five principles: returning to what works, be responsible

Over my seven years of being involved in development work my thinking and understanding related to development: the action, the term, and the mentality, has evolved, been destroyed, and is more often radically (double meaning) recreated. The growth in my thinking from my youthful naïve, but very open and un-restricted, thinking has been one that has taken me on more than one adventure. While the Capstone course in international development has helped me to build a theoretical framework and apply new buzzwords to my ideas of development, it has not so much changed my thinking in the realm of development. My ideas cannot be narrowed to only five principles, but I will cover those that I have determined to be necessary for a base of effective and responsible development. This will be my attempt to answer Alan Thomas’ question,

The alternative vision, based on the realization of human potential in diverse ways, allows for the immanent development at the level of individuals and communities, which should become ‘empowered’ to develop themselves to their full capacities. However, there is no clear model for how development of this kind might build on itself to create a self-reproducing process of social change […] (36)

The alternatives that many people are working to employ now are often mirrors of original subsistence-living, traditional and indigenous communities. As such my definition of development reflects the ideas of these communities rooted in sustainability.

My (un)Definition:

I am not allowed to define development. It is not my place and it is not my task unless I am part of a community that seeks to take actions on its future. Development, in my opinion, is a very sensitive term and can only be given definition in the community in which it will be implemented. This follows my beliefs of all definitions of words. In this case, the full contextual load associated with the development term requires a departure from even the use of the term and instead an outlining of what a community seeks to accomplish. Development, as a singularly defined term, will only again assert power over people sought to be ‘developed.’ The power of words and their use by people is still a very important concept. So, I cannot give a definition, but I can give principles with their own definitions to allow others agency in their own development. Definition of development: __________________.

Five Principles

I: Small Scale

We have fled the land and crowded into cities leaving the natural (environment) commons to be destroyed and exploited. Alternatives spring up left and right that call for a co-evolution of man and nature, sometimes called ecological development, because it takes into account every aspect of our world system that sustains our lives.

Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. (Schumacher, 14)

People need to re-situate themselves in a new natural commons where the perpetuation of that natural commons is the number one goal. People and nature can co-evolve, our thinking and structures just need to recognize this and find ways for that idea to work.

Within this principle, localization and relocalization are very important. Means of production and consumption need to be made smaller in scale, into economies of scale.

[…] people who live in highly self-sufficient local communities are less likely to get involved in large-scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade. (Schumacher, 62)

These localized economies of scale will reduce the need to take extreme measures to provide a commodity half way across the world when a working alternative exists. Take fruit for example, I love mangoes, but it is entirely unnecessary that I eat one at the expense of cheap labor, petro-industry perpetuation, and wasteful delivery systems when I could walk outside into my backyard and eat a beautiful Michigan apple. Developing localization also builds community and cooperation between people who may otherwise believe they are completely disconnected. The values of interdependence and tolerance will be ever more important.

A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . . (Kitching, 179 qtd. Thomas)

In a sense, people need to be reintroduced to their world and their neighbors (they live just next door). We need to find a way to live in our natural commons, not on it or just off of it. Our parasitic tendencies need to be reversed and we need to become givers to that which provides us everything. All must worship our mother who art not in heaven (mother nature). This will allow us greater agency in our own development, which is a collective endeavor.

In this localized economy of scale we will return to nature and again understand how to be responsible producers and consumers, we will reorient ourselves with that which has become a commodified human need: food. For this principle step one is starting a farmer’s market in your community or getting involved in local politics.

II: Cooperation

Cooperation is natural and it works. It is probably the most effective development model in existence. People and creatures work together for mutual benefit more often than they choose the option that only helps themselves. Evidence of this is displayed in symbiotic relationships between disparate life forms.

People have also formed structures that allow for greater cooperation between themselves: cooperatives, collectives, and communes. Even religious societies,

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. […] All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts of the Apostles, 43-47)

All forms focus on a lifestyle that is centered on working for the good of the whole community. Cooperatives often formed in response to practices of monopoly, failures of the free market, exploitation, oppression, and global capitalist destructions.

“[…] in an era of capital concentration and corporate malfeasance, grassroots community responses can make a major contribution to providing a better living environment.” (Merrett & Walzer)

Cooperatives are based on principles of voluntary association, democratic and consensus decision-making by all community members, member participation, autonomy and independence, education, cooperation with other cooperatives, and concern for community. These are principles that are very much related to the five principles I outline here. Cooperatives are important tools for community building and can strengthen localization efforts by allowing everyone to take part in economics and decisions. Cooperatives also foster tolerance and respect.

“Co-ops often played a role in uniting different ethnic groups in their new communities.” (Merrett & Walzer, 29)

Becoming closer to each other as people living in the same world goes along with cooperatives efforts to be ecologically sustainable with minimal impact on the natural commons. Respect for both people and nature will be fostered as more small-scale cooperatives are formed in support of a localized economy of scale. Step one for this principle is joining a cooperative or communal organization.

