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Salient. Victoria University Students' Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 25. October 4, 1976


page 17


The Home of Man

The aim of this book, as Barbara Ward sees it is to outline the massive problems of housing throughout the world and suggest some ways towards resolving them. In the first she is reasonably successful, in the second, to this reviewer anyway, hopelessly unrealistic. International Habitat Year deserves a better analysis.

The 'doomsayers' have been around so long now that we are suffering from overkill. This is a pity, as what they, and particularly this book have to say, is of vital importance. Stocks of resources are finite, population is growing too fast for its social and economic environment, and we cannot continue the levels of pollution and waste that the west currently spews out.

The issues of housing, as the book quite correctly argues, are inseperable from wider issues of allocation. Standards of housing cannot be seen in isolation from their social and economic contexts. The failure of the many massive housing schemes, both in rich and poor countries, comes from ignoring these very contexts. You cannot build expensive houses if the inhabitants are too poor to pay the rents. There is no point in constructing blocks of flats if that is not what the people of the area want.

Given that these contexts are of vital importance, the book does seem to deviate from its main theme. Especially when the author gets angry, as she does, quite correctly, in several cases. One when she effectively destroys any arguments anyone might have for nuclear power (except for making a profit out of it). Another, a point returned to again and again, is her hatred of the motor car. When 93 000 people are killed annually in Europe, and millions maimed, the hatred and anger are well justified. What they have to do with housing is a little more obscure.

On housing, Barbara Ward makes many very important and cogent points. Firstly, the failure of the free market to effectively provide decent housing for hundreds of millions of people in the third world. Housing is more than just shelter, as the UN Year clearly recognises. It involves shelter, sanitation, community facilities and so on: "What is intolerable is water playing on golfing greens for the tourist when children die of dysentery not half a mile away"(p 231).

Yet just building "better" facilities is not the answer. Leaving aside the point that most of the world cannot afford to this, there are important social implications. Schemes may provide "accommodation which in physical terms - water, drainage, domestic facilties, shelter against the elements - is far superior to older buildings, or the village 'slums' so many migrants escaped from. Nevertheless, these blocks do not add up to a fully human environment" (p199).

What does make a "fully human environment"? This gets into the solutions and Barbara Ward's analysis begins to take off into fairy land. Quite rightly, she urges the need for community involvement and consultation with all involved in the planning process. And she applauds the new spirit she sees in the 1970s toward international cooperation on these issues.

But she avoids the main issue. The primary problem of the third world is not housing, or sanitation, or community involvement, It is unredeemed, outright poverty. In the 1970s, the World Bank estimates the average income in the rich countries will grow from $3100 per year to $4000 per year, In the poorest it will grow from $105 per capita each year to $108. The gap is widening, not narrowing

What is causing this poverty? It is not population size (the densest populated countries of the world - Holland, Belgium, England - are also among the richest). It is not the economic resources of areas. It is, essentially, international exploitation and oppression of the first order. Until this is realised, little real progress can be made towards solving housing or other problems. Barbara Ward fails to realise it.

Deteriorating US Housing. Excuse me Jerry, but do you still believe in the "Domino Theory"? Of Course I Do! Why Do You Ask?

She continually cites the gap between rich and poor. She condemns the lack of concern for poverty and starvation in capitalist countries. And she praises the achievements of China, Yet the analysis necessary to link these together is missing. Karl Marx is arbitrarily dismissed as another "Hebrew prophet". And how can you preach cooperation when there is no cooperation in the ownership of the productive resources of a country.

The question of decent housing is a very important and pressing one. In addressing a book to the problem Barbara Ward has drawn together much valuable information and powerful insights. If it does wander a little or show signs of being written in rather a hurry, the material is still interesting. But when she concludes "We must love each other or we must die" the reader suspects that the problems are going to be solved. The bourgeois myth remains strong.

Recommended, but for the description, not the solution.

— Anthony Ward.

Learning about Sexism in New Zealand.

This book consists of a series of essays (mostly by women) about sexism in New Zealand. Its authors' avowed purpose is to communicate an understanding of women's oppression as well as to be involved in appropriate political change, by adding their voices to the Feminist Movement.

Any reviewer should compare and contrast this book and its aims with the one entitled 'Sexist Society' (published in 1972, eds Sue Kedgley and Sharyn Cederman).

This latter book is for me, a first-rate expose of sexism in the social political economic and personal lives of New Zealanders.

It's defined purpose was to show (especially women) just how oppressed women are as well are attempting to establish the significance and purpose of women's liberation.

'Sexist Society' achieves its aims in an effective and direct way by using a seires of case histories as archetypes exemplifying the different ways sexism works.

