What we think they should want

TH_Alienation Effect_Brecht glasses

I am informed by a colleague that in 1963, Arthur Laing, then Canada’s minister responsible for Indian policy, asserted that, “The prime condition in the progress of the Indian people … must be the development by themselves of a desire for the goals which we think they should want.”

Which we think they should want.

This is of course awful, an expression of the sentiment that makes it fair to describe the policy of the Canadian state as “cultural genocide.” I am reminded of Brecht’s poem, “The Solution”:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Also awful, however, is how much pleasure I take in this quote. Not because I agree with it at all, no. Rather, one of the virtues (if it can be called a virtue) that I have cultivated as I gradually come to identify myself as an academic, is this affection for pieces of evidence that provide the perfect example of some process or dynamic or force, even if that process is the name of what is going wrong with the world. Such pristine, self-contained cases. It is hard not to be drawn in by the sense of the universal in the particular (especially when, as here, it is about universalizing one kind of particular, and annihilating another).