Cultural Psychology

Archive for October 2012

On ‘The Amazing Race’ in Bangladesh

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Last night I happened to see ‘The Amazing Race’ on television.  This week’s episode took place in Bangladesh — and amazing it was, an eye-opening witness to the utter poverty and privation of the people there, and their determined energy. The vividness was heightened by having the opportunity to watch the episode on  HDTV.

It made me want to go there myself, on the rationale that such an experience would change me.  When considered from vantage point of our living rooms or dens, the suffering of the third world seems merely an abstraction.  It elicits a mild concern — maybe enough to send a check to a charitable organization, but not much more than that.  In contrast, to actually live in a place like this brings the full force of human misery, and our instinctive urge to help, to the surface.  If one has any skill at all, anything to offer other human beings by way of service, one could not face these people in person without the conscience commanding one to think or say, “How can I help?  How can I be anything like a complete human being if I do not commit myself to assisting such people with my all!”

Yet, I imagine that if I were to go there and ask some sage elder, “How can I help?”, the answer might well be:  “Why travel here?  Could you not do more in your own country?  Can you not apply yourself to changing hearts and minds there?”

Indeed, tonight two presidential candidates will posture and pretend to meaningfully address the foreign policy of the United States.  Both represent a pitiless status quo which thinks nothing of killing thousands or millions of Iraqis, Afghans, or Pakistanis in pointless wars.  And more telling:  we spend trillions of dollars on war, when for 1/10 that amount in humanitarian assistance we could attain complete national security by winning the friendship, admiration (and imitation) of every nation on earth.

It is fitting that we should recall the words of that great American practitioner of satyagraha, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke as follows in 1965:

All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… And then he goes on toward the end to say: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution. (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“, Commencement Address for Oberlin College, June 1965, Oberlin Ohio)

The beginning of change is education.  Despite its potentially negative aspects, modern technology is making the world one.  If you’d like to get a picture of life in Bangladesh, you can see the episode (complete or clips) at the CBS website, here.

Written by John Uebersax

October 22, 2012 at 10:21 pm