Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Development and Ethics

Recently, the Chinese periodical Southern Weekend published an editorial by Duo Yu, who grew up in the fields before seizing a chance to attend university in the city.

"Only after attending university did I understand what is meant by 'urban-rural binary structure,'" Duo Yu recalls, "and that food producers having no food to eat is actually a policy scheme." The long-term estrangement between Chinese cities and countryside, he claims, has led to deep misunderstandings between burghers and farmers. Closing the gap between the two worlds is not a question of the city "saving" the countryside; rather, it's a mission to build mutual understanding, and to allow people on both sides to make informed decisions as they will. Furthermore, he concludes, an urbanite who derides a good-hearted farmer ought to question how "civilized" he really is.

Duo Yu's memoir demonstrates, among other things, that the developing-developed conflict within China is highly analogous to the developing-developed conflict between countries, in that:
1. The "developed" group relies on the "developing" group for basic necessities
2. The "developed" group patronizes the "developing" group by understanding it systematically rather than as a group of self-deciding individuals
3. The "developed" group is derisive of the customs of the "developing" group.
All this serves as fairly persuasive evidence that:
1. Ethically, the “developed” group is less developed than the "developing" group, and therefore, that
2. Development is unethical.
(If we assume that "unethical"="bad," whilst "development"="growth," that "growth" is a property of "nature," and that "nature” is "good," so thus all its properties are good; thus, "good"="growth"="development,") then we find that:

Let's call it the paradox of advancement. You take one step forward: learn a key fact, big word, new technique, or even a clever political theory; and all of a sudden, everyone who hasn't joined you is the Cause of All that is Wrong with the World. Take for example the US coastal dwellers' view of the center of the country, many second-generation Americans' embarrassment over their parents' accent, or the vile connotations carried by the word "immature." You've learned more, but become less. Then, say, you go on to run a mile: you learn all the words, invent some new techniques, and come to a deeper understanding of humanity; and all of a sudden, it feels as though you've gone nowhere at all. You start wondering if hunter-gatherers weren't happier, whether you really enjoy computing, and if we couldn't have avoided war simply by never having invented the wheel. And all of us can be at different places at once, depending on the issue and the group with which we identify.

Whatever the case, social betterment doesn't take place in Euclidean space, and words like "developed" or "civilized," which suggest situation at a fixed point, or even "progress" or "advancement," which indicate direction, derail productive conversations on the topic of betterment; they are the terms of a material, spacial paradigm; not an ethical one.

No comments:

Post a Comment