Monday, January 15, 2007

Planet of Slums

When I first opened Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, I expected to neither enjoy nor finish reading it, because the typeface just screamed “boring academic tome by someone who couldn't write an clean and elegant sentence to save their lives.” Mercifully, I was wrong. Mike Davis can write well—even though he does tend to the overly-complex sentence with a plethora of sub-clauses. But the thing that lifted this book out of the ordinary for me was sense of barely-contained rage behind almost every line.

Also shocking was that here was an American writer willing to engage in a Marxist analysis of a phenomenon. One could turn each page and run into quotes like this:

[The] constant effort [of NGOs] is to subvert, dis-inform, and de-idealize people so as to keep them away from class struggles. They adopt and propagate the practice of begging favours on sympathetic and humane grounds rather than making the oppressed conscious of their rights. As a matter of fact these agencies and organizations systematically intervene to oppose the agitational path people take to win their demands. Their effort is constantly to divert people's attention from the larger political evils in imperialism to merely local issues and so confuse people in differentiating enemies from friends.”

P.K. Das, “Manifesto of a Housing Activist,” in Patel and Thorner, Bombay, pp.179-180
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006 p. 78

There is a tremendous level of scholarship and research in this book, but leavened with anger and outrage, it seldom becomes boring or purposeless. Davis has a lot to convey, and a point of view that gives the information context and relevance. I confess that a lot of this book struck me as new information—which is absurd, since there is not a lot that is new here. But worldwide poverty and the expansion of slums has fallen off the radar of most of the developed world. We have, after all, more important things to worry about; peak oil, Gulf War II, rising levels of consumer debt in the US and what that means for the stock market—stuff like that. That there are poor people, homeless people, and dying people just doesn't seem that important, somehow. After all, they're useful for keeping global wage inflation down. Other than that, they really don't exist, do they?

Davis knows they exist, and that the problem is exploding; “Residents of slums, while only 6 percent of the city population of the developed countries, constitute a staggering 78.2 percent of urbanites in the least-developed countries; this equals fully a third of the global urban population.” (p.23) But really, what does this matter? Slum dwellers, by definition, don't matter. They're unimportant, un-engaged, and unnecessary. Well, except for that anti-wage-inflation thing, right? Davis doesn't think so: “Indeed, the future of human solidarity depends upon the militant refusal of the new urban poor to accept their terminal marginality within global capitalism.”(p.202) And terminal marginality is right. According to The World Distribution of Household Wealth by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER):

The most comprehensive study of personal wealth ever undertaken also reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. In contrast, the bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.

And if that's not unequal enough, the inequality in the distribution of world wealth, if world wealth was reduced to $100 and world population to 10 people, means that one person would have $99 and the rest would be fighting over the last dollar. Surprisingly, household debt is relatively unimportant in poor countries. As the authors of the study point out: “While many poor people in poor countries are in debt, their debts are relatively small in total. This is mainly due to the absence of financial institutions that allow households to incur large mortgage and consumer debts, as is increasingly the situation in rich countries.” The authors go on to note that ‘many people in high-income countries have negative net worth and—somewhat paradoxically—are among the poorest people in the world in terms of household wealth.’ ”

The absence of financial institutions may be slight solace to poor households around the world. Subtracting debt from assets and coming up positive rather than negative isn't quite the same thing when the positive is $2 and the negative means that you have a house, car, food and a job, and you're just carrying a load of debt on a thirty-year payback cycle.

(As a side note: I read recently where car companies hate the whole “no down payment, first year interest free” marketing for car sales. But they can't stop it, because most of their customers couldn't come up with a down payment. They simply don't have the money. So in order to keep the whole Ponzi scheme running, incentives have to be offered. Now it seems that banks are having to follow suit, and are offering mortgages calculated on a forty-year payback cycle, rather than twenty or twenty-five. This keeps the monthly payments low enough on the inflated house values that more people can handle them. It also proves to be very lucrative for the banks—it takes that much longer for any impact to be made on the principal owed. Ponzi was a funny guy....)