On the other hand, 'learning about sexism' doesn't have the same impact on me.

It is suggested in the introduction that efforts will be made to describe sexism the way it is seen not "according to an abstract and academic formula which takes the guts out of experience".

I don't think the efforts made were very great.

Thus, even in Debbie Jones interesting article. The erotic revolution', one sees passages such as this: "What is the truly revolutionary alternative? essentially the deinstitutionalisation of sexual intercourse. Rather than being confined to a [unclear: functionally] oppressive social role, sexuality should affect all areas of our lives".

So that while most of the essays feature carefully-worded arguments well supported by good, statistically sound research, it is, taken overall, far too dry and academic. (Many of these essays would get high marks in stage three sociology courses).

To me, as an instrument of mass educaton therefore 'Sexist Society' is far more effective a book than 'Learning About Sexism'. It is true that some feminists would not see the former book as possessing the same degree of political radically as the latter, but its accessibility and simplicity nevertheless give it an advantage.

One essay in 'Learning About Sexism' [unclear: has] particularly aroused some attention and ire. This is Chris Wainwrights one aobut male oppression. Some reviewers have suggested that his comments indicate to them that men should not attempt to write about sexism.

Certainly one does get the feeling that Chris, while intellectually accepting all he puts forward in the article is still not free emotionally from chauvinist tendencies. He always writes from a distance, referring usually to 'we', rarely to 'I' and while generalising about the oppression men 'endure' never talks about his own personal experiences. I think, though, he is right when he does suggest that women have contributed to sexist practices as much as men for it takes effectively conditioned people of both sexes to maintain the traditional forms of social life, and personal and power relationships.

At the same time it is possible (thank god) for women to break out of their inherited bondage. It is also possible for men to do the same. It is said that women have everything to gain as the oppressed by fighting back, and that men, as they have everything to lose, won't be inclined to give up their privileges. How true, but for some men who don't like rugby, racing, beer, violence, conventional competiveness, aggressiveness and who don't want to accept their privileges, suffering and sitmas are in store.

Here men suffer (not as women do, simply because they are women) but because they have become social deviants. Of course, these men can conceal their dislikes - even a male homosexual can 'pass' for what is regarded as sexuality legitimate if he cares to swallow his integrity and act as if he was heterosexual.

The pain is still there, undoubtedly, but such men can still hold the advantage which accure to males whereas women will always be disadvantaged unless there are radical changes, and not many men are interested in bringing those about.

— Robert WooIf

Trade, Guns and Bibles - Mara Tautane

Haka Press; Price $2

"......nothing but frustration can derive from misplaced loyalty to an imperfectly understood past."

Ian Wards - "Shadow of the Land".

The myth of racial harmony in New Zealand is rapidly disappearing, Such a myth would have made books like this impossible to write 10 years ago. But it is a sign of the times that Maori groups mostly young, are becoming increasingly active.

The reason for the new activity is the realisation of a new colonial history something which has been ignored by New Zealand historians and sociologists for so long, and not without reason.

Still we get historians writing about the humanity that was shown to the Maoris by the Europeans (Keith Sinclair A history of N.Z.). The old smug quips the Maori is happy in his lot - lucky it was the British that settled New Zealand and not the Dutch or French - are still echoed, but seem increasingly hollow.

This book, which is a compact historical analysis, is an additional front against this peculiar type of reactionary thought called racism - possibly one of the most threatening social trends in contemporary New Zealand. It is not the racism of England or South Africa it is a very special type, and has evolved from a very special sequence of historical circumstances. When the leader of our country stokes these fires of racism, then this book becomes all the more relevant.

Trade, guns and Bibles is divided up into two parts. The first is an examination of the race relations of the early days of colonial New Zealand. The recurring theme of this first section is that Maori/ Pakeha race relations were shaped by the political circumstances that the colonists found themselves in. They wanted the land but were dominated militarily until 1855, plus the fact that the Maoris provided cheap labour, most of New Zealands food (until 1880) and a market for the manufactured products of Britain. This history goes a long way in explaining NZ's present race situation.

The second seciton examines class formation and the effects that refrigeration, large scale unemployment and political changes had on these classes. This is a well researched and extremely valuable piece of writing which is very relevant today when we observe class distinctions sharpening.

In all, the book is well written and cogently argued. It was put together by a group of 'workers' in Auckland and is the first in a series of four examining the class structure of New Zealand an area which is largely ignored in New Zealand due to the extremely bourgeois nature of our universities - a problem that does not prevail in most other western countries.

As it is, this book would put most New Zealand academics to shame with it's clear [unclear: exposition] and unambiguous approach to the problem.

Compulsory reading for those who are interested in New Zealand's colonial 'heritage'.

— David Murray