, and what their native real-work-doers risked. (They all got sick. Very sick.))

The western ‘world’ is presented to us in the media via the good stuff (with the exception of beating the terrorist drum to get more police, imprisonment, and surveillance powers.) There are (or were) Roma camps in France of disgusting, deplorable living conditions. Solution: deport them. There are people sleeping on grates (especially grates over the subway) every night in Toronto. Solution: shelters, if they can get there; apparently one closed and two others opened, and they can find this out on the Internet. (This in last night’s CTV news. Really. As if grate-sleepers have Internet access.)

The forms of poverty here differ somewhat from those in Africa, but they are growing (see ‘Piketty‘ on this website) because that’s how the mathematics of wealth works: Inequality grows itself.

Great governments redistribute wealth; generous, great civilizations accept and want this.

Small-minded governments create tax cuts for the rich, and boondoggles for certain industries ($34 billion per year in hidden subsidies in Canada to  extractors (some foreign) of oil, gas and coal – this number comes from the IMF (International Monetary Fund). I did not make this up.)

Small-minded governments reward huge lobbying businesses, advertise using taxpayer dollars (being done now, here), and mostly get themselves re-elected. Once wealth is unevenly distributed, small-minded governments pay attention to the sources of power and wealth, the keys to continued power.

Yes, we look upon Africa incorrectly. We see some of the sadder parts of the picture.

And, we look upon Canada incorrectly. We brag about the few bright spots, while the whole is headed for catastrophe.
 catastrophe: that’s imho a sensible prediction. When the 99.9% style demonstrations become riots of more poor, unhoused, and unfed, it will be impossible to walk up and down Bay Street safely, even if you are one whose business dominates it.

Anyone who says all is well, is repeating or originating propaganda.

Now for the dumb questions: are we all equally guilty of this? Equally unmoved by inequality? Equally gullible, expecting the good times to continue forever?

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