- Empowerment Development

Development: a Critique

It seems like development projects in the 70’s thought of themselves as Agent Smith showing up at the beginning of the Matrix where the local police are having trouble dealing with Trinity. The extent to which he thought he was “cool” and helping was directly proportional to how ineffective he was. Bloated self-images rarely go hand-in-hand with effective collaboration. Equal footing is essential for collaborators walking a path of service.

You’ve heard of armchair philosophers right? Well, I think that the armchair developers of the 70’s were even more out of touch with the masses of humanity. Publishing peer-reviewed papers on how to ‘modernize’ the ‘3rd world’ didn’t pan out as anticipated. Later, these same academics read several books about relationships and yet, shockingly, still failed to have happy marriages! Practice and experience are indispensable to developing sound theories.

The difference between academic and spiritual communities concerned with development reminds me of the difference between record label agents and your mother. Record label agents may offer your wildest dreams coming true, but your mother always seems to love you more. Genuine solidarity with the oppressed is essential for successful transformation at the grassroots.

Development defined as better health, better housing, better education, better employment, better family life, and better community organization — reminds me of the scene from Zoolander where him and his buddy are jumping around karate-chopping the desktop monitor because the “files are in the computer”. Unfortunately for Zoolander and Development models, things consist of more than just their material parts. Spiritual motivation is intrinsic to human purpose.

Full participation from indigenous populations is like the holy grail of development. In that case, the whole history of development is like King Arthur and his band of merry men in Monty Python’s movie as they fumble along the path searching for the Holy Grail. Co-determination, and not just co-implementation, are necessary for full participation.

Developers contemplating the role of  indigenous people are like little boys scheming ways of falling asleep before their mom asks them to brush their teeth for bed. Closing your eyes to the role of self-determination does not make the problem go away. Genuine learning from rural people facilitates the process of capacity building and empowerment at the grassroots level.

Robert McNamara is to the World Bank development efforts as Ronald Reagan is to modern economic policy: the father of Top Down models. Transformation like money must bubble up before it can trickle down.

tree on the hil

- Religion - Science Development

The Scientist Believer

Development as an enterprise will fail until it studies the inter-penetration of reason and faith, the same way that students who memorize by rote repetition will always be 2nd best to the genius who understands the essence of composing music. Just ask that guy who was jealous of Mozart in the movie Amadeus.

Materialism has an exclusive claim on rational approaches to development the same way that Desperate House Wives have a claim on their husbands: They scream as loudly as possible about how’s he’s faithful to them, but everyone watching kinda knows that there are alternative rational approaches to development.

Scientists stating their religious beliefs explicitly are not saying other views are wrong, anymore than people posting beautiful pictures of their travels on facebook are saying other landscapes are ugly or should be removed. The vastness of truth prevents conflict between anything more complex than religious fanaticism and ideological fundamentalism.

The freedom from criticism enjoyed by science under the aegis of moral relativism is like the mass shooter who killed off all the annoying people at his postal office before he finally turned the gun on himself. Like a loose cannon, moral relativism is beginning to question the assumptions at the foundation of the scientific enterprise.


super nova





- Religion - Science Development Justice

5 Aphorisms on Science, Religion, and Development

1. I feel like science is that family that screams at each other all saturday night long waking up the whole neighborhood and then shows up to socialize at a local potluck pretending like nothings wrong and acting like no one knows they’ve got issues. Each scientific field claims their version of the scientific method is the “correct” one — like teenage girls. News flash: you can’t all marry Robert Pattinson.

2. I feel like avoiding discourse about the values underlying scientific research because God and the soul can’t be proven, is like avoiding talking about morals with your children because you can’t control everything they’re going to do when they grow up anyway — so why try?

3. I feel like development needs to avoid thinking of native religions like a cultural idiosyncrasy of the people, the same way we’ve outgrown the notion that racial dialogue is the emotional need of African-Americans. Wake up call privilege: There’s truth to people’s perspectives.