III: Anarchy

Anarchy is a philosophy and theory that, “regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society (dictionary.com). In practice decentralization is essentially anarchy. A decentralized system is still a system, with its part linked by mutual transactions and interdependence (Kochen, 18). In 1973, E.F. Schumacher wrote that poverty is essentially a problem of two million villages and the solutions to poverty would not come from the cities, but from those villages (204). His idea is often replicated in the work of development projects and NGOs, including Jeffrey Sachs’ work.
Jeffrey Sachs says decentralization is necessary because, “the details will need to be decided at the village level, in the villages and cities themselves” (278). This model is represented in his Millennium Villages Project (MVP), however the extent of decision making at the village level is undetermined, if it exists at all. Sachs’ best known critic, William Easterly, writes his theories of development based on a bottom-up market approach and so it is already decentralized from the start, but unfortunately it works towards an end goal of centralization (Easterly, 100). To join the crew of prominent development economists, Joseph Stiglitz wrote in a World Bank report,

In many cases innovative approaches to service delivery will involve greater participation by local communities and decentralization of decisionmaking. (Stiglitz, 1998)

The model that these top (and top-down) economists should use is best known as “autonomous development.” Development that is defined and controlled by local people is autonomous. This type of development is exemplified by indigenous groups in the Andes, where they define development as “wellbeing not only of the individual, but also of the world around them (Saravia qtd. in Ruonavaara). Related to this, Esteva writes that people sought to liberate themselves from their economic chains and so created new commons in their neighborhoods, barrios, and villages (20). From the ideas of anarchy and decentralization rooted in autonomous development, the possibilities are real to create,

Anarchy works to support cooperative, voluntary mutual aid and association, without the interference of government. It is not a philosophy of violence and chaos as many wrongly believe, it is rather an attempt to embody a society where people have control of their own development which is to occur through cooperation between individuals in cooperative communities. Step one: reject the national government and begin governing your life by your interactions with community members.

IIII: Autonomy

“The most effective forms of organization are based on partly autonomous and contextually rooted local units linked by connective structures, and coordinated by formal organizations.” (Tarrow, 137)

There can be no centralized control over anyone or anything. Everything must be related to a common community so that the effects and impacts are known and felt. Successes and failures will reflect on the operation of said community and will allow no one the ability to claim ignorance. Autonomy allows for each person to develop themselves as a separate sovereign unit within the community. As such no external agendas could take over ‘development’ of the community and the people living and working will have complete control over what they need and how they will get it.

The really helpful things will not be done by big organizations; but they can be done by people themselves […] (Schumacher, 205)

The only thing that large organizations can and should facilitate is the dissemination of information, best practices, and means of communicating with distant voices. Large organizations should remain small in structure and focused solely on a goal of educating. Autonomy is essential for small-scale, cooperative, anarchic communities for people to actualize their own power and potential as well as providing everyone agency in their own development. Step one: make sure groups/ companies you associate with are not just power hungry minorities that don’t allow members to participate.

V: Socialism

Small-scale + cooperative + autonomous + anarchic = a socialist utopia.

Would Marx be proud? Perhaps, but Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement, would be more proud. Marx called Owen’s ideas “utopian socialism.” So the last great evil that I will write about is probably the most formative concept for creating a new definition of ‘development.’ The basic tenet of socialism: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ reflects the ideas of Jesus, cooperation, autonomy, and definitely small-scale structures. The greatest downfalls of socialism have come about as a result of power. The implementation of a socialist system cannot work in a centralized society, just as democracy does not work in large-scale organizational structures.

Each of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member of the whole. (Rousseau, Ch. 6, Bk. 1)

Socialism demands a lack of centralized governmental authority over people and decisions. It calls for a reclaiming of the commons for all and the importance of localization. The autonomous work of each decentralized community will benefit society as a greater whole in socialism. It requires cooperation between members of the small community if it is to succeed at all. If the previous principles had been applied in socialism, it would have been a working model for an alternative society. Step one: defend the term of socialism when it is decried as a failure.

Conclusion – The List:

Small scale, localization, economies of scale, sustainability, ecological development, cooperation, mutual aid, anarchy, decentralization, village republic, autonomy, agency in development, bottom-up, socialism, utopia, communal life

Works Cited:

Allen, Tim and Alan Thomas. Poverty and Development in the 21st Century. Oxford:
Oxford University, 2000.

Apostles. The Bible: Acts of the Apostles. A really long time ago inspired by Jesus, born of Mary (the ‘virgin’) and Joseph (the carpenter).

Easterly, William. The White Man’s Burden. The Penguin Press: 2006.

Kochen, Manfred and Karl Wolfgang Deutsch. Decentralization. Oelgeschlager, Gunn &
Hain Publishers, Inc. 1980.

Merrett, Christopher D. and Norman Walzer eds. Cooperatives and Local Development.
Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2004.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Social Contract. The Penguin Press, 1974.

Ruonavaara, Diane. Literature Review of Development Perspectives. 2000.

Sachs, Jeffery. The End of Poverty. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.

Schumacher, E.F. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Harper Perennial:
New York, 1973. Reissued, 1989.

Stiglitz, Joseph. Assessing Aid: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why. World Bank:
November, 1998.

Tarrow, Sidney. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics.
Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 1998.

Wood, Lesley. “5 Bridging the Chasms: The Case of Peoples’ Global Action.” Coalitions
Across Borders. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2005.

not in our time: burn the magic blankets and smash the band wagons

To posit that poverty, even just simply extreme poverty, will end or has the possibility to end in our time borders on naïveté. There are many within the development sphere that would jump on Jeffery Sachs’ bandwagon only to find that there are no bands scheduled to play. Like a marching band without instruments, Sachs’ claims seek to present structural solutions to problems without addressing structural root causes. One cannot expect too much from those who want to present good ideas, but do not challenge the status quo or the pockets of power that drive the “development” agendas. If there is to be real social change that benefits people in development then power structures must be addressed. Philip McMichael focuses on the role of power within the development field. Making sure to note the master and subject relationship between those of the ‘modern’ world and those who have not grown in the same vein as that power strapped modernity. A key aspect forgotten in many development discussions is history, including the very history of development. Many enter a community or country and attempt to present a diagnosis before even researching how and why the country, deemed ‘developing,’ has arrived at the poor conditions viewed as the worst possible indicators for ‘development.’

