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Comments: vital relevance of subtler human development

Human Development Project

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1. Drug abuse as a reaction to sterile human development

The anthropologist Edward T Hall (1976) states that "Western man has created chaos by denying that part of his self that integrates while enshrining the parts that fragment experience". This is echoed with other words by the poet Kathleen Raine: "It may be that modern man's sense of chaos comes in part from his loss of that pattern of which his necessarily fragmentary individual life is a part."

Given the magnitude of the drug problem, it is appropriate to ask whether drugs do not offer, conceptually and experientially, precisely what classical conceptual and religious approaches have been unwilling to supply, namely a means of "dancing" between systems of perceptual categories. Drugs can be perceived as offering an artificially induced sense of integration.

It may be argued that the attraction of drugs arises as a result of the sterile concepts of human development permeating society in this period. The dominant concepts of human development are essentially boring and unenticing to the imagination. They offer few challenging opportunities for self-discovery. Indeed self-discovery is not considered to be meaningful.

Human development as currently conceived fails to reflect either the richness of humanity's scientific and spiritual achievements or the richness of human beings. Such sterile concepts may constitute the major obstacle to more creative approaches to alienation and drug addiction.

In the history of human development, static conceptual frameworks and drug addiction may prove to be unfruitful complementary responses to the fundamental challenge identified by David Bohm (1980): "How are we to think coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it?"

2. Human development and solidarity with the disadvantaged

Major social projects are not a characteristic of modern society. The challenges of development are expressed in officially defined campaigns (Freedom from Hunger), goals (Health for all by the Year 2000) and decades (especially the International Development Decades). International nongovernmental organizations collaborate in such initiatives and have many of their own.

But recent years have seen increasing concern at the fall off in response to such initiatives. The terms "aid fatigue", "compassion fatigue" and "professional burnout" (in the caring professions) have been coined.

When human and social development is defined almost solely in terms of basic needs, the question may be asked why people should be expected to feel any sense of solidarity with the disadvantaged. The ways in which "solidarity", and sensitivity to the needs of others, emerge are not of concern in official approaches to development. There has been an attempt to define development in terms of enlightened self-interest. But the scope of that self-interest, and the nature of that enlightenment, are not subject to inquiry.

Any sense of solidarity only emerges following much subtler developmental experiences, especially when the degree of common interest is limited. It is ironic that it is perhaps precisely those forms of human development which receive little recognition that appear to be the source of insight and inspiration which encourages response to the basic needs of distant peoples. This may perhaps be seen in one form in the contribution of religious organizations to development.

3. Human development through cults and fundamentalism

Fundamentalist movements of traditional religions have acquired prominence in recent decades, together with new sects and cults, often with what appear to be bizarre practices. Despite the supposed attractions of the modern way of life, these movements have proved to offer counter-attractions which have worried many. It may be argued that such movements provide a framework which offers a richer and more existentially challenging approach to human development than the pale offering emanating from established perspectives.

What is it in the academically legitimated approaches to human development that is so unattractive in comparison? When all the arguments concerning the rational seriousness of these approaches have been explored, they remain unattractive in comparison.

It is the heightened degree of commitment of other levels of an individuals being that is so important. In many ways they offer the opportunity to participate actively in a "sacred dream". With the increasing complexity of modern society, the dimensions addressed by these movements acquire greater significance.

It may be argued that unless official human development responds to these dimensions, it will be constantly disrupted and overtaken by such movements and others which will be created where conditions permit. Failure to address these dimensions will also result in the emergence of more cults of a, possibly even more, bizarre nature.

4. Human development, dependability and unemployment

With the increasing complexity of society, individual responsibility and accountability become diluted to the point of non-existence. Employers at all levels are confronted with employees that "do not care" about the way in which any task is performed. This is matched by an equivalent degree of irresponsibility on the part of employers in attempting to maximize their interests.

At the same time there is an increasing interest in "maturity" in personnel, however that is to be defined. Executive employment agencies are called upon to propose mature candidates and corporations provide training courses to develop personnel maturity.

In a period of rising unemployment, there is a strong possibility that employers will seek out those who evidence some form of human development beyond that defined by qualifications and experience. For some this will take the form of preferring candidates of a certain background offering some moral guarantee of dependability (as with Mormon or Bahai candidates).

5. Initiative, enterprise and human development

The issue of why certain countries "take-off" in developmental terms, and others do not, has been much debated. It is extraordinary to note the dynamism of people in some countries devastated by war and natural disaster. It is tragic to note the apathy of people in others, who may or may not have been subject to equivalent disadvantages.

The issue of initiative and enterprise, and of "getting one's act together" is also a question of human development. This has not been effectively addressed. It may be that the key to effective economic development lies in a shift of attitude rather than, as is usually assumed, a particular pattern of capital investment. This perception is increasingly acknowledged by corporate concern with changing the "culture" of a corporation. Where does initiative fit into prevailing understanding of human development?

6. Sustainable development and shift of life style

There is increasing recognition of the need for a "radical shift in life style" within the industrialized countries if sustainable development is to have any hope of becoming a reality. Like the older plea for "generating the political will for change", it is unclear how this is to be brought about within the framework of the present understanding of self-interested human development. This tends to assume that people will naturally be stimulated to an adequate degree of change by exposure to the negative effects of pollution, etc. Whilst some are indeed stimulated to change, it is doubtful whether the number is significant (or is likely to become so) or whether the degree of change can be said to correspond to the nature of the crisis.

It may well be that radical changes of the kind called for can only emerge from a richer form of human development which acknowledges the existential dimensions of human experience.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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