Throw on your white coat and join me in a thought experiment.
Lets take two test tubes:Test tube ‘A' contains a desert island, say 25 hectares into which we titrate 100 human castaways. Test tube ‘B’ is identical. Let the reactions begin.
Cast aways ‘A’ discuss their situation and relinquish all status and hierarchy from the other world they once lived in. They establish rules that all agree to, meet regularly to review those rules and keep monitoring how resources are holding out. They assign everyone tasks on a rotating system to avoid casteism (employment based hierarchy). For similar reasons they allow equal access to all the island’s resources but any new resource must be presented to all for a decision if it is in the common interest. These decisions can be reversed later. They know they need to protect their only home until they can signal to a passing ship.
Test tube ‘B’ self-organises very differently. As soon as they land the captain of the wrecked ship and his four officers meet in the shade of small grove which they call "Britain Woods" in memory of their homeland and it's hierarchies which they know and loved. Its a defining conference. Holding onto, in fact emphasising, pre-existing power relations they resolve to set up the captain as a kind of God-king. He and his officers -The Five- claim all resources and rights to access them. They and they alone decide what is used or harvested. Nobody disagrees-The Five have the island's entire weapons stockpile, three pistols, two swords and a musket between them. . The Five live in the best fishing bay making the other 95 islanders in more remote parts pay tribute in fish and fruit. They explain that maximising resource acquisition and a `whole island economy' will have benefits trickling down to all, keep them in the best physical condition and most efficiently harvest the materials to build a ship to sail home. It’s is best for all. Everyone begins cutting the few large island trees until realise they have no material for a sail. The God-king tells them to keep cutting anyway and use the wood for a huge residence for The Five. No-one likes this and they see the forest vanishing, dwindling fruit ( which all go to The Five) and soil being scoured off by ocean winds. But The Five wave their guns. What to do? Fearing tropical storms which strike precipitously they want an early warning system. The Five, climate-insulated and secure in their palace, don't listen.
Meanwhile back in test tube A the appointed lookout on the island highpoint runs down and tells everyone to drag their canoes up the beach when she sees a storm coming. They've resolved to cut only one tree a year for canoe repairs so can't afford to lose vessels. They harvest fruit and plant seedlings on bare land. One bay is left entirely unfished and shellfish harvesting is strictly controlled. They discuss resource issues at regular meetings and make group decisions, adapting as they go. Ten years later the lookout spots a distant ship and races down to get the pre-prepared signal fire lit. The ship finds all 100 castaways plus a few children born recently. Though thin they are healthy, the richly forested island has good soil and the rocks are covered with shellfish. The rescue boat development specialist (every ship has one) notes their fortune at landing on this bounteous island.
Sailing home they spot a huge wooden house looking out from a prominent point of a barren island. They investigate. In the house lie skeletons, some with bullet holes in their skulls, others still holding clubs. They find no trees on the island nor shellfish on the rocks. There are more skeletons in other huts in which they find fireplaces but no canoes. They wonder if landfall on an island with no trees to make canoes was these castaways' doom. Bad luck for arriving at a barren island they think, puzzling over the huge wooden house and charcoal in the squalid fireplaces of the squalid huts. Dr. Spooner the ship’s pathologist (every ship has one) finds skeletal evidence of vitamin deficiency diseases and starvation. Bad luck they landed on an island without fruit or fish. They conclude it was an island unfit for human habitation, though somehow in the ship's log the good doctor writes "humans unfit for island habitation" and scribbles in the margin "?pathology of power"
Now here's another test tube -‘C’. Its an ongoing experiment in my development lab. In it a bounteous blue green sphere floats in a void. It has rivers forest rich soil, fisheries. The 7 billion people who have been titrated in have organised themselves very differently to failed test tube B where 5% of the population controlled everything. In test tube C they do not want the kind of inequality which would have 5% controlling everything. (%5 of 7 billion = 350 million)The inequality they've chosen in test tube 'C' gives 8 people (that’s 0.0000000001 %) the wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion (see Oxfam's Jan 2017 Davos report) The Eight (all men) and their allies- perhaps 1%- control everything including a politico-economic-military complex with a massive arsenal of weapons. With wars of terror and equally savage political and economic strategies (in the jargon variously called "Diplomacy", "Aid", "Peace-keeping", "Structural adjustment", "Development" e.t.c. ) they subjugate anyone they fear and corner valuable resources. Test tube "C"s sub-populations, from the scale of nations to families replicate inequality predicated on power in a cascade of fractals (see here). The entire test tube ripples with gender discrimination, racism, caste, exclusion based on age and more. The experiment is nearing conclusion- already we see forests degraded, rising CO2, health inequalities, desperate migration, violence, the rich taking ever more resources and supporting it all with unimaginable weapons stockpiles. Scattered throughout a landscape of burgeoning social and environmental poverty are places where resources precipitate into meaningless monuments to wealth… This is test tube B on steroids.
In 100 years will a passing spaceship find C uninhabited, and ecologically degraded, with signs of horror and extravagant monuments to inequality pointing to the resident’s inability to adapt… or can we develop very fast?
(the story inspired by my holiday reading and discussions on a beach in South India, a little fractal of an unequal world where the issues in test tube C are grossly apparent (see my next post for a dissection of one dimension of this) My thought for the day is wondering if on whatever scale we work development is redesigning our fractalised planet's blueprint.