20. ON DEVELOPMENT, THE REAL WORLD, POWER GAMES AND THE UGLY FACES OF GREED
Variations on a theme by the Danish writer Peter Hoeg.
Inspired, extracted (plagiarized) and paraphrased from his short story “Reflections of a young man in balance”, in Tales of the Night, Panther Books, The Harvill Press, London, 1998, pp.295-308.
- Words no longer make much of an impression on many of us. You can take what follows any way you please: as a ‘cri du coeur’, as a lament or as an ode to hope. I look at it as one way to come closer to the truth about what I do. I will admit to one feeling though — a faint feeling of anger; I foster it because it keeps me warm. Something tells me that we need to get to the bottom of it all, to the most intimate hopes and fears of what we do for a living. Thoughts as the ones expressed here keep me from sleeping. But they make some sense of my sleeplessness.
- The most profound truth about all Development (and indigenous knowledge) is that it is a state of mind. And to that state, those changes we call advances or modernization hold only little relevance. As outsiders, there is little we can say or do that is not or does not become a cliché.
- All of us see Development as a series of reflections in mirrors of our own images. But the mirrors are actually false. They help us hiding behind a thin film of humanity (we can genuinely be accused of that). As champions of partial truths, we build these mirrors, which end up invariably being a screen on which we project Development as we would (biasedly) like it to be. These mirrors are dreams. They are based on speculations (from speculum: mirror). Partial truths tend to be sinuous, only bi-dimensional fragments of real life. Partial truths lead us to visions and reflections that remain mostly unaffected by what we do to address them. What we do represents an attempt to half-consciously realize our hopes and allay our fears. The mirror registers our hopes for the truth; it gives us a glimpse of an undeniable misapprehension.
- But we know so little about the causes we actually serve. Are we taking the right and crucial steps along the path that will alter the world for the better? People ask us to show results; we think we do, but are we not often entertaining them with descriptions of how difficult it is to reach them?
- Anyone who looks into a mirror sees what she wishes or fears to see; a mirror of Development that showed things as they really are would have to show the misery, the suffering, the anguish, the joys of the beholders. How often do we skip these images?
- People often ask us why we take part in the daily ordeal and political chicanery of spreading Development. Perhaps the most honest response is: We have to make a living. If anyone questioned me further I would be tempted to say I have no wish to say anymore about it. This because it has long dawned on me that I am a player in a ghastly power game; anything else is an illusion.
- Maybe what we see in the Development mirror has nothing to do with the finicky reality; the real world is not inside our mirrors. Some of the “facts” we base our actions on may easily have been formed in the mirror when IT produces us. We chase the mirror’s images. If we ran from them, they would pursue us. Whatever we feared the most, the mirror will ram down our throats.
- Since I realized this, it has become clear to me that this is a dilemma with which we will always be faced: the ‘account of reality’ is what makes me what I am and what alters me accordingly. The question is how far the beholder is passively subjected to the impression of reality, and how far she herself actively shapes what she sees. But, on the other hand, this question may be wrongly posed; it presupposes that there is a stable Development reality to be observed. There is no such thing. As soon as we lay eyes on the world, it starts to change. And we with it.
- The history of Development is the history of a boundless faith in the power of (the Western) will. I perceive the infinite limitations of that will. Faced with this, I have to submit to the mirror; either that or forget the whole thing.
- The process that leads towards reality comes in stages, like the steps on a staircase. We have to take from the mirror the images that show us the world in flux, a world that strives for reaching a credible utopia; a world that is activated by ideas, by people, by reason, by economic hard facts that take into account the ugly faces of greed: a world that does not exist yet; a world that recognizes that human beings are infinitely alike and infinitely diverse.
- Getting closer to reality brings liberation. Viewing reality does not mean immediately making sense of a given setup though; it means surrendering oneself and triggering an unfathomable transformation in us. Getting closer to reality helps us discern between different types of colleagues among those that have spent their lives searching for solutions to underdevelopment. Are they right in what they are looking for? We can further judge the great systems that have tried to inform the world about truth and life claiming to be absolutely truthful and well balanced. Have they been right?
- Of course, all of us have had inspired instants in which we had a glimpse of reality. But quick forgetfulness (and fear, apathy and bias) erases it all.
- I know now the source of my anger. But I am only human, and that is the problem; for humanity is frail, it forgets, it betrays (even its own principles), it devaluates, it is hit by moral and intellectual inflation.
- If only I could remember how it felt to be modest and in command of the situation. But forgetfulness is eroding my (and my colleagues’) effectiveness. We are clearly leaving crucial things out of the Development equation. I write this with an increasing sense of worry. What’s happening to our cliches? Our cynicism? Our mirrors?
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