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Development Justice

Definitions of Progress and Global Development

Where does the concept progress come from? Who sets its parameters? What do we have to do to know we are achieving something worthwhile? Without thinking about these questions we end up thinking about progress in a way that does not actually reflect the advancement of our species. Without a conscious effort to understand what is a good direction to move in, we become susceptible to manipulation and coercion by the interests of others. A person without a plan becomes a pawn in the plans of others. Lack of reflection on goals, does not make us immune to corrupt powers setting goals for us. Passivity does not lead to relaxation – it leads to devastation.

Justice is the name for an active thought process on deciding what constitutes progress. Justice is the science of defining what is a good path for our world to take, setting milestones that let us measure our advancement, and enriching public recognition of how progress reflects global needs. An active and public discourse on Justice is the name we give to human and collective agency in setting the goals and deciding the path for what direction we see ourselves moving in as a species, wholly interconnected, and united in sharing in each others achievements and prosperity, and experiencing each others suffering, with the spread of poverty, illiteracy, disease, unrest and crime. A dominant discourse on justice, an overt and moderated public discussion on Justice, a forum that enforces its agenda, and a dedicated core of intellectual and political protagonists will ensure that social and economic development is never again co-opted out of the interests of the people and manipulated into the service of personal preferences or self-interested financial actors.

Social and economic development lacked a custodian. In her or his absence the ideological and political vacuum beckoned to manipulators and opportunists who saw in this a chance to press the values and finances of the masses into their own services. An agenda of social and economic development was propagated, ironically couched in philanthropic and charitable terminology, that burned the advantage of the generality of humankind to the gadget and industrial preoccupations of technocratic potentates of the fortune 500. Governments and people alike, in the absence of an active and public thought process on Justice, were co-opted and duped passively into supporting and believing this dialogue. Corporation, common man, and custodians of national governments became unquestioning accomplices in multi-national exploitation of developing rural populations for the technocratic centralization of resources to metropolitan financial centers in the west, under the rationalization and justification of ideas such as industrialization and charity, and a vision of ‘replicating’ the way of life of North America and Europe en mass on the African, Asian, and South American continents.

Complicit in this predicament was the indulgent passivity of the populations involved, the good-intentioned but gullible developers, united nations delegations, discourse, and think tanks. A combination of moral righteousness and imperial industrialism led arrogance and complacency to ingratiate itself into the waning integrity and intellectual rigor of the global development community’s discourse on what it means to “progress”. Concern for justice prevents those who define goals for social and economic development from sacrificing the well-being of the generality of humankind to a vision of technological advance experienced only by the privileged few.

9 replies on “Definitions of Progress and Global Development”

“Corporation, common man, and custodians of national governments became unquestioning accomplices in multi-national exploitation of developing rural populations for the technocratic centralization of resources to metropolitan financial centers in the west, under the rationalization and justification of ideas such as industrialization and charity, and a vision of ‘replicating’ the way of life of North America and Europe en mass on the African, Asian, and South American continents.”

It’s my understanding that this is mainly a Baha’i blog. And one of the tenants of that faith is a respect for science. So I’m disappointed to read such ugly, ignorant comments about globalization, trade, and developing nations. The author desperately needs to take courses in economics.

First, I hope you watch this video.

http://hwww.c-spanvideo.org/program/PoliticalFo

Thanks for sharing Becon,

It would help if you can explain your thoughts. What is frustrating you? What do you mean by globalization, trade, economics, science, religion? How can these conceptions inform discourse about the advancement of civilization? Perhaps you can identify the underlying assumptions that produced these conceptions as well.

Reality is multifaceted and complex, understood through a diversity of viewpoints each capturing some aspect of it. The categories of right and wrong aren’t as meaningful as the question of “how” – how certain knowledge can lead to social institutions that facilitate prosperity for all of humanity, how certain knowledge can develop the whole range of latent human potentialities, how knowledge can be unifying.

We appreciate your contributions. It would help if you – and any other contributors – were more polite in the future. There is no need or reason for disunifying, destructive, or negative remarks; it doesn’t advance the discourse. The blog has a particular purpose: discourse, but also unity. And conveniently, shared understandings advance civilization.

Well first off, you haven’t watched the video. That much is obvious by the time stamp on your post. It would resolve much of your confusion. And by ignoring the video, you haven’t given my views the same consideration I’ve given yours. I find respect to be more valuable than politeness. If you find me to be impolite, it’s only because I respect your sincerity and it alarms me.

I sincerely urge you to watch the video and reconsider your views on economic growth, poverty, and inequality. It is only an hour of your time. Then we can talk about how to unify the world.

