“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
“There is an odor to any Press Headquarters that is unmistakable… the unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine.”
In a January 8, 2005 New York Times op-ed column (“It’s Time to Spray DDT”), Nicholas D. Kristof begins: “If the U.S. wants to help people in tsunami-hit countries like Sri Lanka and Indonesia – not to mention other poor countries in Africa – there’s one step that would cost us nothing and would save hundreds of thousands of lives. It would be to allow DDT in malaria-ravaged countries.”
Why would anyone make such a suggestion? Well, in Little Nicky’s case, let’s start with the fact that he’s just “thrilled” that we are “pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the relief effort.” Ah yes, moments like this tend to bring out that time-honored capitalist response to tragedy: Buy guilt relief, congratulate oneself profusely, and then swiftly return to one’s bubble of denial.
Little Nicky, however, doesn’t want his bubble back yet because, he reminds us, “the tsunami was only a blip in third-world mortality. Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the tsunami did, and in the long war between humans and mosquitoes it looks as if mosquitoes are winning. One reason is that the U.S. and other rich countries are siding with the mosquitoes against the world’s poor – by opposing the use of DDT.”
Let me first congratulate him for being one of the few stenographers of power to actually acknowledge that Third World misery didn’t begin on December 26, 2004. Let me go on to publicly expose his seeming inability to recognize that declaring war on mosquitoes is not the answer. It’s a simplistic, military-influenced tactic that does absolutely nothing to change the conditions that allow for widespread poverty on a planet of abundant resources.
I will likely receive dozens of e-mails from those-on both the left and right-who worship corporate science and will lecture me on the efficacy of DDT. Little Nicky himself dutifully trots out a few enviro-types willing to accept DDT as a last resort. This hardly proves that this approach is safe or advisable…but that’s for another article at another time. What’s worse than specious science is the quick fix, white man’s burden mentality Kristof represents, in claiming, “our squeamishness about DDT is killing more people in poor countries, year in and year out, than even a once-in-a-century tsunami.”
Earth to Little Nicky: It’s not about the deadly, man-made pesticides. If more people in more countries had access to basics-like, say, clean water and a living wage-the conditions those people would live in would not be conducive to preventable deaths. If more people were not subject to the whims of corrupt leaders, World Bank policies, corporate imperialism, and oblivious Westerners, they’d not be in the position to have to deal with malaria-carrying mosquitoes…or tsunamis that arrive without warning, for that matter. If you want “one step that would cost us nothing and would save hundreds of thousands of lives,” here it is: Wake Up, Asshole.
As tragic as it is, the tsunami is not the problem…in the long run. Equally, mosquitoes are not our enemy. It’s so easy to demonize nature, but if you desire a global society based on justice, our true enemies are those humans who work diligently each and every day to prevent such justice…and lapdogs like Little Nicky Kristof who are well-compensated to work in the service of the machine.
Let’s make 2005 the Year of the Awakening.
MICKEY Z. is the author of four books, most recently: “The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.