Sunday, July 3, 2011

Education Vs. Catastrophe re: southeast Asia (2007)

Part 2
            It may appear to some that the race between education and catastrophe is constantly being won by catastrophe, especially in Southeast Asia. This can be explored in several different ways. First one must approach it philosophically, that is to analyze the inherent differences between the two subjects. Second, one must attack the historical aspect, delving into specific examples in which catastrophe and education directly compete. Lastly one must consider the original question and answer, is catastrophe winning the race?
            If education is a remedy to catastrophe, it can only be applied in hindsight. Who can say what a person or a group of people knew prevented catastrophe with any reasonable certainty? Who can list all the catastrophes that did not happen, the ones that were narrowly avoided and the ones that education beat so convincingly, that not a soul noticed? Take the example of the great Ebola epidemic of 1990 in Vietnam. Was this an example of benevolent divine intervention, or did some type of education prevent this from ever occurring? Take the Tsunami of 2004. What type of education could have prevented this, and would it have been enough?
            Today, people acknowledge the inevitability of certain natural hazards. Earthquakes in Japan, monsoons all along the coastal nations of Southeast Asia, and the freshest in everyone on earth’s mind: tsunamis. We, as humans now have seen with ample human examples how much damage can be done when the forces of nature are underestimated. It is common knowledge that tsunamis can be destructive even to the most advanced structures available and the only absolute safety is found on high ground or inland. Does that prevent people from rebuilding near the coast?
            Education seems to be the solution to this problem. If the people who needed to rebuild by the coast would have better educations, they would not need the sea to subside, be it through fishing or the thriving tourist industry. They could move to the larger modern cities with better buildings and more central planning to assist in the event of an unpreventable natural disaster. However, once everyone vacates the rural villages and vacation areas, they will flood the cities with increased need for support industries and cannot grow as easily as one might think. Overcrowding is another problem here, and without the fishermen, who would feed the people working in the cities? Importing food would raise costs for a population that has been stripped of much of its ability to be self-sufficient by the lessons learned from the European occupation (Emergence, 407). It is most certainly a delicate balance to say the least: a balance between risk and reward. Where some industries can be entirely destroyed by disaster or catastrophe in a matter of hours, those same industries can thrive for generations with little or no difficulty. This is another problem with disasters and catastrophes; the people who did not live through them cannot adequately explain the magnitude of the disaster, so the precautions that need to be taken are often skipped or half done.
It would seem that on a worldwide scale, catastrophe is winning and always will win. What lessons could have prevented the devastation that colonialism brought upon most of the Southeast Asian region? Was there any relevant experience that could have prevented the wars, genocides and general exploitation that resulted from the European occupation of the area? The colonization of America resulted in the displacement of the Native Americans, and later with the importation of African slaves.
What lesson did the great nations of the world learn from this? They learned that natives are not able to fight at the level of the occupiers, a lesson that they understood when occupying Myanmar and the island sultanates and Spice Islands. The European colonists only needed to fight each other, and not with weapons. It was a trade battle with no losers, except the natives. They learned that free labor was extremely beneficial to the only official aim of the colonists: turning a profit. They learned that the natives could be worked almost to death, if not all the way as described in Tran Thu Binh’s memoirs (the red earth). The labor pool was almost inexhaustible and it truly did not matter how many died, it was almost more beneficial because if someone died before their contract was up, they would not need to be paid.
As cost effective as labor camps and plantations were, they could not last forever as new technologies came in to make certain things like rubber and rice less labor intensive. However, the lessons learned by the natives, who by this time were starting to get their independence, led them to fall into the same exploitative patterns as their former occupiers with the onset of sweatshops. Even if the shops were making things for foreign firms, the locals were still operating them like the Nike sweatshops described in Lecture 13. On the other hand, the reaction to events such as the sweatshops has shown a move by the Southeast Asian community away from such horrible practices as the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer rouge.
To be sure, there is never going to be a way to prevent catastrophe. Natural hazards and human nature will always be insurmountable obstacles. The major role of education is minimization; reducing existing catastrophes’ affect on the general populace. The worldwide response to the tsunami of 2004 is the best example of how this can be done. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) responded along with the United Nations (U.N.) and countless non-governmental organizations to cut the dead count and save those that would have most certainly died if left to fend for themselves.
Another example is outlined in David Chandler (et al’s) book The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia, where he and his co-authors suggest another catastrophe, which is more difficult to measure. With all of the new technology available, it now becomes easier to get out of the place where you and your ancestors have lived for generations, if not by airplane, train, car or boat, then with a television, newspaper or book. De-culturization is a new problem that needs to be addressed not only in the Southeast Asian region, but worldwide. Chandler coins a phrase called “Coca-colonization” (Chandler, 406). This is one catastrophe that only education can prevent. In the future, governments will need to spend more time on developing culture in their constituents. Films like “At Home at Sea,” by Fruto Corre where such things were explored have been sponsored by government organizations for just this purpose.
All in all, catastrophe is unstoppable, and as previously stated education can only minimize catastrophe. When poor examples are set by occupying nations or by world super powers, all the countries that watch and seek to be like that great nation will emulate, leaving education responsible for catastrophe as well. In the future the races between education and catastrophe will be more and more narrow, but on the whole, catastrophe will always win. Education simply cannot beat human nature or nature itself.

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