It is time to un-‘develop’ our minds
Posted on December 31st, 2022

Malinda Seneviratne

We are a few hours away from the year 2013.  The world has not ended and the signs are it will not.  Strangely, the end of the world sometime in late December was the most looked forward to event of the entire year, beating by a fair margin the Olympics, the US Presidential Election and the T-20 World Cup.  Well, it looks like Doom’s Day prophets have called it a day. For now. 

A calendar year is ending and a new year beckons.  It’s naturally a moment to look back and look ahead, to think about the what-have-we-done and also the what-should-we-do.  If the whole world’s-end hoopla taught us anything, it must be that we are collectively ignorant.  We just don’t have the ability to predict.  And if anyone is to be blamed it is ourselves. 

Now it is not the case that the world has been spared natural disasters.  Earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, droughts, floods, famine, epidemics and such are not unknown to the world.  Our ancestors saw and suffered.   They also knew war.  .  And the wars they fought, won and lost, were nothing like the conflagrations the world has known in the past century.  What they didn’t have then was ‘development’.

There was a time when we had seasons: when we knew when it would rain, for how long, in what quantity and where.  We knew about inter-monsoonal rains.  Again, our ancestors knew enough about rainfall and where the rain would fall and where it would not.  So they planned for drought.  They built sophisticated irrigation systems.  They knew enough about ecology to be circumspect in how they engaged with the natural world, especially since they were equipped with technological know-how capable of causing much destruction to ecosystems. 

‘Development’ changed all that.  ‘Modernity’ changed all that.  ‘Modernism’ and ‘Develomentalism’ changed all that.  Capitalism and Communism in their various articulations changed all that.  These things spawned hordes of profit collectors and do-gooders (some naïve, some now) who wanted to modernize and develop societies that were deemed to be archaic and underdeveloped. 

Things that worked were called ‘traditional’ or ‘crude’.  Values and customs that built civilizations and sustained societies were tagged ‘heathen’.  Those who did not require salvation were sought to be ‘saved’.   And when it became clear that ‘the good life’ comes at a cost (environmental degradation to the point of ecosystem collapse and frenzied competition for resources resulting in wars), the do-gooders, so-called, said ‘people need to have choices’.  They should, in other words, be able to choose between 10 brands of footwear, each brand offering a range of choices for the ‘sophisticated’ consumer.  The consumer, at the end of the day, is much like his or her less needy ancestors, endowed with just two feet. 

But everything we see, hear, taste, touch and smell come with three tags: loba (greed), dosha (envy/hatred) and moha (delusion/ignorance).  They come with an invite: ‘Come, embrace and embrace tight!’  Delusion is a pernicious operative for it persuades us to destroy all that we have in the belief that this is a necessary condition for obtaining what we don’t have and didn’t need but have come to believe we must have in order to secure meaning in our lives.  We throw away what we have (traditional knowledge, climate-specific seeds, ethics of giving and sharing etc) to obtain membership in a throw-away society; so that we can be called ‘developed’ and ‘modern’, where the tag-giver deliberately leaves out the obvious suffix, ‘fools’. 

The world did not end as predicted, but there are many worlds that are ending or rather are being ‘ended’.  That process should be stopped.  We have ‘developed’ for quite some time now and have very little to brag about.  Perhaps it is time to undo certain things.  Perhaps it is time to un-develop.

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