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Don't say Third world


There is a small but vociferous tendency on the left to jump up and get excited when someone uses the 'wrong' word or phrase. I'm not talking about the use of race hate or homophobic terms, the left has kicked those out of polite society, for now, even if the bigotry behind them is far more resistant.

It's the ones who push jargon as if this was somehow political activity or analysis. Now, I'm a big fan of pedantry - but let's look at a prime example.

 

"don't use the word third world - use developing world"

 

My point is simple; is it developing?

By calling these areas the developing world it makes it sound as if they are a little slow at catching up with the rest of us. No so. Over the past twenty or thirty years many parts of what we call the third world has been driven backwards economically. Partly through corrupt governments, backed by the West and partly through economic mismanagement forced upon these countries by international financial organisations.

The IMF and World Bank have been disastrous for many parts of the world in their push for neo-liberal reform at the expense of the ordinary people. There are many examples, that I can't be bothered to go into now, of how the richest nations have taken the smallest apart and through the use of Third World Debt they are kept in their place (or is that Developing World Debt - which in itself makes it sound as if they are getting something for their money).

The one good point about the term is that at least it tries to undermine the images of total misery and homogenous pain. Africa has areas of comfortable prosperity, cities, industry, agriculture - parts verging on democratic and most importantly the people, like people everywhere, are infinitely diverse.

But it undermines any understanding of the economic imperialism at work here. It is not a benign push towards progress, some slower than others - but a world capitalism with winners and losers.

By describing the poorest nations in the world as developing, in order to be nice to them, we are engaging in what Pat Stack of the SWP describes in another context as linguistic Lourdes. That somehow by changing the way we describe something we have made it all better (I'm not disabled but differently abled - as if not having arms is compensated by gaining X-Ray vision or an A level in French)

I'm sure those who push the term developing world are good intentioned - just don't try to push the term as if it means something, or is more accurate than Third World - it's less accurate in one of the most damaging ways possible - it encourages complacency about the plight of those who live in the most desperate situations imaginable - it's political correctness gone mad!

 

September 2004

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