Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Friday, 4 January 2013

BOOK TWO – Politics, Pedantics, and Poetry

 Development = Hope, False Doctrines, Climate Change, and Nihilism

            Development is like hope, a sentiment based on false doctrines, in particular those which promise a better future, which in turn somehow justify the suffering we experience today.  The purveyors of this hope offer all the evidence necessary to prove that we as a species have been on some kind of linear path that leads from bad to good.  This kind of thinking not only justifies the eradication of cultures, languages, and peoples for the past century in the name of development, but also allows us to deny the import of climate change.  Effectively, development, like hope, allows us to live in denial and equals nihilism.
            False doctrines pack irrational meaning into words and concepts while successfully having us continue to believe in them.  Development, in this case, is a word used by people to compress too many ideas into too little space.  This results in not very much at all having been said.  There was a guy called Michel Foucault who talked about all this talking around an idea and called all this talking discourse.  In reading Foucault, you might get the idea that understanding discourse was pretty important.  For example, if you understood the development discourse, then you could have your own discourse about that discourse, all to make sense of both discourses in the first place.
You can see that so much talking goes on about an idea, like development, that not really anything at all is being talked about.  Some of us call these people talking heads.  You see them on television a lot.  If you work for a development organization like CARE or NOVIB or the United Nations Development Program, you also get to see them in important meetings held between very important people who are trying to save humans from themselves.
Development implies progress, control, and order.  In society, to say the obvious, control and order are about hierarchy.  No surprise about this.  There is always at least a little bit of hierarchy in our social lives.  Usually a lot.  Hierarchy, often enough, justifies itself by providing a canon (a set of truths that we accept without critique).  The development canon is that development does and will alleviate poverty.  Development will have us all living better lives in the future.
The hierarchy and the canon are precisely why a bell should be going off anytime you hear this word, development.  Control, order, and hierarchy are those little creatures with which democratic folk continuously struggle.  The struggle is not to eradicate their presence in society, just to keep them at a healthy minimum.  An uncriticized truth is antithetical to what most of us consider an ideal of the human condition: rational thought.
Development is a kind of plastic word, meaning that it can be twisted to mean anything, which in turn can make it mostly meaningless.  Here are some examples.  Humans develop, buildings are developed, film can be developing, breasts develop, and there are developers, developments, and situations developing.  It all sounds good, progressive.  Except that developments are often negative, destroying land or implying political tension, cancer develops.  From a carbon emissions point of view, human development is a rather nasty turn of events.  But just use the word development, or its root, in any sentence, and you can sound knowledgeable and important.  Without having really said what you mean.
Which means that anyone using the word development may be a bit of an obfuscator.  A wizard, if you like.  A sorcerer, perhaps.  A priest (ess).  Nay say politician or bureaucrat?  invariably someone on the higher end of some hierarchical pyramid. These people say things that are quite impressive, but we rarely know what they really mean.  A development obfuscator will be attached to an institution.  Could be a municipality or a public domain organization like the United Nations.  Could be a non-profit organization, government funded or private, that provides some service to poor people.  For example, a new model for non-profit organizations is to cooperate with a mining business while the mining company does what mining companies do.  All of them are purveyors of a service or good, in the name of development.  You, or some other unwitting soul, consume it.

 It is like talking about prayer and any religion.  There are many types of religions around.  And even more subsidiaries.  But only one word, prayer.  Now, what am I supposed to do?  Kneel?  Prostrate myself?  Contemplate?  Hope for the best?  Really, I am supposed to suspend any questions about prayer, accept the discourse (official method of having a discussion), and get on with the show of believing the canon (gospel truth).  But actually trying to understand what prayer really is?  Forget it.
A little exercise that I play for myself when I do not understand the meaning of a word, that I use or see used a lot, is to drop the word from my vocabulary.
The end result is that development, like Nietzsche’s god, is dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment