Third World Minds
@18 May 2003
[.. this was actually written exactly two years ago
and somehow got lost. Hmm, has the world changed?]
The Third World is a state of mind. It is not a geographical place. It is not the plumbing in a man's house. The geographical place may be a stage for Third World living, and the plumbing may be a symptom of Third World limits.
The "Third World" itself though, if the metaphor is to be predictive at all, is a collection of designs for living -- that is, cultures -- which dominate the thinking of particular, critical masses of people.
There are quite diverse patterns of thinking, cultures, making up that class of phenomena we term the "Third World", but they have enough in common to form a rough category in opposition to the "Advanced World". Perhaps the defining characteristics are sets of self-imposed prohibitions, power structures, attitudes to change, work attitudes, views about scientific method (a way of thinking in itself), attitudes to technology, encouragement or restrictions on individual initiative, and a host of other psychological factors which define individual and group relationships to the wider world. The important thing is that this constellation of phenomena is "software", rather than the hardware of water pumps, ATM machines and trains that run on time.
In every culture, in every country, at every time in history, a very large number of people have the dominance of mental styles which I have labeled Third World. However in some countries and cultures, a sufficient number of people are empowered by more systematic, yet more liberated and adventurous modes of thinking. They are not necessarily morally "better" people, but they put their mental equipment to use in ways which generate more effective and adaptive results than the Third world paradigm allows. They create an "Advanced World" environment, sooner or later, wherever they happen to find themselves. If, by some misfortune, one of these "Advanced World" minds finds itself dumped on a patch of bare earth in a rusty tin hut with taps that leak, then he or she will find a way to fix the taps, paint the hut and plant a garden which is improved year by year.
Just as the so-called advanced states have (and always will have) significant numbers of people without the drive, initiative or mental agility to improve their environment, so also, very obviously, every state label Third World in popular estimation has (and always has had) an important minority with just those qualities needed to create an advanced state. Their tragedy is that the weight of communal opinion, authority and established practice in their culture blocks or undermines their potential.
There have been many models proposed and tested for bringing nations and cultures to a "developed status". Unfortunately, the bulk of these models have been built on the assumption that "developed status" equates with per capita income and the number of supermarkets per square kilometer. The practice of foreign aid, where it is not merely a blind by the donor for capturing markets, has largely worked by throwing buckets of cash at poor nations. I have spent a good part of my adult life in so-called developing nations, and seen the results of this idiocy.
The geographical Third World is now a mosaic of principalities and fiefdoms, controlled and exploited by an utterly corrupted class of comprador aid-parasites. This layer of indigenous aid-parasites, in their air conditioned Toyota Land Cruisers and villas with armed guards on the gate, filter contact of the local culture with the outside world. External capital inflows, governmental and private, pass through their hands. They do not believe that THEY have Third World minds, and their children are invariably sent overseas to school. With visiting international dignitaries, they have a disarming and humble patter about the problems of their societies. Yet they are implacable enemies of real change in the communities which they dominate. Change would destroy their privileged position, and those local minds with the potential to create real social advancement are suppressed in the most brutal ways.
The problem of creating that shift in the dynamics of a culture which will empower those able to promote change is a vexing one. Violent revolutions have a poor record of success in this field. Invasion and colonization have hardly been stellar solutions either, and the deep antagonisms they create have often delivered power into the hands of a culture's most conservative ideologues. Aid money, as just explained, has created a class of comprador aid-parasites with a deep vested interest opposed to real change. The only process which has shown some promise is expanding trade, including international trade. It brings its own evils and distortions, but where the benefits are sufficiently distributed, a middle class gradually acquires skills, education, and political power sufficient to overcome the inertia of old customs. At some hard-to-define point, the traditional vanguard of War Lords, Landlords, Mafia Bosses etc. find themselves telling nostalgic stories of past glories in a gentleman's club, while the real business of the nation goes on elsewhere.
All opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.
"Third World Minds" © copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2003
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