Colonization of Rural America
University of Missouri
America is being “colonized.” Multinational
corporations are extending their economic sovereignty over the affairs
of people in rural places everywhere, including rural America.
Rural people are losing control of their local public
institutions, as outside corporate interests, previously alien to their
communities, use their economic power to gain controlling influence over
local governments. Irreplaceable
precious rural resources, including rural people and rural culture, are
being exploited to increase the wealth of investors and managers of
corporations that have no commitment to the future of their “rural
colonies.” This is a
a colony has been defined as a territory, acquired by conquest or
settlement, over which a people or government, previously alien to that
territory, has imposed outside control.
A colonial relationship existed whenever one people or government
extended its sovereignty by imposing political control over another
people or territory. The
only fundamental difference between the current colonization of rural
areas and previous colonization of “lesser developed” countries is
the nature of the entity carrying out the process – the source of
colonization has been carried out by political entities, by governments.
Today, colonization is being carried out by economic entities, by
multinational corporations. However,
the colonization process and its consequences are virtually identical,
regardless of the source of power.
people, whether in America or elsewhere, are being told that they must
rely on outside investment to support local economic development.
Outside investment will bring badly needed jobs and income,
stimulate the local economy, and expand the local tax base.
Economically depressed rural communities will be able to afford
better schools, better health care, and expanded social services, and
will attract a greater variety of retail outlets – restaurants, movie
theaters, and maybe even a Wal Mart.
Their rural community will begin to look more like an urban
community and local people can begin to think and act more like urban
people. Rural people have
been left behind, they are told, and outside investment is the only
means by which they can advance fast enough to catch up with the rest of
same basic arguments have been used by the powerful of all times to
justify their colonization of the weak.
Colonization was the only feasible means of improving the lives
of the “natives” left behind in “primitive” societies –
economically, socially, and morally.
Since the indigenous people had no adequate means of developing
their resources themselves, it was only fair they give up some of the
benefits to the colonizing nation in order to acquire the outside
investment needed for the development process.
It was a “win-win” situation, so they were told.
the British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Germans, and Dutch were among
the great empire builders. They
colonized much of North, South, and Central America, Australia, and
Africa, as well as major regions of Asia.
Through colonization, the “primitive” people already
occupying these territories were given an opportunity to become a part
of a modern society. After
failing to gain cooperation through persuasion, the leaders of the
indigenous “tribes” were invariably bribed, threatened, or coerced
into colluding with the colonizing powers.
After all, it was for the ultimate good of the “their
people.” The 19th
century empire builders, in particular, claimed they had a moral
responsibility to help bring “backward people” some of the fruits of
modern Western Civilization. And,
if the “natives” continued to resist, they were subdued by force and
their indigenous cultures destroyed – for their own good, of course.
becoming part of a colonial empire brought numerous economic, health,
education, and technological benefits to past colonies.
In some cases, such as North America and Australia, the
indigenous population was sufficiently small to be essentially
eliminated by immigrants who shared the culture of their colonial
masters. Some colonies
became strong enough to gain independence and a few are now more
powerful than are their one-time masters.
But, most colonies were not granted independence until well into
the 20th century, when world opinion shifted against
colonialism on ethical and moral grounds.
to contemporary standards of international behavior, colonialism is
inexcusable because it conflicts directly with the basic rights of
national sovereignty and self-determination.
The recognition of such rights, worldwide, ended political
colonialism as a means of promoting economic and cultural development.
Political colonialism was abolished worldwide, because it had
obvious harmful effects on the people of colonized areas – socially,
culturally, ecologically, and economically.
Long established social life-styles were suddenly disrupted,
complete cultures were destroyed, natural resources were depleted, and
the natural environment was polluted with industrial chemicals and toxic
wastes. And, after the
colonizers had completed their exploitation, the local economy was left
in shambles with no indigenous community structure or any other means of
self-government to address the shameful legacy of colonialism.
In spite of the obvious economic and technological benefits of
colonization, the indigenous people of virtually every previously
colonized country of the world, including the United States, still
harbor a deep resentment of their former colonial masters.
Political colonization is no longer morally or ethically
the “corporate colonization” of rural areas everywhere, including in
America, continues virtually unchecked.
The earliest colonial intrusions into rural America were
motivated by exploitation of its abundant wildlife, vast forest lands,
and precious minerals deposits – invariably leaving behind frontier
“ghost towns,” after the wealth had been extracted from the land.
More recently, intrusions have been motivated by the exploitation
of cheap rural labor, by the textile and food processing industries, for
example. But, once the
corporations found people who would work even harder for less money in
other countries, the textile industry moved on, leaving behind deserted
factories and unemployable people.
With the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the
food processing industry now seems likely to abandon North America to
colonize rural Mexico instead. However,
corporate colonialism continues in rural America.
Many rural areas are still being colonized to exploit remaining
pockets of valuable rural resources, including an agricultural work
ethic, trusting communities, and open spaces in which to dump various
kinds of noxious wastes, which urban people have rejected.
giant factory hog operations provide a prime example of corporate
colonization of rural America. Local
people are promised new jobs, more income, an expanded tax base, and an
opportunity to “catch up” with the rest of American Society.
Local leaders are courted or coerced, as necessary, to shape
local policies to accommodate industrial hog production methods.
Local farmers are told industrialization is the wave of the
future for agriculture and they must embrace the new technologies to
survive. Rural people are
told that local regulations to protect the public health and natural
environment will drive existing farmers out of business, will stifle
economic development, and will doom their community to continued
arguments are no different from past arguments used to support political
colonization; only the source of power is different.
reality, few local people will gain from such colonization.
A few local officials and land speculators may line their pockets
and a few local people may get relatively good paying jobs, for a time.
But, nearly all of the profits and good paying jobs will go to
corporate investors and managers who will remain outside the community.
Most rural Americans eventually will refuse to work for
exploitative employers, leaving most of the low-paying jobs to be filled
by immigrant labor. Eventually,
the colonizing corporations will move on, once local resources have been
depleted or local resistance to their exploitation begins to affect
their bottom line. Perhaps
some post-colonial rural communities will be prosperous, but these
so-called success stories will be limited to places with unique
landscapes and climates deemed worthy of preserving for the enjoyment of
in earlier times, the 21st century corporate empire builders
claim they feel some responsibility to help bring “backward people”
of rural areas some of the benefits of the modern economy.
However, rural people are not necessarily “backward,” just
because they have not embraced the exploitative system of industrial
development and have been reluctant to discard their traditional rural
cultural values. After the
corporations are gone, there is no reason to believe that rural
Americans will be less resentful of their previous “colonial
masters” than are indigenous people of previously colonized nations.
They will resent the loss of rural culture, rural values, and
their previous sense of connectedness to place.
They will resent the loss of a once safe and healthy rural
environment in which they had hoped to live and raise their families.
They will resent the loss of their self-governing ability, as
their communities will have been split apart by dissention during the
colonizing process. They
will resent the loss of their sense of community.
threat of colonization is always present.
The economically and politically powerful will always be tempted
to dominate and exploit the weak. However,
differences in economic and political power only make colonization
possible – not necessary or inevitable. The powerful can be restrained
from their natural tendency to expand their sovereignty over the weak,
and even if they are not, the weak can always find ways to resist the
strongest defense rural America has against the threat of corporate
colonization is the knowledge of what is happening to their communities,
why it is happening, and what are the consequences of their doing
nothing to stop it. The
colonization of rural America is not inevitable.
But, rural Americans must stand together to preserve their
priceless rural culture, to protect their valuable natural and human
resources, and pursue a different strategy of “sustainable” rural