4. I feel like because the poverty gap is getting bigger than ever before, development needs to come up less with grand projects and listen more to the needs and potential of indigenous people. Remember the middle-aged mom who forced her 3-year-old girl to compete in beauty contests? Hey mid-life crisis: your failed goals are not your daughter’s misfortune.

5. I feel like the separation of church and state in development is like the separation of truth and justice in the legal system. Truth comes out of attorneys paid to represent their client the same way that prosperity comes out of westerners paid to trivialize the beliefs and motivations of indigenous people. Rethink your model: Motivations and Outcomes are connected, in the courtroom and in the farmland.


lightening over the sun

- Governance - Human Body - Prevailing Conceptions Discourse Human Nature Justice Oneness

Economic Theory: Competition, the Key to Prosperity?

Human nature has been misinterpreted. We are not selfish and competitive by nature, but rather, altruistic and cooperative. Human societies to some extent actually represent an anomaly in the competitive theory of the jungle. Humans demonstrate a detailed division of labour and exchange of goods and services, with or without a cooperative intention on the individual level, between genetically unrelated individuals, that amounts to an economy-wide scheme of cooperation for collective prosperity. Modern societies with large organizational structures for meat and vegetable production and distribution, banking services and widespread trust in economic stability, and the rule of law and order, do the same. Since earliest days of the species Homo sapien, we have seen dense networks of exchange relations and practices of sophisticated forms of food-sharing, cooperative hunting, and collective warfare in hunter gatherer societies. The world of the animal for example, exhibits little to no distinguishable division of labour. In the jungle, cooperation is limited to small groups, and when it is seen it is almost certainly among genetically closely related individuals (eg: a family in a pack of wolves). Even in non-human primates (chimpanzees etc.), cooperation is orders of magnitude less developed than it is among humans. One may argue that certain insects such as ants and bees, or even the naked mole rat demonstrate cooperation in colonies of 1000’s of individuals working together. However, cooperation of these types of organisms cannot be appreciated except in the context of their considerable genetic homology. Genuine, conscious, cooperation that is biologically altruistic or selfless (ie: lacking genetic incentive) is seen in human society because of our unique nature, distinct from the jungle.

The “Jungle” interpretation of human nature comes from looking at humanity’s past of war and crime and deducing that human nature is selfish and competitive. No serious sociologist would look at a child and deduce that human beings are 2 feet tall and irrational. Yet, that is precisely what has been done when we look at humanity’s war- and crime-ridden history and deduce that human nature is selfish and competitive. Over the course of the child’s maturation and development it will become evident that he is actually capable of being a 5’10” professor of physics, for example. To judge human nature based upon an immature stage in human development leads to misconceived notions of who we are and how we should behave. The problem arises from the mistake of taking descriptive observation and mistaking them for a prescription of how things should be. The is-ought fallacy. Based on the observation of selfish and competitive behaviour, sociologists have prescribed selfish and competitive standards for others to follow. Instead of describing humankind’s violent past and seeking to overcome and transcend these difficulties in the future, many social theorists normalize these characteristics and prescribe them as the mode of interaction in economics and political practice. The sad truth is that much of our social order is built with this view of human nature in mind, catering to the worst aspects of our potential. No wonder society and the global state of affairs are in such shambles. A distinctive effort is needed to rethink human nature and our relationship to the collective order. Nothing less than a spiritual revolution in the hearts and minds of people and a transformation of the values of society will redeem us from the course we have set for ourselves with bankrupt self-conceptions.

Current economic theory is modeled around a self-interested conception of human nature analogous to the competitiveness of animals fighting for survival and reproductive resources in a jungle. I believe human nature is fundamentally altruistic, analogous to the harmony of cells and tissues cooperating for total organismic prosperity. The best advantage of the part is pursued in the progress of the whole. Cooperation of the various parts leads to health, and selfishness of any cell leads to cancer. The human body and not the jungle is what I choose as my model for societal and economic organization.

