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Failure of Conventional Development

                     Development, which was once accepted by many as a panacea for most problems of humankind, is being seriously challenged. Despite decades of heavy investments in development activities in developing countries, poverty, inequality, hunger and malnutrition are still rampant. Further, many related miseries such as civil wars, terrorism and various other violent activities still remain in most parts of the world, perhaps on a growing scale. Development has clearly failed in its agenda to alleviate poverty and inequality, achieve environmental sustainability and deliver happiness to people. Therefore, it is argued that development has failed, and indeed, some even suggest that development itself has contributed to widening inequalities. Faced with the failure of development, some stress Eurocentrism, injustices and unequal power relationships in the practice of development as the major contributory factors for its failure (Ferguson, 1990; Rahman, 1993; Amin, 2009; Smith and Max-Neef, 2011), while others blame modernization approaches for being based on the uncritical transfer of science and technology from the rich to the poor countries (Peet and Watts, 1993; Escobar, 1995). On the other hand, writers of sustainable development highlight the ignorance of environmental sustainability in development practices as a key factor for its failure (Brudtland, 1989; David Reid, 1995; Overton and Scheyvens, 1999; Adams, 2001; Ikerd, 2005). In the recent past, numerous alternative models and approaches have been presented. Some often mentioned in development literature are bottom-up approach to development, people-centred development, people-led development, people-friendly development, endogenous development, indigenous development and a human rights approach to development.

                     Both conventional development and most of these proposed alternatives appear to be based on a common assumption that the root cause of poverty, inequality, environmental unsustainability and growing unhappiness lies in the external material world. Therefore, all development strategies are aimed at changing the external world – increasing production, developing technologies, promoting efficiency, improving physical and institutional infrastructure and reforming political and social systems and so on. No attempts have been made to look within in order to discover root cause of poverty, inequality, unsustainability and unhappiness and to transform ourselves, to change our attitudes, our values and perceptions. However, a few scholars outside the discipline of economic development have noted the urgent need for such a change. In the late seventies, Aurelio Peccei, a prominent philosopher from Italy, said in a commentary on Ervin Lazlo’s book The Inner Limits to Mankind that the root cause of most of the miseries we are facing today lies within ourselves, and not outside us. However, mainstream economists continued to ignore the significance of inner changes.

The Root Cause of the Failure Lies Not in the External World but within Ourselves

                    Recently, a number of development economists have acknowledged the significance of changing ourselves and looking beyond materialism. David Korten (1995), a Harvard economist, concluding his book When Corporations Rule the World, states:
          Materialistic monism was critical to achieving our technical mastery, but it led to the development of the material aspect of our societies to the exclusion of the spiritual. Dualism left mind and body divided, each alienated from the other to the detriment of both. I believe that the future of East and West, South and North, may now depend on graduating to a coevolutionary perspective that brings together the spiritual and material aspects of our being in a synergistic union to create whole person, communities and societies. (p. 328)

                    Similarly, David Reid (1995), concluding his book Sustainable Development: An Introductory Guide, emphasized the significance of changing ourselves. He states that ‘[t]he seeds of the competitive, expansionist, technocratic model of progress lie within ourselves, but so equally do the sources of the change that can replace them. In the final analysis, it is not, as Ulrich Loening points out, resources or the planet we have to manage, but ourselves’ (p. 236). Later in 2005, John Ikerd, an American economist, emphasized the significance of our inner change for sustainable development. In his book Sustainable Capitalism, he points out that rules and regulations will not lead to people behaving in a sustainable manner and it should come from their within. This is because laws simply cannot be enforced when most people view them as constraints rather than voluntary control. Concluding his book, he says that ‘[p]erhaps the most important and most difficult task in bringing sustainability to our capitalistic economy will be the task of internalizing the controls necessary for sustainable economic growth’ (p. 202). In this regard, he emphasizes the significance of the moral aspects of an individual’s life and the quality of an individual’s relationships with others and the environment. Thus, they acknowledged the inner change as a crucial factor at the end of their studies, though their prime focus was external change.

                    This book begins where these authors have left off. This book furthers the notion of inner change. It points out that the root cause for the failure of conventional development to alleviate poverty and inequality, achieve environmental sustainability and deliver happiness to all, lies not in the external material world but within us; it is our sense of ‘I’ or self, our self-centredness and our greed for material wealth and power. Instead of seeking true happiness – a by-product of achieving the purpose of life, which is realizing the potentials hidden deep within us such as unconditional love, peace, creativity and wisdom – most of us seek sense pleasures, which are chemical reactions triggered by the brain when we get what we like or desire. Our capacity to get what we like (and not to get what we dislike) almost exclusively depends on the size of material wealth at our disposal and our power to control, exploit and grab wealth from others. One can never experience happiness at somebody else’s expense but one can derive pleasure from it. Therefore, seeking sense pleasures instead of true happiness makes us self-centred and greedy for material wealth and power. Paradoxically, these are the same mental attributes economists perceived to be the essential ingredients for economic growth. They are the key motivators for economic pursuits. It is true that self-centredness and greed motivate producers to increase production and consumers to consume above their needs. Nevertheless, it is also true that these same set of mental attributes motivate the rich and powerful to accumulate wealth by exploiting others and the natural resources, causing and further aggravating poverty and inequality, environmental unsustainability and unhappiness. Hence, this book argues that as long as human beings remain self-centred and greedy, conventional development will fail to bring well-being to the world.

