I wish I had a fascinating post for you on the subject of developing nations but alas, all I have is a pun which occurred to me this morning, that developing nations are an occident waiting to happen. If I were so inclined I could deconstruct the whole notion of ‘development’ and the assumption that it is not only necessary and good but inevitable; that underdeveloped nations must be developed as soon as possible (which means their natural resources being seized for the benefit of others and their people being forced to work for the economy) and that ‘developing’ or ’emerging’ nations must be hurried along to join the top table. Of course, we don’t want them to develop too fast otherwise they’ll be in competition with us: just enough so that we can exploit their resources and sell them lots of stuff.
But there’s a problem with this narrative; a problem which goes to the heart of the question ‘what is the right way to live?’ Very often I come across people on social media advocating a certain lifestyle which harks back to a golden age: the paleo diet, for example, from the pre-agricultural era, or the idea that we are ‘really’ designed to be hunter-gatherers. So what is the right way to live? The other day I came across a post about free houses in Wales. The Welsh government will allow people to build their own houses without paying for the land. Great. Ah, but there’s a catch. You have to be self-sufficient and carbon-neutral within five years. The carbon-neutral thing might not be such a tall order; after all, there are carbon-neutral houses already in existence. But self-sufficiency is altogether another order of tallness. My sister and her husband are semi self-sufficient in Wales, and I’ve seen the amount of unremitting daily work which that involves. To be fully self-sufficient is a heck of a tall order. Think about what you eat in a typical day: protein (meat or otherwise: if otherwise you have to grow a ton of pulses) veg, milk, cheese (or their vegan equivalents, again usually made from soy) bread, margarine or butter, tea, coffee… I could go on and on. The thought of total self-sufficiency totally does my head in. But maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way: maybe you need to look at what you can produce and focus on living on that. But I wouldn’t want to. I can’t post the link at the moment but if you look up sustainable self-build in Wales you should find it.
The trouble with the search for a golden age is that every age has its problems. There’s no point in history where everything was perfect until some horrible people came along to spoil it. Negative things have certainly taken place (the enclosures, the first factories, slavery) but things were not perfect before (though I’m sure they were a damn sight better for the slaves). The industrial revolution led to much misery for workers, but how much better off were they when they worked the land? None of us is immune from harking back to some golden age: there’s also a feminist utopia (a sort of anti-Gilead) in the concept of a prehistorical matriarchy. There’s even some evidence for the hypothesis, though it’s not very strong. Here’s a rather long but excellent analysis:
Besides, helpful though it is to think beyond the current paradigm to other possible worlds, there do actually exist some matriarchal societies today. They are small and tribal but still they survive and some do seem to practise a kind of equality:
image removed on request
So whether matriarchy was actually prevalent or not in prehistory, the idea helps us to imagine other possibilities, since oppression is usually founded in the dogma that ‘there is no alternative.’ This underpins austerity, and the general idea of economic growth.
Which brings us neatly back to where we started…
PS For some reason the Welsh link has posted below…