Post-World

We are living in a society that is wrestling with the idea that everything once held in high regard has actually been a set of extremely violent and detrimental practices to both our fellow human beings and our earthly habitat. As a result we talk of post-development, post-modernity, post-materialism, alternatives to globalization, and anything that rejects actions of the past. Calls like these are nothing new and have been expressed and published for the past 30 odd years by various experts and activists. It seems we are only now beginning to collectively grasp the importance of these post-world analyses. However from all these post-analyses it is easy to arrive at scathing conclusions of past failures. What is not as easy is to move forward from the wrongs of the past into the present and future with a firm understanding of what needs to change. Many within the development field fall victim to this analysis leaving the real issues unaddressed and the violent structure intact.
Addressing Inadequacies Effectively

Jeffery Sachs stepped to the limelight of the development world with his once seemingly far-reaching and radical assertions that we, the wealthy world, could easily do so much more to help those in grave situations. He was undoubtedly correct, but few took the time to really look at how he was saying (or not saying) we should implement this help. In Chapter One of his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffery Sachs writes,

Today we can evoke the same logic [the ability of advances in technology to underpin continued economic growth] to declare that extreme poverty can be ended not in the time of our grandchildren, but in our time. The wealth of the rich world, the power of today’s vast storehouse of knowledge, and the declining fraction of the world that needs help to escape from poverty all make the end of poverty a realistic possibility by the end of 2025. (3)

Here Sachs’ greatest mistake is laid bare. He does well to note that the wealth of today’s rich world is needed to make a difference in reversing the trends of poverty. However, he nearly exclusively focuses on the wealth of today’s rich world and not on the innovation and ability of those being ‘developed’ to know best about their situation. He misses the greatest uplifting accomplishment of human nature; empowerment. Yes, the ‘developed’ and Western world has harmed much of the ‘developing’ world in its pursuit of power and wealth. However, the key is not then to dictate the uses of that stolen wealth, but to redistribute it to those who are effectively addressing the issues that they face.

Sachs is an economist and not a historian. He nearly completely misses the make and break issue of development – colonialism and its effects. His structured solutions that tote the nation-state do not take into account a colonial past or its present implications that hold back development. Sachs as an economist is also from the “centralized” economics camp. He studied under shock therapy and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) for failing economies and seems to have never left behind the idea that people in poverty cannot help themselves and require experts or professionals to get them out.

Contradictions are a constant in Sachs’ work, the biggest one being his call for decentralization (278). His new big plan is the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), which looks like a very promising model except for the fact that it focuses on getting experts into villages to ‘develop’ and modernize them as opposed to allowing the village community to develop itself with support from the West. He calls for decentralization, but constantly follows the regular flows of development experts in advancing the role of the state in controlling development, as opposed to the people. The MVP has a great potential to be a working model for decentralized development spurred by individual communities in autonomous villages working for sustainable living, but those at the village level must then be empowered as such.

Relying on the market to help people is also a great failure of many current development economists, especially Sachs. If the market worked as it was supposed to, then wealth would redistribute itself through the structure to those without. This does not happen, there are cracks between the fingers of the invisible hand, and no markets are truly ‘free.’ Again Sachs fails to address power structures that drive markets and economies. The modernist approach with an individual at the helm driving his or her own advancement in society completely destroys the idea that people have a linked and interdependent existence. While Sachs critiques the magic bullet approach, he instead presents a magic blanket to cover the world of development issues without regard to power structures, colonial histories, or failures of the market (309). Sachs comes from the ‘development as modernization’ approach and he cannot seem to kick the habit.

Death by Consumption

Anyone with a basic understanding of the world can easily tell you that the way we currently live is extremely unsustainable and violent if the human race and world as we know it are to continue with future generations. Our practices destroy environments, force the extinction of animal species, destroy the lifestyles of those without, and kill people. We are essentially killing ourselves with the power hungry system we have established across the globe. When it was a wealthy minority that propagated the globalized stratification that we now see, it has become a collective “we” with a responsibility to change. In Chapter One of his book, Development and Social Change, Philip McMichael writes:

We are at a critical threshold: Whether consumer-based development remains a minority activity or becomes a majority activity among the earth’s inhabitants, either way is unacceptable for social (divided planet) or environmental (unsustainable planet) reasons or both, Development as we know it is in question. (1)

McMichael’s statement that, “We are at a critical threshold,” is not a new one. This sentiment has been echoed with the same calls for action for the past 30 years as many watched the earth deteriorate and society fracture across lines of income.

To overcome this threshold McMichael goes into the racist policies of colonization and talks about the benefits of decolonization in relation to development. The most important idea to cover here is the notion of modernity and the rise of neo-colonial practices funded by foreign aid. Are developing peoples modern? Can they be modern? How can those developing be considered modern if they never had a hand in developing what it now means to be modern? This is a very post-modern perspective, but I think a very valid one. If ‘developing’ societies want to effectively develop into sustainable communities that account for both the needs of people and their environment then they will need to reject every notion of being modern. Just because a Rwandan can use a computer doesn’t mean that s/he is modern mostly because s/he is not accepted as such in the global system. ‘Developing’ countries and communities need to also look at the implications of becoming modern: environmental degradation, liberalized and open economy that does not benefit everyone, exploitation of labor, the desire for things un-needed, and the fracturing of society in relation to wants, gender, and class.