Assumptions of the Jungle Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally self-interested
2. There is a finite amount of goods, services, and opportunities with an infinite amount of wants, drives, and competitors
3. Competition is both biologically necessary and mandated by the scarcity of resources
4. Survival of the fittest is not just a biological law, but a social one as well, equally applicable to the biological and social human condition

Assumptions of the Body Interpretation of Human Nature:
1. Human beings are naturally altruistic
2. Goods are produced in proportion to the sense of a duty, purpose, and enterprise animating human endeavours, individually and collectively
3. Needs are satisfied in a way that does justice to their severity and intensity, which balances the extremes of satisfaction and want society-wide
4. Creation of a just and prosperous world order is the fruit of all social evolution, just as the manifestation of the rational mind has been the fruit of biological evolution



Capacity Building

One fundamental feature of a development process that recognizes the material and spiritual requirements of social reality is capacity building.  In fact, development can almost be seen as synonymous with building capacity.  The people themselves are the protagonists of their own development, as all learn to generate and apply knowledge to manifest the latent capabilities inherent in each human being.  Development is not the provision of goods and services from a “developed” group to a “developing” or “underdeveloped” group.  Though this may happen at some points in the process, but it is not development; for it breaks down humanity into otherness, incompatible with the principle of oneness.  Every human being is inherently noble, endowed with talents and capacities that can be revealed to contribute to their community.  The people are the true treasures.

What does an economic system look like that is built on these convictions?

A conception of development that ignores spirituality marginalizes the populations that it aims to serve, as well as becomes deprived of humanity’s deepest roots of motivation.  Throughout human history, the achievements of religion have been moral in character; through religious teachings, people have developed the capacity to love, to unify, to seek truth, to sacrifice for the common weal.  Spiritual values in development not only engages the participation of the vast majority of humanity – which approaches universal participation demanded by justice – but also elicits powerful human capacities that can serve to benefit humankind.  True development necessitates spiritual principles as capacity is built.

What spiritual values are relevant to development?

Development Justice Oneness

Trust and Nobility

Humanity will mature as each member is allowed to contribute to its advancement. Every human being has talents and capacities, the development of which is the right and duty of the individual, and the creation of environments that foster this development the role of the institutions of society. That every human being is created noble captures the idea that each individual has capacities that can be brought out through education in order to benefit humankind.

Justice demands that all shoulder responsibility and participate in the building of a world civilization. And this cannot be dismissed as a utopian ideal, because every person has capacities that can be developed towards humanity’s advance. Thus, in order for universal participation to become a reality, there needs to be a certain degree of trust among all people. The oneness of humanity implies that society belongs to every individual, and as such, no one person should be exalted over another. If society belongs to all, then all must be trusted in their contributions to its development. In trusting, people open themselves to others and commit themselves to shared goals. And an individual who betrays this trust goes against the governing principles of oneness and justice that are inherent in the fabric of reality itself.

All human beings are created noble, with latent talents and capacities that can be manifest towards civilization’s advance. Oneness and justice imply that every individual becomes a protagonist of humanity’s development, on equal footing, working shoulder to shoulder – building of capacity in each human being is a manifestation of justice. The process of advancing civilization is thus characterized by trust between each of us. Without trust, and without a belief in the nobility of all, the cause of justice cannot be championed.

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.

