World Development today is a contested concept, and one that provokes debate across the board. Culture Wars is bringing together reviews of books and the arts, to engage with everything from globalisation to slum cities, from consumerism to international aid.
Questions dealt with throughout these reviews include: following massive economic growth from China and India, are we seeing a new distribution of power on the world stage? How should we respond to the perceived costs of development such as global warming and the erosion of communities? And what are the best models for growth?
Even with the facts in hand, it is a fantasy to expect that those who reject universalism - or who advocate its violent and oppressive forms - will be converted without the conscious efforts of human beings to persuade them. From the Ruins of Empire, beyond all the great names, famous battles and obscure sects that adorn its pages, can perhaps be read as a defence of the importance of argument and debate, or, at the very least, critical engagement.
In this Olympics, we saw much more ever than before of individual Chinese athletes. Their tears, sweat, heartbreak. It is not overstating it to say that Chinese athletes do the hardest things to please the whole country, but many in the country are never satisfied. People debated and argued with each other bitterly on the internet. Everyone is questioning and trying to find answers… including me.
This chain of cosmic interdependency reflected the social hierarchy on earth, so the tombs of emperors and their officials were grandiose in order that their status would be duly acknowledged in the spiritual realm; if they were not, then the ranks of masses beneath them would have faced uncertainty after death, and would have wasted their lives observing official rituals.
After the invasion, once it was shown there were only weapons of prosaic destruction ‘the administration decided it was best to assume they had never been there’. The compound where the conventional weapons were stored, in Yusifiyah, near Baghdad, was by-passed by the Americans, and then comprehensively looted by insurgents. One source in the book estimates that of the violence following the invasion, 90 per cent was facilitated by this looting.
If the exclusion of authors disliked by the Chinese government was a necessary condition for the British Council’s programme to go ahead, so be it. Whether it in fact was necessary is a separate discussion to have; what matters is that some established writers visited from China to exchange ideas about new literary genres, globalisation and e-publishing, and to search for commercial opportunities.
Ferguson’s familiar political agenda of ‘free market, strong state’ dovetails nicely with his rather static view of political culture as the determinant of Chinese society-state relations. And yet a moment’s reflection on the arguments he presents over the course of this series reveals just how unnecessarily confined are the horizons of this historian’s gaze when he looks to the future.
It would be a mistake to interpret ‘Waste Not’ as a straightforward critique of the materialist ethos of consumer culture, or as drawing a parallel between the drab uniformity of the Maoist era and the homogeneity of globalised consumerism. More profoundly, it hints at the possibility that material abundance can free us from the kind of tyranny that possessions have over us in times of scarcity.
The book is full of the discourse of winners and losers, victors and vanquished, races to be won, opponents to be outmanoeuvred, markets to be cornered. The author would no doubt consider this to be simple realism, premised upon a world with finite resources (how depressing), but one has to ask, does the world really need another book which implores nations to better impoverish one another?
Marquand reduces democracy to being a way of adjudicating between competing claims of individuals who just won’t get along, much like a marriage guidance counsellor - or a judge. It means ‘accepting difference, rejoicing in difference, and negotiating difference’. Marquand stresses the complexity of modern life and proposes democracy as a tool to manage competing identities and differences.
The facts to be learned range from the curious (we learn that towels are ‘very popular generic gifts’ in Japan, and most people therefore have far too many) to the crazy (‘It is also common to eat a bean for every year of your age’), and they document everything from rubbish collection etiquette to gardening habits.
USAID is currently undertaking several projects around the world, two of which Dr Shah spoke about in considerable detail. One of them is helping impoverished places in Africa, and elsewhere, to decrease the percentage of malnourished people while aiming to stimulated their economy at the same time.
Not making decisions, not having a long-term strategy, ditching theory and rationality: all seem to be virtues for today’s economists. Economics post-crash seems like a codification of messy pragmatism: to be anti-theory now in principle. Leaving us, of course, with things just the way they are.
It makes you wonder, if we were all left to clean up after ourselves, from our houses and gardens to our schools and streets, whether we’d be so pernickety about that spot of dust on the kitchen surface, or that banana peel in the corner.
The promise of the city, like that of Independence, was real – and perhaps still is. There is a tragic quality to Prakash’s account, but the gradual demise of the Modernist dream in the second half of the twentieth century should not be seen as inevitable or even, perhaps, final.
This exhibition reminds us that international involvement and influence in Afghanistan are nothing new. Like Belgium and Poland it has - because of its geographical location - found itself an unwilling cockpit in world affairs, the fate of countries when caught between competing power blocks. It also shows that cross-border trade is a centuries-old activity: it helped to bring about the ideas and art which these exhibits exemplify.