Robert McNamara the Defense secretary during the Vietnam war was a man of science and materialism. He would reduce anything complex into a bunch of charts and graphs. He would explain anything in quantitative terms with a number of indicators. For example, he would set a bunch of indicators and would declare that such and such Vietnam village (or a ‘hamlet’ as they called it) is pacified by 35.6%! Ok, what bullshit that was supposed to mean?
If you know that later he headed the World Bank, you would no more wonder why the World Bank worships indicators and quantitative analysis to explain a complex topic as human development. See for example the ‘Human Development Index’, that would churn data about few indicators (like for example, how many TV sets a household has) inside a black box of nerdy mathematical formula and finally spit out an index and would say, “Hurra, Sweden is the most human developed country in the world”. Give me a break!
McNamara — during the war — commissioned RAND corporation to study the Viet Cong by interviewing captured prisoners. That was a much more effective way. Just come down to earth and talk to people. Just by talking to the real people for half an hour will bring results much better than hundreds of indicators. Following a few interviews, they realized that those Viet Cong — who earlier was portrayed as a communist subhuman beast — after all were human beings sincerely fighting for a noble cause. One of McNamara’s men — after reading the report — said, “we are fighting on the wrong side.”
“Human Development” is a tough and complex subject. The ‘World Bank’ and the policymakers in Washington DC often sit on their desks and dictate what ‘third world’ countries need without looking into their history, culture, religion, climate, geography, and heritage.
Here I end by this wonderful poem by Ross Coggins.
The Development Set
by Ross Coggins
Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!
The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classes
Our thoughts are always with the masses.
In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.
We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.
We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution –
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.
The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”
It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.
When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”
Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.
Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.
Enough of these verses — on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:
The poor ye shall always have with you.