The global world has come to commodify everything, including your much needed breakfast in the morning, possibly very soon your life could be legally bought and sold on the market. If everyone became modern and consumed at the rate that the wealthy do now – we will join the ranks of species made extinct by the human race. Those who have the highest power and wealth in society need to recognize and reduce their desire, while those without power and wealth need their basic needs provided.

McMichael’s writings focus on the impact of development projects and policies on people, and as such also the habitats of those people. Where most developers look beyond people straight to the nation-state and the increases in GDP, McMichael offers real life examples of development at work and models for sustainable development. McMichael doesn’t attempt to present any grand plans or solutions but instead focuses on case studies of groups and communities resisting global development and attempting to spur their own development (231).

Dichotomy: Will Modernity or Tradition Save the Day?

The potential solutions are many and the ideas just keep coming, but what really works and what is just a stack of papers, a nicely written book, or a pile of garbage. If we focus solely on the ideologies of Sachs and McMichael, I think it is possible to marry the two ideas for solutions to creating models for sustainable development and moving towards a more equal and mutually beneficial society.

Sachs will have to make some concessions if the marriage is to last beyond the honeymoon however. When Sachs calls for decentralization (278), he has to really mean it. His MVP model needs to embody this idea that small-scale groupings of people can create their own solutions for development. As McMichael writes, models of self-organizing development need to be adopted as opposed to the dominant centralizing version (239). In the same vein of decentralizing needs to be the idea of localization. McMichael writes of Wolfgang Sachs’ idea of ‘cosmopolitian localism’ where diversity is embraced at the local levels. A great example of ‘cosmopolitian activism’ is the advent of cooperatives that infuse democratic values and respect for local ecology.

In a case study in Ghana, McMichael outlines this idea better (248). Local farmers switched from growing a national crop of cassava to growing corn for the local markets. This was in a sense a slight rejection of the state economy and global economy to ensure a sustainable local community. The goal of many developing countries related to the environment is to create alternatives to the capital and energy intensive agro-industry and sustain local ecologies by building alternative models to top-down bureaucratic systems (249).

Conclusion

The solution will not be a large-scale plan that is facilitated by the West or modeled by modern advances. The solution will be in decentralized, small-scale, local villages and communities working collectively together to preserve their ecological habitats and meet everyone’s basic needs. The state will become irrelevant, the global economy will be allowed to collapse, and people will seek to be closer to one another in their shared natural commons.

Works Cited:
McMichael, Philip
2004 Development and Social Change. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.

Sachs, Jeffery
2005 The End of Poverty. New York: Penguin Press.

exploiting whiteness

24 May 2008

Saturday – John Metzler’s (MSU Professor) study abroad group stopped in the morning to see the center. It is just their first week spent in Pretoria and now on the Durban. It was interesting as usual to throw college kids into the harsh environment of the informal settlement especially during violent times. They talked with some of the older kids from the center and went on a walking tour to see some schools, the library, clinic #2 and everything in between. Some of the MSU students had good questions – some did not.

When they left (John was sure to check if we had an “exit strategy” – xenophobia) we planned on relaxing with the older kids until China sauntered up – again called me Mr. Napoleon Hill and inquired if we were ready for church. We all were very reluctant to go (somewhat interested) mostly because he planned the day without consulting us. Needless to say the Church of the Nazarean is far from a traditional African take on Christianity or a remnant of colonial legacy. Founded by their prophet in 1920, after he saved Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) from a tsunami – depicted on the front of a prayer book and based on Exodus 35 (keep holy the Sabbath) with your cars, cell phones, and portable music players. It turns out after three and a half hours (we were told 45 minutes) the “temple” of the Nazareans was a hot tourist spot in Zonke and we were encouraged (somewhat forcefully) to take pictures and there was an expectation to donate to the offering collection. Nearly well classified as a farce with a living prophet (the current prophet is the son of the original prophet), yet in July 800,000 faithfuls trek to KZN in unity? We were much disappointed in China (and very upset about a wasted day).

Our woes were quelled by a nice pasta dinner and searches for chocolate that ended with white chocolate covered wafer bars still very delicious and 570 Rand raised for VVOCF in shirts bought by John Metzler’s study abroad group.

25 May 2008

Sunday, rainy Sunday
the sunday rain so grey
makes the cold linger and stay
Michigan has arrived in South Africa
gray skies (lighter than MI)
pitter patter on the roof
constant rains
The dry wash will not be done
hanging soppily on the line
washed with care so fine
hidden sun un-utilised

26 May 2008

Today we split the kids into four teams of mixed ages old and young, much like Boy Scout patrols – they made a team name, song, and picked an animal – the song performances were a lot of fun. This is going to be a great way to grow young leaders and foster stronger relationships between VVOCF children. Older children can help younger and older children can learn to take responsibility and lead their peers. China seemed to not favor having all the power in this situation and had no chance to assert his ‘superior’ academic dominance over the children. He is a force that needs to be reined in to increase its positive nature in VVOCF.

Here youth development is essential to community development and country development. Growing young leaders and capable young citizens is essential to fostering a strong and healthy community.

South Africa grant writing is a crazy process – nearly more complicated and involved that US forms. Instant coffee is disgusting. Planning for Lesotho now. I always do things for the experience – not for how easy it will be or how safe it will make me feel in my mind. Everything can not always be as you want it to be.