Davis notes this inequity as well. After how many? decades of neoliberal policies; “If UN data are accurate, the household per-capita income differential between a rich city like Seattle and a very poor city like Ibadan is as great as 739 to 1 – an incredible inequality.” [emphasis in original](pp. 25-26) It's not just about money. The speed at which the planet has been urbanizing is extraordinary as well. Davis composed this table showing the growth of megacities (megacities are those with a population of 8 million or more. Hypercities have populations over 20 million) in the last fifty years or so:

Third World Megacities

(population in millions)



Mexico City






(New York)



São Paulo


































Buenos Aires



Rio de Janeiro












Krung Thep (Bangkok)



Gauteng (Witwatersrand)



Kinshasa / Brazzaville









from Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006

The cancerous growth of cities around the world is matched by the growth of their attendant slums:

Largest Slum Populations by Country


Slum % urban pop.

Number (millions)


































South Korea



























from Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006

These are phenomenal growth rates. The countryside is being depopulated and people are breeding at rates that would make Malthus blanch. How do people get fed, how do they find work, where do they live, when they are showing up in the city at such speed? It's no wonder that municipal services—even in developed countries—are being overwhelmed. There are just too damned many people. Revolutions take strange local forms, but class struggle is always based in perceived inequity. The explosion of slums and the concomitant formal or informal expropriation of rural land, and the seemingly genetically-encoded pull cities have on people, engender resentment in those tied to the land. “Outside Hanoi, where farmers and fishermen are constantly uprooted by urban development, urban and industrial effluents are now routinely employed as free substitutes for artificial fertilizers. When researchers questioned this noxious practice, they discovered “cynicism among vegetable and fish producers” about the “rich people in cities.” “They don't care about us and fool around with useless compensation [for farm land ], so why not take some form of revenge?” (pp. 135-136)

“Rich people in cities” is, of course, a relative “rich”: “Residents of slums, while only 6 percent of the city population of the developed countries, constitute a staggering 78.2 percent of urbanites in the least-developed countries; this equals fully a third of the global urban population.” (p.23) So the “rich people in cities” are living on unserviced lots, most likely without access to fresh or clean water, or even marginally functional sewage systems. And they are living on under two dollars a day, often on less than one. Compared to the developed world, “the number of urban poor is considerably greater: at least one half of the world's urban population as defined by relative national poverty thresholds. [emphasis mine] Approximately one quarter of urbanites (as surveyed in 1988), moreover, live in barely imaginable “absolute” poverty – somehow surviving on one dollar or less per day.” (p.25)

One dollar or less a day. Davis quotes studies that show that there is no corresponding increase in wealth with the increase in slum populations. Indeed, every new “self-employed” person simply chops the available market up into ever-finer pieces. There is no “growth,” no “expansion.” There is only the same dollar being shared between more and more people. This is the situation that micro-credit institutions like the Grameen Bank were developed to address . But, as Davis points out;

[U]nder such [desperate] conditions, it is not surprising that initiatives such as micro-credit and cooperative lending, while helpful to those informal enterprises managing to tread water, have had little macro impact on the reduction of poverty, even in Dhaka, the home of the world-famous Grameen Bank. Indeed , stubborn belief in “leveraging the micro-enterprise,” writes Jaime Joseph, a veteran community organizer in Lima, has become something of an urban cargo cult amongst well-meaning NGOs: “There has been much emphasis placed on small or micro-enterprise as the magic solution in offering economic development for the urban poor. Our work over the last 20 years with small businesses, which are multiplying in the megacity, shows that most of them are simply survival tactics with little or no chances for accumulation.”

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006 pp. 183-184

Helpful, but with little impact on poverty reduction. Here in the developed West, the “Nike effect” of globalization is touted as the salvation for the poor of the world. We will export working class jobs to the Third World (beggaring our people, but keeping that all important anti-wage-inflation effect in place), where grateful coolies will make our consumer goods for pennies on the dollar, improving their lives while providing us with low cost consumer goods. This is called “win-win.” But “under such extreme conditions of competition, the neo-liberal prescription (as set out in the World Bank's 1995 World Development Report) of making labor even more flexible is simply catastrophic.” (p. 185)

“Flexible” here means low wages, high unemployment, and no workplace protections for labour. Keeping the desperation level high keeps labour costs low. Classic neoliberal thinking. It is a mode of thought that is dedicated, despite its rhetoric, to keeping things bad, to expanding the population of the truly poor, and to making the rich richer. Which, viz. the WIDER report above, is working very well.

[...][E]verywhere obedience to international creditors has dictated cutbacks in medical care, the emigration of doctors and nurses, the end of food subsidies, and the switch of agricultural production from subsistence to export crops. As Fentu Cheru, a leading expert on debt, emphasizes, the coerced tribute that the Third World pays to the First World has been the literal difference between life and death for millions of poor people.

