Friday, August 14, 2009
Is this really wrong?
When you first look at this picture your immediate reaction is “Oh my gawd!”. Then you shake your head and chuckle, probably a bit condescendingly. Right?
But if you go beyond the image, this picture offers a great metaphor for the clash of values that results in the all too frequent failure of our paternalistic attempts to impose “western values” on developing, or third world, countries.
For this family, the motorcycle is at its most basic – a means of transportation. It’s a way to get to work, to market, or a nearby family gathering. Gasoline is expensive, so you carry as much as you can every trip. It’s cheap, somewhat reliable, will run on almost any kind of gas, and can be repaired (frequently) with three wrenches, a hammer and a screwdriver. It’s not expected to carry one to Sturgis in comfort, or Daytona Beach, or even a day trip into the mountains. It is what it is, and even at that it’s a luxury in their circumstances and environment.
Now transplant this motorcycling family into LA or Toronto. All of a sudden their mode of travel is inadequate, dangerous, and illegal, starting with having more than 1 passenger, no helmets, and passengers riding in front of the driver. In some jurisdictions they’d also be cited for carrying passengers under the age of 8 (or 14 under proposed legislation in Ontario) and lack of protective eyewear. I would guarantee that the motorcycle will not meet any North American emission standards, and would probably fail a basic safety check. The tires are quite possibly bald.
And the lawyers would be lined up a mile deep waiting for something to go wrong.
To western eyes it’s dangerous and unwise, but does that mean we should be trying to impose our standards, from our privileged vantage point, and say this is wrong? I don’t think so.