The West and well, The Rest

by Aanya F Niaz

Essay written in relevance with

World Markets: Anthropological Perspectives by Schneider, Jane

Schneider raises several issues, which relate directly to the persisting debates on global development today. As ‘capitalism’ has become hegemonic, the questions that steadily arise include, firstly, whether the developmental speed of existing European societies plays a significant role in pushing the ‘Bottom Billion’ (Collier, Paul) even further below. Secondly, will Western norms continue to set the trends in the developmental arena? Thirdly, should we conform to a “universal” culture lead by the West in order to attain Western standards of living?  In fact, most significantly: Can the assistance provided by Western nations actually prove beneficial for developing nations or does it only hinder their developmental process?

History provides us with facts that the colonies of Europe were responsible for supplying various primary products to the centers of wealth. While the resources of the colonies and dependent nations were depleted and received close to nothing in return, their hard work and production encouraged further development in the Western nations. In this way, developed societies did not allow the developing nations to emerge and compelled them into a ‘periphery’ role, offering them trivial necessities for survival. Today, unfortunately this behavior continues as developed nations benefit from the victimized position of underdeveloped countries by asking for resources, providing assistance in the production of those specific resources, enforcing certain bans, increasing export rates and significantly allowing capitalism to run the show. Since only developed nations are able to afford great investments in the word markets, they benefit from capitalism, while the ‘Bottom Billion’ do not benefit and fall increasingly into debt. In fact, as income in the wealthy nations increases, so do their demands, which have to be met by the peripheral nations. Therefore, existing Western societies do play a role in pushing the ‘Bottom Billion’ further down on the development ladder. However, they play a more, if not equally pivotal role in helping these nations rise.

To come onto the map of the world, underdeveloped nations have to prove their worth. We can take Pakistan as an example. If Pakistan, with the status of a developing country, did not cooperate with America, the sanctions and bans the Americans would subsequently infer on the poverty-stricken nation would accelerate its downfall. Therefore, to be recognized, the norms that the West sets, have to be followed at least to a certain extent. Economically speaking, when dealing with imports and exports in the global markets, underdeveloped nations must accommodate Western customs of market trade. If not, the wealthy nations will simply find no reason to indulge in trade with such states. Essentially, the wealthy nations can change the desperate position of poorer nations by facilitating internal development, leading to a position where the underdeveloped countries can be the ones setting trade norms themselves. However, this calls for a very productive form of assistance to the developing nations, which will be discussed further in the paper.

Schneider raises an interesting point whether nations should adopt a “universal culture” or not. In many cases, most nations do not have a choice. As mentioned above, to gain recognition or to become a player in the field of development, western standards of living have to be aimed for and attained. This is in relation with how Western societies dominate the globe today. Conversely, the more complex issue arises when dealing with preserving culture and heritage and to what extent such preservation can be made possible when trying to gain participation in the global run for power. It would be almost naïve to claim that developing countries do not have to change in any way to house rules and regulations set up by the leading nations. However, culture can be preserved. We can take China as an example. Although China has adopted socialist mannerisms to run their social arena, we cannot deny the existence of the capitalist economic structure that puts them in a most powerful position. Indeed, unlike the leading Western nations, they are not a democracy but they function on a branch of democracy, namely capitalism, which has enabled them to dominate world markets today. Similarly, for an example, Pakistan can safeguard its traditional heritage, but it must prepare itself for drastic changes such as ridding itself of the feudal system, gradually providing a singular curriculum of education to all, focusing on developmental efforts rather than the provision of luxuries to the elite and importantly, focus on defeating the extremists and adopt a balanced political system. With an education system similar to that of the US and opposite to that of the fundamentalists, where equal opportunity for all is the norm, Pakistan can potentially leave its close association with the ‘rock bottom’ and make its way up. Therefore, Pakistan does not have to conform to a “universal culture”. In fact, it can preserve its cultural heritage and still enter the global arena but it must take rigid steps to liberate itself from the religious fundamentalists, which prevent it from developing.

In dealing with the question of giving and receiving Western assistance, the Global Development Studies seminar posed various angles to this topic throughout the semester. Initially it was easier to believe that the West does not have the right to intervene and should allow for a nation to develop itself with time. This perspective was based on the reality that many of the developed nations today used to be in one or another form of chaos in history. It took them time and courage to arrive at their leading position, therefore, intervening and imposing Western visions and ways could be harmful and that developing nations should be allowed time and space to develop on their own. However, with the technological advancements in the world, the peripheral nations have no time life. In fact, with the course of time and exposure to various lectures, student debates, speaker events, books including Maggie Black’s ‘The No Nonsense Guide to International Development’, my position has found a happy medium between Western provision of assistance in development and a developing nation’s fundamental responsibility in committing to change in the name of progress.

Again, we can take Pakistan as an example. Today, as Pakistan fights against the War Against Terrorism, it is evident that without the assistance of foreign soldiers and field workers, the situation would experience dramatic failure. Pakistan needs foreign help in the form of troops and in the form of development workers who can create and help sustain a viable and secure environment. It would be extremely difficult for the country to flourish amidst or even after such chaos without foreign provisions of funds and development resources. Another example to illustrate a fine balance between foreign aid and intervention is South Africa. The country has so many internal divides that it is almost impossible to create an atmosphere, which could potentially lead to a fair journey of leadership and serenity. The presence of foreign troops keeps the situation in control. Nevertheless, it is extremely important to also recognize the difference between ‘assisting’ and ‘imposing’. It is usually when this recognition is lost that even more chaos occurs. Mr. Carter’s speech on his experience was most interesting, especially when he said that Africans need to change their mindsets. This offered a challenge to genuinely think about the intention of helping the Africans. I believe this statement assumed that the African way of life was incorrect, hence the need for change. In this context I found a certain element of ‘enforcement’ onto the citizens of the developing nation. Global Development Studies has invariably taught that having any preconceived notions when entering a nation and regarding the citizens as a ‘project’ and not as ‘people’ can be a direct walk into catastrophe. Henceforth, this experience only advanced my belief in the significance of ensuring a lack of inflexible beliefs and the worth of an open mind.

Seeking for a light to guide me to learn and understand how development works, serving Pakistan, my homeland, has been at the forefront of my goals. Over half the population there has no access to education and with my fortunate disposition of attending a private school and gaining colorful exposure to the world, I believe it is my responsibility to bring back a cultured viewpoint, productive strategies and an educated mind to help change the ways of life there. A preconception accompanied me to class the very first day: I need to save Pakistan and the only way to do is to argue over its potential and worth. A reality accompanied me out of class on the last day: I can save Pakistan by promoting an educated strategy of development, which calls for an acceptance of foreign assistance and education at the top of the agenda. Those who have access to private schools, foreign universities and such resources can facilitate a positive change. They have the ability to take a stand. They must be reminded of their responsibility and as a Global Development Studies major, I can participate in spreading such awareness. I came to be educated in this course and I hope to share my education to bring a change in my homeland.