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006 p.148

This also means that countries like Canada have been offloading a lot of costs to the Third World, and creaming a lot of benefits. Like the above-mentioned doctors. Where do they emigrate to? Countries like Canada, where, in desperation, trained professionals take lower rates of pay to perform work that would otherwise go towards the improvement of life in the Third World. In order that more of our people can get their stomachs stapled, hundreds or thousands must die in other countries. One can only be reminded of Ursula K. LeGuin's short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.”

The question of how to house and service the world's poor is one that has occupied the World Bank, architects, and theorists of all stripes for more than a century. Davis draws frequent parallels between Victorian England and current thinking on the worldwide explosion of slums. Typically we see slum clearance as one of the primary means of addressing the problem of city-based poverty. But too often, that is where the thinking stops; clear the slum and drive the inhabitants out, and all will be well. The necessary follow-up of social housing, improved services, training, welfare and lowering unemployment are all seen as too expensive, as money wasted on the poor. All we really want (and this is particularly evident in the current war against “public sleeping” in Victoria) is to not see the poor and homeless. And if we don't see them, then there is no problem to worry about. It's when these horrible excuses for people interfere with our lives, when we have to step over them or decide whether or not to give them some change, when we have, in short, to think about them, that we feel most put upon.

This is why our local governments (which have evolved over the last century to meet the needs of developers rather than citizens) tear down “tent cities” and other examples of colloquial housing. The visibility of the poor, the marginalized, the homeless depresses property values and may awaken a social conscience. Tent cities are cleared; services aren't provided, relocation is never pursued, the issues are never dealt with. Heaven forbid that “the oppressed [become] conscious of their rights,” as P.K. Das says in the quote above.
Slum clearance is an oft-tried solution to urban poverty (operating under the assumption that removal of the slum means removal of the underlying social condition), despite its repeated failures. But it has the virtue of simplicity and repeatability, and upsets no one except those being brutalized.

Some Famous Slum Evictions



Number evicted


Hong Kong



Rio de Janeiro









Santo Domingo























from Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006 p. 102

The deeper goal of slum clearance is to destroy neighbourhoods, to disrupt any sense of collective action among the residents. And where a recent survey noted that most Canadians are two paycheques away from destitution and homelessness, the fear is that these working and middle class Canadians will see that the struggle of the poor and homeless is also their struggle. Because if that should happen, the phrase “structural adjustment” might invert and become a very big problem for the owners of capital.

That the increase in homelessness and poverty is actually a decision made by our political and business elites to ensure lower inflation and to put a downward pressure on wages is a fact that seems to have escaped our notice. Part of the worldwide revolt by the wealthy against any income redistribution by governments (known colloquially as the Reagan/Thatcher revolution), the war on the middle- and working-class has driven more people into the ranks of the desperate poor, while making the desperation of those same poor even greater. Or, to quote Davis; “The minimalist role of national governments in housing supply has been reinforced by current neo-liberal economic orthodoxy as defined by the IMF and the World Bank. The Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed on debtor nations in the late 1970s and 1980s required a shrinkage of government programs and, often, the privatization of housing markets.” (p. 64) And social housing, to pick one example, has pretty much fallen off our list of potential solutions. An article in the December 18th, 2006 Globe and Mail by Mark Hume points out that there are (at a minimum) 2000 homeless people in Vancouver. Meanwhile, there are some 20 properties that are either owned or optioned by the city for social housing. And yet there is no plan (nor even any rhetoric) in place to pursue the construction of any social housing in the city.

The only reason homelessness is getting any attention at all is that the 2010 Winter Olympics are coming to Vancouver/Whistler, and who wants to see homeless people on the streets at such a time?

The modern Olympics have especially dark but little-known history. In preparation for the 1936 Olympics, the Nazis ruthlessly purged homeless people and slum-dwellers from areas of Berlin likely to be seen by international visitors. While subsequent Olympics – including those in Mexico City, Athens, and Barcelona – were accompanied by urban renewal and evictions, the 1988 Seoul games were truly unprecedented in the scale of the official crackdown on poor homeowners, squatters, and tenants: as many as 720,000 people were relocated in Seoul and Injon, leading a Catholic NGO to claim that South Korea vied with South Africa as “the country in which eviction by force is most brutal and inhuman.”

