Falling Off The Edge

A book by Alex Perry, foreign correspondent with Time Magazine, published in 2008. It’s an account (sometimes self-promoting, but then considering the extremes to which he has gone in the service of his trade, it’s not hard to forgive him that) of his experiences, mingled with his reflections on globalization, in which his central thesis is that, since globalization is stacked in favor of the rich and is fundamentally an exercise in making them more so by whatever means, this means that on a global scale most people are impoverished, and it’s no wonder that they fight back. Thus (writing before the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement) he connects Islamic terrorists, Nepal’s Maoists, Indian Naxalites, rebelling Chinese workers, Indonesian pirates and black South African racists into one disparate set of reactions unified by their motive – to strike back at perceived oppressors – and treated not in terms of moral judgement but simply as an inevitable phenomenon arising in response to gross unfairness and material inequality. It’s a good argument, though he may be pushing it a bit far in the final chapter when he characterizes war as an inevitable component of, and indeed catalyst for, progress (assuming progress is what is happening, a proposition he has cast doubt on as far back as his introduction, where he sympathetically describes a stone-age tribesman from the Andaman Islands who chose to go back into the jungle rather than accept the life of modernity that was being offered him). It’s the argument from human nature: like the poor, the greedy and the rapacious will always be with us, and so will those who fight back against them, asymmetrically. Who knows, maybe it’s true, and the best we can hope for if we are not among the greedy and rapacious is to be lucky enough to live a life of relative peace, good health, freedom, prosperity and opportunity, rather than being among the grinding poor.

After all this, the last line of the book quotes the Dalai Lama: “The future? Not bad.” Is this where religion makes the difference?

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