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Wolfowitz and the World Bank

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: April 1, 2005
Latest Update: April 1, 2005

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Index of Topics on Site Wolfowitz and the Presidency of the World Bank
Whenever we engage in the sociological analysis of present social issues, we discover that sociology does not stand alone as a discipline. It's origins are closely related to both philosophy and religious studies, for social analysis operates on unstated assumptions of collectively held values and beliefs, such as those reflected in the dominant discourse. This semester I've been trying to draw your attention to religiion as a present social value because our schools have long tried to avoid that area of discourse on the grounds of separation of church and state. The present U.S. administration has fairly well wiped out any attempt to block religion and theology from direct input ot political, social, and consequent economic fields of endeavor.

Perhaps that point was best illustrated by Congress', the Federal Courts', and the President's open statements in the Schiavo case of who shall determine and under what authority how individuals may end their lives and the lives of loved ones. Where I used to try to cover sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, literature, law, Love !A, and gender, now I find myself having to add religion and theology to the mix. And I probably left some out, like technology and learning theory and criminal justice. This is the problem, as I see it, with breaking us off into disciplines. At the advanced graduate level there may be a need to break off small pieces of some disciplines for intensive study. But at the undergraduate and beginning graduate levels these fields are all interdependent. Physicists are learning that they must create advanced specialites in astrophysics AND particle physics. Fields that used to yield separate disciplines almost. If it's happening in Physics, where we come perhaps closest to being able to test theories empirically, then it's certainly going to happen when we move into the humanities and the social sciences.

Let me take Wolfowitz and the World Bank and try to show you why we need that old-fashioned liberal arts education to understand the world we live in as we create it, and each of us does participate in creating, maybe not with votes that got thrown out, but certainly with every interaction that keeps the infrastructure afloat.

Things we'd want to consider in deciding how we feel about Wolfowitz as President of the World Bank:

  • Who cares? Why should it matter to me who's President of the World Bank? What's the World Bank, anyway?
    Right off you see the problem. Bank. World bank. I can't even deal with my own local bank when they overcharge me. So what do I have to do with a "world" bank? The mission of the world bank is to "encourage the world's wealthiest nations to increase aid to the poor, meet the United Nations' development goals and offer debt relief to the poorest nations." (Elizabeth Becker, World Bank Vote Confirms Wolfowitz Unanimously, New York Times, April 1, 2005, at p. A8. Backup) All this is on a global level and I'm just one person with hardly enough discretionaary time to get by as it is.

    Fields I'd need to know something about:

    • economics to know about bank loans, how these countries get them, and who gets them and how political that is.
    • political science to get some inkling into how international institutions like the world bank are run and whose agenda has power, also how foreign policy works in the present global climate
    • sociology to understand how the actions of local individuals are affected by world bank decisions and how those individuals can affect such decisions. There have been lots of protests in recent years. That would suggest social movements.
    • race, gender, and class to understand how world trade fits into economic and political science theories, and to understand the exploitation that presently exists, including ethnic cleansing in Africa and in China and in The Far East
    • psychology to understand more about who Wolfowitz is, what his background of skills and experience tells us about him so that we might try to place him in the context of the world bank. The bank directors in accepting him tried to do that: "In a signed statement released Thursday, the eight European executive directors at the bank said that they were convinced of Mr. Wolfowitz's 'unreserved commitment to the bank's mission of poverty reduction' and were confident that he would not change the focus from African nations and other countries most in need." They made a bet that they could trust whatever he told them, and that he would honor the commitment he made to them.
    • communiction and commitment (new field: psychology and attitude change, persuasion theory, communication, cross national patterns of commitment and trust) to understand how politicians and managers sell their agendae and keep their promises, and how to tell that in positions of control over staffing, such as the directors of the world bank had here in accepting Wolfowitz nomination for Presidency. We also need to know about persusasion theory ( including loyalty to a spokesperson or friend, fear of imagined or real threats, etc.) will affect Wolfowitz' decisions.
    • religion to understand the respective values and nation-state commitments or ethnic commitments of the many nations involved in guiding third world countries into successful independence and self-sufficiency. Also needed to understand the role of developed countries in resisting exploitative opportunities. Also important to an understanding of forgiveness versus retribution and forgiveness and support versus an insistence upon tough self-reliance. This will be important in terms of whether to forgive the debt of poor nations, or whether to force them to repay the debts while simultaneously rebuilding their infrastructure, as is happening now in the countries that suffered the tsunami. Also to understand the value system that says whether it is OK for the wealthy citizens of these third world areas to take without compensation the beach lands inhabited by the indigenous before the tsunami. philosophy to understand whether we agree that history is ever developing to a grand and glorious ending or whether the idea of "progress" is a socially constructed concept by us, and probably not the case at all. To understand whether our focus is on "what can we know about the world" or "what can I know" or "how shall I live"? Wolfowitz' feelings on these issues might affect what he sees as "appropriate" or even "good for" poor countires.
    • technology and enlightenment to understand whether technology takes us further along the road to a good life, or whether technology and enlightenment have a "dark side" which serves evil as well as good. (Adorno and Horkheimer.)
    • visual media and their interdependence with other means of knowing to understand that we are not totally rational creatures deciding things apart from our feelings and values. Wolfowitz might feel very differently when he is exposed to visual and aural images of the poor developing countries that have not before been his primary concern. So we want to know how best to present those developing countries visually. And we might find that we can have a career doing that sort of thing, so it does reflect on us as individuals.
    • restorative, social, and criminal justice to understand how Wolfowitz will need to rethink his position on war, on the power of the U.S., on the power of the corporate world, and on what that means to developing countries. He will certainly be exposed to lots of different perspectives on this new job, if he allows himself to be. (psychology, again - denial, open-mindedness, reliance on sceintific objectivity versus narrative and spirituality) These concerns would help make the "best possible" decision.
    • the soscial definition of crime -sociology, criminology, philosophy, religion, etc. Present social issues like the war in Iraq, the US domination of what we are calling democracy in the Middle East, and the willingness of the US to be sure that it's way of knowing and managing is the "right way" may lead Wolfowitz to see some past decisions in a very different perspective.

      What if he gets an up front visual of the harm to Iraqis, Serbs, Malaysians, Thais, etc. Will that alter his vision of the relationship between the trade deficit with China and Africa and each of these other poor countries which could be presented effectively as poor because of Western, with a full share of US, exploitation?

    This should be enough to give you some idea of how all these present social issues inter-relate across many fields, humaniities, natural sciences, hard sciences, education and health, law and criminal and social justice. One of our goals in offering this panoply of theories and brief vies of so many fields is to help you place present social issues in a context that relates to your own world. No, you probably can't change orld bank and Wolfowitz decisions, but you can recognize that what Wolfowitz and the World Bank do, they do in our name, and often, with the suggestions that we are complicit in their decisions. So we better learn to decide whether we want to be complicit, or whether we want to alert our representatives that we don't agree, and we see reason for a consideration of other perspectives. We are becoming increasingly vocal in the US, expressing our disagreement, and recognizing that all is not well in the best of all possible worlds. Being aware of that is a first step in empowerment to change the world to one that does fit our values and philosophy more accurately.



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