31 May 2006

What do you do when nobody cares?

[source, source]

Sudan’s government last month agreed to a peace accord pledging to disarm Arab janjaweed militias and resettle displaced civilians. By contrast, Darfur’s black rebels, who are touted by the wristband crowd as freedom fighters, rejected the deal because it did not give them full regional control. Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.

International mediators were shamefaced. They had presented the plan as take it or leave it, to compel Khartoum’s acceptance. But now the ostensible representatives of the victims were balking. Embarrassed American officials were forced to ask Sudan for further concessions beyond the ultimatum that it had already accepted.

Fortunately, Khartoum again acquiesced. But two of Darfur’s three main rebel groups still rejected peace. Frustrated American negotiators accentuated the positive — the strongest rebel group did sign — and expressed hope that the dissenters would soon join.

But that hope was crushed last week when the rebels viciously turned on each other. As this newspaper reported, “The rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect.” […]

In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur’s rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination.

The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur. But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people. […]

A companion piece to the previous post on tribal culture in Africa.

Posted by orbital at 9:17 PM | View 0 TrackBacks | Trackback URL

Sticky culture


A. Nany Moose posted an important comment that helps explain much about Africa, and which I did not pay enough attention to in my series on Mortacracies, most of which are in Africa. Because of its importance, and as a way of indexing it for search engines, I include it here.

Moose wrote:

Culture accounts for so much when we consider the problems of contemporary Africa. I was intrigued by this comment from Friday’s blog:

“What evidence is there that any sort of humanitarian aid will ever do any good in Africa? If you read books like Michael Maren’s ‘The Road To Hell,’ it becomes clear that it’s no use giving a man a fish or even teaching him to catch them if his fish are merely going to be taken away by the next gunman to come along.”

This comment made me think of a story told by friends who recently visited Africa. They stayed with an American couple who own a successful chicken farm in Zimbabwe. Most of the farm staff are tribal folk, and the American couple have, on several occasions, tried to set up the more promising staff members in their own chicken farming businesses. On these occasions they offered space for the chicken coops and runs at nominal cost, provided chickens on loan, and taught the staff members standard business practices. In every case the operations were successful—they became profitable nearly immediately, and everyone was delighted for a short while. Nevertheless, the new chicken farming entrepreneurs invariably failed within a year or two.

The reason for their failure was tribal culture. Those of us from more individualistic backgrounds assume that our accomplishments, our savings, our capital accumulations and our property are our own—to keep and use as we see fit. But the tribal staff members were powerless to resist the demands of their families, and other members of their tribes, who immediately made claim to what they perceived as the accumulated wealth of their compatriots. They demanded chickens, money and so on, which eventually decimated the flocks and depleted the working capital of the businesses—no amount of reasoning could persuade insistent tribal members that their demands would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” In the subsistence, communal culture of a tribe, keeping resources for oneself is simply unacceptable.

Most of the many tribal cultures in Africa are highly communal. Our fairy tale warning against “the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg” has no tribal equivalent, nor is there a tribal equivalent for the Judeo-Christian commandment against covetousness (“Do not be envious of your neighbor’s house. Do not be envious of your neighbor’s wife, his slave, his maid, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that is your neighbor’s.”). Nor do African tribal cultures encourage, as do many of the Asian cultures, entrepreneurship based on small family groups who all contribute to the success of family businesses. Hopefully this cultural base will change with time, but in the short run I am not optimistic.

On the larger scale too, much of what we see as “corruption” in contemporary Africa is merely a projection of common tribal cultural values, where the tribal chief is expected to make a show of his wealth as a corollary of his position and power—if a tribal chief does not do these things, his position will immediately be challenged by other tribal members, or the tribe will be subsumed by another tribe that interprets his modesty (in the Western sense) as weakness. Members of the tribe actually want their leader to use a disproportionate share of the tribe’s communal wealth for display purposes, because to do so bolsters his position and status in the larger community—and this translates to security for them.

For Africa’s sake, I truly hope that these limiting cultural factors fade sooner rather than later.

A related subject (DEFINITELY off limits among the PC crowd) is the indication that cultural remnants of communal, tribal African culture persist in American Black culture today. American Blacks managed to survive slavery, Jim Crow and overt racial discrimination by de-emphasizing individual property rights (which were likely to be ephemeral in any case) and by depending on a sort of communal, tribal cooperation that was common to their heritage. Even today, in many black families, less prosperous family members feel entitled to a share of the wealth of those family members who are more successful.

And then there is the “bling” and “signifying” (not to mention the wanton slaughter) at the lower levels of contemporary Black ghetto culture—hard not to notice how much this resembles the African pattern.

But to speak of such things immediately brands one as a bigot, despite the fact that CULTURE is the focus, not race.

I think this demonstrates two important things:

  • What a grip culture can have. Even after witnessing multiple failures of businesses, still the extended family / tribe engage in the same self destructive behaviors. They cannot overcome their culture because they are either unable to see the causal connection or they prefer the culture over the material benefits of success in Western terms.
  • How non-obvious the Western way of thinking, the foundation of our civilization, is, despite how it seems to us.
  • That the claim that superior Western culture will inevitably supplant existing cultures is “counter-factual”.

This kind of thing simply re-enforces my concerns over immigration, that there is some unique and valuable in our society that is very difficult to transfer, that might only be possible these day by immersion, which limits the amount of dilution that is possible.

Posted by orbital at 6:40 PM | View 1 TrackBacks | Trackback URL

There's only so much rope on the spool


Over the course of the past 2 decades, I have analyzed a number of natural phenomena that reveal how Earth’s near surface air temperature responds to surface radiative perturbations. These studies all suggest that a 300 to 600 ppm doubling of the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration could raise the planet’s mean surface air temperature by only about 0.4°C. Even this modicum of warming may never be realized, however, for it could be negated by a number of planetary cooling forces that are intensified by warmer temperatures and by the strengthening of biological processes that are enhanced by the same rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration that drives the warming. Several of these cooling forces have individually been estimated to be of equivalent magnitude, but of opposite sign, to the typically predicted greenhouse effect of a doubling of the air’s CO2 content, which suggests to me that little net temperature change will ultimately result from the ongoing buildup of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere. Consequently, I am skeptical of the predictions of significant CO2 induced global warming that are being made by state-of-the-art climate models and believe that much more work on a wide variety of research fronts will be required to properly resolve the issue.

So it looks like somebody did actually look in to potentional non-linearities of CO2 concentration and global warming and based on data instead of a model, it looks like there is one.

Posted by orbital at 2:18 PM | View 0 TrackBacks | Trackback URL