- Science Justice Oneness

Defender of the Interests of All Humankind: Justice

Ideals are wonderful as they are, but what really can we say are the practical implications for speaking or believing in a principle as lofty as the spiritual concept of ‘Justice’? Are its implications for social and economic development really as profound as they seem to be presented? Are we not hedged in and confined on many sides by practical, real-life constraints about what can be done? What can we do as a student, a mother, a school teacher, an engineer, a sick person, a doctor, a para-military force, a grocery bagger at the local Walmart, a child playing in the dust of a day care sandbox? As organizations, governments, and multi-national corporations, perhaps the question seems as tenuous to answer as it does for the individual. Equally futile it seems for collectives and individuals alike. As individuals or communities, the question begs of itself, it inquires of Justice, the question asks the principle, “What really can be done?” What can one sincere heart do, if she or he wanted to, to assist in the materialization of the structure of justice in the world we live in? The enthusiastic social activist says, “what am I to do?” The vengeful communities of the disadvantaged conglomerated into like-minded and similarly victimized social sub-factions, appropriately named and extant on every college campus, ask, “what are we to do, if we wish to enact the principle of Justice within society?” Finally, the corporation and materially rich institution says to itself, “what”, as it inquires, “am I do to about my conscience – it being that I seek to see Justice realized world-wide before my days on this earth come to an end?” So speaks the voice of Justice as it ponders its destiny during its days in the hearts and minds of women and men, communities, and institutions. So speaks the discourse on Justice as presently manifest in human deliberations, thoughts, and discourses of society.

Practical Implications of the Principle of Justice: From Ideals and Concepts to Realities and Reconstruction

I built this iPad, says the late CEO. I built this iPad for $800 bucks a piece. A cost of this technology was the human lives I destroyed to manufacture the 10 million units I sold on American soil with Chinese sub minimum-wage labor. Suicide, STD’s, family unit decimation, mass relocation, biohazardous dormitories, temporary economic surges with counteracted depressions, itty-bitty living space – these are all my concerns regarding the building of my iPad. iPad is progress, however. iPad is science, speaks the conscious pride of our people, boasted on CNN for all to glory in. Behold, as if to say, our human ingenuity. iPad is a cultural phenomenon, an accomplishment felt for all by all. It redounds to the conscience of the species as a symbol of the transcendent genius of our race. Beggar and orphan alike delight in its beauty and efficiency. CNN reports: Chinese orphan sells kidney for iPad II.

Justice implies that progress cannot be defined in terms of this situation. That which progress consists in must rather be of utility to a larger majority of possible beneficiaries of human struggle within our global population. That which constitutes scientific and social progress must answer the global travesties of shortages of infrastructure in literacy, education, health, peace and security, non-corrupt governance, intellectual open-mindedness and freedom from the ravaging influence of materialism. Misapplication of the priorities and resources of science towards esoteric playthings for the fetishes of an elite minority is no science at all.  Inventing contraptions to satisfy the entertainment quest of an increasingly parasitical technocracy is nothing for our species to take pride in. Addictions progressively increase in the cost to the buyer and in the quantity of stimulant needed to generate the effective euphoria. Western elite technocrats are at the tipping point where fetishes become desperate and insatiable and break under the crushing exhaustion of the world’s collective resource-cash unable to satisfy the irresponsible habits of consumption. Cars and global warming. Alcoholism and social responsibility. Television and activism. Night clubs and emotional integrity. Apple products and Foxconn’s rural genocide. Ultimately, concern for justice prevents humanity from defining progress in a way that endorses sacrificing  the well-being of global prosperity and the planet itself to technological breakthroughs for privileged minorities. In design and planning, Justice ensures that limited resources are not diverted to the pursuit of projects extraneous to a population’s internal social and economic needs in structure, application, or resource-allocation. Need is the imperative here. Massive global need determines the fact that social solidarity, literacy, agriculture, healthcare, and international relations are the topics in which glory can be achieved in inventions. Not hand-held 3G enabled contraptions. Development programs that inculcate just and equitable goals will engage the commitment of the masses of humanity. Mass commitment and coordination is the sole force upon which the generation and application of solutions to universal and important human needs fundamentally depends. Virtues such as honesty, a dedicated work ethic, and united collaboration are harnessed towards the achievement of enormously challenging global achievements. Every member of society, every institution, and every social community or group  has the capacity to learn to trust the unity and cooperation of the collective as a destiny that champions the rights and participation of every contributor, and assures the benefits and basic standards to which all are entitled, and most importantly, that applies the products of science and endeavors that utilize planet earth’s inherited human and material resources for the prosperity of all individuals equally, equitably, and with an unerring justice.