Changing Ourselves: From Self-Centeredness to Selflessness

                    Conventional development’s overemphasis on external changes, and its ignorance of inner changes, may be a reflection of the prevailing general belief in many societies that the sense of ‘I’, self-centredness and greed are inherent human characteristics common to all human beings and therefore ‘normal’. This leads to the premise that they are in-built, permanent and fundamental to humanity and therefore cannot be changed. This view was shared by some prominent philosophers and scientists. For instance, Thomas Hobbes, a seventeenth-century English philosopher, was convinced that human beings are fundamentally selfish. Later Adam Smith, an eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy, wrote in his classic The Wealth of Nations that human beings are intrinsically selfish, and recognized what he called ‘self-love’ as the key human quality which motivates all human activities. George Santayana, a nineteenth-century Spanish philosopher, wrote that generous and caring impulses in human beings are generally weak and if one were to dig a little beneath the surface, one would find a ferocious, persistent, profoundly selfish person. The view that human selfishness is a permanent and unchangeable phenomenon was supported by human biologists and neuroscientists too. Until recently, they believed human behaviour is determined by the brain and the genes, and it is not possible for us to change our brain and the genes. Within this framework of thinking, there was no point in blaming these mental attributes for the miseries we faced, and therefore the only option available for development was to change the external world.

However, recent developments in neuroscience, neuropsychology, transpersonal psychology, humanistic psychology, quantum physics and scientific studies on human consciousness and near-death experience suggest that

  • Our sense of ‘I’, self-centredness and greed are not in-built, fundamental, permanent or unchangeable human characteristics, but rather kinds of thought-created superficial mental attributes that can be diminished.
  • What is fundamental to human beings is selfless and unconditional love which is manifested as (1) empathy: the capacity to sense others’ feelings, (2) loving kindness: the wish of others’ happiness, (3) compassion: the wish to alleviate others’ suffering; and (4) generosity: the willingness to share one’s wealth with others in order to reduce their suffering.
  • As the sense of ‘I’, self-centredness and greed diminish, the selfless love which is already within us begins to emerge and grow; conversely, as selfless love grows the sense of ‘I’, self-centredness and greed diminish.
  • As this transformation unfolds within us, we move towards achieving the purpose of life and begin to find that the happiness of giving and serving others is more satisfying than the happiness of accumulating material wealth for consumption and sensual gratification.

Self-Transformation as Spirituality

                    It is this transformation in the human mind that this book defines as spirituality. This transformation involves transcendence of our sense of ‘I’, and this is what transpersonal psychologists call ‘self-transcendence’, which is the opposite of being self-centred. The self-transcendence involves creating and maintaining a healthy mind. From this perspective, our sense of ‘I’, self-centredness and greed for material wealth and power are merely temporary symptoms of our spiritual underdevelopment, or psychological immaturity as transpersonal psychologists call it. As we develop spiritually, our sense of ‘I’ gradually diminishes. As pointed out by Hanson and Mendius (2009), a neuropsychologist and a neurologist, most of our thoughts, plans and actions do not need an ‘I’ to direct them. Without ‘I’, we routinely engage in many activities and in fact ‘I’ often comes after fact, like someone running behind a parade that is already well underway, continually calling out: ‘See what I created!’ In reality, we can perform better when there is no ‘I’ to direct us, because the vacuum being created by diminishing the sense of ‘I’ is naturally filled by selfless and unconditional love, and also in the absence of ‘I’, there won’t be other harmful mental formations such as greed, hatred, anger, envy, arrogance, jealousy and malice. This view is supported by Koch and Tsuchiya (2006) and Leary, Adams and Tate (2006, citied in Hanson and Mendius, 2009) who state that often the less the self the better, since that improves many kinds of task performance and emotional functioning.

                     Recent research studies have shed light on the neurological and neuropsychological basis of transcending ‘I’. The cerebral cortex, the portion of the brain that separates us from other mammals, is divided into two hemispheres, which complement one another in function. While the right hemisphere is about the present moment, the left is about the past and future and hence preoccupied with analyzing past experiences and planning for the future. As pointed out by Jill Bolte Taylor (2006), a Harvard trained brain scientist, the former is free from the sense of ‘I’ and perceives each one as integral part of the interconnected cosmic web. Hence the mind of the right is filled with spiritual qualities such as love, compassion, empathy, wisdom and creativity. On the other hand, the left hemisphere, being bogged down in the past and fearful of the future, is in a constant process of creating ‘I’. It thinks in language, speaks to us constantly and gives rise to “I am” as an independent entity separated from rest of the universe. In most of us there is no balance between the two hemispheres, but are left dominant. From this perspective, spirituality can be viewed as achieving a healthy balance between the hemispheres. Furthermore, contrary to the widely held view that the mind is just the activity of the brain, recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest that mind is not simply a product of the brain but a predominant entity that can change the brain, its structure and functions and that we have an extraordinary potential to transform ourselves (Begley, 2007; Siegel, 2010). If we really want, we can transform ourselves. Scientific studies demonstrate that mental training can develop love and compassion and transform the brain (Siegel, 2010; Singer and Bolz, 2013).

                    All great religions of the world represent various pathways to this self-transformation or transcending self. However, non-religious pathways such as spirituality-oriented psychotherapy, counselling and coaching, meditation, spirituality-oriented service activities and charity, contemplative reading of spiritual literature, participating in spiritual or transformational workshops, talks and conferences, past-life regression therapy, hypnotherapy, spiritually oriented music, games and sports also exist. According to some writers, this inner transformation is the next step of human evolution. With the help of scientific evidence, this book points out that this transformation is achievable, and it is a viable means to remove the root cause of the failure of conventional development. Therefore, incorporation of spirituality into development is necessary to achieve its goals: to alleviate poverty and inequality, to achieve environmental sustainability and to deliver happiness to all. This book provides a road map for a form of sustainable development based on spirituality.