Without Principles Development Degrades into Exploitation:

Aligning development practice with spiritual purpose.

This essay proposes that principles-based approaches to development provide the only complete solutions. It identifies parallels with those personal practices traditionally perceived as religious which warrant investigating.

Noting that community and cooperative efforts inherently embody this direction through different forms, it considers how this and certain other vectors of global changes might be regarded in the field of Development Studies. Currently collected under the umbrella of this field of study are an assortment of discontinuous and limited theories bound seemingly only by conscience. A unifying theory is required. The principle of Oneness, and how that might be rediscovered and applied is discussed. This personal reflection upon current limitations in development hopefully provides a glimpse into the future which mankind eventually constructs, if any. In my view it contains a starting point, and that Development Studies makes a good platform to proceed from.

A Reflection on the Future of Development Theory

The effect of this our species upon the Earth is like a debilitating disease. The Earth has recovered from far worse but how might humanity turn itself towards a more survivable civilisation? Ronald Wright (2005) describes the recurring patterns underlying the collapse of previous civilisations. Evidently the path to progress that ends in unsustainable environmental degradation is a well trodden one, though never before taken as far as our current predicament. We are up to our necks in the excrement of greed as our world gets progressively digested through the bowels of capitalism, with the stink of competition forcing us to crowd closer and closer to the ceiling of Earth’s capacity as we vie for breathing space in our ‘ordinary’ lives.

Humanity does have other alternatives, a better world is possible. Indeed, there are emerging grassroots actions raising such armies the likes of which have never been seen before (avaaz.org; landshare.net; viacampesina.org) being a few. The opinion of academic experts writing about our future seems to be that we don’t yet know enough to deal with the pending crises. I say, bunkum. We know full well, and have done for a long time, exactly what is required – a new kind of collective set of values, the personal choice to privilege principles over profit embedded into our social institutions. My question then is whether the field of Development Studies can provide such direction to drive the changes which are after all its primary concern.

Although subsumed by neoliberal globalisation (McMicheal, 2005) the global development project maintains its foundation in humanitarian principles. Development Studies, with its licence to explore any practices relating to global change, will need to expand its vision before it can provide a clearer direction. Peet and Hartwick (2009) critiqued the breadth of its theoretical platform in a thoroughly astute and in-depth review of development-related arguments and theories. They concluded that ‘Critical Modernism’ a democratically-reinforced egalitarian credo, was our best model into the future (:282). But noting that such an arrangement was more or less approximated in the politics of early post-war New Zealand one might reflect that democracy may not necessarily protect us from a slide towards dispossession through capitalism. People become politically complacent over time. There must be a more hopeful and less muscular vision.

Also, the similarity amongst the limitations encountered in the end-games of all contemporary development practices, variously attributable to intractable power, theory gaps, human nature or just the speed at which change won’t happen, essentially warns of a continued failure in the kind of thinking which launches and fuels their trajectories. No matter how doggedly pursued the unsustainable and unfair goal of economic growth fails equally in both North and South. In other words, Western society’s value system, enacted through its conveniently myopic economics, will forever be that inadequate. The adoption or imposition (Escobar, 1995) of such thinking into non-Western societies has only multiplied the problem, its consequence the abandonment of ancient philosophies and disintegration of social institutions for over two-thirds of the world’s people. Economic theory should be deregulated!

For a truly restorative change of direction new disciplines will need to be adopted by and large that translate understanding into responsibility. The necessary understandings are not new. They have been around for millennia, once being the foundation of ancient cultures like Tibet, India and Burma. But in Europe its equivalent was vigorously smothered by the murderous intrigues of Rome’s Catholic imperialism. From the spiritual superficiality thereby imposed arose the ‘Enlightenment’ era, ushering in notions of reality which displaced truth with facts in an intellectually shiny, but morally deficit, scientific materialism. Science has since been so effective that there is a general expectation that it can just as effectively solve the problems it has created. Collective wisdom is what we lack, not better science.

It seems to me that mankind will forever be faced by self-inflicted crises of one sort or other while it errs from a certain direction – a kind corridor towards its own destiny – which eventually will require the more or less universal realisation that our very purpose in life is spiritual in nature. Such insight remains far from a global inevitability – notions of God don’t go down very well in scientised circles. But there is this inescapable limitation to science. As a way of knowing it is performed by the mind reflecting upon the material world, its methods to truth require verification through repeatable outcomes of observable effects within the physical dimension. Yet there are other aspects to life we can each acknowledge with equal certainty; matters of the heart; understandings in consciousness; insights and morals, in places where science is forever excluded. Such knowing may be distinguished as participatory truth, knowledge through the investigation of the self, the ancient way of knowing and wisdom, now more or less discarded by Homo economicus.

From its study of matter physics has gone beyond “earth, fire, air and water” through the periodic table and quantum theory to discovering parallel universes, and all by the power of ‘equals’. The breathtaking implications at each stage of this quest have largely gone unnoticed by the world. But its ultimate discovery could be world transforming. That is, if physics ever concludes that matter is consequent upon consciousness, and not the other way around – as now anthropocentrically (and incorrectly) presumed – then what started as Einstein’s Unified Field Theory would end up verifying the One Reality, the singularity priorly posited in all transcendental wisdom. All religions would face adjusting their version of God to accord with the irrefutable evidence of ‘equals’ … hopefully that might change things.

What I am suggesting is that there are other processes which, though of little interest to the development industry because they confront the status quo, should be highly relevant to the field of Development Studies – that is, if it chose to undertake what seems to me the urgent quest for a Unified Theory of Development; one which applies equally to the North and the South, is culture neutral, can bridge the chasms between existing contemporary development theories, and embraces Nature as an owner-free common resource. Existing points of contact for interrogating the possibilities are already expanding – for example the Community Land Trust movement (CLT); and the highly imaginative work of engineer-futurist Jacque Fresco (1916-), now embraced by the Zeitgeist Movement (TZM), an online network of mostly young people from developed countries. Their vision, encompassing a money- and politics-free world built upon egalitarian principles may sound fanciful, but it has been adopted with such vigour that in less than three years it now claims over 310,000 members worldwide.

