Our Russian correspondent Dimitri K. has some thoughts about the pitfalls inherent in the concept of “progress:” as it applies to the nations of the world.
Progress, Development and Relations with Third World
by Dimitri K.
I want to discuss here how the wide-spread belief in progress and development influences the relations between the West and the other parts of the world.
According to those concepts, people, technology and the world are developing. The progress is unidirectional: the later, the more developed.
However, if we look at the world, some countries appear to be less developed than others. They are believed to be “under-developed”. Given the monotone growth of progress, it is as if they were situated earlier in time. Those countries and their people are perceived, within the frame of Evolution and Progress, as people from previous time. Up to this point, everyone will probably agree.
Here is the trick: when we look at those countries and people, we inevitably think that we see our history. As if we see our ancestors, observe our history in real time. So, those people actually take the place of our ancestors in our minds. Geography substitutes for history. The relation is substituted by difference.
The consequences are straightforward. Clearly, everyone needs and wants to be fair to his ancestors. Treating your ancestors unfairly, or worse, being rude to them is like attacking your own parents. We may only help them and must respect them. This hypothesis may also explain why some conservatives are even more possessed by comforting third-worlders than leftists — because respect to your fathers is the key point of conservatism.
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There is no way out of this trap, until we quit speaking about other nations and countries in the terms of time. Never call them retarded, under-developed, primitive, barbaric, medieval etc. Those names only strengthen the historical associations.
They are our contemporaries, not ancestors. Let’s call them “different”, “others” or “strangers”.
But evolution and progressive concepts must be avoided.
And the hardest of all: we have to quit thinking of ourselves as the most developed. Let us learn to be not the champions of the world, but just ourselves. Then we will be able to solve our problems rationally, not under the influence of feelings which have nothing to do with the problems we face.