The Human Life Exchange Rate Mechanism

  • 15 March 2021
  • 17:00 - 18:00
  • FREE
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The Human Life Exchange Rate Mechanism: Hypocrisy, Human Rights and the West’s ‘Liberal’ Media Representations of the Rest

Live presentation and Q&A from Dr Tom Sykes who will reflect on the hypocrisy and double standards which have long characterised Western media and literary representations of non-Western conflicts and crises.

These representations mystify or ignore the complicity of Western policy in such problems (war and instability in the Middle East, for example) and propose inconsistent moral and legal principles, as illustrated by Noam Chomsky’s assertion, “When they do it, it's a crime. When we do it, it's not.”

Undergirding such discourse is a chilling moral calculus that implies certain lives (predominantly white ones located in the developed world) matter more than others (non-white ones in the developing world).

Drawing on arguments from his new book, Imagining Manila: Literature, Empire and Orientalism (Bloomsbury/I.B. Tauris) and on the insights of postcolonial scholars including Edward Said, Alain Grosrichard, M.G.E. Kelly and Pankaj Mishra, Tom explores the (often subtle) deployment of this ‘human life exchange rate mechanism’ in much contemporary reporting and analysis by allegedly ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ Western media outlets on foreign affairs subjects including gender, economics, nationalism, autocracy, the climate emergency and, most importantly of all, US-UK foreign policy.

In addition, Tom provides some historical context for the trope, citing precedents from Shakespeare to Christopher Columbus to the colonial adventure novel, and argues that such thinking reveals deep contradictions at the heart of Western liberal perspectives on the non-Western world. Chief amongst them the ostensible upholding of universal human rights versus the forms of inequality, exploitation and oppression in the ‘periphery’ produced by that same liberal capitalist global order.

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