Today we also went to the administrative center of Zonkizizwe (formerly the Greater-Germiston Council). There is not much there – an unknown Red Cross office, social worker, other random offices, local Department of Social Development office and a great view of the surrounding Zonkizizwe and all its extensions. Got some great pictures.

There is now a massive winter rainstorm headed our way, thunder and lightning all the way, I think it may even be two storms – hopefully it will be dry tomorrow. It gets colder ever night here and it is almost time to break out the winter coat. A lady at the taxi rank was selling winter coats today with the brisk wind blowing.

27 May 2008

We finally left for Germiston by 2ish or later. China and Mr. Ndaba held another meeting without informing anyone. So we had a meeting with a teacher before finally leaving for the taxi rank. The teacher is a great connection to the library and her husband does NGO work with the UN and the government (supposedly). There is a conference with great potential for funding for the center.

At the taxi rank the waiting game begins since you have to wait for a full taxi before leaving for your destination. Uneventful ride to Germiston, saw much of the surrounding area.

In Germiston we headed to the Mall to use internet and pick up supplies. Celumusa and Rachel went to the Social Development Office to take care of the grant, but the person they needed to talk to was not there. I was able to check all my mail and do some blogging. Many people are worried about me because of the news coverage of the violence. No worries. At the Mall we ate at Wimpy’s, a fast-food burger place, oddly sitdown unless you want to take away food. The name fits what the burger looks like when it is placed in front of you – wimpy. Really it was delicious. Bacon and burger with cheese and avocado spread. Kumnandi!

Germiston is like many big cities – dirty streets, street vendors, shops all over, hustle and bustle – the taxi rank is huge. The line for Zonke was all the way in the back and manny people could not believe that three white kids were taking the taxi to Zonke. There is no regular Zonke line so you have to wait. Finally a taxi came and we all crammed in. This is when the ride became interesting. You pay by row – all I had was a 50 Rand bill. So I took the money of the person next to me and waited for the others to give me theirs. Instead, the young man next to me took my R50 and passed it to the front saying “four” to mean paying for four passengers. He never gave me his or the guy next to him’s money. They sent back two R20 bills for change, which was too much. I thought the other guys had paid separate (which sometimes happens), so the young guy took a R20 and gave me the other plus R1. I thought this was the fare for the others so I waited for my change. It never came and so I asked Celumusa. An argument ensued for the remainder of the ride back where the young guy lied left and right (in Zulu so I really had no idea what was said) and I thought Celumusa might hurt someone. The argument was so heated that the taxi fogged up. In the end it was determined that they had sent back too much change and that the young guy took his neighbor’s money and never paid me and also took my change. He never gave it up even as everyone in the taxi yelled at him (in Zulu). An old man who was known in Zonke, who we met in line, told the young guy that if it had been lighter out he would have called him out and beat him – which is common for people who steal money on taxis. As we got out at our stop I stared down the young guy to remember his face. Exploiting whiteness comes in many forms. Yet my only regret in losing the R30 something (about USD $5) is that I could not argue my own case in Zulu – because no one arguing for me actually understood what happened. I am one who sticks to culture and remains thrifty no matter where I am. Just because I am white doesn’t mean that ripping me off makes anything less worse. Even though it was only $5, it is much more valuable here (almost half a day’s pay). I can’t lie even in the US losing $5 would suck.

I can’t say what I’ll do if I ever see this young guy again. I feel like I will see him again since he lives in Zonke. I plan on taking the taxis again so I just might run into him around Zonke or at the taxi rank. I was taken advantage of fair and square, but a thief is a thief no matter what language they speak.

End of the day thoughts:
Africa is not the place to go rid yourself of your capitalist or privileged splurges. Being the big, white American with money and gifts does not lend you legitimacy or prestige. Pawning off your past worldly desires on people is not leveling the field or making you less accountable, Having money does not give you a ticket to “make things better” or easier or nicer. Using your money in effective ways does. That isn’t to say that giving small gifts is a bad practice, but just being the constant giver and ATM is extremely poor practice, especially in development.

29 September 2008 Reflections:

Exploiting whiteness is in no way meant to mean that I deserve to be treated as a god or king on the African continent. I just would like to touch on the different ways that people get used. In my case it is because I am an outsider, I don’t know the language, I can’t understand everything in this new community. Sometimes that gives people the idea that you can get used.

We met a neighbor named Bongani. He was in Secondary School and repeated over and over how black people were bad people. They liked to beat people, steal, etc. He warned us many times to be wary of black people because they were dangerous. We attempted to tell him that white people can also be bad and that you have to look at each person separately. He told us he had many white friends and it seemed that he almost preferred to be associated with white people as opposed to black. I am not sure where this stems from, but he had a lot of difficulty with violence from people close to him in the past.

In the case of China and the visit to the Temple of the Nazareans, it seemed to make complete sense to China that we would want to attend and take pictures and enjoy the ‘African’ novelties of religion. He kept telling us that it was a popular tourist spot. We kept telling him that we were not tourists. We came to Zonke to work because we understood the difficulties and the needs. We did not come to watch people, but to engage them.

The history of whiteness in South Africa is nothing pleasant at all and so I place no blame on anyone for their reactions to us or their actions towards us. White people do not have a great respect in South Africa, especially in the informal and township areas. This is no surprise, but once people found out we were American, then it was all ok and different misconceptions were employed.

