All societies have conflict; it is inherent to politics.
As an isolated, half-mad artist, with a probable personality disorder, it is hard to write compellingly about the suffering of others. Our notions of wrong and right come from how we live and what we aspire to. Well, I live like an animal in a zoo and aspire to huge wealth and privilege. Hardly a reassuring combination for those seeking a voice of reason in these troubled times.
Assuming you live in a comfortable, loving environment, what is happening in Egypt right now must seem unimaginable, even unbelievable. If you look on the BBC website, the story (that’s all it is after, some journalists story) is second to the start of the Premiership football season tomorrow. Every season I tell myself I won’t get sucked in and every season that’s exactly what happens.
This blog is about Art and Poverty. The two seem at loggerheads and as an artist I wanted to explore the tenuous relationship between the two phenomena. Civil wars and coup d’etats trap some countries in poverty. Egypt is not a very good example here because while it may have a low GDP it does not feature appear in the bottom billion.
73% of people in the bottom billion have recently been through a civil war or are still in one (just to be clear, I do paraphrase Paul Collier from his book “The Bottom Billion” a great deal in this blog – it is my key source material).
America, Russia and Britain all had their own civil wars but they were over fairly quickly and not repeated. War, Collier states, impedes growth. Collier attempts to divine the causes of civil war by looking at possible social, political, geographic and economic causes.
The University of Michigan defines a civil war as an internal conflict that involves at least 1,000 combat related deaths. Collier gathered socioeconomic data in order to determine the likelihood of civil war in any given country within the next five years of his research. Collier attracted criticism by suggesting not all rebels were altruist but just as greedy as their ‘oppressors’.
Collier pulled short of offering a ‘civil-war forecast’ for fear of predictions becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.
Halve the starting income of the country and you double the risk of civil war. Egypt has had a wealth divide problem for well over 20 years. The lower classes have become more and more disillusioned by their prospects. Perhaps that’s what initially sparked the ongoing uprising there. Rain can cause civil war according to Collier, because it stunts growth and that directly correlates to the likelihood of internal conflict. Simple stuff on the face of it. When people have good lives they are less likely to make a fuss. That is why it is so hard for the residents of first world countries to give a damn about anybody else. Rather them than us!
When you take away hope from young men, full of energy and capability, joining any force for change seems natural and even right. Their circumstances may even change quite quickly in the case of a country like Sierra Leone where conflict diamonds were used as a carrot (my interpretation and I as read on – wrong).
I sometimes wonder if that is what I am doing as a penniless artist, betting on the chance of massive wealth to offset the reality of my station.
Dependence on primary commodity exports increases the risk of civil war. Rebel leaders like Laurent Kabila stood to make millions from international companies keen to receive juicy resource concessions in the event of a rebel victory. Its a jungle out there and when animals are hungry they’ll their own mothers.
Collier intelligently points out that every academic sees the problem from the back of their own hobbyhorse. Social justice is a great justification for any rebel. It sounds better than: “I want to be rich.”