Development in the Ecological Age

Republished from Kosmos Journal


Do you live in a developed nation or a developing nation? If your nation has an extensive system of roads, rail and airports, if it is fully electrified, if it is mostly urban and suburban, if modern medicine is widespread, if literacy and education are near-universal, if most people are connected to the Internet, and if, most crucially, per capita GDP is high, then most people would say you live in a developed nation. Otherwise, it will be classified as developing—still on the way to acquiring these things.

Implicit in the developed/developing distinction is the assumption that the course of social and economic evolution exemplified by the developed countries is normal, inevitable and generally desirable. If I am developed and you are developing, that means that your destiny is to be like me.

Today, some key flaws in the narrative of development are become obvious. Most flagrant of all is the problem of resource use and ecological footprint. There aren’t enough resources on earth for every human being to live like a North American or Western European, nor can the air, forests and oceans sustain that much pollution. A host of social ills as well seem to be development’s inseparable companions, and not mere temporary dislocations to be fixed with yet more social engineering.

Nonetheless, development as a normative concept has remained essentially unchallenged. Instead, we speak of ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ development, rarely wondering whether development itself, as conventionally understood, might be an inextricable aspect of an ecocidal culture.

No disembodied ideological construct, development is rooted in deeper, less visible ideologies and cannot be rejected without disrupting these as well. A deep critique of development quickly leads to territory so radical as to make the critic sound like a half-wit who has never considered ‘the benefits of education’ or ‘the benefits of modern medicine’ or ‘the progress we’ve made in alleviating poverty and feeding the hungry.’ In fact, development is wedded to deep assumptions that we take for granted about human nature, the nature of reality and the nature of existence itself. It is, in other words, an integral part of the defining mythology of our civilization.


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