Cultural Cop-Out


WITH THE BACKING of the New York Times and the Washington Post, President Reagan gone ahead and notified the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) that the U.S. will pull out next year taking its $50-million annual contribution with it. It's hard to withstand the flag-waving historic and the changes that UNESCO over-politicized, inefficient, and bloated. But UNESCO is also the place where some crucial global issues allowed to be addressed outside of the Western industrial framework--and as it fades, those issues deserve a look.

For conservative and liberals alike, the UNESCO pull-out discussions has by now reclared a good deal of built-up frustration with Third World Yanbre-go-home idelogies. This leads to some rahter enjoyable rhetoric. For example, Owen Harries of the Heritage Foundation says UNESCO

seeks to downgrade individual human rights in favor of nebulous and proliferating "rights of peoples," thus helping tyrannical states to impose their orthodoxies on their subjects. Its pronouncements on the complex and delicate issues of peace and disarmament--subjects on which it is incompetent--are biased and hostile to the Western case.

Are UNESCO's pronouncements "incompetent" because they are hostile to the West? And wouldn't truly a unique "Western case" be inherently biased? On the same New York Times opinion page a few days later in December, William Safire, who usually is known for a bit more intellectual and verbal adoptness, offers that UNESCO is a "three star Paris restaurant masquerading as an international organization." And, finally, a Washington Post editorial: UNESCO "got hijacked by a Third World Communist collective seemingly interested less in running good programs than in engaging in ideological disputation and living the high life."

OBVIOUSLY, one goal put forth for the pullout is to depoliticize UNESCO, to strip off its radical political edge. Another is to reassert America's leadership in the organization and in the international community generally. And a third is to force UNESCO crats to be more efficient with their money, which comes largely from the U.S. (we cast the lone "no" in the most recent budget vote at UNESCO). But what his attracted more attention than all of these is the outery at UNESCO for the licensing and regulation of journalists. The media here rightly criticizes any international government control of news. Yet they forget that this proposal was first put forth to protect journalists in dangerous war situations and has never been called for in an official UNESCO resolution. The fuss over licensing journalists has pushed underlying issues of communication into the background.

In the early 70s, underdeveloped nations began to criticize the ideology of "free flow" of information that has flourished since WWN. Instead of "free flow," they complained of a one-way flow from the center countries to the underdeveloped nations, and urged to "free and balanced flow"--a slight modification only.

Such criticisms sound awfully familar and the licensing controversy could serve as a blueprint for many others. "Free flow" is the classic liberal ideology, the legitimizer of social theory, democratic constitutions, and neoclassical economics. The most striking intellectual break with this ideology was Marx, who saw a one-way flow of surplus labor from laborers to capitalists. The old liberal ideology has faced severe strains over recent decades in America, becoming the target for dissatisfied Blacks, women, gays, radicals, and others. All of them said basically that the flow is one-way. The lines of money, education, social goods have run from "us" to "them." Is it any wonder then that the free flow legitimization, the traffic of ideas, the freedom of choice of the worker, the "natural" exchange of the genders of economic labor for housework, were so strongly assaulted? And with this in mind, is it any wonder why the country has titled to the right? (Think of a giant pinball machine, tilting to one side and shutting off.)

AS UNDERDEVELOPED NATIONS increasingly criticize our miding principles, we have not responded as a progressive Kennedy might have, negotiating to find some sort of common ground. Instead, the nation has held its conservative Reagan pose, denouncing any proposals for change and putting up a rigid defense.

The underdeveloped nations are calling for a New International Information Order (NIIO); to solve some basic problems. One is news imperialism; Brazilians often read about Brazil in UPI or AP service stories. Another problem is the stereotyping of the Third World in the Western media. And a third problem, whosxe catchword is Western cultural imperialism, is the world mindest that creates an cettt, and makes scores of poor children in Israel wear "Starsky and Hutch" t-shirts.

The neoclassical economist might point to the market, saying that people in the underdeveloped nations obviously want to read about Farrah Fawcett, Both why should they (or anyone, for that matter) want to? And one gets into a discussion of inferior psychological self-images in underdeveloped countries fostered by "Western news imperialism." There is also an economic aspect underdeveloped nations depend on Western satellites for communication and on computers in Western countries to manipulate duta which is sent out of the country and then back in (much as the English shipped cotton to Manchester, and manufactured cloth back to India). But ultimately, the prospects for a NHO may depend on the reorganization of the world's wealth and resources--a New International Economic Order--which also is being called for by some Third World nations. Meanwhile, rather than negotiate, the U.S. adopts rigid stances and lets isolation build.

UNESCO was created as a place far from the narrow political bickering of the U.N., an agency through which mankind's highest ideals--education, culture, pure knowledge--were to find expression and development. Instead though, we have found that all culture is political--not just domestically, where feminists have pointed it out, but internationally as well, anywhere where power is unequal. UNESCO probably is blasted and inefficient. But why not try to reform it from within, as France and Germany urge us to do? Jesse Jackson notes that Reagan feels we cannot reform UNESCO from within, but holds the opposite view on South Africa.

Deep down, a major U.S. motivation for pulling out of UNESCO is simply to regain its leadership. Because we contribute 25 percent of the budget, but have only one vote among the nations of the world, Reagan is obviously trying to buy the way to leadership. That, as has become apparent, cannot be done from within.

It seems ridiculous and self-flagellating for the U.S. to remain in a anti-Western body and foot a large portion of its bills. Yet the issue is not so clear as the Reaganites paint it; considerable moral and practical wrong can be attributed to all the players.

The U.S. advisory commission on UNESCO, composed of private citizens, voted 41 to 8 to stay in, and "copping out" was the label applied by one former chairman of that Board. They realize that to withdraw here is to highlight America's distance from the rest of the world--friends, enemies, and in-betweens alike--on the great and not-so-great issues of the day.