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
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!