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Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Development as a concept is interesting. The general implication in its usage today is usually either in terms of something happening – 'a development' – or in a more positive sense of something growing, expanding, or 'becoming better'. The usage of the word as generally seen in economic, social, and political terms in regards to the 'developing' world is generally the later: that they are 'developing', i.e. growing, expanding, or 'getting better'. This concept rests on some pretty large assumptions, and not much more profound than: that the area to be developed is in 'need' of, or desires to become, something else – something deemed 'bigger', 'better', or the like.
This is in fact tricky though, as in order to be something 'else', whether more developed or not, the 'thing' must first be either envisioned or influenced by another entity and then evolve to another stage or position. As 'the status quo' is followed, there is generally little but standard, small scale intermittent change that slowly and sporadically builds upon itself. However, upon a distinct external actor with different information influencing the original object, change then becomes a visible option and thus can be envisioned as an end game. The general developmental evolution of small scale change is generally on a step by step basis that is slowly evolving and envisioned by local actors throughout each step. In the situation where a new external actor enters the fray, there is no longer a simple step by step scenario, but rather an vision of an end result further ahead, but no real distinct path from A to B.
In the sense of colonial development, entity A is a local African social institution, object B becomes the life style and material goods of the European. The African's can not easily see what it took to make B, they can not see the step by step directions as they happened, they can only speculate through their own eyes as to what happened or to take the word or direction from the Europeans that introduced the concept of 'B' to their own preexisting world. Both of these situations have substantial shortcomings. In using their own indigenous speculation ideas like Cargo Cults come to the fore. Local populations then end up trying to 'reinvent the wheel.' However, it is not a simple reinvention, as they are doing it without the stone or wood used prior. In listening to the European path of development, they are subject to the selective memory of the Europeans' developmental existence and subconscious interpretation of the current self-interest of both man and country. The history of 'development' in Africa is a direct by-product of this 'missing link' developmental pathway.
It has still been asserted though in some academic circles that a period of colonial rule is a 'necessary precondition' for the emergence of modern and technologically advancing states from precolonial Africa and Asia.1 This line of thought was pronounced as justification for the implementation of a well thought out and adhered to practice that started as colonialism and then transformed into what we now call 'development'. The problem with this line of practice is that it is technically flawed, not only along the lines directly discussed above, but it also fundamentally begs the question as to where did the European colonizers come from? If they managed to develop without the need of an overlord's expertise, what makes their developmental pathway so culturally different from those on other continents? If they developed naturally, why couldn't other areas? This brings us directly back to the concept on another external entity forcing change, and skewing the pathway to the final outcome. Agneta Pallinder-Law brings attention to several cases where it has been argued that the adoption of some elements of western technology were present before colonization – independent of European rule – and that ‘modernization was in many cases frustrated rather than accelerated by the European conquest.' (Pallinder-Law, P. 65).
If this line of thought is in fact the case, is the generic model of 'modernizing' that the West has been applying – first as colonialism and in current day as development – in the 'less developed' areas of the world more an imperialist agenda than anything else? A fictitious road map to 'modernity' that administrators may not even realize is fallacy? Even the best of intentions – if that is in fact what they are – can go wrong. In fact, the system that has created the West, and the system that the West now lives in and seems to believe is the harbinger of 'development' and 'success' in life, has produced a people and system that is based on self-interest – whether personal, regional, national or otherwise. This system, as it consumes its own resources, sees the 'development' of other areas of the world as paramount to its own self-interests and success. The fact that the West has things that to the touch (in the productive aspects of life) and in a military sense seem more useful and powerful than another cultures 'stuff', produces a self-arrogance and belief in ones own system that 'justifies' the expansion of this system over others in the eyes of the originator and expander. They see themselves as 'civilizing' the others, but in fact they are merely changing them into something more similar and comforting, something more like there own 'civilization'.
It is in fact this self-interested motivation that creates a system that is based upon competition rather cooperation. Competition can not exist without a hierarchical structure based on status and power that does not seem to be able to willfully be changed from the top down. The developed countries will not wholly welcome the equality of the ‘lower’ raising to the level of the ‘higher’. Some countries – mostly democracies lead by a small swell of ‘concerned voters’ that bring the plight of the less advantaged to light – will attempt to put forth development programs that speak of helping the less developed world. But in reality, whether a few individuals want to or not, the country's policies don't end up really looking to raise these countries to the highest levels given political and democratic compromise. Whether they say they do or not, intrinsically – conscious or not – they are motivated by self-interest. The countries end up more importantly looking to accumulate the means of production in ownership terms and then to create a group of countries with a strong set of middle managers that can help with the extraction and route to market of the rich amount of resources in said countries. It is not about equality, it is about accumulation by dispossession, whether they consciously believe it or not.
Some of the ramifications of this line of thought are succinctly discussed by Arturo Escobar in Encountering Development as he expands upon the competitive aspects of the system in stating that “The system that generates conflict and instability and the system that generates underdevelopment are intricately bound.” (Escobar, P. 34) Escobar believes that “massive poverty in the modern sense appeared only when the spread of the market economy broke down community ties and deprived millions of people from access to land, water, and other resources. With the consolidation of capitalism, systemic pauperization became inevitable.” (Escobar, P. 22)
Capitalism does not allow anything else on a motivational and systemic level. There are of course always outliers that will try to generally do alternative things (i.e. best intentioned developmental concepts), but on the whole, the system rewards and thus produces self-interested actors (individual, state, or otherwise) that will put their own situations ahead of others even if it appears otherwise as they do what looks to be good-natured developmental work. Profit maximization – ‘I’ll save lives if I can profit from it’.

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