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006 p. 106

Things haven't become that bad here yet. But during Expo 86 in Vancouver, we saw the demolition or refurbishment of several “slum” hotels that provided near-affordable housing for society's least fortunate. Davis notes; “Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to extensive collusion between official planners and developers, who manipulate the patriotic excitement inherent to the Olympics in order to justify mass evictions and selfish landgrabs ]sic] in the heart of Beijing.” (page 106) For Beijing, read Vancouver, and it becomes clear that the tactics are the same worldwide. Compassion is non-existent, and we have allowed our governments to renege on the most basic of social agreements: food and shelter. As Davis quotes; “The food riot as a means of popular protest is a common, perhaps even universal, feature of market societies – less a vestige of political-industrial evolution than a strategy of empowerment in which poor and dispossessed groups assert their claims to social justice.”

(John Walton and David Seddon,
Free Markets and Food Riots: The Politics of Structural Adjustment,
Oxford 1994, p. 43) Davis page 162

We haven't seen food riots in Canada for decades, but only because we've maintained at least a semblance of a social safety net since the Thirties. Possibly only the nation-wide appearance of food banks since the early eighties have kept class-based food riots out of our cities. After all, current welfare rates are carefully designed to transfer public money to slum landlords (sorry, owners of multiple unit residential building not yet undergoing gentrification). Welfare covers only the meanest of accommodation and does not and does not provide enough for food and utilities—particularly in rich and booming economies like Alberta and B.C.

Typical among the”modern” solutions proposed is to leave the slums as they are, and praise the people who've built them as acting in accordance with Adam Smith's “invisible hand”. But Davis points out; “[...][Architect John] Turner and his World Bank admirers considerably romanticized the costs and results of squatter-type incremental housing. As the research of Kavitta Datta and Gareth Jones has shown, the loss of economy of scale in housing construction dictates either very high unit prices for construction materials (purchased in small quantities form nearby retailers) or the substitution of second-hand, poor-quality materials. Datta and Jones argue, moreover, that “self-housing” is partly a myth: “Most self-help is actually constructed with the paid assistance of artisans, and for specialist tasks, skilled labour.” (p. 72)

The idea that if we target our aid directly to the poor living in the slums, they can (as per the Grameen Bank and small business activity) grow or develop their way up and out of the self-same slum. Davis writes: “By 1976...this amalgam of anarchism and neo-liberalism had become a new orthodoxy that “formulated a radical departure from public housing, favoring sites and services projects and in situ slum upgrading.” The World Bank's new Urban Development Department was to be the chief sponsor of this strategy. “The intention,” continues Cedric Pugh, “was to make housing affordable to low-income households without the payment of subsidies, in contrast to the heavily subsidized public-housing approach.” Amidst great ballyhoo about “helping the poor to help themselves,” little notice was taken publicly of the momentous downsizing of entitlement implicit in the World Bank's canonization of slum housing. Praising the praxis of the poor became a smokescreen for reneging upon historic state commitments to relieve poverty and homelessness. “By demonstrating the ability, the courage, and the capacity for self-help of slum people,” Jeremy Seabrook writes, “the way [was] prepared for a withdrawal of state and local government intervention and support.” (p. 72)

This might have worked, but as with so many programs, our elites seem to go out of their way to sabotage even their own ideas, taking a bad idea and making the on-the-ground application worse. Davis notes; “Most importantly, the cost-recovery provisions of World Bank lending, part of a hardening of neoliberal dogma, effectively priced the poorest of the poor out of the market for self-help loans. Lisa Peattie, one of the World Bank's most trenchant critics, estimated in 1987 that the bottom 30 to 60 percent of the population, depending on the specific country, were unable to meet the financial obligations of sites-and-services provision or loans for upgrading. Moreover, even the World Bank's most ambitious and touted projects tended to be poached by the middle classes or non-needy in the same way as had public housing.” (pp. 72-73)

There is also the acceptance of this gulf between the “have-a-littles” and the “have-less-than-nothings.” “[Gita Verma] rails against the World Bank paradigm of slum upgrading that accepts slums as eternal realities, as well as anti-eviction movements that refuse to raise more radical demands. The “right to stay,” she says, “is no great privilege....It may stop the occasional bulldozer but, for the rest , it does little beyond change the label from 'problem' to 'solution' with some creative jargon in fine print.” “Saving the slum,” she adds, specifically suffering to Delhi, “translates into endorsing the inequity of one-fifth to one-fourth of the city's population living on just 5 percent of the city's land.” (p. 78)

It seems that most social housing around the world (and this includes here in BC), the programs to service lots or to upgrade housing are actually poached by the middle class who see an opportunity to lower their own housing costs while increasing their capital formation. At, as is usual, the expense of the poor. “With a handful of exceptions, then, the postcolonial [sic] state has comprehensively betrayed its original promises to the urban poor. A consensus of urban scholars agrees that public- and state-assisted housing in the Third World has primarily benefited the urban middle classes and elites, who expect to pay low taxes while receiving high levels of municipal services.” (p.69) Here in BC, even members of the provincial Legislature have been found living in subsidized social housing—to much play-acted “shock” and “astonishment.”