American popular culture is something that you can never get away from. There is a iconizing of gangsters, just like in the US. The N-word is regularly used to refer to people and Americans. This was a tough conversation to explain that ‘nigger’ in the US is like saying ‘kaffir’ (derived from an Arabic word meaning ‘rejector’ often translated as ‘infidel’) in southern Africa. The image of Americans was of a person wearing baggy jeans, a jersey, and a sideways cap saying, “what’s up my nigger.” American pop culture gave us a troublesome time, but how else are people to think about America when the only image they see is on MTV or from pop music.

When I was in Ghana I experienced much the same misconceptions of Americans: people with so much money and a large house, read image of america: blinding lights. The misconceptions go both ways.

definition of development (revisited): beauty in the palm of your hand

Last summer I wrote about the definition of development after having a conversation with an incredible Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana who was really making the most of his time and abilities. The conversation that we had really made me think about the term ‘development’ and what it really means. Before that conversation and since I have been working to create my own definition, or rather I have been working to make the term stand for what I believe development should be all about.

This is what I wrote from Ghana on 7 June 2007:

This discussion with Alex really made me think about ‘development’ as the word was thrown around a lot that night. Alex has said that he really likes the Peace Corps model because it deals with integration. A volunteer is placed in a village or area and works with the people to improve their situation. This as opposed to some large organization or institution just giving out money to big plans they believe will work. But, what is the definition of development? Who gets to determine what development is? Who is allowed to call one developed or developing or underdeveloped? Is development all based on a desire or push to become Western? Yes, I think in the very recent past it was and really still is to a degree, but for me development holds a different definition. Development for me mirrors positive progress in people’s lives. Development should be based on getting and giving people their basic needs (rights) for survival and life. Even in this regard the almighty ‘West’ needs development.

Now my development studies have become more involved and I will apply certain paradigms of thought and different theories of development from many different minds. Before I get into theory I want to begin by tackling the continuously difficult task of writing a definition of development.

Development is a loaded term and cannot be the way that we approach others in need. From President Truman’s “launch” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) of the idea of development in 1949 during his inauguration speech in which he declared “underdeveloped areas,” the West began a long blinding road on which the US would always be number one with no need for ‘development.’ Development in this sense creates an inferior to superior relationship between those who need help and those who have the resources. This is where the idea of the ‘third world’ comes in. Two years ago I wrote on the idea of the ‘third world’ and how the term’s use perpetuates bad ideas in development. The notion of being better because of circumstance is an extreme detriment in development work. In actuality the West is developing just as much as those we deem ‘underdeveloped.’

We are developing the way we see the world and how we react or act to the different situations that various people face. We are developing our ability to care and show compassion, the most basic human action, to those who need our help. We need to start developing a process to assist those who most need our help. We need to develop our government’s actions to fit the size of its big words and statements. The world’s people need to recognize that we are not separated by very much anymore, except maybe our prejudices and false perceptions. We are not so distant as to claim we live in different worlds any longer. The distance is only in our minds.
From: new world discovered 3 September 2006

Development and its Uses

Truman called others ‘underdeveloped’ and what we have now seen is the disparity between rich and poor has grown exponentially. The ‘underdeveloped’ were not able to come closer to the ‘developed.’ We began calling some countries ‘developing’ as they adopted our ideas for governance, economy, liberalized markets, and modernity. This began the ‘era of development’ and Wolfgang Sachs provides us with an excellent quote:

“Like a towering lighthouse guiding sailors towards the coast, ‘development’ stood as the idea which oriented emerging nations in their journey through post-war history. No matter whether democracies or dictatorships, the countries of the South proclaimed development as their primary aspiration, after they had been freed from colonial subordination. Four decades later, governments and citizens alike still have their eyes fixed on this light flashing just as far away as ever: every effort and and every sacrifice is justified in reaching the goal, but the light keeps on receding into the dark.” (Thomas, Ch. 1)

Here is where we can draw on a theme of ‘development of the mind.’ This idea has been grown on the backs of the very people that ‘development’ seeks to assist. Born of colonization which promoted a certain nihilism of colonized populations and modernization as a result of capitalist systems imposed on those populations, the development of the mind made people think that they weren’t good enough and that they did not have the capacity to do for themselves. This is also a mentality that can be found within the slave and Black populations of the US. When a people is subjugated it takes a long time to redevelop the thinking that is not rooted in subordination. Everything was made simple and efficient for the imperial masters to control and capitalise on stolen wealth. Esteva importantly notes that for people to embrace ‘development’ they have to first perceive themselves to be ‘underdeveloped.’ (7) In this sense development negates the very person seeking to improve their life through ‘development’ because, “it undermines confidence in oneself and one’s own culture.” (Esteva, 8) The nature of ‘development’ almost always forgets about history and culture. Economists come at development with the idea of a level playing field that just needs to be built upon, but that is never the case. Histories of colonization which spurred war and violent conflict cannot be sliced out of development work. Colonized populations often had their histories and cultures re-written. In the case of Rwanda a homogeneous people were divided and pitted against one another. In South Africa culture was bound by ‘bantustans.’ In every corner of the globe a system focusing on mass production and the attainment of ‘wealth’ was imposed on traditional ways of life, cultures were and are altered as a result – sometimes even discarded. The “standardization of desires and dreams” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) resulted and now we have ‘development.’