Most of the time, development aid is a long-term plan to increase control.

Vectors for Change

Everyone is constantly motivated to improve some or other circumstance of their life. This relentless urge for change essentially derives from a deeper sense of dissatisfaction with our born condition. In its most harvestable manifestation, shopping therapy, the relief provided is sufficient for many people. Others commit themselves to disciplines and codes intent on changing the very fabric of their lives. Potentially a study of these personal practices of striving, as found in religion, sport and making money, could provide insights for possible extrapolation to wider development purposes. Because religions are universally principled and pre-loaded with a spiritual intent I choose this as the easiest starting point.

Religious practices and disciplines, as with belief systems follow a general pattern. Admittedly practices and beliefs are related in a chicken and egg way; but I would argue that ultimately it is people’s actions rather than what they think, which most significantly affects material change. So from the exoteric personal practices, those intended to align the practitioner’s life with the spiritual process, I have chosen the two most obvious, community and diet, and briefly investigate them through a non-religious lens.

Community as a vector for change: Of the reasons why people engage in community they seldom choose it as spiritual practice. Nevertheless without self-discipline, self-understanding and a willingness to surrender to some self-transcendent principle, collective arrangements of mutual dependence generally strain to breaking. Significantly, community is inherently principles-based and being effective in the global North and South, fulfils the preliminary criteria for a Unified Development Theory.

Community in the sense that I am describing implies the condition of mutual interdependence amongst members committed at some level of personal survival. This could apply at the scale of business cooperatives such as the Mondragon Corporation (Kelly, 2009) and equally include the networked peasant movements from the developing world fighting to maintain their lands. In U.S, France and Canada a food ordering system called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is emerging as a significant movement (Sharp et al., 2002). The U.S. has hundreds of start-ups each year. Above the mores of self-centred individualism CSA looms as a promising site for principles-based community to become a force for change.

In low-income countries proximity community are common. There are plenty of indications that principled community is an emerging global paradigm. For example, in her paper on the outcomes of corporatised urban water services management in central and South America, Bakker (2007) notes the growing record of failures by big business compared with the more successful community cooperative supply schemes.

Diet as a vector for change: The role of diet, another widely adopted spiritual discipline in traditional religious practice, is highly significant to future development. In a ten-year study on the effects of diet done at the time when indigenous populations first began interacting with European civilisation Dr. Weston Price documented empirical evidence of diet as a significant link between bodily, mental and spiritual health, and remarkably as having intergenerational consequences (Price, 1939).

More recent studies of food focus on social, political and economic factors mainly within the field of geography. Diet-related issues are abundant; such as the 1 billion people dying from being underfed while 1.6 billion are dying from being overfed; or the environmental impacts of raising beef. One FAO report (Steinfeld et al., 2006) notes serious land and water and deforestation outcomes from cattle farming practices. Globally the livestock sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector (:xxi). Adding this to the serious disease burden caused by eating meat (cancerproject.org/), it is clear there are massive development issues around diet.

It is difficult to imagine operationalising the practice of vegetarianism even with plenty of high-profile support. But, being a principle-based direction, and applicable for North and South societies, it meets the criteria for future-oriented solutions within a Unified Development Theory.

Money as a vector for change: Beyond explanations for its scarcity money gets overlooked as a subject for study. Few people have any concept of its architecture, how that structure influences their lives, or how that might be changed. Money is a kind of illusion we are born into and never think to question. Like in the saying ‘if you want to know about water don’t ask a fish,’ we can’t imagine a world beyond money. It appears to be a public commodity, a neutral medium for endless exchange. And perhaps it once was, but it has since evolved into a product designed and managed to maximise profit on a nationwide scale for a privately-controlled cartel of banking dynasties.

People relate to money as some kind of sparkle in their pocketbook. Yet money’s absence, rather than its presence, is what directs their lives. And few realise the money they do have is based upon a negative proposition … all bank-money is created as loans, and the sum of the debt is always greater than the sum of the money accounted for. That is, the process incurs an invisible value loss upon society – a value gain for banks which is externalised anonymously as one component of national inflation. I have raised this point to explain why money in its current form does not meet the principles-based criteria which I suggest must apply to future-oriented solutions. However money could be analysed for ways to align it to a Unified Development Theory. That would entail interrogating its structural parameters. Religious practices do not really provide much guidance in this regard – renouncing it, as the Zeitgeist Movement (ibid.) proposes, is not a practical solution on a global scale. However there are successful projects recognising money-caused impoverishment, such as the Community Land Trust movement (ibid.) returning to a Commons ideal. Because money is a ubiquitous vector for change I think that its study, in terms of exploring ways to change its direction to meet the principles-based criteria has significant potential. After all, money is just a set of coded social agreements, all of which can be reset. The socialised banking system of the Mondragon Corporation (ibid.) stands out as a successful example which fulfils the principles-based approach.

In Conclusion

Our purpose in life is self-development. When that purpose is aligned to the spiritual nature of life itself then the felt need for a co-operative world environment will become the dominant influence on human thinking and action. The longer we forestall this evolutionary necessity the more control we must accept, the more chaotic will the fabric of our society become – and the more destructive will be our exploitation of the Earth and its resources.

There already exist understandings where those who can accept responsibility for this change should look for tools to do so. To integrate and communicate these within a theory of the future broadly and beyond academic contest is the practitioners challenge. The means and the direction are becoming clearer.



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