We appreciate your sincerity and respect, and consider politeness equally valuable. As hopefully will be expressed in a future post, virtues do not exist in isolation from each other, but moderate one another. We also appreciate your consistency to this blog’s discourse.

There is certainly no objection to viewing the video; the link has been shared with all those involved in this blog and I look forward to learning. In the meantime, however, it would be wonderful if you could express in your own view and words the ideas that led you to this video, or that you think are important. This discourse is not just about you and I, but many others can read your thoughts as well – this video already exists (and will be watched, by me and others), but your written thoughtful response doesn’t exist yet; and it would be great to bring that into the visible world. I think what’s more important than a single piece of content is the process of reflecting on and sharing concepts, the dynamic interaction of multiple minds in a consultative spirit, and the arrival at shared understandings on which a path forward is illumined. From your ideas, where do you think we can go?

I hope to hear more of your reflections as you take greater ownership of this blog’s forum for discourse.

Hi Becon,

I think the statement that you initially quoted and had some trouble with reflects an increasingly common attitude towards colonization/international development etc. This is not an exclusively Baha’i view–there are many scholars, religious and nonreligious alike, engaging in the discourse on international development who take the view that the West has traditionally taken “the white man’s burden” and that international development initiatives need to avoid an attitude of paternalism and merely providing goods and services to populations instead of empowering them improve their material and spiritual conditions (example–Toms, the shoe company, which very honorably and nobly donates a pair of shoes to a child in a developing country for every pair that is bought–but what happens to the child in a year or two when those shoes are torn and tattered? Is Toms shoes supposed to just keep giving shoes to children in developing countries forever? Instead, an approach that empowers a community to find ways to manufacture/create and sell their own shoes would be a much more sustainable initiative. Don’t get me wrong–I think Toms shoes has a very generous and noble intention, as do many international development initiatives, but there may exist other approaches that are more organic.)

There are numerous examples throughout recent history in which Western nations colonized “underdeveloped” countries and (intentionally or unintentionally) destroyed economies. One example is the formation of monocrop economies in Africa that were particularly sensitive to severe economic downfall.

You are absolutely right that the Baha’i Faith holds a profound respect for science, and this includes the physical sciences, economics, social sciences, etc. No one is denying the need for economic growth, trade, international development, and material advancement–these are essential to the progress of mankind. But that doesn’t mean that historically the prevalent approaches to all of these things have been correct or conducive to mankind’s progress. We are merely taking an approach in which we rethink the common approaches to all of these things, and see what we can do to add to them and build upon them. This sort of humble posture of learning is one that could benefit all members of the human race as we engage in efforts to serve our communities, contribute to our respective fields of work, and essentially help build an ever-advancing civilization.

With love,
Tara

Thank you for your reply, Tara.

You wrote: “There are numerous examples throughout recent history in which Western nations colonized “underdeveloped” countries and (intentionally or unintentionally) destroyed economies. One example is the formation of monocrop economies in Africa that were particularly sensitive to severe economic downfall.”

I recommend you watch the video I linked to. Starting at the 51 minute mark, Professor Landsburg demonstrates why some colonies prospered and others did not. There is a strong correlation between economic freedom and growth. But correlation does not imply causation. So Professor Landsburg cites a study done by the brilliant MIT economist Daron Acemoglu. In it, he shows that England more or less assigned economic freedom randomly based on the existence of infectious diseases. This natural experiment supports the claim I’ve been making that economic freedom drives prosperity.

I think this would help clear up some of your confusion about the history of colonization.

Hi, I just have a question: from what I’ve read, you (Becon) support individualism and freedom…to protect diversity, I assume, and not lead to uniformity. But the economic “freedom” and growth (ie capitalism) of the West, albeit brings material prosperity in terms of GDP to other places, tramples diversity of values or certain natural crops or ways of life or even types of labor/work. All this for prosperity, yes. But I think this type of material prosperity is uniformity. How are these reconciled?

Diversity of values declines perhaps. But I would argue that some values are superior to others. Isn’t that what this blog advocates?

But diversity of ways of life? What kinds of ways of life do you mean? Besides isolation and grinding poverty. Prosperity and innovation brings a flourish of cultural diversity. How many channels does your tv have? How many songs from how many genres are on your computer? How many books do you have access to? How many foreign newspapers could you read online if you so choose? There is an explosion of cultural immersion. The whole world is really meeting each other for the first time.

And some types of labor are definitely inferior. Here in America we have some perverse love affair with farming and manufacturing. But both of those are dirty, back-breaking affairs. If you want to farm, grow a garden in your yard. My roommate does that. If you want to manufacture something, take up wood-working. You can enrich yourself with old traditions if you want. That’s the freedom prosperity offers all of us.

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