What we also can look back and see is the use of ‘development’ as a “weapon in the competition between political system.” (Wolfgang Sachs, 2) The Cold War led to a widespread allocation of ‘rogue aid,’ that is aid that is given without restriction and without being tied to a government or ‘development’ agency. This ‘rogue aid’ was given to win over world leaders to the side of the US or Soviet Union. Development as a weapon has created long-term effects that can still be seen as countries fell to dictators and authoritarian regimes fueled by ‘rogue aid’ and their militarization by Cold War powers. The ‘era of development can also be called the ‘era of the Cold War.’ (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) Our privilege and ‘wealth’ does not give us a free ticket to ‘develop’ the rest of the world or tell them that they are living poorly. If the world was to be ‘developed’ entirely we, as a global society, would be reduced to a dead population living on top of each other on a barren planet devoid of all nature because we exploited both ourselves and our habitat. In some areas of ‘development’ I would even say that the West has taken irrational steps backwards.

Paradigms

There are three non-distinct paradigms or theories of development. The first is what we have seen for the past four decades since Truman’s statement on underdevelopment. Development as Modernization puts forth the idea that the “modern money economy should and would overcome the traditional subsistence economy.” (Ruonavaara, 2000) This is where ‘development’ has acted as a “Westernization of the world” (Wolfgang Sachs, 4) and the beginnings of a failed system that does not serve people’s needs.

In the 1980s Alternative Development came into fashion to deal with the failure of Development as Modernization. The problem here was a misuse of privilege. Scientific knowledge was favored over all as professionals and experts came in as ‘facilitators.’ The positive of Alternative Development was the greater focus on people and ‘including the excluded.’ Women, minority groups, and the actual people being ‘developed’ were engaged in their own development. The failure of this paradigm was the hierarchical structure of facilitator and underdeveloped community, the lack of agency given in development, and the focus on modern and scientific knowledge as the only way to go.

Now there is the paradigm of Alternatives to Development or what some call Post-Development. This is an absolute “rejection and the replacement of the Development as Modernization model.” (Ruonavaara) Alternatives to Development employs re-membering people into society, a step further than ‘including the excluded,’ participatory and cooperative practices, as well as allowing “professionals and non-professionals to talk about development in new ways.” (Ruonavaara)

I say these paradigms are non-distinct because it is often difficult to specifically define approaches to development in reality as one paradigm or the other. Often it is easy to place certain development practices within the paradigms, but not the actions of an entire agency or organization.

Definitions

Alan Thomas tells us that the term ‘development’ is used in three main ways:

1. as a vision, description or measure of the state of being of a desirable society;
2. as an historical process of social change in which societies are transformed over long periods;
3. as consisting of deliberate efforts aimed at improvement on the part of various agencies, including governments, all kinds of organizations and social movements.

Chambers (1997, from Thomas, Ch. 2) defined development as just ‘good change.’ Thomas breaks this down excellently in his second chapter and the important concept to note is the ambiguity of ‘development.’ People have different ideas of what change is, of what progress entails, and especially of how we should get to that good change from where we are now. The nature of the defining is how ‘development’ happens in reality.

Cowen and Shenton write, “The burden of development was to compensate for the negative propensities of capitalism through the reconstruction of social order. To develop, the, was to ameliorate the social misery which arose out of an immanent process of capitalist growth.” (Thomas, Ch. 2) If capitalism is to be a working system of self-regulating markets then everything must become a commodity. The problem here is that everything cannot be a commodity: life, mind, dignity, equality – these cannot be bought, sold, and produced or regulated by any market.

Jeffrey Sachs talks about development (economic) in relation to a ladder, (Sachs, 18) where once you reach the first rung you are set on your path to development. This falls in line with the Development as Modernization approach. The problem with Sachs’ definition is that he creates a linear model that does not work in reality, people are often moving up and down the ladder – or not even on it because development can not focus solely on the economic. The political, social, and cultural must also be taken into account. Sachs’ other problem arrives when he defines poverty as a trap. This definition takes out all history and accountability in relation to one’s poverty. It discounts how one got into poverty in the first place or how a country or community lives in poverty.

Wolfgang Sachs defines development as, “an amoeba-like concept, shapeless but ineradicable. Its contours are so blurred that it denoted nothing – while it spreads everywhere because it connotes the best of intentions. The term is hailed by the IMF and Vatican alike, by revolutionaries carrying their guns as well as field experts carrying their Samsonites. Though development has no content, it does possess one function: it allows any intervention to be sanctified in the name of a higher goal.”(4)

Responsible Development– My definition:

Therefore all past implementations of development as intervention, as hegemonic control, as a political weapon, as a ladder, as Westernization, as capitalist, and as modernization have led to a more underdeveloped world where people are not valued and all that matters is the production and perpetuation of the current system for those are the forefront. Wolfgang Sachs says, “The idea of development stands like a ruin in the intellectual landscape” and “its time to dismantle this mental structure.” (Thomas, Ch. 1) I already wrote about the idea of development of the mind and so now how does someone from the West who wants to help those in need around the world engage in ‘development’ that will actually produce the desired results for people?

My definition of development falls along the lines of the ‘alternatives to development’ paradigm. I believe very strongly in people-centered development that is needs based. Where there is a focus on individuals as part of the whole and not on just numbers of people assisted, growth of GDP, or increase in production. I want to see development that uses what works and not just what looks good. Development that strengthens local communities and connects them to others, that evaluates itself often, that doesn’t ‘other,’ that spreads a cooperative mentality of interdependence, that believes in the co-evolution of people with nature, that does not feel guilty, but responsible, that uses unsustainable development to adopt sustainable practices. Development should be a resource for people who have historically and systematically been subjugated and oppressed so that they may have agency and actualize their own development. I am a strong believer in a communal and cooperative living style, this is a ‘modern’ idea based in practices of traditional societies. My definition of development is not an ideology, but rather it draws on wisdom from historical experience.

