Reading books, learning new things, acquiring new insights is one of my favorite passtimes. And I consider it a luxury to have the time and be free to choose what to read.
So the last couple of weeks I have taken the time to read loads of books, journals, blogs – you name it. Mainly on development related issues, in the broadest sense of the term.
Sometimes the message the author tries to get across is an optimistic one, such as the book by Jeffrey Sachs on the end of poverty, from 2005. Well, let’s be realistic, the end of extreme poverty. I never really read it in detail back then, and thought was very worth reading in retrospect.
Very informative, even though the suggestion that economic growth is part of the solution did bother me. Something which was reinforced reading a book by Hans Achterhuis, a Dutch philosoper on the utopia of the free market. An interesting book with a lot of interesting as well as disturbing information.
One especially disturbing example from Achterhuis comes originally from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, on how some of the aid money was spent in Sri Lanka after the Tsunami. Large corporations used it to develop to large hotels and support the development of large scale fishing, while the small-scale fishermen originally from the village who had been fighting against this development, were still burying their deaths.
While reading, my doubts were reinforced about whether economic growth and a free market are realistic solutions or just another utopia and something to aspire to at all.
Others give an overview of successful programmes and approaches to eradicate poverty and violence. For example, The Nurture Effect: How the Science of Human Behavior Can Improve Our Lives and Our World, by Anthony Biglan. The book gives an overview of evidence-based interventions that have the potential to prevent criminal behavior, mental illness, drug abuse, poverty and violence. A book well worth reading with lots of suggestions that all of us can use in daily life.
And even though I really enjoy this travel through literature, I really find it disturbing at times. Reading gives us an opportunity to learn, to get insight into new things and can reveal to us what is happening in the world in more detail than the daily news normally does. It tells us the stories we don’t always see when visiting a place, and can help us understand better why and what is happening.
Lots of social issues and questions have been researched. A large number of solutions for social problems seem to be to hand, for example, to end poverty and violence in the United States and end extreme poverty in the rest of the world.
However, despite all the ongoing efforts, it looks as if there is not sufficient willingness to allocate sufficient finances, solutions are not sexy enough to sell, or events make decision makers increase the amounts spent on war instead. And of course there are too many interests at stake to keep the situation as it is, and there are competing convictions, between those willing to take action, on how the issues should be tackled.
So once in a while, while reading too much, I feel desperate and lost about what can be done. When discussing it with friends, most of them recognise the feeling of not knowing the answer. Even, for example, with apparently simple things, like all the information on what food is good for you, and for the world, is confusing. Let alone on complex matters such as how to solve world problems, such as poverty and violence.
So most of my friends told me they focus on what they can do, and act as much as possible in their smaller circle. Some even mentioned they avoid thinking of the bigger issues, just because they realised they couldn’t handle these bigger issues anymore.
Even with all these small changes added together, we still feel we cannot really influence change. Even though we want it, we feel all we can do is to implement changes at small scale. And what could the impact of all these small changes be? Intriguing question, and I’ll be looking for books that have an answer to that. I’m not sure I’ll find them, and maybe we need a different approach. Maybe we need to tackle these larger scale problems together.