Sunday, February 24, 2008

When we plunged headlong into "progress," we didn't consider its real costs

STARK CONTRAST. Reading Ivan Illich's reflection on Mahatma Gandhi's hut (from Friday's post), I can't get away from the apparently stark differences between the world of "progress" Illich laments and a world in which the priorities Gandhi articulated would be taken with actionable seriousness. [I will frame "progress" within quotation marks in this piece because I want later to distinguish authentic progress from ill-conceived, market-driven, self-aggrandizing, short-sighted, poverty-fomenting, planet-sickening progress as it has been predominantly assumed and practiced.]

GENERATIONS OF "PROGRESS." It seems that the Western world, first, and now the East has embraced--full bore--the suppositions and practices of "progress" in the very terms Gandhi and Illich warned against. In the generations since Gandhi presented the world the alternative of creative stewardship, with the non-militaristic liberation of India as a budding example, we've "progressed" at break-neck intensity and speed. As a result, wonderful things have happened. As a result, terrible things have happened. Much has been gained; much has been lost.

UPSIDE, DOWNSIDE. An honest assessment of the kind of "progress" humanity has made in the past 70 years must include not only technological breakthroughs, but humanitarian setbacks. It includes economic development for some, but resource exploitation, economic devastation and servitude for many more. It includes unprecedented wealth generation for some, but the extension of life-crushing poverty for untold millions. "Progress" has been made in such a way that makes all of us more dependent than ever on non-renewable sources of energy, the consumption of which has sickened our environment and put the future of earth life as we know it in limbo.

BREAKING DENIAL IS NECESSARY. I'll give Thomas Friedman all the positive points he makes for the wonders of technological progress in his book The World Is Flat (a book I've read and recommend for anyone interested in understanding global economic forces and trends for the future). But, sadly, Friedman glosses grossly over or simply cannot see through his rose-colored market-world glasses the real downside of "progress." I think it's hard for those of us who've embraced the terms and benefits of "progress" to stop and consider the stark price of our "progress." Harder still: to consider that we might have bought into a less-than-the-best model for international human and social development. This, I am convinced, is exactly where we are at this moment in international history. I hope we can soul-search our way to better models for the sustainability of life and human relations.

GROWING BACKLASH. There are signs of backlash against the rawest expressions of unbridled "progress" on many fronts. It is couched in social resentment and religious upheavals. Militant extremist Islamic groups may not so much "hate our freedoms," as our President and his people have repeatedly told us, as they hate what our rapacious "pursuit of happiness" at their expense. Religious Fundamentalism is a growing response to "progress" for some at the expense of many.

COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE ACTIONS FOR "SECURITY." There will come a point in time where mustering military might in the name of securing protection for valued material resources against people who have nothing else materially to lose will become counter-productive. I think we are already beyond it, actually. America is already fighting these fronts with futility in Afghanistan and Iraq. We will not "win" these conflicts because we originally miscast the problem, continue to fail to grapple with the core issues, and are unready to amend our suppositions, repent of our economic and cultural sins against such people, or change our habits.

THE COMING CENTURY. Further, we have not yet begun to realize the levels of pent-up resentment in Africa and Central and South America. Nor, have we realized the extent to which China and India have cut into our corner on "progress" and are vying for the very resources upon which ours and their "progress" is so dependent. We're in for a very interesting century, one in which "progress" will be challenged repeatedly. Let's hope we can have the wits to hear the anguish with our hearts and respond with the kinds of changes we already know implicitly need to be made.

REASON FOR HOPE. My reflections here may seem like I am a naysayer and despairing. On the contrary. I believe in hope and an authentic progress in human relationships and international economic development. But if that's what we want, we're currently on the wrong track. Stopping the runaway "progress" train or diverting it while a better model is forwarded is not a luxury we have. Developing alternatives and leaning into them with confidence and faith until "progress" is overwhelmed by creative stewardship is, however, within our reach. But there's an urgency; "progress" has poisoned much.

More on this to come...

Explore "Redefining Progress"

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Yes, redefining "progress" and "development" are very essential today - when Friedman talks about globalizations so-called successes, India and China, he ought to consider what Joseph Stiglitz said about India - that 3/4 of the population has been left out of the "development fold". 3 million Indians have benefited, whihc is a pitiful 0.1% of India's total population. And one should also rad about the sweat shops of China, where the rural poor who have emigrated to the cities work in apalling conditions of complete insecurity - wihtout any health benefits, long working hours, cramped working places and herded like cattel into dark dingy rooms to sleep.

    So, I would much rather the discourse on Globalization came from economists like Joesph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank), Paul Krugman (Princeton), Pankaj Ghemawat (Harvard)etc. Ted Koppel interviews Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, who ofcourse doesnt find a mention in Friedman's book.

    Two books to read, which offer a counterperspective to Friedman's "The World is Flat."

    The Harvard Professor, Pankaj Ghemawat's latest book, "Redefining Global Strategy," is more academically inclined. I read an article of his published in the journal, "Foreign Policy", where he argues that the world is, at best, only semi-globalized. His argument being that Cultural, Administrative, Geographic and Economic aspects of a nation come in the way of total globalization from taking place and cites examples of the same.

    The other small, but interesting book, is by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller." It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book. "Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, and they provide a comprehensive, yet concise, framework for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

    You may want to see
    and watch
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
    "The World is Flat".

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation


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