Success, Failure, and Sustainable Development
I attending the 30th Balaton Group Meeting … and we are off to a roaring start. Big topics, big questions.
What is a successful society? What is a failed state? What does sustainability have to do with all that?
I’ve already tweeted a range of quotes from Dennis Meadows, who was typically provocative, realistic (if you consider a pessimistic prognosis to be realism), but somehow trying to provide a forward looking vision about what should be done. We are experimenting, he said. There are things we can do improve the outcomes … but the trends we have set in motion are, nonetheless, going to take us to outcomes that are not exactly what we might want. “So we’re going to have to learn to want what we get, instead of get what we want.”
The discussion after his talk turned to governance. Dennis is worried that we’re headed, globally, to a concentration of power into military and media systems that are, essentially, fascist. Is that the context in which to develop more “resilient societies?” Big, tough question … “let’s talk about that over lunch,” was about the level of consensus achieved.
Now I’m listening to Jamila Haider, a young practitioner-researchers, coming home from 2+ years in Afhanistan and Tajikistan, and on her way to graduate studies at Cambridge. She paints a stark picture of the *systemic* role of failed states, the way they suck up resources globally, and the way global interventions are — so far — failing to support the real agents of change. Women protesting street violence against them (all 40 of them in a recent demonstration in Kabul) get no financial support. Meanwhile, the world’s aid and loan machinery pumps billions into duplicative, ineffective “social development programs.” What’s going on here?
A bombing at a supermarket in northern Afghanistan had targeted a Blackwater security executive; instead, a leading human rights campaigner, and all her family were killed. “How can say that we are supporting the development of a country like this if we don’t protect these people?”
The discussion after image-rich presentation turns to history — other times in that region’s history, but also divided regions (people in that region share the same language and culture), in Europe, Africa … places where “states” are totally arbitrary constellations, very young in historical terms. Failed states are systemic drivers … but they are also driven, but larger, geopolitical forces.
I am left thinking about Jamila’s picture of the nomadic, herding peoples of northern Afghanistan: they have survived, and thrived, despite decades of war.