| Agricultural development workers training manual: Volume II Extension Skills |
|Chapter III: Extension resources|
For the past six years, I have become known for my increasing opposition to the presence of any and all North American "do goobers" in Latin America. I am sure you know of my present efforts to obtain the voluntary withdrawal of all North American volunteer armies from Latin America: missionaries, Peace Corps members and groups like yours, a "division" organized for the benevolent invasion (of Mexico).
I do not come here to argue. I am here to tell you, if possible to convince you, and, hopefully, to stop you, from pretentiously imposing yourselves on Mexicans.
I do have deep faith in the enormous good will of the U.S. Volunteer. However, his good faith can usually be explained only by an abysmal lack of intuitive delicacy. By definition, you cannot help being ultimately vacationing salesmen for the middle- class "American Way of Life", since that is really the only life you know.
A group like this could not have developed unless a mood in the United States has supported it- - the belief that any true American must share God's blessings with his poorer fellow men. The idea that every American has something to give, and at all times may, can, and should give it, explains why it occurred to students that they could help Mexicans peasants "developing" by spending a few months in their villages.
Of course, this surprising conviction was supported by members of a missionary order, who would have not reason to exist unless they had the same conviction- - except a much stronger one. It is now high time to cure yourselves of this. You, like the values you carry, are the products of an American society of achievers and consumers, with its two- party system, its universal schooling, and its Family- Car affluence. You are ultimately consciously or unconsciously "salesmen" for a delusive ballet in the ideals of democracy, equal opportunity, and free enterprise among people who haven't the possibility of profiting from these. Next to money and guns, the third largest North American export is the U.S. idealist, who turns up in every theater of the world as the teacher, the volunteer, the missionary, the community organizer, the economic developer, and the vacationing do- gooder. Ideally, these people define their roles as service. Actually, they frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons, or "seducing" the under- developed to the benefits of the world of affluence and achievement. Perhaps this is the moment to instead bring home to the people of the U.S. the knowledge that the way of life they have chosen is not alive enough to be shared.
By now it should be evident to all America that the U.S. is engaged in a tremendous struggle to survive. The U.S. cannot survive if the rest of the world is not convinced that here we have Heaven- on- Earth. The survival of the U.S. depends on the acceptance by all so- called "free" men that the U.S. middle class has "made it". The U.S. way of life has become a religion which must be accepted by all those who do not want to die by the sword- - or napalm. All over the globe the U.S. is fighting to protect and develop at least a minority who consumes what the U.S. majority can afford. Such is the purpose of the Alliance For Progress of the middle- class which the U.S. signed with Latin America some years ago. But increasingly this commercial alliance must be protected by weapons which allow the minority who can "make it" to protect their acquisitions and achievements.
But weapons are not enough to permit minority rule. The marginal masses become rambunctious unless they are given a "Creel" or belief which explains the statue quo. This task is given to the U.S. volunteer whether he be a member of the Peace Corps or in a so- called "Pacification Program". The U.S. is currently engaged in a three front struggle to affirm its ideals of acquisition and achievement oriented "Democracy". I say "three fronts", because three great areas of the world are challenging the validity of a political and social system which makes the rich richer, and the poor increasingly marginal to that system.
In Asia, the U.S. is threatened by an established power- - China. The U.S. poses China with three weapons: The tiny Asian elite’s who could not have it any better than in an alliance with the United States, a huge war machine to stop the Chinese from "taking over" as it is usually put in this country, and, forcible re- education of the so- called "pacified" peoples. Another front la in the U.S. it self: The efforts to check the unwillingness of the black community to wait for graceful integration into the system.
And finally, in Latin America the Alliance for Progress has been quite successful in increasing the number of people who could not be better off meaning the tiny, middle- class elite’s- - and has created ideal conditions for military dictatorships. The dictators were formerly at the service of the plantation owners, but now they protect the new industrial complexes. And you came to help the underdog accept his destiny within this process.
All you will do in a Mexican village la create disorder. At beat, you can try to convince Mexican girls that they should marry a young man who is self- made, rich, a consumer, and as disrespectful of tradition as one of you. At worst, in your "community development" spirit you might create just enough problems to get some one shot after your vacation ends and you rush back to your middle- class neighborhoods where your friends make jokes about "spice" and "wetbacks".
Suppose you went to a U.S. ghetto this summer and tried to help the poor there "help themselves". Very soon you would be either spit upon or laughed at. People offended by your pretentiousness would hit or spit. People who understand that your own bad consciences push you to this gesture would laugh condescendingly. Soon you would be made aware of your irrelevance among the poor, of your status as middle- class college students on a summer assignment. You would be roundly rejected, no matter...
If you have any sense of responsibility at all, starry with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections. McCarthy might lose, but certainly by campaigning for him you will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don't even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as "good", a "sacrifice", and "help".
I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously, and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your helplessness, and your incapacity to do the "good" which you intended to do.
I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status and your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, cone to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not co- e to help.
Speech given by Ivan Illich at Cuerneavca. Mexico, April 20, 1968.