Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mike Davis: Planet of Slums

"Planet of Slums" is one of the most apocalyptic books I've ever read. Basically, if you are reading this blog, you're literate, on a computer, and probably will never live in the kind of slum Mike Davis writes about. The kind of slum that pretty soon over half of the world's population will live in. Where you have no access to water, let alone sewage, you have a good chance of getting or dying from tuberculosis, malnutrition, or HIV/AIDS. You may share a room with 15 other people, and the toilet to human ratio may be something like 1 to 100, so you shit wherever you can. Really. "Planet of Slums" was a hard read. The global south is full of failed states that Davis chronicles briefly, jumping all over the world- Asia, Africa, Central and South America, etc. He writes about the IMF and World Bank's direct involvement and causation of these problems, and leaves the reader feeling both responsible and hopeless. I felt a sinking in my stomach each page. Fortunately I have a bathroom available about 10 feet away.

This is not a great book. Davis basically sums up about 50 other studies, maybe 500 other studies, there were a lot of footnotes. I felt like I was reading one of my college papers- I always did too much research and then summed it up without ever really writing my own thoughts. I was good at pulling together the pieces for unique work, but not so good at then saying "now what." The slums are bad. I get that from "Planet of Slums." Really, really, really atrociously bad. Disgusting overcrowded, environmental and economic disasters that 1st world people like us have no idea about. I'm reminded of this photo that is circulating on twitter of New York graffiti:

That is a first world problem. A third world, slum problem is having to rent living space on a sidewalk. Making less than $200 a year, to feed a family of 10. Having your neighborhood bulldozed every few months, with all your stuff being pushed underground. I have a feeling this will be an issue haunting me. One that I can't put a finger on, or think about much, because it's just too much. Davis rips the NGOs that claim to help, but don't make a dent. The "microeconomics" that don't allow for any accumulation of wealth, even for the "entrepeneurs" they claim to be helping. Slums in the global south are generally "out of sight, out of mind" for first world people. I will no longer have them out of mind, but Davis' book doesn't point me in any meaningful way to move forward.