- Human Body Development Human Nature Oneness

History of the World, Part 3

The next point regarding our perspective of history is that there is purpose in creation; in other words, evolution is understood as a teleological process.  Characterizing evolutionary processes with this word – meaning that it is directed by an intrinsic purpose – might conjure up controversial thoughts and connotations.  It is true that teleological “grand narratives” in the past have been used to oppress peoples and impose ideologies.  Yet, we can’t ignore a truth based on its abuses in the past.  Let us place society’s notions aside and simply think clearly.  Isn’t it the case that the purpose of the seed is to develop into a tree?  Isn’t it the case that the purpose of an embryo is to develop into a human being, and the purpose of a child to develop into an adult?  The seed does not randomly or haphazardly become a tree – it is its purpose.

Similarly, the biological evolution of a human being has a purpose; and the social evolution of humanity has a purpose.  The human body’s purpose is to provide the vehicle for the expression of the soul, through the human mind – and the purpose of an individual’s life is to develop spiritual qualities.  This purpose is realized through selfless service to humanity.  And the purpose of humanity’s collective life is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization – eventually a world civilization that has achieved a dynamic coherence between the material and the spiritual dimensions of life.

The oneness of humankind is a teleological truth (as well as an ontological truth, which we discussed a number of posts ago).  It provides the purpose and direction for humanity’s social and spiritual evolution.


History of the World, Part 1

In previous posts, we read about various fragmented and incoherent conceptions of the individual and her or his relationship to society.  We also looked at an example of the evolution of conceptions of the individual over a historical perspective.  The concept of the oneness of humanity, woven throughout our earlier posts, has helped illuminate our understanding about the nature of social relationships.  Drawing on the analogy of the human body has helped us avoid fragmented conceptions of social reality.  As we delve deeper into the metaphor, refine our understanding of the relationship between cells, tissues, organs, and systems of the human body, we behold a rich model materializing before us of how to avoid extremes of unfettered individualism and suffocating collectivism – a topic of heated contention in western political theory.

Oneness is our foundational principle, which we use as the context to understand our interconnected and collective life on the planet.  It is through the lens of this principle that we analyze and interpret human history.  The next few posts will provide a perspective of history that is consistent with a conception of global and temporal human oneness.

The first point we consider, is that all things are on a path, evolving and developing towards maturity.  This is true of plants obviously: the progression from seed to sapling to fruit-bearing tree. It is true of the human being: from embryo to infancy and childhood to youth and adulthood. And it is even applicable to a conception of society and the path of human civilization: from family to tribe, to city to nation-state, and to planetary civilization.  Each stage betokens requirements and characteristics, each stage expresses powers and limitations, each stage engenders conditions that the subsequent stage supersedes.  From stage to stage, new capacities are trained and awakened, new limitations wax and old ones wane, and novel challenges are confronted.  The progression is not linear, but rather goes through cycles, characterized by ebbs and flows of tragedies and triumphs, of crisis superseded by victory.

Development Oneness

Twofold Transformation

Human beings have a two-fold moral purpose: to develop our own personal spiritual attributes (such as love, kindness, wisdom, generosity, and intelligence) as well as to contribute to the social and institutional progress of an ever-advancing civilization. Some strands of popular discourse have not yet recognized that with the historical rise in social organization in the scientific age the scope of the potentialities latent in each human life has correspondingly increased as well. This reciprocal relationship between the power of the individual and the expansiveness of social organization directs our attention toward the next stage in human destiny, necessary now more than ever before: planetary unity, justice and equality. It also directs our attention to the realization that this transformation must occur simultaneously within individual human consciousnesses and in the manifold structures of social institutions. Every opportunity created by this twofold transformation will be as a torch-bearer guiding our way into the labyrinth of humanity’s conscious purpose of global development. This crucial stage of human history offers us the opportunity to establish a foundation for just, united, and equitable planetary civilization.

Twofold butterfly