It isn't only housing that gets poached. With money comes political influence, both formal and informal. This enables the better off to manipulate political systems that, if they are not already corrupt, quickly become so. “Urban elites and the middle classes in the Third World have also been extraordinarily successful in evading municipal taxation. “In most developing countries,” the International Labour Organization's A. Oberai writes, “ the revenue potential of real-estate taxation is not fully utilized. The existing systems tend to suffer from poor assessment administration, substantial erosion of the tax base due to exemptions, and poor performance in terms of tax collection.” Oberai is too polite: the urban rich in Africa , south Asia, and much of Latin America are rampantly, even criminally under taxed by local governments. Moreover, as financially hardpressed [sic] cities have come to rely on regressive sales taxes and user charges—these generate 40 percent of revenue in Mexico City, for example—the tax burden has shifted even more one-sidedly from the rich to the poor.”(pp. 67-68)

Urban renewal projects too have failed to take the needs of the poor into account: “This is the simple reason why the slumdwellers prefer to stay in the slum and are starting to fight against eviction. For them the slum is the place where production under deteriorating circumstances is still possible. For the urban planner, it is a mere cancer in the city.”

Hans-Dieter Evers and Rüdiger Korff, Southeast Asian Urbanism: The Meaning and Power of Social Space, New York 2000, p. 168

(Davis, p. 65)

The slum may be a slum, but it is also home, and strange as it may sound, also a place of hope as well as despair. Slums, from Lima to the Downtown East Side in Vancouver, can also be a place where, because municipal oversight is minimal or non-existent, home-based micro-enterprises can be started. Everything from envelope-stuffing to closet- or bedroom-sized grow operations, or meth labs. And while most of these enterprises may never advance beyond the barest of subsistence, even with Grameen Bank -style loans, there is still the aura of hope around them—at least for those involved. But once urban renewal comes to town, so too does municipal oversight return, and this fragile hope is too often extinguished. The architecture of urban renewal is also standardized—as are the results. “The incompatibility of peripheral, highrise [sic] housing with the social structures and informal economics of poor communities is, of course, ancient history: it's an original sin repeated over decades by urban reformers and city czars everywhere. (p.64)

“Everywhere in the Third World, housing choice is a hard calculus of confusing trade-offs. As the anarchist architect John Turner famously pointed out, “Housing is a verb.” The urban poor have to solve a complex equation as they try to optimize housing cost, tenure security, quality of shelter, journey to work, and sometimes, personal safety. For some people, including many pavement-dwellers, a location near a job [...] is even more important than a roof. For others, free or nearly free land is worth epic commutes from the edge to the center. And for everyone the worst situation is a bad, expensive location without municipal services or security of tenure.” (pp.27-29) Many of us here in Canada also face this complex equation. Friends and families in the megacity of Toronto and its surrounding communities face daily commutes between 2 and 4 hours long. Mass transit is everywhere undervalued and under-built.

This “hard calculus” leads people into accepting situation that, while nightmarish, seem normal. “In Hong Kong one quarter of a million people live in illegal additions on rooftops or filled-in air wells in the center of buildings. The worst conditions, however, are endured by the so-called “caged men” – “a local term referring to bedspaces for singles, the 'cage' suggested by the tendency of these tenants to erect wire covering for their bedspaces to prevent theft of their belongings. The average number of residents in one of the bedspace apartments is 38.3 and the average per capita living space is 19.4 square feet.” (p. 35)

Slums don't only appear as if by magic. But all slums require a callousness on the part of the elites in order to continue their existence. For instance, Sadr City, Iraq. As Davis points out; “In [...] Sadr City, [...] American bombing wrecked already overloaded water and sewage infrastructures, and as a result raw sewage seeps into the household water supply. Two years after the US invasion, the system remains broken, and the naked eye can discern filaments of human excrement in the tap water. In the 115-degree heat of summer there is no other available water supply that poor people can afford.” (p. 144)

Sadr City also qualifies as a megaslum with an estimated 1.5 million people living there. But Sadr City is by no means the largest megaslum.

