Recommended Readings for the Week
By Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

Recommended Readings for the Week

Mar. 19, 2016  |     |  0 comments


The January-February 2016 edition of the New Left Review has a couple of articles that would be of interest to Asian watchers. The first is from the late Southeast Asianist scholar and author of Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson. This essay, one of the last that he wrote, focuses on the ongoing political crisis in Thailand, in which he brings to light an oft-ignored conflict among the country’s Sino-Thai:

“Over the past fifty years, almost every Thai prime minister has been a lukchin, like the monarchy itself. But this shared ‘Chinese ancestry’ conceals bitter rivalries between the Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka and Hailamese. The positive side of this phenomenon is that Thailand has never experienced the kind of anti-Chinese mobilizations that have characterized the modern histories of Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines. Capable, wealthy and ruthless Sino-Thais have been able to climb upwards—on condition that their ‘Chineseness’ remains very low-profile, especially under Rama IX.”

The second article that I recommend from this edition of the New Left Review is one from Mike Davis, who had written Late Victorian Holocausts, his groundbreaking history of how the laissez faire economic policies of the Western colonial powers disastrously intersected with the climatic impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon to cause massive famines, and Planet of Slums, his analysis of how globalization has contributed to the rapid expansion of slums around the world. In his new essay for the New Left Review, Davis looks back at Victorian climate science and focuses on the anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s theory of the epochal desiccation of Asia. Davis notes that our epoch of human activity might indeed “vindicate” Kropotkin’s hypothesis by creating the conditions for Asia’s desertification:

“Since the late nineteenth century, however, the progressive warming of interior Asia has produced a net drying which the researchers warn may be a prelude to the future northward expansion of the deserts. Meanwhile, other climate scientists have expressed concern that precipitation regimes in western Asia may be radically changing as well. A research group based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which has been studying contemporary and historical megadroughts, recently published a paper warning that the disastrous 2007–10 drought in Syria, the most severe in the instrumental record and a principal catalyst to social unrest, was likely part of ‘a longterm drying trend’ associated with rising greenhouse emissions.”

The final article that I recommend is an excerpt from Kevin Bales’ Blood and Earth, which reminds us that the supply chains for the production of our technological gadgets like mobile phones and tablet computers are not just located in industrial zones like the metropolises of East Asia, but actually extend back into dangerous places like the tin and coltan mines of the Congo, where the misery of war and human slavery accompanies the extraction of the minerals needed for the production of our high-tech consumer goods:

“The frictionless genius of our creative class, which we see every day in our lives and in advertising, leads us to support environmental destruction and human enslavement that we never see. We want our clever phones, the market needs resources to make them, and getting those resources creates and feeds conflict. It turns out that the foundations of our ingenious new economy rest on the forceful extraction of minerals in places where laws do not work and criminals control everything.”

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