Melly's

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Big Ideas

Coming to the topic on Geographical Big Ideas, the one that considerably impacted me more than any of the other big ideas like sustainable development, globalisation and the like, is invariably environmental determinism. Somehow, when I first came across the term in my university days, I felt very much disturbed, critical and indignant perhaps towards my basic understanding of the theory, which is that the environment or place in which Man lives will determine how Man will turn out. What was troubling about this idea was that it pointed fundamentally to the internalization that certain ‘types’ of human beings can essentially be viewed as lesser beings in a hierarchy of genus, and yet those ‘highest in the hierarchy’ viewed it imperative as a human process to attempt a raison d'être for this phenomenon.

Linked to environmental determinism is the more pertinent and relevant ideas of Social Darwinism and Colonialism in the 20th Century. The first time these terms were ingrained to my mind was when I took a history module in my university entitled “Why History? The Turbulent Twentieth Century 1914-1989”. I remember reading about the torrential rains of cruelty and brutality that the Europeans, particularly the Jews, were subjected to. Here is a simple definition and understanding of Social Darwinism in Duiker’s book, “Twentieth-Century World History” in 2005. It says, “according to Social Darwinists, human societies, like living organisms, must adapt to survive. Hence, the advanced nations of the West were obliged to assist the backward nations of Asia and Africa so that they, too, could adjust to the challenges of the modern world”. Through the quote, I feel that (Social) Darwinism is simply a quick fix analogy to justify colonialism. The assumptions wrought in the quote are many:

Asia and Africa are backwards because they are non-white.
Asia and Africa are backwards because they are not found in the west.
The West is advanced because they are already adjusted to the challenges of the modern world.
The West is responsible for the well being of the world.
Asia and Africa are useless and needs help.

Right now, I’m not sure how I got to this point, but it seem pretty exciting to deconstruct an understanding and lay out the assumptions in order to sort out thoughts. I had wanted to talk about my experiences I had with regards to racial discrimination in Australia. So here goes: In the year 2000, my family was walking along Victoria Avenue towards the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Perth. I was in front because I was excited to see what was in front while the rest were strolling and enjoying the sights behind. Right after I crossed Goderich Street adjacent to Victoria Avenue, a car whizzed by. In the car were two young men and the window of the right seat facing my family was opened. They hurled out discriminatory remarks out of that window towards my family such as “you are dirty” and “go back to where you belong”. Here is a range of possible assumptions gathered from their statements:

The men do not know that we are all living in an age of globalisation.
The men do not accept that we are all living in an age of globalisation.
The men are drunk.


On hindsight, this event as well as many others I’ve experienced and heard about pointed back to the sad fact that many people still perceive themselves as those ‘highest in the hierarchy’ and act the way they do with the internalization of the assumptions laid out in the theory of Social Darwinism. I’m glad that in our world today, the extent of these ideas has been significantly reduced on the micro scale. In lieu (our class was told not to use this term by our communications skills tutor because it “doesn’t mean anything” but I’ll use it anyway) of my future teaching career, I will extent my hope for peace in my micro space called the classroom, since it is important to be reminded about the potential lashes of acts of racism in the light of how human beings seem to internalize the concept of ‘others’ throughout our existence.

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