Development should be a vision that is defined by the community as a whole. I believe strongly in empowerment where the ‘developer’ does not act as an overseer or facilitator, but a resource and a support. This is where development needs to become a redistribution of power and resources that will transform the way institutions have worked. Along with empowerment comes the idea of participation. Both the ‘developer’ and those to ‘develop’ need to be participants on equal footing in the development process. In this way communities are able to develop themselves and take into account their social and cultural practices without being controlled by an outsider. Development as we have seen pushed for a conformity of global society – development should instead embrace diversity and equality in difference.

My economics mirrors the ideas of E.F. Schumacher where he focuses on economics as if people mattered. Schumacher uses Buddhism as an example of people and nature centered development practice. He writes:

“Simplicity and non-violence are obviously closely related. The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain and to fulfill the primary injunction of Buddhist teaching: ‘Cease to do evil; try to do good.'” (62)

He also writes about production at the local level for the local level and how that lessens human consumption as a “rational way of economic life.” Schumacher notes that now (1973, even more now) the human population lives parasitically on the earth, the market is an institution of individualism and severs all responsibility. (46) Development needs to be about wellbeing of both the individual and the world around them.

The examples of subsistence and traditional communities are excellent, ‘small’ examples of how development should work.

“A world of ‘humanized’ production, based on a small scale but modern and scientific technology, a world of co-operation in villages and small towns, a world of enriched social relationships growing out of a process of production and exchange that is under human control rather than ‘alienated’. . .” (Kitching, 1982, p.179 from Thomas, 35)

There are many examples of this and even now practices within the ‘developed’ world are moving towards subsistence and small scale, cooperative and local. Within the ‘developed’ world there is a growing number of local farmer’s markets, organic growers, and alternative organizations focused on serving people’s needs. Even Barbara Kingslover’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is based on locally grown, locally purchased food as a way to develop a more environment friendly and people friendly society. This local food movement is growing fast.

Some may try and say that it is just a phenomena as food and fuel prices soar, but really it is a long held style of living rooted in historic, traditional knowledge which we are finally returning to: a method of living that is more holistic and accounts for the co-evolution of humans and nature. Evidence of these traditional practices is still seen today. There have been attempts to return to a historically sustainable way of life through movements like Kibbutz in Israel, Ujamaa in Tanzania, Revolutionary Inter-Communalism within the Black Panther Party of the US, as well as implementations of communes, cooperatives and collectives in the Western world – some that begin as far as 200 years ago. There are distinct reasons why these models have failed to achieve widespread results, but the most detrimental effect brings us back to the idea of ‘development of the mind.’People are too often trapped in a system’s way of thinking and living that it is too difficult to cut out un-necessary desire or it creates an inability to see beyond the current status quo and way of life.

One example of a community that was self-sufficient, sustainable, and at peace with others and its environment was the Ladakh in northern most point of India next to Kashmir. The Ladakh were a traditional indigenous community that operated on communal living. They lived with no strain on the natural environment. There was no pollution, excessive noise, or a lack of resources. People worked on their own time and used what would be called ‘primitive technology.’As soon as modernity and ‘development’ entered the scene the sustainable way of life of the Ladakh disappeared. Modern society claimed to understand and control the natural order, with energy and capital intensive, consumptive, and environmentally unfriendly practices. The elderly no longer had a role in the community with the creation of Western schools and business because of this young people did not learn tolerance and responsibility at an early age. Modern society broke down family and community ties. Agriculture was no longer an acceptable business, pollution grew, the status of women fell as men felt more and more insecure in the ‘modern world.’ A community where there were no constraints, no stresses, no violence, no capital or pollution was turned into what we now see on a worldwide scale with the propagation of capitalism. Polluted environments, where everyone is in a rush, and once you can no longer produce you have no place in society. We now live as parasites on the earth as opposed to co-evolving partners with the earth. We now value products and productivity above people. There are many related examples across the globe of communities like the Ladakh. Now the Ladakh Development Foundation exists to empower the community to improve itself.

It seems with all this understanding of history, ‘development’ should become a simplifying of life. We should re-learn traditional values of these communities and apply them to our own lives. Living non-hierarchically, with community consensus, subsistence, and holistically. There are too many broken people, we need to reverse our practices and rewrite our theories. There are many efforts now developing across the globe to spur a “green economy,” one that attempts to place the environment at the core of our societal progression. It has had mixed results, but the majority good. Where gardens are established on roofs (green roofs), community parks take the place of abandoned factories, and bringing people out of poverty is the norm. The Green for All organization is working to build an inclusive “green” economy that will assist and benefit everyone.

Green For All believes a shift to a clean, green economy can improve the health and well-being of low-income people, who suffer disproportionately from cancer, asthma and other respiratory ailments in our current pollution-based economy. Such a shift can also create and expand entrepreneurial, wealth-building opportunities for American workers who need new avenues of economic advance. In other words: we believe that the national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create well-paid green-collar jobs, safer streets and healthier communities.

The notion of a growing or strong nation or country by way of its GDP or economic output does not give a comprehensive definition of the development of a country when people are a means to an end. And so ‘development’ at national and state levels is irrelevant when there are people who still live without their basic necessities at the small-scale, local and community level.