Sunday, 24 September 2017

Development is not a buzzword but a toxic word

Despite its widespread usage, the meaning of the term ‘development’ remains vague, tending to refer to a set of beliefs and assumptions about the nature of social progress rather than to anything more precise. Development fail to address poverty or to narrow the gap between rich and poor, but in fact it both widens and deepens this division and ultimately creates poverty, as natural resources and human beings alike are increasingly harnessed to the pursuit of consumption and profit. The survival of the planet will depend upon abandoning the deep-rooted belief that economic growth can deliver social justice, rational use of environment, and human well-being.

  • The word ‘development’ as a buzzword is in vogue for almost 60 years and its actual meaning is still elusive, since it depends on where and by whom it is used.
  • Everyone uses it as she or he likes, to convey the idea that tomorrow things will be better. 'Development' has been widely used as a hard drug, addiction to which may stimulate the blissful feelings that typify artificial paradises.
  • President Truman merely wanted to include in his 1949 Inaugural Address as a fourth point that would sound ‘a bit original’. So from the very beginning, no one not even the US President really knew what ‘development’ was all about. This did not, however, prevent the word from gaining wide acceptance.
  • There was an unquestioned assumption that “development”, whatever it was, could lead to improvement in the situation of 'poor people’. And no one cared to define it properly.
  • Any measure (foreign investment, lowering or raising of trade barriers, well-digging, literacy campaigns, etc) was justified ‘in the name of development’, making even the most contradictory policies look as if they were geared to ‘improving the lives of poor people’. This trick has been highly instrumental in preventing any possible critique of ‘development’, since it was equated almost with life itself.
  • During the cold war period (1947-1991), the great powers disagreed on almost all issues except one: ‘development’, the magic word that reconciled opposite sides. Its necessity and desirability were not debatable, and the two ideological adversaries vied with each other in promoting it across what was then known as the Third World. ‘Development’ was mainly used as an excuse for enticing ‘developing countries’ to side with one camp or the other.
  • This political game turned to the advantage of the ruling ‘elites’ who were influential in international arenas, rather than grassroots populations.
  • To reconcile the requirements to be met in order to protect the environment from pollution, deforestation, the greenhouse effect, and climatic change and to ensure the pursuit of economic growth that was still considered a condition for general happiness has resulted in the coining of the catchy phrase ‘sustainable development’, which immediately achieved star status.
  • It is impossible to bring together a real concern for environment and the promotion of ‘development’. ‘Sustainable development’ is nothing but an oxymoron, a rhetorical figure that joins together two opposites such as ‘capitalism with a human face’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’. Hence the battle to define what ‘sustainable development’ is really about.
  • The ‘new era of economic growth’ was certainly not in favour of those who considered environmental sustainability a top priority. Despite increasing concerns for the environment protection, but the popularity enjoyed by the idea of ‘sustainable development’ is overwhelming. Increasing number of people feel that something has to be done to lessen the impact of human activity on the biosphere due to the mounting environmental crises. And yet, ‘development’ whether sustainable or not remains high on the agenda, and no one seems about to forsake it.
  • Irrespective of ideologies, no politician would dare to run on an election platform that ignores economic growth or ‘development’, which is supposed to reduce unemployment and create new jobs and well-being for all. Small investors and ordinary people expect an increase in profits or wages. ‘Development’ has become a modern shibboleth, for anyone who wishes to improve his or her standard of living.

The undeniable success of ‘development’, linked to its undeniable failures in improving the condition of the poor, therefore needs to be called into question. Those who are ready to recognise that ‘development’ has not really kept its promises are also loath to discard the notion altogether. Failures, they would say are from erroneous interpretation or ill-considered implementation. After all, God himself may not answer all our prayers or grant all our requests, but his righteousness remains beyond doubt. In a nutshell, ‘development’ could be defined as: the essence of is the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations in order to increase the production of commodities (goods and services) geared, by means of market exchange, to effective demand

  • A country is the more ‘developed’ the more limited the number of free things that are available: to spend an afternoon on the beach, to go fishing, or enjoy cross-country skiing is nowadays impossible unless one is prepared to pay for it.
  • In a ‘developed’ country, human beings are also turned into ‘resources’ and are expected to know how to sell themselves to potential employers. Prostitution may be officially condemned, but it has become the common lot: everyone is for sale.
  • Poverty is proof of the ‘good health’ of the capitalist system. It is the spur that stimulates new efforts and new forms of accumulation. Economic growth – widely hailed as a prerequisite to prosperity – takes place only at the expense of either the environment or human beings. 
  • World segregation is such that those who enjoy a so-called ‘high standard of living’ hardly come into contact with the poor and may thus cherish the illusion that their privileged circumstances may sooner or later spread to humankind as a whole. But climatic change, the greenhouse effect, and nuclear clouds cannot be contained and affect everyone, rich and poor alike, perhaps in the not-too-distant future. This is the real meaning and the real danger of globalisation. 

It is clear that ‘development’ is not a buzzword but a toxic word. It has been used time and again to promote a system that is neither viable, nor sustainable, nor fit to live in. The benefits that it still confers on a tiny minority are not enough to justify its continuing acceptance, in view of the lethal dangers that it entails. This is being progressively admitted. Given the amount of information that have been gathered on the manifold man-made hazards that impinge on our daily lives, why is it that we do not believe in what we know to be certain? The answer, probably, lies in the fact that our belief in ‘development’ is still too strong to be undermined by the scientific certainty. A change could be conceivable if we recall the Amerindian wisdom that teaches us that ‘we hold the earth in trust for our children’. It is high time to debunk the ‘development’ buzzword. To do so means that we must define it relying on actual social practices, rather than wishful thinking. We must be aware of its inclusion in a corpus of beliefs that are difficult to shatter, expose its mischievous uses, and denounce its consequences. The most important thing is that there is life after ‘development’ – certainly a different one, but there is no evidence to suggest that we would lose on such a deal.

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us 
face to face with another problem - Martin Luther King Jr

In India there would be no speech by politicians or officials or anybody without reference to the buzzword 'development' which in fact justifies, promotes and expand their activities and vested interests in multiplying their profits albeit unjustly, undemocratically and often unlawfully. Every rich and 'street smart person' tries to jump into the bandwagon of  'development' gang and corners some share of the booty. Those who can't in the name of ethics & morals, will get lost in this siren world to lead ignominious life. Excepting escaping from extreme poverty by masses, there is no justification for destruction of ecological assets and deterioration of social life in the name of 'development' and 'capitalism'. China's development if loaded with the factors of ecological destruction and erosion of human values, it would be negative. Finite world doesn't have enough resources to support ever increasing population without erosion and degradation. 

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