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Libyan Writer Ghoma
الكاتب الليبي غومة

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Tuesday, 17 August, 2010

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APPROACHES TO DEVELOPMENT:
No Development Without Creativity and Originality!

(Part VIII)

By: Ghoma

"What I would like to point out, though, is that a great deal of the confusion and rancor in the world today concerns tensions at the boundary between religion and modernity –whether it's the distrust among Islamic or Christian fundamentalists of the scientific worldview, or even of the discomfort that often greets progress in fields like climate change science or stem-cell research."

                 Jaron Lanier, "The First Church of Robotics," NYTimes, Op-Ed, August 9, 2010



        The energy which humans use to produce their livelihood determines the power and speed of that intricate web of relations defined as civilization. Throughout recorded history humans used both their muscles and those of other animals to power their activities. With the discovery of fossil fuels new ways became available to fuel and propel an emergent machine-based industry. For the first time the energy used to power activities were no longer dependent on human or animal muscles. This intensive and highly flexible forms of energy has revolutionized not only human ways of life but also their settlements, farming, factory production, communication, and transportation. Thus a new cycle of human experience has started, since the 18th century, completely dependent on fossil fuels. Current technology is sysnonymous with fossil fuels.

        The industrialized countries have known the vulnerability of their set-up, for quite some time. The West's rampage to the rest of the world could be seen as searching for more golden gooses to fuel (and market) their avaracious industrial engines. The papanoia about running out of gas has culminated, since the 70's of the last century, in the West's declaration, if not appropriation, of large swathes of earth as of part of their national security concerns.

        After the first and only Arab Oil Embargo on the West, in the early '70s of the last century, a period of malaise in the industrialized world reigned in. The ill-advised Arab misadventure had taken the West by surprise and served as a wake up call to to pay close attention to energy reserves. The call was, if for nothing else, then to start re-thinking over what had until then been taken for granted: the availbility of endless and cheap oil supply. For the first time in history, a shock wave went through the whole industrialized world, which, made them realize how vunerable the foundations underlying their industry was. The jolt had stirred the pot enough to bring the drowsy into semi-wakefulness. Subsequently a consciousness-raising sessions were on the order of the day. A flood of ideas and some vague proposals poured into the public debate. Opinions were agalore, but proposals were few and far in between. One proposal in particular was interesting enough and thus caught the attention of many. A complete re-thinking –if not re-imagining– of the way humans have organized the world in which they live in. This radical view, if not totally oringinal, was advanced by E. F. Schumacher in his seminal book, Small Is Beautiful (1973). For a while both the book and the proposal had captivated the public and was a stable fodder in graduate school seminars. Part of its appeal was perhaps in hitting on the industrurial complex's sensitive nerves, but also in resonating with the ongoning critiques of technology as controlling human affairs and dominating their lives, as those advanced by Jacques Ellul, Ivan Ilitch, Lewis Mumford,etc.

        The gist of the call was a need for a paradigm shift. A tough shift because it went against the grain of industrial logic and its production methods, i.e. economy of scale. Not since the Luddite movement's campaign, back in the 19th century, against the perceived dangers of the machine had a call to question the industrial civilization's premises got so much tractions. Even John Ruskin and William Morris, the leaders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, hadn't been able to reach larger audiences beyond the literati, and thus failed to generate serious debate about what was gained and what was lost with the advent of modern technology. In between some philosophers and social critics, concerned about human degradation, liberties, and happiness, have started to question some of the fundamentals underpinning the industrial civilization practices, but got little attention. Some of these questions were of political-economic concerns, while others dealt with ethical and moral spheres. Though some of these quandaries had been raised since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, however, due perhaps to their abstract nature, they remained of academic concens, and they've yet to receive popular attention. What attributes a technological society must have? What is an appropriate technology? What are metrics to judge and evaluate it? Is it possible and feasible to calibrate technology to serves different levels of social and economic developments? Are the superlatives of big, high, and complex –economy of scale– an inherent traits of current technology? Could technology also be soft, small, and simple? In other words, are centralized industrial systems, just as centralized power, the cause or the effect of the complexity of contemporary technological set-up? These are weighty questions indeed, and shout loudly for attention, from both industrialized but particularly from those still on the way to industrialization, than they've received so far.

        Since the advent of agriculture and settlement, back in the neolithic age, no major changes had occurred to upset the arrangment of human productive activities. The Industrial Revolution had changed that order. It'd changed both how people gained their livelihoods and where they lived. New order of human distribution on the land. Urban centers became the sine-qua-none magnetics of growth and attracted an increasing numbers of peasants. Agriculture and the countryside have lost to industry. That's how history has worked for those who have made the transition. What about when the 'urban revolution' was ficticious, brought about not by industry but rather by oil revenues? How the relationship between the urban pole and its hinterland be defined and on what bases? And how could a functioning urban economy be obtained?

Ghoma
Ghoma47@hotmail.com


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More Articles Written By Ghoma

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