In the lead up to and in these early days of the Obama administration, there has been plenty of ink spilled and tea leaves read, trying to imagine what such an administration would look like. For those interested in Indonesia, most of the statements are impressionistic at best, scraps which could be used to imagine a more progressive US policy towards Indonesia. For the interests of this blog, there is one particular passage to go on, from Obama’s memoir Dreams of My Father. In the passage Obama imagines a post-industrial Indonesia and its consequences, connecting these potential hazards to the struggles he was seeing at the time in a Chicago neighborhood:
I tried to imagine the Indonesian workers who were now making their way to the sorts of factories that had once sat along the banks of the Calumet River, joining the ranks of wage labor to assemble the radios and sneakers that sold on Michigan Avenue. I imagined those same Indonesian workers ten, twenty years from now, when their factories would have closed down, a consequence of new technology or lower wages in some other part of the globe. And then the bitter discovery that their markets have vanished; that they no longer remember how to weave their own baskets or carve their own furniture or grow their own food; that even if they remember such craft, the forests that gave them wood are now owned by timber interests, the baskets they once wove have been replaced by more durable plastics. The very existence of the factories, the timber interests, the plastics manufacturer, will have rendered their culture obsolete; the values of hard work and individual initiative turn out to have depended on a system of belief that’s been scrambled by migration and urbanization and imported TV re-runs. Some of them would prosper in this new order. Some would move to America. And the others, the millions left behind in Djakarta, or Lagos, or the West Bank, they would settle into their own Altgeld Gardens, into a deeper dispair.
So what can be taken from a the words of a pre-politican Obama of over a decade ago imagining a soon to be post-industrial Indonesia? Very little, I should imagine. Certainly nothing specific, besides perhaps some solace in knowing that the US now has a president that at least took a moment to give the topic some thoughtful consideration.