Largest Megaslums 2005





Neza/Chalco/Izta (Mexico City)



Libertador (Caracas)



El Sur/Cuidad Bolivar (Bogotá)



San Juan de Lurigancho (Lima)



Cono Sur (Lima)



Ajegunle (Lagos)



Sadr City (Baghdad)



Soweto (Gauteng)



Gaza (Palestine)



Orangi Township (Karachi)



Cape Flats (Cape Town)



Pikine (Dakar)



Imbaba (Cairo)



Ezbet El-Haggana (Cairo)



Cazenga (Luanda)


from Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London, Verso 2006

With so many millions living in unserviced, dangerous living conditions, all of history's great problems become current again. Cholera, plague, the great epidemics of human history all had their start in overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. With the spread of the megaslums of the 21st century, not only historic plagues but the new and improved ones like antibiotic resistant tuberculosis, “bird flu”,and VRE have the most glorious breeding grounds ever. And to microbes, the human race is just so much undigested food. When the next epidemic rears its head, it will be like touching flame to a planet of propane. The explosion may be big enough to sterilize the planet of our species.

On the farm we had a saying that the two main problems of rural life are “getting water into the house and getting water out.” Water supply and sewage disposal are two of the largest advances—and biggest hurdles—mankind has faced. We know the value of both of them, and we know how to do them. Coupled with the germ theory of disease, I would make a case that these are the real basis for urban civilization. So of course these foundations are missing in most of the world.

With the lure of the cities and the disruption and destruction of rural economies, slum growth explodes. “In Egypt, the most densely settled agricultural nation on earth, sprawl has clearly reached a crisis point: around Cairo, urban development consumes up to 30,000 hectares per year, “a land mass,” Florian Steinberg points out, “roughly equivalent to the land gains for agricultural purposes from the massive irrigation projects which were initiated with the inception of the Aswan High Dam.”(p. 135) And with this explosive growth comes the generation of solid and liquid waste. “[...] [T]he city planning director in Kabul complains that “Kabul is turning into one big reservoir of solid waste...every 24 hours, 2 million people produce 800 cubic meters of solid waste. If all 40 of our trucks make three trips a day, they can still transport only 200 to 300 cubic meters out of the city.” (Washington Post 26 August 2002)(Davis p. 134)

The air too—and, by extension, the global climate—suffer from the explosive growth of the planet's slums. “In 1980 the Third World accounted for only 18 percent of global vehicle ownership; by 2020, about half of the world's projected 1.3 billion cars, trucks, and buses – along with several hundred million motorbikes and scooters – will clog the streets and alleys of poorer countries.” (p. 131)

All this leads to many parallels with Victorian England—parallels Davis draws frequently. “And, as in Victorian times, the categorical criminalization of the urban poor is a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteed to shape a future of endless war in the streets.” (p. 202) This “war in the streets” is taken very seriously by the Pentagon (among others). “Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world war of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor, this is the true 'clash of civilizations.'” (p. 205) This is the war now being play-tested in Iraq; a war against a poor but committed enemy, one without real infrastructure to bomb, without power centres to take and hold. “The future of warfare,” the journal of the Army War College declared, “lies in the streets, sewers, highrise [sic] buildings, and sprawl of homes that form the broken cities of the world.... Our recent military history is punctuated with city names – Tuzla, Mogadishu, Los Angeles [!], Beirut, Panama City, Hué, Saigon, Santo Domingo – but these encounters have been but a prologue, with the real drama still to come.”(Major Ralph Peters, “Our Soldiers, Their Cities,” Parameters (Spring 1996), pp. 43-50)(Davis, p. 203)

The final word must go to Davis himself:

According to Stephen Graham, this dichotomizing ideology [Orientalism] – now raised to “moral absolutism” by the Bush administration – “works by separating the 'civilized world' – the 'homeland' cities which must be 'defended' – from the 'dark forces,' the 'axis of evil,' and the 'terrorists' nests' of Islamic cities, which are alleged to sustain the 'evildoers' which threaten the health, prosperity, and democracy of the whole 'free' world.”

This delusionary dialectic of securitized versus demonic urban places, in turn, dictates a sinister and unceasing duet: Night after night, hornetlike [sic] helicopter gunships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring hellfire into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression, its outcasts have the gods of chaos on their side. ( p. 206)
The war on the poor continues.

No comments:

Post a Comment